Time travel as therapy?

In the study of time, philosophy has become theory, which has become proof: moving at widely differing speeds, two clocks with the same initial start times will eventually diverge.

A feature of special relativity, time dilation has been confirmed through experimentation and everyday life. Soaring 12,000 miles or more overhead, global positioning satellites, for example, must have their interal clocks continuously adjusted so that they correspond with the Earthbound clocks used by pilots making timed, precision approaches to airfields obscured by low clouds, or by the GPS on your car dash that calls out turn-by-turn instructions.

As it turns out, our internal experience of time may be crucial, as well, to our perception of the world and consequent well being.

An article in PopSci, "When Life Flashes Flashes Before Your Eyes: A 15 Story Drop to Study the Brain's Internal Timewarp," suggests that understanding why "time dilation" occurs in individuals during times of crisis (think flying bullets in The Matrix) might lead to better treatments for mental illnesses:

In recent years, scientists have learned that the circadian rhythms that control our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle are governed by a cluster of 10,000 brain cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Sorting out what happens moment to moment is the focus of [David] Eagleman [neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine]... [H]is Baylor-based Laboratory for Perception and Action is one of the only facilities dedicated to running experiments that produce hard data on how we perceive time.

Engleman has found that the brain keeps two clocks, one "that feeds you a perception of the now, and another that is constantly at work tidying up that perception." To conserve energy, the portion of the brain "tidying up" will predict events, meaning that the everyday events will flow by relatively unnoticed, while the unexpected events takes longer - or so we think - to pass. 

This new understanding might have profound implications for sufferers of mental illness.

Deana Davalos, a psychologist at Colorado State University who works on timing and mental illness, agrees. 'Sensory gating, the process by which the brain filters out repeated stimuli, is a problem with schizophrenia,' she says. 'Most people think it’s a breakdown in their ability to inhibit responses to repeated stimuli, but Eagleman’s work points to a timing malfunction.' To this end, Eagleman, with the help of psychologists, is designing a videogame that would recalibrate the brains of patients. He hopes to begin testing it in the next few years.

For now, he continues devising new temporal illusions, hoping to force another odd flash-lag type of result that will help unlock the brain’s secrets.

If the idea of time travel interests you, you might like hearing what theoretical physicist and author of "From Eternity to Here," Sean Carroll, has to say about "Wild Time" it at the IdeaFestival on Sat., Oct. 2.

All-access and individual event passes are available online at the IdeaFestival web site.