"Temporal Dysfunction" in the Matrix

The festival has a long history of hosting remarkable talks on the nature of time. Physicists Michio Kaku and Sean Carroll have spoken, respectively, about its relationship to the colossal, matter-bending force of gravity and its ultimate end, the dead sea of entropy.

Last month, the author of "Time Warped," Claudia Hammond, memorably spoke on the psychology of time.

Today, I ran across an article that was too good not to share.

Could the physiology of sight also account for the perception of time? Described in Nautilus, a theory of "temporal dysfunction" in how humans see the world may help explain phenomenon ranging from the experience of voices in schizophrenic minds, to ecological niche differentiation, to the psychological state of flow.

Critical fusion frequency, or CFF, is the threshold whereby light stimulation is perceived as a stable and continuous sensation - the effect is related to the experience of watching a film. It depends on eye physiology as well as factors like the characteristics of the light entering the eye. CFF has been measured in a variety of animals. Nautilus:

These differing CFF values seem to offer some fascinating explanatory power. No wonder it is hard to kill a fly with your murderous swatting hand. With a CFF of 240, the fly might well see your approaching hand as though it were muscling through molasses. And how about those aeronautical stunts by birds flying through thickets of vegetation? With CFFs around 100, they are likely visually sampling their surroundings at super-human rates that allow for faster mid-air adjustments.

Moreover, some animals like swordfish can physically deform the eye so that vision itself is altered. Interestingly, CFF has also been measured in human beings. Small differences in the rate at which that stimuli is processed in human brains have been measured.

In humans the "dysfunction" would occur in our wetware, leading some people to experience subjective time at slightly different rates. Researchers, according to the author of the piece, are keen to investigate what difference temporal dysfunction may play in everyday life. Amazing.

Stay curious.


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