Everyone knows that time has a tendency to flow differently depending on different circumstances. Here’s how Albert Einstein remarked about the similarity between the relativity of physical and psychological time:
“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute — and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”
What we also know, is that elite sportspeople report being able to go into “the zone,” a state in which time starts to slow down, so the play, for example a tennis match, becomes more manageable as the ball glides with less relative speed across the court. Is it a real quantum phenomenon or just a psychological interpretation or voodoo? No one really knows.
What we know is that the biology of how we perceive time lacks a definitive scientific explanation. Now scientists from Medical University of South Carolina and Duke University have thrown a new twist into a theory of time perception, by showing that there seem to be multiple clocks with different temporal contexts operating in the brain. By being able to note the difference between clocks, the scientists claim we make temporal judgments of the world around us.
Abstract from the article in PLoS ONE:
Current theories of interval timing assume that humans and other animals time as if using a single, absolute stopwatch that can be stopped or reset on command. Here we evaluate the alternative view that psychological time is represented by multiple clocks, and that these clocks create separate temporal contexts by which duration is judged in a relative manner. Two predictions of the multiple-clock hypothesis were tested. First, that the multiple clocks can be manipulated (stopped and/or reset) independently. Second, that an event of a given physical duration would be perceived as having different durations in different temporal contexts, i.e., would be judged differently by each clock.
Rats were trained to time three durations (e.g., 10, 30, and 90 s). When timing was interrupted by an unexpected gap in the signal, rats reset the clock used to time the “short” duration, stopped the “medium” duration clock, and continued to run the “long” duration clock. When the duration of the gap was manipulated, the rats reset these clocks in a hierarchical order, first the “short”, then the “medium”, and finally the “long” clock. Quantitative modeling assuming re-allocation of cognitive resources in proportion to the relative duration of the gap to the multiple, simultaneously timed event durations was used to account for the results.
These results indicate that the three event durations were effectively timed by separate clocks operated independently, and that the same gap duration was judged relative to these three temporal contexts. Results suggest that the brain processes the duration of an event in a manner similar to Einstein’s special relativity theory: A given time interval is registered differently by independent clocks dependent upon the context.
Article in PLoS ONE: Relativity Theory and Time Perception: Single or Multiple Clocks?
Here’s an interesting paper on the topic, recently published on a website of the Foundational Questions Institute: Neurophysiology of Time
Quantum biology flashbacks: Birds Exhibit Longest Suspected Quantum Entanglement; Photosynthesis Thought to Exhibit Quantum Entanglement Phenomenon; Eyes As Photon Detectors for Quantum Experiments; Discover Mag Looks at Quantum Biology
Image credit: Ian Spreadbury