Does the pot really take longer to boil when you watch it?

6 04 2008

Let us define time. Time is a basic component of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify the motions of objects [Wikipedia].

In other words, time is a man-made system of measurement used to perceive and measure events and intervals between said events to establish a duration or ‘period of time.’

Using this notion, it is then reasonable to assume that humans can change or control time by altering their perception and durations of those events. The question is whether it is possible for the brain to consciously or sub-consciously achieve this task, ultimately controlling the speed at which a period of time occurs.

The answer is yes.

Do you ever wonder why people who fall off a tall structure (e.g. a bungee jumping platform) say that their entire life “flashed before [their] eyes” when in reality the fall started and ended in only a few seconds? To us observers, it seems impossible for someone to reflect upon their whole life in such a short period of ‘time’, but believe it or not, the victim of the fall is likely telling the truth.

Why is this?
At the moment of the fall, time was perceived to be moving faster for the victim than it was for the observer. The victim’s brain was able to take in and process much more information in the same period of time than the observer was able to.
* For the purpose of this example, the observer is anyone on the ground that is not affected by the fall; whether they actually observed the fall is irrelevant and the ‘observer’ is simply being used for the basis of comparison.

This is also why people who are involved in accidents can often describe what happened in great detail in what seems to be ‘super-slow motion,’ or the reason why one can remember the look on people’s faces in a room during an embarrassing or frightening situation. This is result of the victim being able to take in and process everything that is happening at extremely fast speeds relative to their observing counterparts.
But there is still an unanswered question, why does time move faster for the victim? Why is it that the victim can process more information than the observer over the same period of time?

The answer is this: When certain chemicals flood the body (such as adrenaline), the brain starts to perceive time at a different speed than its observing counterpart. This allows the brain to think more ‘quickly’ as if a two second fall was actually occurring over several seconds or maybe even minutes, much like how high-speed slow-motion cameras are used to represent a quick event over a long period of time.

Scientific study: Scientists from Duke University recently designed and performed an experiment which provided conclusive evidence to support this theory of time perception. In the experiment, several lab mice were trained to operate a lever at exactly 12 seconds after a timer started in order to receive a food reward.

Under normal conditions, all the lab mice were able to execute this task flawlessly. However when one of the mice was given a dose of cocaine, it began to perceive time as moving much faster relative to the control mouse. In fact, the mouse then tried the experiment and operated the lever at only 8 seconds, 4 seconds quicker than the normal time period.

When a mouse was placed under the influence of marijuana however, it perceived time slower and didn’t operate the lever until 16 seconds into the experiment, 4 seconds after the normal time period.

In actuality, the movie “The Matrix” is a lot more real than it seems. We have the ability to control and speed up time using emotions to trigger a chemical flow of adrenaline so the brain is able to process and act on a given situation much quicker (e.g. in a fight or life threatening scenario). Learning to control the chemical flow is learning to control time.

Thus it is my belief that improving reaction time is actually the skill of learning to speed up time so the brain can realize a stimulus earlier, rather than just training the eye to be more sensitive to movement. I also maintain a hypothesis that people who possess a so called ‘eidetic memory’ (a very rare ability, also loosely termed ‘photographic memory’) live in a state where time is almost always perceived faster than people around them, allowing them to walk by a painting and remember it as if they studied it for minutes at a time.

Final thoughts: Yes, the pot will take longer to boil if you watch it. Your brain will become docile and inactive while waiting, resulting in time (as defined earlier) being slowed down relative to those around you. While you wait (for what seems to be an eternity) for the water to boil, your friend who is talking on the phone probably did not even notice you left the room.