Why Time Slows Down In Near-Death Situations

falling_wideNeuroscientist David Eagleman hatched an experiment to learn about why our sense of time slows to a crawl in near-death situations (such as a free fall from a significant height). Disappointingly, it’s not because our abilities of perception kick into Matrix-style hyperdrive. NPR reports:

“Turns out, when you’re falling you don’t actually see in slow motion. It’s not equivalent to the way a slow-motion camera would work,” David says. “It’s something more interesting than that.”

According to David, it’s all about memory, not turbo perception. “Normally, our memories are like sieves,” he says. “We’re not writing down most of what’s passing through our system.” Think about walking down a crowded street: You see a lot of faces, street signs, all kinds of stimuli. Most of this, though, never becomes a part of your memory. But if a car suddenly swerves and heads straight for you, your memory shifts gears. Now it’s writing down everything — every cloud, every piece of dirt, every little fleeting thought, anything that might be useful.

Because of this, David believes, you accumulate a tremendous amount of memory in an unusually short amount of time. The slow-motion effect may be your brain’s way of making sense of all this extra information. “When you read that back out,” David says, “the experience feels like it must have taken a very long time.” But really, in a crisis situation, you’re getting a peek into all the pictures and smells and thoughts that usually just pass through your brain and float away, forgotten forever.

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  • Dr. Claude Miller

    I believe you're wrong on your assumption that it is your perception “packing information in at an accelerated rate, I propose that your mind actually does appropriate the importance of the imputing information, does a value analysis and accelerates the neuron conductive speed and flushes the gap with both adrenalin and serotonin.
    As a former race car driver,, and having my son being one presently, we have demonstrated that we can make a determination and act of a critical event in well less than 0.2 seconds. And, when we are faced with an urgent decision time is experienced at what seems to be a far slower period. I'm not trying to violate the Space-time continuum or the boundaries of Special Relativity, but it is not as you presume.
    Doc

    • J reply

      That's what the article seems to imply, although without actually saying increased neurotransmitters, and synapse strengthening for memory proposes.

    • Dr My Ass

      Dr…? of what – divinity? Certainly nothing medical or scientific, or you would not speak such utter rot. “Accelerates the neuron conductive speed”?!? Every action potention of an axon is always the same, by its very nature. (Why do I waste my time on someone so uninformed, who still feel obliged to spout an opinion? I have no idea. I must be too tired to properly ridicule him as he deserves….)

  • http://www.darthcontinent.com Darth Continent

    Just this past weekend, I was nearly involved in a head-on collision, some idiot swerved to make a U-turn in front of me as I was barreling towards him at 55+ mph, and I managed to swerve to the opposite side of the road Matrix style, tires smoking.

    While the experience is pretty vivid in my mind, for my brain anyway it doesn't seem to have made for any particularly “high resolution” memories. It pretty much stacks up to other memories as far as remembering the set, setting, and other characteristics of the experience. I can't say I recall much more detail than I do for any other non-commonplace memory.

    I have no clue about every cloud, every piece of dirt, every little fleeting thought, nor any other minutiae that might've gone through my mind at the time. I do, however, recall the actions I took to save my life, as well as the make and model and some distinguishing characteristics of the car I avoided hitting.

    • rock

      I guess that means your stupid.

      • Just Me

        @ rock: No; YOU'RE (not YOUR) stupid.

        • http://www.darthcontinent.com Darth Continent

          :-}

    • 5by5

      Happy no one was injured.

    • Davy

      And what about the car that you were behind at the first intersection on the way to work that morning (which was presumably not a life-or-death situation): tell us about it's make, model, and other distinguishing characteristics, hmm?

    • justagirl

      D: did you spill your beer?!?!

      • http://www.darthcontinent.com Darth Continent

        Beer?? Try 15-year scotch…

        • justagirl

          fwa fwa!

  • JB

    “Disappointingly, it’s not because our abilities of perception kick into Matrix-style hyperdrive.”

    On the contrary, this suggests that our abilities of perceptions are ALWAYS in Matrix-style hyperdrive, but we just forget about it most of the time. Just as badass.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Not a hard deduction to make…given that the clearest memories people have are of traumas or very exciting positive events. Memory is surprisingly comprehensive…but the way each individual handles the relevance of said memories is unique.

  • Pinonpete

    I crashed my 69 chevy plow truck one winter eve,off the road I went at thirty miles an hour into a stant of oak.the passenger side door was caving in towards me ,I turned my back to it and in doing so watched a crack literally crawl across the windshield.as I felt the impact on my back.being in my winter sheepskin I was spared some of the impact and though very sore the following days was not injured…It seemed to me that the crack in the windshield took forever to happen

  • Pinonpete

    I crashed my 69 chevy plow truck one winter eve,off the road I went at thirty miles an hour into a stant of oak.the passenger side door was caving in towards me ,I turned my back to it and in doing so watched a crack literally crawl across the windshield.as I felt the impact on my back.being in my winter sheepskin I was spared some of the impact and though very sore the following days was not injured…It seemed to me that the crack in the windshield took forever to happen

  • AbiliTV on BlogTV

    This is outstanding information. And, explains why we can recall if we can recall it such tiny details in times of excitement or danger.

    Nice work on finding and or creating this post. :)

  • Anonymous

    The article doesn’t define “why” as the title suggests. This is a discussion of perception that offers no answers -just a more detailed and subjective account of the experience.

    It reminds me of the average political speech. Lots of words signifying almost nothing and leading nowhere.

  • http://www.darthcontinent.com Darth Continent

    Beer?? Try 15-year scotch…

  • http://www.darthcontinent.com Darth Continent

    :-}

  • justagirl

    fwa fwa!

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