Saturday, January 16, 2010

Time keeps on slippin'

I like to think about really mind bending things, but even more than that I like to think about real mind bending things. For instance, I'm not sure I'll ever be comfortable in my understanding of the fact that the further we look into space the further back into time we look. This is a legitimately crazy thing--it means that given a powerful enough telescope we could watch the creation of our own universe. As impossible as that sounds, it's more or less correct; in fact, we have telescopes powerful enough to look inconceivably deep into spacetime, and we have actually captured the direct aftermath of the birth of our universe. This aftermath is known as the cosmic microwave background radiation, and its discovery earned a Nobel prize. No matter which way we look, the furthest we can see is the CMBR, it surrounds us. This is interesting because the best theory of the origins of the universe, the Big Bang theory, posits that the universe started in an extremely dense bit of space, expanding from there. But how much sense does it make that no matter which way we look we end up looking at that little bit of space? In one sense, the CMBR is a sphere that surrounds the universe. In another sense the universe surrounds it, as the universe grew from it. Either way it doesn't make any sense.

Not everything that throws us for a loop needs to be on a universal scale. Recently I read an article from NewScientist titled "Timewarp: How your brain creates the fourth dimension," which I found to be nothing short of profound. As you might gather from the admittedly bad title, the article is about our perception of time, which is something I had (surprisingly) never really considered before. Early on there is a sentence that nonchalantly flicks off a few words; "Time... is much weirder than we think it is."

Invitingly audacious, isn't it?

The whole article is well worth it, as it shows some ingenious experimental methodology and keen insight regarding something as potentially slippery as temporal perception. One thing that stood out was research apparently showing that a click track at 5 clicks per second (300 beats/minute) for 10 seconds improved performance in basic arithmetic, memorizing words or hitting a specific key on a computer keyboard by 10 to 20%.

There has been research done that shows binaural beats at certain frequencies can entrain certain brainwave frequencies, and it has been suggested that this phenomenon could possibly be used to enhance the performance of the brain. I wonder if binaural beats are somehow related to rapid beats... I know that because of the time delay with binaural beats it sounds as though there are twice as many beats as usual. Anyway, it will be interesting to see where all that research goes.

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