Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Racing, Time, and Throwing People off Cliffs

The off season approaches, a period of long rides that go, literally, nowhere. The memories of last season, the sweat, the rubber from the eroding tire on the trainer--all coagulates around you. You are a pool of stagnant memories.

Time does stand still, in fact. Or at least slow down, like Chuck Hutch allowing Tim Brown to pass him for the win at Greenbelt.

Think about the moment before the collision, the time between when you asked for her hand and when she responded, the eternal flight of the foul ball off Luis Castillo's bat into Steve Bartman's sweaty hand on October 14th, 2004, and the last three seconds of the sprint you nearly won.

Time passes especially slowly when we're afraid. For instance, when one is dumped off a cliff. Believe it or not, this is exactly what researcher David Eaglement recently did to subjects, trying to figure out how subjects' brains' sense of time responded to the threat of death. In the interest of test subjects being alive to provide feedback, he installed a net a few hundred feet below them. He strapped a watch-like device (called a "perceptual chronometer") on their wrists with a sequence of numbers flashing too fast to be read in normal situations.

Unfortunately, none of the subjects were able to read the numbers while falling. Go figure. Perceptual time did not slow down in that way.

Subjects were, however, able to remember incredible details from their falls. Thus, they were not at the time empowered with superhuman perception; still, they were empowered with superhuman recollection of their collections after the fall.

Says Eagleton, "We're not writing down most of what's passing through our system...but if a car suddenlys werves 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."

This explains why I can recall the manufacturer of the tire of the car that struck me three years ago.

It's not just fear that affects our sense of time; rhythmic noises can prime our brains to slow down or speed up the flow of time. Before you take your next test, subject yourself to a few clicks of increasing speed. The "speeding up" effect of the clicks has been shown to improve recall and information retention (Sperling; Loftus, Johnson and Shimamura).

Thus, there are at least two things which alter our sense of time: emotion and rhythm.

I can't figure out which has more of an effect during a race--emotion or rhythm--but I'm sure the effect of racing on time and memory is one reason why racing sometimes exerts such a powerful pull on my brain. Why I can recall every Greenbelt I've ever done.

Time doesn't slow down, necessarily, it simply sticks in the brain, whereas the mundane bits never stick; they flow away and are forgotten.

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