Perception of Time changes with the concentration of consciousness

The subjective perception of Time is a well-known phenomenon studied by neuroscientists and psychologists.  They have discovered that as people get older, the years seem to be fly by much quickly [9].  Time slows down amidst a crisis or accident when we become painfully aware of every thought and feeling [10].  It slows down when we are exasperated and eagerly waiting for something to happen (“Are we there yet...?”) but, in sharp constrast, it zips by when we are engrossed in study.  Scientists have also discovered the Kappa effect by which a faster journey over more distance appears more time-consuming than a slower journey over less distance.  Psychedelic drugs like LSD are said to drastically impair the linear conception of time, making time go backwards and even out of sequence[6].  Centuries earlier, St Augustine of Hippo commented that when we measure time, we are actually measuring the mental memory of the past event or interval of time [5].

When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it seems like two minutes. When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it seems like two hours.  That’s relativity.

(Albert Einstein)

Scientists are presently engaged in disentangling the human brain to discover the neural substrates of subjective time dilation [7, 8, 11].  In this article, we will explore the subjectivity of Time from the standpoint of the Spirit.

The Mother Mirra Alfassa made the simple observation that the perception of Time changes with the concentration of consciousness.  As long as our consciousness is sense-bound, we remain  restless and perceive a perpetual friction with Time but as our being begins to soak in the vaster and deeper ocean of consciousness, our perception of Time also begins to alter.  As we regain sense of the greater consciousness that we are,  we may find ourselves arriving in a state where the clamour of life begins to recede, the events in our life start to naturally organize themselves, and some uncanny power of intuition brings us the answers to our problems before the question even arises.

In the following excerpt, she discusses how a person on the spiritual path must begin living with a certain intensity of aspiration – an intensity which is above haste and lethargy.

Instead of pushing events to happen, one must learn to wait

The Mother Mirra: “One must learn how to wait.  Sri Aurobindo said that he who has learned how to wait puts time on his side [4].  Aspire intensely, but without impatience.  The difference between intensity and impatience is very subtle – it is all a difference in vibration. It is subtle, but it makes all the difference.

And for a very long time, a very long time, one must be satisfied with inner results, that is, results in one’s personal and individual reactions, one’s inner contact with the rest of the world – one must not expect or be premature in wanting things to materialise. Because our hastiness usually delays things.

People live harassed lives. It is a kind of half-awareness of the shortness of their lives; they do not think of it, but they feel it half-consciously. And so they are always wanting – quick, quick, quick – to rush from one thing to another, to do one thing quickly and move on to the next one, instead of letting each thing live in its own eternity. They are always wanting: forward, forward, forward… And the work is spoilt.

That is why some people have preached: the only moment that matters is the present moment. In practice it is not true, but from the psychological point of view it ought to be true. That is to say, to live to the utmost of one’s capacities at every minute, without planning or wanting, waiting or preparing for the next. Because you are always hurrying, hurrying, hurrying… And nothing you do is good. You are in a state of inner tension which is completely false – completely false.

All those who have tried to be wise have always said it – the Chinese preached it, the Indians preached it – to live in the awareness of Eternity. In Europe also they said that one should contemplate the sky and the stars and identify oneself with their infinitude – all things that widen you and give you peace.  These are means, but they are indispensable.

And I have observed this in the cells of the body; they always seem to be in a hurry to do what they have to do, lest they have no time to do it. So they do nothing properly. Muddled people – some people turn everything upside down, their movements are jerky and confused – have this to a high degree, this kind of haste – quick, quick, quick… Yesterday, someone was complaining of rheumatic pains and he was saying, “Oh, it is such a waste of time. I do things so slowly!” I said (Mother smiles), “So what!” He didn’t like it. You see, for someone to complain when he is in pain means that he is soft, that is all; but to say, “I am wasting so much time, I do things so slowly!” It gave a very clear picture of the haste in which men live. You go hurtling through life… to go where?… You end with a crash! ” [1]

Photo: "Densmore Shute Bends the Shaft" by Dr Harold Edgerton, inventor of strobe photography who slowed down TIME! Click image for source

The perception of Time after Enlightenment

(After Enlightenment, the subconscious gets purged of past memories and one lives from day to day carrying no psychological memory of past traumas or excitements.  In this awakened condition, the flow of Time is radically altered.  In these excerpts, the Mother expatiates on how she perceives Time.)

The Mother Mirra: “The more quiet and still you are within yourself and the more you have eliminated that haste I was talking about, the faster time goes by. And the more you are in that precipitousness, the longer time is, the more it drags on and on.   Years and months are going by with dizzying speed – and without leaving any trace. So, if you look at it, you begin to understand how you can live almost indefinitely – because there no longer is that friction of time. ” [2]

The Mother Mirra: “The whole, entire universe moves forward with fantastic speed and in perfect immobility. Words seem idiotic, but you can feel this – you can feel it, see it, live it. A luminous immobility moving forward with fantastic speed.  In that immobility there is perfect transparency … and the problem does not exist: the solution comes ahead of the problem. That is to say, things organize themselves (gesture showing the movement of universal forces) in such a way that they can change positions or take a different place in order to express the new thing that must be expressed: something new constantly enters the manifestation (as if emerging from the Nonmanifest), it enters the manifestation and transforms. And it takes place automatically. A vast, immense movement … (Mother smiles with her eyes closed) in which one can participate only if one is perfectly peaceful and calm and translucent. ” [3]

A poem on Time

Time is endless in thy hands, my lord.
There is none to count thy minutes.

Days and nights pass
and ages bloom and fade like flowers.
Thou knowest how to wait.

Thy centuries follow each other
perfecting a small wild flower.

We have no time to lose,
and having no time
we must scramble for a chances.
We are too poor to be late.

And thus it is that time goes by
while I give it
to every querulous man who claims it,
and thine altar is empty
of all offerings to the last.

At the end of the day I hasten in fear
lest thy gate to be shut;
but I find that yet there is time.

(Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali)

See also

  1. Spacetime in occult worlds
  2. The brain is not the mind as per Yoga psychology
  3. The existence of vital signs during sleep or coma
  4. The action of subliminal memory
  5. Distinguishing between stilling the mind and dynamizing meditation
  6. Epistemology of perception
  7. Similarity between Neurological and Yogic models of human memory

References

  1. The Mother.  Collected Works, vol 10, On Thoughts and Aphorisms, p 201.
  2. Mother’s Agenda, Sept 18, 1964.
  3. Mother’s Agenda Mar 15, 1967.
  4. Mother’s Agenda, August 29, 1964.
  5. The Experience and Perception of Time.  Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.  Accessed Nov 21, 2010. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/time-experience/
  6. Sense of Time. Accessed Nov 21, 2010 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense_of_time
  7. Lynds, Peter  Subjective Perception of Time and a Progressive Present Moment: The Neurobiological Key to Unlocking Consciousness Preprint 2003.
    http://cogprints.org/3125/
  8. Eagleman, David et al.  Time and the Brain: How Subjective Time Relates to Neural Time, The Journal of Neuroscience, November 9, 2005, 25(45):10369-10371.
  9. Adler, Robert.  Look how time flies. New Scientist, 25 December 1999. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16422180.900-look-how-time-flies
  10. Mo.  Does time dilate during a threatening situation? Science Blog, January 23, 2010.
  11. Wittman, Mark et al.  The experience of time: neural mechanisms and the interplay of emotion, cognition and embodiment, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 12 July 2009 vol. 364 no. 1525, pp 1809-1813.
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19 thoughts on “Perception of Time changes with the concentration of consciousness

  1. Anthony David Butcher

    Dear Sandeep,

    I enclose an article which you may find interesting.

    From the Veda to Vaudeville

    With the 2010 Pantomine season nearly upon us who would think that one of our modern favourites “Puss in Boots” sprang from the Veda, which belonged to an ancient oral tradition many thousands of years before it assumed a written form somewhere between 4000 and 6000 BC. As unlikely as this first sounds- the evidence certainly points to this.

    Academics call this story type AT545 and have traced variants of this story to three very different locations of the world. Most agree that it probably started in India and then spread to three main areas: central Asia; the middle region of Armenia, the Caucasus, Asia Minor and Southern Europe; and thirdly Western Europe. They have delineated these three main areas because the nature of the variant stories reflect the ways of life of those countries..

    It seems that only in Western Europe and America is the hero a cat. In most other places it is a fox. However, tracing the stale back to its Asian origins is our best chance of paring it back to its original version.

    The Mongolian versions are the nearest to India. These stories reflect the lives of the people. who were herders of sheep and cattle. The basis of their tales was that an evil demon had abducted their animals. The solution was in the form of a shaman whose supernatural skills could allow him to assume any shape he chose to outwit the demon and recover the lost herd.

    This immediately brought to mind the work of Sri Aurobindo- a realised modern yogi- who as a result of his inner spiritual experiences and skill in languages was able to recognise the secret symbolism used in the Veda. From his own spiritual experiences he was able to realise that the Vedic hymns were actually accounts of the spiritual awakenings of the rishis who transposed them.

    There are many hymns in the Rig Veda that are very near to the Mongolian versions, except that the rishis who transposed them clothed their spiritual experiences in a symbolic form by dressing them in the clothes of the everyday world of the senses.

    Thus their “dawn” was not referring to the break of a new day but an inner awakening or realisation. The cattle trapped in the cave in the hill or mountain were not actually physical cows but illuminations of the Swar- a spiritual world normally hidden and unavailable to most humans. They referred to these inner Illuminations as “cows” because their word for cow was “go” or “gow” meaning light.

    The hill or mountain the illuminating cattle were locked up in was a cave in the heart within the human body, due to the misrepresentations of the ego and the social conditioning that feeds it on a daily basis..

    The helper animal in the Veda is Sarama, sometimes called the “hound of heaven”. Aurobindo was able to see that this was a cover for “intuition”. It is the intuition that leads one to the door of the hidden spiritual treasure of the truth of life..

    Whilst all the modern variations of this tale ends with the hero being rich and famous, the Vedic version focuses more on what happens when “intuition” leads one to the door of the cave- or should I say the huge rock in front which seals it. Once at the door Indra, the king of the gods breaks through the obstruction and with the help of his spiritual allies and makes available the entire spiritual treasure to the seeker.

    What they break through are the obstructions of the “Panis or Dasyus”, who deal, or traffic in false and misleading knowledge which obscures the eternal truth. We may regard them as the barriers preventing ordinary unillumined people from having access to the Divine truth behind all existence

    Major changes are bound to happen to any tale with a hoary origin. Unlike modern languages like our own, ancient languages like Sanskrit and probably ancient Egyptian, were not merely linear devices like our own but actually had four levels of meaning ranging from the gross to the “finer than fine”, or in other words from street value to the transcendental level of existence. Over the huge period of thousands of years these tales have become greatly altered as they have travelled along the trade routes to other ways of life. In doing so the top, transcendental level of meaning has become lost.

    While all the modern “Puss in Boots” type of stories depict an animal helper making the fortune of his master in the world outside, it becomes clear that the original meaning referred to an inner state of enlightenment.

    Many scholars- who only accept the literal meaning of the hymns- still regard the Veda as “primitive babble” by incredulous nature worshipping “savages”. It is only through the knowledge and techniques of pioneering modern gurus like Sri Aurobindo and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, that the true light of the Veda has been revealed. They have done this by verifying, from their own experience, the Vedic code used by the rishis and given ordinary people like ourselves the opportunity to expand our minds to see through the obscuring fog, accumulated through the ages and make the original meanings become clear.

    Reply
  2. ipsa

    One more thing – the same nice girl one gets married to does not seem nice anymore.
    Einstein left that out.

    Reply
  3. Sandeep Post author

    An article on this topic from the Slate magazine:

    The Longest 40 Minutes of My Life

    The raid that killed Osama Bin Laden “was the longest 40 minutes of my life,” said President Obama in a 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday, “with the possible exception of when Sasha got meningitis when she was three months old and I was waiting for the doctor to tell me that she was all right.” What makes some minutes feel longer than others?

    Answer: Emotion and novelty. Scientists are still hunting for the neurological underpinnings of time perception, but they have begun to uncover some patterns in how our brains stretch and shrink durations. Negative emotions like anxiety, depression, and fear tend to slow things down, while positive emotions speed them up—at least while they’re happening. (Time flies when you’re having fun.)

    Read more at http://www.slate.com/id/2293612/

    Reply
  4. Sandeep Post author

    The Return-trip effect : Why the return trip often seems to take less time.
    Researchers have found that this effect was caused not due to increasing familiarity with the route but because people expected the initial trip to be faster than it was, thereby making the trip back seem shorter.

    see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21861201

    Reply
  5. Sandeep Post author

    Swami Vivekananda says “All time is mine”. This passage is from Dhar’s “Biography of Swami Vivekananda”, vol 2, p 1271)

    We shall finish this section with a brief account of the yoga classes which he held three times a week in the mornings (and sometimes in the afternoons) for earnest students. As we have said above, some students came a little before the classes, and in chitchatting with them he sometimes got late for the classes, for which he did not care much. One day he was getting very late and the lady in charge of affairs (Mrs. Hansborough) reminded him about it. He got himself ready in a minute and came to his class dressed in his ochre robe, as usual, in his leisurely way. “I am never late,” he explained his delay to a disciple on another. “I have all the time in the world. All time is mine.”

    Reply
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  9. Sandeep Post author

    The Mother said above, “The more quiet and still you are within yourself and the more you have eliminated that haste I was talking about, the faster time goes by. And the more you are in that precipitousness, the longer time is, the more it drags on and on.”

    This is a neuroscientific explanation to buttress the Mother’s observation

    In a stressful situation, the amygdala in the brain kicks in and makes the memories more sticky. This creates denser memories and as a result, when we recall the event, we think it lasted longer than usual.

    By contrast, when we are not stressed out, the amygdala is not involved in memory formation and consequently, the memory representation within the brain is quite sparse. This is why time appears to fly fast when you attain a vaster consciousness, or even when you become older.

    This is the gist I gathered from this article exploring neural mechanisms behind our subjective perception of time by David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine:

    The days of thinking of time as a river—evenly flowing, always advancing—are over. Time perception, just like vision, is a construction of the brain and is shockingly easy to manipulate experimentally.

    […]
    In a critical situation, a walnut-size area of the brain called the amygdala kicks into high gear, commandeering the resources of the rest of the brain and forcing everything to attend to the situation at hand. When the amygdala gets involved, memories are laid down by a secondary memory system, providing the later flashbulb memories of post- traumatic stress disorder. So in a dire situation, your brain may lay down memories in a way that makes them “stick” better. Upon replay, the higher density of data would make the event appear to last longer. This may be why time seems to speed up as you age: you develop more compressed representations of events, and the memories to be read out are correspondingly impoverished. When you are a child, and everything is novel, the richness of the memory gives the impression of increased time passage—for example, when looking back at the end of a childhood summer.

    For more, see his article @ http://eagleman.com/eagleman-blog/147-brain-time

    Reply
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  13. mwb6119

    “As we regain sense of the greater consciousness that we are, we may find ourselves arriving in a state where the clamour of life begins to recede, the events in our life start to naturally organize themselves, and some uncanny power of intuition brings us the answers to our problems before the question even arises” quote taken from above – not certain if it is a direct quote of The Mother or a paraphrase? But, the topic is my concern at the moment. If I am not mistaken, I sense that this in particular, in the least, is beginning to occur: “the clamour of life begins to recede” And then the following has yet to manifest: “the events in our life start to naturally organize themselves,” I am not yet certain how this part plays out in our lives – experientially rather than theoretically. At the moment, I feel like I am separated from all activity, or rather, the activity I have known until now. Now I see the world/people as actors on a stage performing but not aware of why they are doing what they are doing – they literally don’t know where they are or why. And I remember how I used to be that person. In addition, my mind feels silent as well as there being pressure – I have read about this pressure and how it has something to do with the descent and I wonder if this silence is the same as the “silent mind” – my brain space feels almost numb and the usual thought activity is not there, more or less blank at the moment. … This appears to be an interim stage. … Also, I have had similar such experiences in the past, but they were brief epiphany-type experiences which suddenly overwhelmed me and then just as suddenly disappeared leaving me bewildered. Now, in comparison, what I am experiencing is very different. I sense that I am very present and am apart of the experience. And I have not yet experienced my life “naturally organize” itself. From my old mind set, this sounds fantastic, or worse, like something out of “The Secret.” I do have a copy of “On Thoughts and Aphorisms” and I even have the section highlighted that is quoted in this article (before reading this article). And I was surprised to see some of what I read there. I think that this over-all process is so deeply profound, and then to find something that strikes me as apparently superficial and almost trivial suggesting your life to magically sorting itself out, like a magic carpet ride. For a short while I visited Karmayogi on-line; read many of his writings and visited his on-line community and I found that many people there are into “The Secret” – I do appreciate the writings of Karmayogi, but I was not so impressed with what I had felt to be an almost infatuation with the “getting what you want” mentality shared in the on-line community [mind you I was only there for a brief visit and that was an impression I was left with – don’t take my word for it]. If one is motivated in the lower mentality to obtain material benefits by following a high spiritual practice…? On the other hand, perhaps the person, even though their initial motivation is limited, there is the possibility of expansion later on. … It’s late, turning in. 🙂

    Reply
  14. Sandeep Post author

    Reply

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