April 27, 2011

David Eagleman on Time and Synesthesia

Burkhard Bilger had a great piece in the April 25, 2011 New Yorker entitled David Eagleman and Mysteries of the Brain. In it, Bilger discusses Eagleman's fascinating work trying to figure out how we think about time. Eagleman goes to a Zero Gravity "ride" to see if he can measure how our sense of time slows down when we are afraid (he can); he also goes to London to see if drummers' brains are more precise about time than "normal" brains (they are).

Our general perception of time seems to be influenced by emotion:
When something threatens your life, [the amygdala] seems to kick into overdrive, recording every last detail of the experience. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said—why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.
For more on this story, read the transcript of Bilger and Eagleman's chat session, Ask the Author Live: Burkhard Bilger on Time and the Brain. It's all fascinating!

Shortly after I read the New Yorker article, I was going through itunes, pruning some of my podcasts. I found a January 2010 episode of Australia's terrific All In The Mind in which Natasha Mitchell interviewed David Eagleman, in a show entitled: The afterlife, synesthesia and other tales of the senses. Eagleman talks very little about time, but quite a bit about synesthesia. If you want to know more about numbers having colors, or names having taste, give this show a listen.