Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Time Is This Rubbery Thing Part 2

Great! This damn post is so long that I had to break it up into part 1 and part 2.  I think I am trying to dilate time for my readers.  Just keep reading this, you will live forever.

This Part 2, so if you have not read Part 1, suffer through it first.

I do have a time dilation problem, every day as a matter of fact.  As such, I find Eagleman’s studies of the brain’s perception of time interesting in a practical sense.  In 1984 and early 1985 I had two very nasty attacks from multiple sclerosis.  While I have been fortunate and not have had any additional attacks, I still live with the damage wreaked in the original attacks, bad balance, weak shoulders, numb hands, emotional sensitivity, a loss of IQ (didn't have much to begin with so the loss was somewhat devastating), terrible memory, and I don't think as fast as I used to. The best way to describe it is that my clock speed slowed down. I have no basis of saying of how slow, but I know that it takes me a lot more time to process information than it did before my attacks. I have found the intellectual, emotional, and memory problems from the MS to be more troublesome than the physical.  See EDIT 9/13/13 at the end of this post. 

Clock speed.  This is the gigahz ratings that you see in the computer ads.  It is the speed that the processor and internal memory of the computer operates at.  The computer’s clock sort of says to all the internal contraptions do it: “now”… “now”… “now”… “now”…a zillion times a second.  The faster the clock speed, the faster the computer operates, and the smarter it appears to be. 

I doubt that humans have an oscillator with a set clock speed.  Yet it has been my perception that my clock slowed down with the MS, and the amount seems significant.  I would venture to say that I lost about 10 points of IQ.  How much of that loss can attributed to a slower clock speed, I am not sure, but I am certain that my clock slowed down.  Imagine stripping the insulation off the components inside your computer.  That is what MS does to one’s nerve cells, it strips the myelin coating and allows the cells to electrically short out.  So when your brain is full of shorted components, is it any surprise that one’s clock speed might be slower, or that one has suffered a loss of IQ, or a lousy memory, or that perhaps one has a tendency to melancholy and tears?

I believe I read in "This Is Your Brain On Music" by Daniel Levitin that our musical memories are quite accurate in tempo. That is if you play a tune in your head, the beat is going to be very close to the piece that you are remembering. (Don't hold me to this, I have a terrible memory).

When I was in college, I developed some interest in classical music. The cool thing about classical was that one could pick up some great music for little cost. There were a lot cheap records made by struggling post war European orchestras. In listening to these, I developed an internal program of what a particular piece sounds like.

In the late 80s (after my MS attacks) my interest in classical returned. My stereo and turntable had long fallen into disrepair so I got a new stereo with a tape deck. I couldn't play my old records, so I went about replacing my records with tapes, which was still a bargain, but for the most part I couldn't replace the exact recordings of my old vinyl records--they had long faded from the market.  I could get newer stuff recorded in the 60's by Bernstein and Ormandy for a fraction of the cost of what newly recorded pieces were going for, but it was not my original music. Any "new" music I bought sounded fine, but the pieces that I tried to replace from my record collection never sounded right. The french horns were too muted. Where the hell did the cellos go?   Why do they play it so fast?  My replacement tapes did not sound like the music that I remembered from my records. My records sounded right and this new crap was just all wrong and always, always played too damned fast.  What is the rush?  I quit listening to my replacement music because it was too irritating.  It was like going into a Karaoke bar and trying to convince yourself that yeah! That really is the Beetles!

A couple of years ago, I bought Led Zeppelin 3 & 4 (Zoso) on CD. I had heard neither album since the 70s (before my attacks). At first listen, the Immigrant Song sounded too fast.  But then after a few more attempts it sounded OK.  Truly the same Led Zeppelin that I remember (as to whether it really is could debated--but it certainly sound the same). So buying the same music sounded the same (except for that first little tweek required in my timing), but buying different orchestral music sounded all wrong. Different conductors emphasize different things, but the modern guys always play the damn things too fast.

About a year and half ago, I read an article in Vanity Fair about the big fight that Jackie and Robert Kennedy had with William Manchester over "The Death of A President". This piqued my interest and I found a copy of the book at Alibis and read it. Fascinating, a bit naive, but really a great book. Anyone old enough to get junk mail from AARP probably remembers watching Kennedy's funeral on TV. I can remember the solemn drone of Walter Cronkite's fatherly voice giving us the details while caisson went slowly through the streets of Washington to the beat of the drums:

Boom boom boom...ratatatat...boom boom boom...ratatatat...boom boom boom...ratatatat...boom boom de boom......... (Yeah I know it sucks, but you get the idea). I can hear those drums in my mind's ear as though it were yesterday.

Well in the process of reading "Death Of A President", I started to watch YouTube videos of what I was reading about. I watched the motorcade at Dallas, Johnson taking the oath on Air Force One, and the various videos of the funeral at the same time that I read the chapters in the book. I found the one with Walter Cronkite and the drums. Walter sounds fine, but the drums are ridiculously too fast. This can't be right. They speeded it up on YouTube to save server space! OK Sherlock, but why doesn't Walter Cronkite sound like Minimouse and why aren't the cars moving about at 25 miles an hour rather than walking pace. Only the tempo of the drums sounded fast, everything else seemed normal.

Suddenly a light goes off...BINGO! My clock speed slowed down! The drums are the same in video that they were in November of 1963. The tempos of the replacement symphonies are probably fine. It is my slow clock speed and memory that makes everything seem too fast. The symphonies did not sound right because they were not exactly the same. The emphasis of instruments is different but the tempos are probably OK. Led Zeppelin started to set off an alarm then I made an internal adjustment and it was fine. Led Zeppelin still sounded the same but was too fast until I adjusted my internal timing. So perhaps I should lend my brain to the phrenology of neuroscience so it can see where the lesions are in the myelin sheathing and thus find the location of the internal BIG BEN! I probably wouldn't miss it much, it has been rather unreliable for past two decades.

I just tried it again.  In my mind I played the cadence of the drums.  From one final “de boom” to the next takes 14 seconds in my head.  I timed it on YouTube, 9.3 seconds.  Walter Cronkite states in the video that the drums are playing 100 beats per minute.   Counting the rat a tat tats as one beat, my timing is about 68 beats a minute. 

Edit 6-10-11:  I checked in Levitin's book This Is Your Brain On Music, and most people can sing a song from memory and keep "within four percent of their nominal tempo."  Page 61.  My 68 beats per minute from memory on a 100 beats per minute actual tempo, makes me 32 % slow!  No wonder I am so damn dumb.

YouTube, JFK Funeral Part 1 of 3

There is one final facet of Eagleman that I found perhaps more fascinating than his time studies.  He is a Possibilian.  So what the hell is a Possibilian?  The article probably states it best

Before Francis Crick died, in 2004, he gave Eagleman some advice. “Look,” he said. “The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea, because then he’ll fight and die for it. The way real science goes is that you come up with lots of ideas, and most of them will be wrong.”

This may have laid the intellectual ground work for Possibilianism.  Again from the article: 

Eagleman was brought up as a secular Jew and became an atheist in his teens. Lately, though, he’d taken to calling himself a Possibilian—a denomination of his own invention. Science had taught him to be skeptical of cosmic certainties, he told me. From the unfathomed complexity of brain tissue—“essentially an alien computational material”—to the mystery of dark matter, we know too little about our own minds and the universe around us to insist on strict atheism, he said. “And we know far too much to commit to a particular religious story.” Why not revel in the alternatives? Why not imagine ourselves, as he did in “Sum,” as bits of networked hardware in a cosmic program, or as particles of some celestial organism, or any of a thousand other possibilities, and then test those ideas against the available evidence? “Part of the scientific temperament is this tolerance for holding multiple hypotheses in mind at the same time,” he said. “As Voltaire said, uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”
A garden-variety agnostic might have left it at that. But Eagleman, as usual, took things a step further. Two years ago, in an interview on a radio show, he declared himself the founder of a new movement. Possibilianism had a membership of one, he said, but he hoped to attract more. “I’m not saying here is the answer,” he told me. “I’m just celebrating the vastness of our ignorance.” The announcement was only half serious, so Eagleman was shocked to find, when he came home from his lab later that night, that his e-mail in-box was filled, once again, with messages from listeners. “You know what?” most of them said. “I’m a Possibilian, too!” The movement has since drawn press from as far away as India and Uganda. At last count, close to a thousand Facebook members had switched their religious affiliation to Possibilianism.
Francis Crick, the patron saint of intellectual long shots, might have approved.

To find out more about Eagleman's Possibilianism see his web site


Possibilian?  While I have a rather deep belief in God and the Divinity of the Soul, I don’t have much faith in organized religions or the intellectual foundations for atheism.  In a ironic way, I can attribute my belief in God to Richard Feynman. 

“It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong”

In 1972 I found out that one of my theories “There probably is no God” did not agree with experiment.  Well OK, I wasn’t experimenting, I was simply driving to work, so let’s call it the hard reality of experience.  The hard reality is that I should be dead.  I pulled up to an intersection to make a left and instead of being in the center lane, I was sitting as far off to the right of the road as I could be, and saying to myself “What the hell am I doing over here?  What is wrong with me?  I should be in the center lane, why am I on the far right side of the road?”  An instant later a huge 18 wheeler come blasting through that center lane at about 90 miles per hour.  The wind from it lifted my car.  So the to question of “what the hell am I doing over here” was quickly answered.  Avoiding a head on collision with a speeding truck.  Why I was sitting over there has no practical answer.  I can think of absolutely no reason why I should be alive today.. There is no Earthly explanation of why I didn’t pull into that center lane.  I even questioned it while I was sitting there, what the hell I was doing.  The only reason my theory was wrong, was that practical empiricism proved it wrong.        

So that created a bit of a philosophical problem.  Why would God save a going to hell, ex Lutheran, agnostic, who absolutely refused (and still does) to ask forgiveness for a certain sin?  Being egocentric, I found this to be a most difficult question.  Then it occurred to me.  God is a pragmatist.  He was saving the truck driver.  It was a hell of lot easier to have me pull my compact car off to the side of the road than to have a speeding 18 wheeler negotiate the ballooning right lane.  Besides that, maybe it will give the sinful lad something to chew on.  So, you see my faith in God is not instilled by any theories or great teachings that I learned in church.  Hell no, my faith in God is based purely on the empiricism of the road.  
I like to pursue my belief in God as though it was a scientific endeavor.  So I find myself drawn to the idea of being a Possibilian, but with the twist that it would be quite impossible for me not to believe in God. For me God is not a theory, my belief is wrought by empiricism.   Every breath I take I am reminded that I am cheating.  In a Godless world, I would have died in 1972.

I bought Eagleman’s book Sum.  It is a something of a scientific Spoon River Anthology presenting 40 possible scenarios for the afterlife.  While I am probably a little beyond a good Possibilian for the belief in God, that's fairly fixed and not open to debate, I am open to a Possibilian consideration of the afterlife, having found the usual descriptions of sitting on the right hand of God for eternity to be lacking in imagination.  Two versions I am hoping for are:

  1) In the afterlife, all the sinners will go to the sinners quarter of heaven.  This area is just like any other quarter of heaven except that it doesn’t have the goody goodies sitting about singing hosannas and generally kissing God’s behind, and telling Him about all the great things they did while they were on Earth.  At dark, God will steal away from the goody goodies who bed down alone in Holy celibacy for a good 8 hours of refreshing sleep so that they can resume their adulation of themselves for the glory of God.  God goes down to the sinners quarter every night to have a beer with the crowd, listen to some heavenly cool jazz, check out the heavenly albeit sinful women, and twitch off a days worth of Holiness bestowed upon Him by his best constituents.      

2)  In the afterlife, we are all forced to clean shit houses.  Those who led mostly wholesome lives will only clean the heavenly binjos for a year or so.  Those who have led less the exemplary lives may have to do so for centuries or millennia depending on the gravity of their sins.  For the truly evil, they will be cleaning shit house for eons, but a finite number of eons….

I have thought about contacting Eagleman about my internal clock.  “Hey Dave, I read that fascinating article in the New Yorker, let me tell you about my clock speed slowing down from MS.”  Then I think about that damn ride, the Scad.  What if he talks me into doing it?  I may have an extremely rare condition, chronoturtlitis and may prove to be the missing links in his studies.  I may be the key to the universal theory of time if I would only climb into that damned ride with Eagleman’s LED device strapped to my wrist.  If you have ever read the symptoms of MS, you would probably note that a reduced control of the bowels is high on the list.  While I have been lucky in that regard, I am not sure that I want to put it to the test with the Scad.  Possibillian indeed!

To return to the beginning of Part 1 go to the following link:

Navigating The Finite Part 1

EDIT 5-6-2011:  I added two photos to part 1 showing the flashing of the LED clocks.  The photos suck because I don't know what I am doing but they do demonstrate the effect.  Essentially I put the camera in manual, adjusted the shutter speed for 1 second, the aperture for the lowest setting and madly swung the camera vertically (it mushes the numbers less than horizontally). I then had to adjust the "Tone Curve" in the photo software to get the image visible.  I think I should have tried a faster ISO speed.  As I say I don't know what the hell I am doing.  Once the camera comes out of Auto, I am lost.  But to illustrate the effect, it worked great.  The faster I moved the camera the greater the spacing between the numbers.

EDIT 6-8-2011:  Here is an article by NPR about Eagleman's fall and his experiments.  It contains a short podcast from Radiolab interviewing Eagleman, and features a sound clip of a reporter named April riding the SCAD.  NPR, Why A Brush With Death Triggers The Slo-Mo Effect  

EDIT 6-11-2011:  I started reading Eagleman's book Incognito, The Secret Lives of The Brain and ran into the website for his lab at Baylor.  At the risk of getting into an all morning long link fest like I did, check it out. This guy is fascinating.    Eagleman Laboratory For Perception and Action

EDIT 7-4-2011:  Excellent profile on David Eagleman:

Killing The, The Struggle For The (Possible) Soul of David Eagleman, By Robert Jensen

EDIT 9-13-13:  There is an article in the latest issue of Momentum The Magazine of the National MS Society on cognitive problems from MS.  The article reads as though they dissected my brain for the basis of the article.  Anyhow there was a quote referring to the processing speed of thought that I alluded to above:

Neuropsychologist John DeLuca, PhD, vice president for research at the Kessler Foundation Research Center, says an overall slowing of processing speed caused by MS is one mechanism that can lead to cognitive dysfunction. “If you’re accustomed to processing everything quickly, like a state-of-the-art computer, and now your speed becomes more like an old 286 processor, it’s going to take a lot longer to get the same answer.”  
Momentum Magazine Online, Lost In Thought: When Cognition Changes, Leslie E. Silverman
This is an excellent, albeit short article, for anyone with MS that suffers from cognitive dysfunctions--you are not alone!

Image Credits:

Eagleman in his Lab   The New Yorker, April 25, 2011, The Possibilian by Burkhard Bilger 

The Scad,    Popular Mechanics, The World’s 18 Strangest Rides

Amygdala, North of Neutral, Beware of Amygdala Hijacks

Digital Clocks,  me.

The Cover of Sum,  The


  1. I knew you would have a long post today, so I wrote mine first. ESP? Yours is interesting indeed. Be grateful for the IQ point loss. The rest of us can understand what you're writing about. Of course, I still had to look up "geocaching." I've never gone geocaching but am sorry I didn't. Have a nice tomorrow to end week one.

  2. "Sum" looks interesting. Shall have to read it.
    And, while I know you find food boring, one can think of recipes as experiments. The results of some inspire belief in God. Or heaven and hell.
    "The Farm Journal" had a lovely quote that should appeal to your liking for the whole shebang of science and experiments. "Fourteen out of any ten like chocolate." Now that, I think, resonates with truth.

  3. Regarding the IQ loss, believe me, you would have had no trouble understanding me. I wasn't any smarter, just less dumb. A genius, I have never been.

    Geocaching is pretty cool, I would like to get back to it someday.

    Regarding food, I have been thinking that I may experiment with salads in my retirement. No need for rushing into things. Regarding chocolate, it reminds me of a tee shirt saying: Five out of four people have trouble with fractions. Actually the 14 out of 10 makes sense in a weird way. There is a sub-race of human beings known as chocolaholics. I am one of them. I used to smoke. I never left the house at 3 am to go get cigarettes. I did leave once at 3 am to go get chocolate. Other times I broke into the baker's chocolate. Bitter as hell but it took care of the cravings. So lets say you have 10 people randomly selected from the population. 60 percent of those people will like chocolate normally. Forty percent will be chocolaholics with double the average desire for chocolate. So you got 6 normal 4 double, yep that is 14 out of 10.

  4. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

    I did look up geocaching, and it does look like a dandy way to spend an afternoon. And I was reminded of a period in time when The Reader's Digest had a humor editor that didn't last long.
    (I cannot bear Reader's Digest articles, but I do read all the short stuff when I am waiting in a doctor's office.) When GPSs first came out, a father and son bought one for their annual trek through the Sierra Leone mountains. They needed the GPS because they got lost every year. Again, they got lost and the father asked, "Have you got the GPS?" "Oh, yes," said the son. "Do you know where we are?" "Oh, yes," said the son. "Well, where are we asked the father. The son pointed to a spot on a distant mountain and said, "We're on that mountain over there." I don't really know why I
    love that goofy exchange, but I do. In the same magazine: A woman worked for KMart, quit, and got hired by WalMart. In both stores, she was the voice that warned that the store would close in fifteen minutes. Here's what she said: "Attention all K-Mart customers....You're in the wrong store."

    Have a nice weekend.