“We turned into the deep bed of a narrow street that ran between two sidewalks built high up off the ground. It had suddenly got dark; I heard quick, almost secret footsteps above me—I raised my eyes and saw a boy running along the narrow, broken sidewalk high above, as though running along the top of a narrow, broken wall. I recall the short, baggy trousers—like a gaucho’s—that he wore, the straw-soled cotton slippers, the cigarette in the hard visage, all stark against the now limitless storm cloud, Unexpectedly, Bernardo shouted out to him—What’s the time Irineo? Without consulting the sky, without a second’s pause, the boy replied, Four minutes till eight, young Bernardo Juan Francisco. The voice was shrill and mocking.”

Funes, el Memorioso. Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley, Penguin Classics.

This image of Jorge Luis orges was located  at Wikimedia Commos,

Did you ever feel so bored that time slowed down to almost a standstill?

Did you ever feel so happy that time was flying away almost in a rush?

Of course, you did. The possibility of selectively perceiving time is wired in humans.

Interoceptive perception of time is a critical bodily function that processes a myriad of sensorial inputs from our immediate environment, our physiological functions, our memories of experiences and even our emotional baggage attached to those instances of living, all synchronized and fully integrated in our Central Nervous System to illuminate our path in the world, and even predicting the future.

Human awareness is inextricable tied to our perception of time. In an excellent article, Danielle di Lerma et al., researchers at the Department of Psychology from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milano, said: “Our consciousness, our ability to perceive the world around us, and, ultimately, our very sense of self are shaped upon our perception in loop connecting of memories from the past, present sensations and expectations of the future… Scalar Expectancy Theory (Gibbon et. al 1984) is one of the most accepted frameworks of time perception (Church, 1984; Treisman et al., 1990) A core tenet of SET is an internal clock with a pacemaker-accumulator component. Pulses emitted by the pacemaker are stored in the accumulator. and the amount of units stored in a finite span influences sample frequency and our time perception. A high pulse rate will store more units in the accumulator, therefore leading to overestimation in subjective perception, whereas a low pulse rate will produce opposite effects. Recent developments of SET included memory and decision-making components along with the pacemaker-accumulator unit, providing a more efficient neurocognitive framework for time awareness (Gibbon et al., 1984; Lui et al., 2011)”

This image of Aiale Carracis’ Allegory of Truth ad Time was located at Wikimedia Commos.

Perception of time is solidly rooted in our physiological matrix as not only bodily functions and emotions alter it, but also a state of physiological arousal can increase the pulse frequency of the pacemaker, creating overestimation of subjective time perception. The movements of our bodies and its sensory-motor integration in our cerebral cortex can distort our awareness of time, producing different outcomes. Recent neurophysiological studies have identified an interoceptive matrix located in the anterior cingular cortex (AIC) that receives input from small diameter sensory fibers from the Lamina I spinothalamocortical pathway, which receives sensory information form multiple organs and systems of our body to maintain homeostasis.

Friston et al. studied the interoceptive buffer, which processes and compares the actual information with previous ones to make rational predictions about the system’s functioning and thus optimize its efficiency, just like a “little internal chip” Considering that this buffer has small dimensions and can be easily filled up to saturation levels by incoming stimuli, Craig et al. proposed that: “ high rate of salient stimuli can saturate the finite dimension of the buffer, speeding up the sampling frequency, effectively slowing (Tse et al., 2004; Campbell and Bryant, 2007; van Wassenhove et al., 2008; Wittmann and Paulus, 2008; DroitVolet et al., 2011) the perception of time, which will appear to ‘stand still to the subjective observer’ (Craig, 2009). Contrary, when the interoceptive buffer is not filled up ‘large intervals of time in the objective world can appear to pass quickly’ (Craig, 2009)”

Recent studies of the AIC showed that in paradoxical situations where high rates of high salience stimuli can produce opposite effects, there is an asymmetric activation of the buffer. The parasympathetic impulses are processed by the left and mid insula of the AIC and the sympathetic impulses are in its right side. “According to Craig’s emotional asymmetry perspective, when we experience a dominant sympathetic arousal, stimuli processed in the right AIC speed up the sample rate frequency, accumulating pulses in the internal clock, leading therefore to overestimation of subjective time perception. Conversely, when we are engaged in a parasympathetic (e.g., affiliative) activation, stimuli are preferentially processed by the left AIC, leading to underestimation of time due to a lack of sympathetic activity.” There is ongoing research about the functioning of this interoceptive buffer, especially when it is overloaded with parasympathetic stimuli that foster a distorted time perception.

It has critical importance in pathological situations where there might be interference with the perception in time according to the person’s load of sympathetic or parasympathetic stimuli. Daniele di Lermia et al studied the following: “we hypothesized that depressive symptoms (Dunn et al., 2007, 2010; Pollatos et al., 2009; Paulus and Stein, 2010; Wiebking et al., 2015) and eating disorder tendencies (Pollatos et al., 2008), will interfere in a negative direction, while anxiety symptoms (Whyman and Moos, 1967; Pollatos et al., 2009, 2014; Dunn et al., 2010; Paulus and Stein, 2010; Yoo and Lee, 2015) and other sympathetic stimuli (Ogden et al., 2015a) in a positive one.”

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

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