A Few Thoughts about the Effects of Temporal Perception Likely to Result from Augmentation
Endemic to our human nature is a temporal awareness. We perceive the present at all times during periods of consciousness. We also have access to present recollections of past events (i.e., memories), and we are able to imagine, based on our present understanding of past events and present conditions, how circumstances might exist in the future. We structure our lives around our understanding of time and the three tenses thereof – past, present, and future.
How might this change, if our perception of time were to change? If we existed as a sentient software program, our perception of time might “speed up,” though we are likely to still understand time in terms of past, present, and future. The present can be understood both as a fixed point and as a moving point. The present can be understood as a fixed point in the sense we are only ever aware of the present. Contrarily, however, the present can be understood as a moving point if we focus not on our perception but on events as occurrences that happen objectively outside of our perception, media through which our perception can pass fluidly, if unilaterally. The rate that events pass through our perception or the rate at which our perception passes through events is relative to our ability to process sensory data, and if that rate increases, our perception of time changes in relation to it.
In other words, how quickly or slowly time seems to pass changes based on our ability to process sensory data. If our ability to process sensory data increases, time seems to slow down. If our ability to process sensory data decreases, time seems to speed up. Consider the following example.
An extremely limited computer chip may be able to process 10 new events every 0.001 seconds. To that computer chip, 10 new events every 0.001 seconds would be a lot of events, because that is the maximum capacity of the chip to process events. The chip cannot process 11 new events every 0.001 seconds, and it will have to work as hard as it can to process 10 events every 0.001 seconds. On the other hand, if the same chip is processing only 2 events every 0.001 seconds, it will not have to work hard at all, because it is operating far below its capacity.
In a sentient machine, like the human brain, there is always a layer of meta-conscious activity working like an operating system. Part of this meta-conscious activity is responsible for temporal awareness. Because a human brain has finite resources – only so many synapses and so forth – and can only process so much information at once, when it is forced to process more information, it devotes fewer resources to meta-conscious activity, and more to conscious activity. That’s why when you’re busy, time seems to speed up, because your conscious mind is more focused on the task at hand than it is on information that might be trickling over from your the meta-conscious part of your mind. That’s why you “lose track of time” when you’re focused on a project that is important to you.
That’s also why when you’re bored time seems to slow down. When you’re bored, your mind has much less to process; so, it spends time focusing on things other than whatever task may be at hand, including information that naturally bleeds over from the meta-conscious parts of your mind, including temporal awareness data. In other words, your mind is more aware of meta-conscious processes when you’re bored, making you more focused on how much time is passing. The more consciously aware you are of how much time is passing, the slower time seems to go.
This understanding of how time seems to pass is based on a relativity of perception, rather than a relativity of objective temporal occurrence of events, and is therefore different from the kind of temporal relativity described by Einstein. Of course, the effects of Einstein’s theory of general relativity can be incorporated and coupled with the understanding of how time seems to pass described above. If, for example, we achieved technology that enabled us to travel at close to the speed of light, and if, therefore, time slowed down for the traveler relative to those he passed by, and if, simultaneously, we increased the traveler’s ability to process sensory information, it might seem to the traveler that people or objects he passed were moving even slower than they would appear to move if we did not increase the traveler’s ability to process sensory information. The compounded slowing effect, however, would apply to his own movements as well as those of the people around him.
So what? There are several applications and considerations that might result from or directly relate to these very general observations. For one, if we develop technology that enables us to travel very, very fast, we will need to develop technology that will enable us to maneuver even faster. What good would it be to have the ability to drive your car at 500 mph, if you could only safely maneuver it at 200 mph? You would just get yourself killed at the first turn in the road. Additionally, what sort of quality of life changes would result from dramatically increasing our brains’ abilities to process information? What if you could absorb, store, and process all the information in your favorite novel in under 1 minute? Would that ability decrease the pleasure you gain from reading the novel? Would the net increase in pleasure of being able to absorb, store, and process the information from more books outweigh the decrease in pleasure you might experience as the result of more quickly “reading” through a single book?
These questions are difficult to try to answer, because they involve the subjective component of experience we lack due to our current technical limitations. Imagine one were able to inject nanites1 into his brain that were able to create new synaptic connections, and in so doing, he were able to increase the amount of information he could process. Theoretically, one could then process the same amount of information has he could currently process at maximum mental exertion, and still get bored. Is that really a good thing? On the other hand, one could process more information. The problem seems to be that our need for stimulation to avoid boredom will probably increase as our ability to process information increases.
There are, of course, many other issues and implications related to this line of reasoning that are worthy of consideration. I cannot comprehensively treat the subject here. This article is just meant to get the reader thinking about the effects augmentation might have on temporal perception. The more I think about this topic, the more other topics come to mind. I hope this article has had the same effect on you.