Monday, July 16, 2012

What Is Time?

When looking back on the last operation I had, I remembered the strange feeling of being awake one minute on the operation table and giggling as the anesthesia kicked in, then waking up in a completely different room, with a tube down my throat. I had no idea wether I had been unconcious for hours or minutes. I had no sense of time at all. There is something about being unconsious that strips humans of our sense of time. When our minds are functioning we can feel time passing and see it happening around us. But when our minds are shut off, wether it be by chemical influence such as anesthesia, or during the early stages of a very deep sleep we have no sense of time at all. This begs the question, is time ONLY in our heads?
To me, my perception of time is my ability to make and store new memories and differenciate between the old and the new. I understand time when I compare a string of at least two memories. These memories don't have to be significant, they can be as simple as me stumbling out of bed and eating a bowl of cerial. When I compare those memories I remember that I got out of bed first and thanks to the numbers that we humans of put forth I can infer that it was about twenty minutes later when I started to eat. The recognition between old and new on the linear plane of memories is what gives humans our sense of time. So, if time is putting a specific label (how old or how new) on memories is it possible that without memories we would be frozen in time?
The answer to my own question is yes. We would be metaphorically frozen in time. The minute you lose your ability to form new memories is the minute that you stop recognizing that time is passing, that minutes and seconds are going by and that things are happening around you and changing. The best example I can think of to paint a picture of exactly how important memory formation is to our perception of time is from something I saw on Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. A man who suffered from epilepsy had his hypocampus removed. This stopped the epilepsy but also stopped his ability to remember anything after his surgery. After years of repeating the same things day after day (because he could never remember what he did the day before) the man could not reckognize himself in the mirror. His body was experiancing time but his mind was stuck. According to his mind he was still the man he was on the day of his surgery.

Maybe time is in our heads after all and the only reason that time exists is because humans are here to measure it!