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Even if you ’ ve never seen The Matrix,
you might be familiar with at least one classic scene.
In the movie, a gunman attempts to shoot the main character Neo,
only for Neo to suddenly
realize that he can slow down time.
The bullets crawl by,
and the protagonist casually bends out of the way and avoids death.
This so-called “ bullet time ” might only be science fiction,
but people do experience
It ’ s called time dilation,
or a slowing of time during really intense situations.
Everything from car accidents to gun
fire to images of scary faces can trigger this phenomenon,
but what ’ s tricker is
figuring out what ’ s actually happening in our brains.
So far, researchers aren ’ t totally sure,
but they do have a few ideas.
One idea is that time dilation is caused
by your brain trying to take in as much information as possible.
According to some studies,
your brain collects bits of information from your senses and uses
them to establish an internal clock.
The more information it processes, the moreslowly that clock goes.
For example, professional baseball players —
who are hyper-focused and are taking in
a lot of details when they ’ re up to bat —
often say the ball slows down right before they hit it.
That ’ s been demonstrated in the lab, too:
One 2012 study showed that, when 11 participants
prepped for a specific action,
their ability to detect extremely fast visual signals improved.
This idea could also explain why
time dilation is so commonly reported in life-threatening situations,
like car accidents.
In these cases,
the brain is probably trying to pick up as much info as it can in an effort
to keep someone safe.
After all, that speedy processing could prepare
them to make some change — like throwing
up their hands — that would keep them alive.
Of course, there haven ’ t been lab studies
of this, because if you tried to put your
subjects in life-threatening situations,
you ’ d have an ethics committee kicking down your door.
But there is evidence for the phenomenon in simulations and as a whole. Still,
not all studies agree with this.
For example, a paper published in 2007
in PLOS One says that there ’ s no increase in
brain processing and that the illusion of time is just a twisted memory.
In this experiment, researchers strapped 20volunteers with perceptual chronometers.
These were devices programmed to flash
between an image and its negative so quickly that
it would be unreadable.
That is, unless your visual processing wasincreased.
The research team then dropped participants into a net
from a height of about 30 meters.
The subjects were totally safe,
but the drop was perceived as deadly enough to trigger
Sure enough, once they were back on the ground,
subjects estimated that the drop took about
35% longer than it actually did. So,
case closed, right? Well, not really. Because,
even with the seemingly life-threateningstimuli, the participants still weren’t
able to read the chronometers.
So it looked like time dilation wasn ’
t actually due to increased brain speed.
Something else had to be going on.
The scientists suggested that maybe our brains are stretching out time after the fact.
In other words, things only feel slower whenyou remember them.
Right now, though,
the debate over what causes time dilation in our brains is still ongoing.
The good news is,
more research is starting to look at specific neurotransmitters and
neurological causes that could be behind this phenomenon,
but so far, the jury is out.
Now,even though the “ bullet time ”
in The Matrix is science fiction, someone had to make
it look real on screen.
To make SciShow videos,
we ’ re always honing our skills as videomakers and trying to learn
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A good one to check out might be this one
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