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Author Topic: how do you represent 'time' in your head?  (Read 13649 times)

nudone

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how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« on: September 28, 2007, 01:00:35 PM »
i'm thinking of doing a diagram representing my 'life'. maybe like a tree with the 'key' events represented along the branches. it will probably look more like a series of arrows rather than a tree.

this reminded me of something i've sometimes pondered about but never really asked anyone - how do you represent time in your own head? so, that's your past, present and future?

do you see images of events, are they staggered across a timeline, is the timeline a single line. more, how do you think of the days of the week, months of the year, what about a big chunk of time like a year.

perhaps it's beyond explanation how you perceive it all. perhaps computers have provided a visual language to represent it so now we think in terms of software calendar layouts with moving images, etc.

mouser

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2007, 01:05:34 PM »
ps1.
just to add a thought to this thread.. as someone whose academic background is AI and brain theory, i'd say the #1 fundamental unsolved issue in understanding how the brain works is understanding the temporal issues in representation and cognition.  it's simply something we have very little grasp on how it's done and it seems to be central to planning and reasoning.

ps2.
if you want to have your mind blown, go read up on einstein's theory of relativity and other more modern thinking on the nature of time.  our intuitions seem to fail us when it comes down to the basis of time and space.  the world does not really work the way you "feel" it does..

Ampa

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2007, 05:17:07 PM »
I once read a book of translated Japanese sci-fi stories, from pre WWII (ie before Western sci-fi idea had entered the Japanese consciousness).

It was remarkable how different the style was from the mainstream ideas of sci-fi that we now have: the stories were very gentle, and almost rural in their simplicity.

One that has always stuck with me told of a planet, on which there lived a worm, who grew not in physical dimensions, but in time. Its mind was free to travel along its body, to review any moment of time during which it lived. A favourite moment was a time when a small space capsule landed on the surface of the planet, and two men stepped out. A period somewhere in its middle encompassed a great war, which it hated, so never allowed its mind to stop there. Often it would move its mind to the very tip of its head, to discover what new things had happened.

Then one day, it tried to move its mind back towards its tail, to revisit the men landing, and discovered that it couldn't get that far back any more. The worm knew that it was dying, and that one day its tail would catch up with its head, at which point it would cease to be.

I found the story very moving, and just thought I'd share it with you.

Lashiec

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2007, 05:28:09 PM »
That sounds like a interesting book. Would you happen to recall the title?

As for nudone question, I'm more a guy of events in a slideshow, like your usual PowerPoint presentation. The events more or less situate themselves in time, so no need for the timeline, as I can easily know the exact moment in time with the visual information.

app103

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2007, 09:52:50 PM »
This probably wouldn't help you design a diagram at all, and I am not sure if this is what you meant, but this is how I see it...and some of it is probably pretty weird...

Thinking of hours, minutes, seconds...I am kind of classic, with an old analog style clock in my head that runs on 12hr time. The color changes between white (midnight - noon) & black (noon-midnight). A day is 2 circles that overlap each other.

Weeks are pretty much a straight line, like a typical wall calendar...as are months. When I think of a day in relation to a week or a month, they are pretty much like marking it on a calendar page. They are no longer circles.

A year is circular, moving counter-clockwise, with January at the top, and August at the bottom. (Yes, I know that this is a bit disproportionate but that's how I see it)

The progression of years...

It is a line...moving from left (past) to right (present/future). The time of my birth is at the center, straight in front of me (or slightly to the left of that point). Putting my arms straight out in front of me, the present is in line with my right hand...the future, transparent and off beyond my right hand. The year 1900 sits at my left hand. Everything before that is beyond my left hand.

Each year is a disk on that line, with them overlapping in blocks to represent decades, or centuries, depending on what I am thinking about.

Sometimes I perceive this with color, if it helps to keep things in perspective and separate blocks of time from others.

Visualizing actual events (either from memory or just imagination of the past from before my life)...Everything from 1970 to present is in color...things between 1900 - 1970 are in black & white. Going back in time, everything from about the middle ages to 1900 are in sepia tones...anything before that is in color again. The future is translucent and ghosty.

Do the images in my head move, like video? Only things during my lifetime...everything else is like old photos or paintings.

nudone

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2007, 01:57:11 AM »
well, i was expecting the descriptions that people gave to be all the same - assuming that the brain dictates how time would be perceived but from app's description it's clear there is room for individual symbols and imagery. i certainly don't think in circular pictures or different colours so that is very interesting to hear about. i imagine there will be cultural differences also.

i'd also like to know more about ampa's story. it reminds me of the alien creatures in Kurt Vonegut's 'Slaughterhouse Five'. http://www.amazon.co...191048545&sr=8-1

suleika

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2007, 06:05:43 AM »
I liked that story too!

People represent time in very different ways, according to NLP practitioners, who find it useful to know how an individual's timeline is constructed.  More information in facsimile here (access to 25 page a day).

Ampa

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2007, 11:06:05 AM »
Here is the book... The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories, and review which mentions the worm tale.

Ampa

urlwolf

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #8 on: September 30, 2007, 08:50:51 AM »
Ok, without having to withdraw to special relativity this soon :)
There's an entire literature on the representation of time in cognitive psychology. Just do a search on google scholar for "representation of time". There are all kind of theories. Those that emphasize one-dimensional scaling seem to propose log compression as well. There's even funny graphs on years etc taken from synesthesic people (i.e., people who map sensations cross-modally : days of the week to colors, etc). For some of them, time is not a continuous at all it seems.

I could find a couple of review papers and send them to you if you want.

I'm currenly reading one on memory that proposes that memory has an scale-invariant character, and that our perception of phenomena that are time-based (mostly everything) can be understood as ratios, not as absolute values.

nudone

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2007, 10:25:45 AM »
google scholar sounds more than enough for my purposes but i have to admit that i will quickly lose interest the moment jargon creeps in. i'm more of an 'idiots guide to time' kind of person, well, perhaps not quite that bad as i can imagine how terrible such a book would be.

from what you have read yourself would you be able to comment on whether there is any mention on the 'borders of temporal perception' - you know, like where the beginning and ending of 'now' is. maybe it's a trivial matter that has been well theorised about or well explained but it strikes me as something that's impossible to discuss. perhaps that is because i'm simply lacking in the language that is used in this area of research.

Deozaan

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #10 on: October 17, 2007, 04:20:42 PM »
An interesting thing is that I picture time as linear in my head, but when I think about it I know it doesn't work that way.

In a sense I guess that's kind of like from a child's limited understanding, looking at old photographs he might wonder when the world started having color. In his mind, it went from grayscale to color, even though that's not really the way it happened.

Or something.


TeaTime

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #11 on: October 17, 2007, 07:37:25 PM »
Ask my brains, they must know better than I. My perception of time does exist, but I have no idea how I represent it to myself. To answer that question, the only reference I see is in what may feed and drive my thoughts when I try to guess what time it is. I think that I try then to grasp a feeling based on something I feel I know, I feel is known, like when you slap hands in the rhythm. I think I represent time by trying to evaluate the drift of an automatism. Strangely enough, more I try to evaluate it, further I get from the right answer. But I do have to evaluate a minimum. Like in poetry, take your time to feel, but question those feelings quickly, otherwise our thoughts parasitize the mystery of the revealed perception ... "I know I know this face, but from where" ...
It's getting late :D
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mouser

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2007, 02:46:17 PM »

Ralf Maximus

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #13 on: October 19, 2007, 03:17:42 PM »
Quick answer: I don't think about it much, except as a connected series of events starting when I wake up.  Clocks mysteriously jump ahead whenever look at them.

Thoughtful answer: I subscribe to the "many-universes" theory of the universe, in that everything exists simultaneously, and the billions of decisions I make cause my perception to jump from reality to reality, giving the illusion of linear experience.  Every decision is made the other way by parallel versions of me.  I die many times, every day.  I also win the lottery, get divorced, learn to play the piano, and bake cookies every day.  Some versions of me are deaf & mute, rocking silently in a strait jacket at the home for old Visual Basic programmers.  I have also won the Nobel peace prize and other versions of me have been tried for war crimes -- you get the idea.

Sometimes when I dream these other realities leak over, and I see "the future".

If anyone ever succeeds with inventing a time machine, they will discover causality is what you make of it, that killing your grandparent *is* feasible, and getting back to "your" time virtually impossible.  Despite these issues, sales of the device will skyrocket because nothing is cooler than having a picnic while watching a herd of tricerotopses.  Also, a certain percentage of folks will want to go back in time and have sex with themselves.

mouser

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2007, 03:55:48 PM »
Ralf's post compels me to reply again.

Time is mysterious, but one thing we know definitively -- it does *NOT* work the way it intuitively seems to us that it does.  Since Einstein's work on relativity it has become clear that our intuitive notion of time does not mesh with reality.  I really recommend the book "http://Fabric of the Cosmos" if you want to have a whirlwind tour of modern physics in an exciting way.  An audiobook version of the book is also great.

nontroppo

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #15 on: October 19, 2007, 06:05:30 PM »
Hm, what a fascinating topic. I'm a neuroscientist (glad to see mouser is a fellow brainalyzer), and would love to work on Time perception illusions in the future. Some of the cooler people friendly research can be seen in links from:

http://neuro.bcm.edu/eagleman/

and a fairly recent review: http://neuro.bcm.edu...alTimeJNeuro2005.pdf

Of course my all time favourite is the wonderful essay by Daniel Dennett and Marcel Kinsbourne, "Time and the Observer", which tries to explain the following time anomolies:

1) Libets brain stimulation in real awake humans undergoing neurosurgery -- this is really amazing stuff.
2) Color phi illusions
3) The amazing cutaneous rabbit

And more!

To give you a quick example, color phi illusions occur when you flash a red-ball at time1, then flash a green-ball moved somewhat at time2.

The brain inteprets two flashed stimuli as one moving stimulus (how movies work ;-)), but the crazy thing is this:

Time1-----------------Time1.5-------------------Time2
RED-----------------RED/GREEN-----------------GREEN

You see a red ball moving *and* morph into a green ball -- *but* how can you brain know at time1.5 that the ball will be green at time2? It needs to know this because it morphs the color from red to green as it moves to its final destination. At first pass this seems to contradict the arrow of time, their essay tries to resolve this.

http://cogprints.org...264/0/time%26obs.htm
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nontroppo

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #16 on: October 19, 2007, 06:08:37 PM »
Oh, that visualize link is neat mouser!
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mouser

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #17 on: October 19, 2007, 06:09:15 PM »
pdf version of the dennet paper: http://mind.ucsd.edu...t&kinsbourne.pdf


nudone

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #18 on: October 20, 2007, 02:47:14 AM »
very interesting links - which i shall attempt to read this weekend, time allowing :)

the 'abstract' section of the icastic page is probably the kind of thing i was thinking of for representing time but i still wonder how true they are.

when i think of the days of the week or months of the year i 'kind of' see an arrangement of images in sequence - but that doesn't hold true when i try to analyse things more closely. the arrangement of images are not really there - it's more a concept, like i know they should be in an sequence but the actual construction of the sequence doesn't materealise. instead there is just a very hazy representation of a single image - and that isn't really much of a picture - just a very loose image of a single moment of a day.

it's like my brain knows there is more to a day than a single snapshot image but realises there is no need to provide more information. so, i find that trying to visualise or describe time is a bit beyond human capability (or maybe it's just beyond my capability). it seems more of a low level brain thing that is just on the borderline of our awareness. habit and routine allow us to get by when thinking about time stuff but trying to articulate how we perceive time is about as easy as getting your head around infinity (and i'd be bold enough to say that such things are related and that our feeble brain just isn't wired up correctly to ever grasp such things outside of a mathematical representation).

hopefully i'll be more enlightened after reading the recommended links (Dennett hasn't really convinced me in the past, but then i was probably expecting irrefutable answers).


nontroppo

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #19 on: October 20, 2007, 05:51:11 AM »
Quote
...expecting irrefutable answers

He is a philosoper, what can one expect?!  :stars:
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TeaTime

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #20 on: October 21, 2007, 02:42:47 PM »
A very interesting topic, and very interesting comments. Ralph Maximus and nontroppo in particular have amazed me with descriptions Slightly above my skills but still accessible. Reminds me a book of a French physician called Charon, who wrote a book called in French "L'esprit, cet inconnu". I have no idea if it's been translated, but it had developments concerning space and time, as the example of the "particule élémentaire ("elementary particle"?) of which we may know either the directio, or the speed, but not both...

Ralph, perhaps have you read this article, http://www.telegraph...10/10/scitime110.xml, which proposes the 2T theory (4 dimesions of space  + 2 dimensions of time) in what is titles "Are we missing a dimension of time?" ?

This is a real pleasure reading you all.
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mouser

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Re: how do you represent 'time' in your head?
« Reply #21 on: October 21, 2007, 03:12:30 PM »
Fantastic find TeaTime, I love reading stuff like this -- whether its insane or not, i love it.