Monday, April 22, 2013

Time and the Dragonfly

The other day, while sitting wrapped in my own thoughts, their comforting, numbing shroud buffering me from the world, I began to think about time.  Einstein tells us that time is relative, “When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it feels like two hours. But, when you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it feels like two minutes. That's relativity!” He also showed us that the faster an object moves through space, the more slowly it moves through time. An excellent example of this is the phenomenon which happens to the clocks aboard satellites. Because they are moving much faster than the objects they are measuring on earth the clocks lose approximately 7 microseconds per day, but space-time curves less the further one is from a gravity source (especially one as large as our planet), and clocks in areas with less-curved space-time appear to tick faster, so the clocks on satellites are approximately 38 microseconds faster per day than their counterparts on earth. Okay, maybe that was a bad example after all, but the point is, if the curvature of space-time is equal for two objects, the object which moves faster through space moves more slowly through time. Einstein was hella smart.

If Einstein's body was the equivalent of his brain.

As I thought of time, ensconced in my mind, I thought first of the dragonfly.  Fleet, shimmering warrior of the skies, we seem to lumber as he flits by.  The dragonfly is an excellent example of something which must experience time differently than we do. That is, in order to move and act in the way it does, the dragonfly's reaction time and information processing speed must be far greater than ours.  Now, this is a slightly different point than I was making up there on the less sexy side of Einstein.  There I was discussing the interaction of time with physical objects, and now I'm discussing the perception of time by physical objects.  It seems to me that they cannot be the same.  Sure, the dragonfly is very fast (moving at speeds of up to 38 mph), but relative to the speed of light (670,616,629 mph), there is almost no difference between the speed of a dragonfly and the speed of a human.  This means that the movement through time of a dragonfly and a human are nearly equal, even if the dragonfly is moving at top speed, and the human is doing what humans tend to do, sit around and stare into a glowing screen while absentmindedly scratching its butt.  So the physical effect of time on the physical object does not account for the difference in time perception.  

Perhaps you are thinking "Whoa, you haven't established that dragonflies experience time differently than us, if they experience anything at all!" Fine, Jesus Christ, be all picky about it.
Oh I'm sorry, what was that? Were you taking my name in vain?

First of all, I'm going to establish a philosophical "floor" so that I don't have to argue my way up from epistemology just to write a damn post about dragonflies' time perception.  I'm going to assume that you, like me, think that dragonflies really exist, that we can observe them and know things about them, that they are entirely physical entities in a physical universe, that they experience stimuli, and that seriously shut up so I can write this post.

"I find your lack of faith disturbing"

As you might know, we have something called "reaction time". This is the speed at which we are able to sense, process, and respond to a given stimulus. Usually this term is used to describe the speed of one's reflexes, which are unconscious reactions, such as blinking and/or raising one's hands to shield one's eyes when something quickly approaches one's face. I don't think I need to make an argument for the fact that these types of reactions are generally much quicker than an action which we have to consciously process, so I won't. There is a physical limit to the speed at which neurons can pass along a signal, and the more neurons a signal must pass through the longer the signal will take to reach its destination. One of the reasons that reflex actions take a much shorter time between detection of the stimulus and action is that many times the signals bypass the brain entirely. For example, a study was done in the early, barbarous days of Psychology, back when men were men, women were men, and children were men, in which the scientists severed a dog's spinal column at the neck in order to see if reflex actions depended on the brain. Amazingly, despite the fact that no neural signal could reach the brain from the body, when the dog's foot was pricked with a pin it lifted the foot to avoid the negative stimulus. So, analogously, when you accidentally place your hand on a hot stove and immediately pull it back, you are able to do that with no input from your brain. Only your spinal column is involved, and unless I misremember my psych. education, the signal which causes you to be consciously aware of the fact that the stove is hot arrives after your hand receives the signal to move. This will be a post for another time, but it's interesting to think about what that implies for consciousness and free will.

So I hope to have loosely established so far that reflex actions are faster than conscious decisions because they depend on fewer neural connections, and also that reflex actions are independent from conscious decisions. Now, we already know that simplicity can give rise to complexity, especially in light of chaos theory (read Chaos by James Gleick. Seriously. Do it.) and that there aren't enough neurons in the human brain for each to represent a unique stimulus, concept, function, etc. So the functions which our brains perform seem to rely on there being enough neurons to form complex enough neural networks to handle those functions. This seems to be how our particular brand of consciousness arises. Importantly, these networks seem necessary and sufficient for those functions, so without them the dragonfly does not perform the "higher" functions we do. Now, we clearly are able to perform certain functions that dragonflies cannot (problem solving, tool use, self-recognition, long-term memory, although interestingly they seem to be one of the few other animals which demonstrate selective attention), which implies that we have a much larger set of neurons. We also have much larger bodies, so signals sent to our limbs will take longer.

Day 3 of "Operation Lift Sandwich to Mouth"

So, given that dragonflies are teeny-tiny compared to us, and since they have far fewer neurons to deal with, it seems reasonable to say that they must be getting input from their senses more quickly and since they literally have less processing capability, the processing they do is faster. If they process stimuli faster, then they can process more stimuli per second. To me, an animal which has evolved those features probably experiences our motions through space as "slow". Our time experience is relative, and seems to depend on how much we are processing at any given time. The more we are dealing with, the faster time seems to go, hence the eternal struggle between wanting to not have work to do, but knowing that if there is work to do the day will go by more quickly. For dragonflies, a day must seem much longer than it does for us. Fortunately for them, we haven't noticed self-reflective capabilities indicative of being capable of boredom.

I'm not exactly sure how this became a post about establishing how a dragonfly experiences time but there you go...Eventually I'll write about what I think time itself is, because honestly that's what this was supposed to be. As it stands, I'll just release this onto the world and I hope you all got some good thinkin' time out of it! Please write in to tell me why I'm wrong/what needs better established/etc.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Will Kucinski: Man, Myth, Married.

From the land of the upright, thin cylinder his ancestors arrived
Full of tales of their time in the city of the series of battles and serrated wood-cutting tools.
Dressed to the square of threes, looking like the main character from the Jim Adhesive-Synonym movies,
He stood proudly with his horse-handling adult boys to his left, awaiting his new wife.
Then, she appeared, her father at her side, walking with confident, radiant, nervous joy down the small, four-wheeled vehicle kept as a companion.
Her beauty unrivaled, her last name like the negative assertion of the presence of an abbreviated floor-cleaning apparatus.
On that day, with the exchange of the onomatopeaic sound of bells, Will and Casey stepped over a kind of grip associated with a method of separating grain from its stalk, and into a new life together.
If I ever see the expression of an agent's desire to enact a certain change again, I'm sure I will find him a happy man.
Until then, leafy green vegetable related to cabbage wait and hope that someday, somehow, someway, he will rotate a second time to this portmanteau of blow and jog.  And, if indeed he truly exists, he will place upon it a piece of a fence which supports the rails.
To my forest-dwelling ungulate friend, may you have many happy years together, you grasping arm-bound appendage general term for not all but not none devil you!

The beautiful bride with surprise wedding guest Justin Long!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Self-Deprecating Rap

Get ready for some beats so sick they make my asthma look tame.
I'm gonna lay waste to your senses like I'm wasting my brain.
If you want me to step up, well I can't cause I'm lame.
If you don't get the picture it's cause my face broke the frame.

My friendships are so non-sexual Plato asks me for advice,
and I get so little pussy I've been overrun with mice.
You know I ain't living large, all I've got's a home-slice,
when bitches sight my site it incites sighs and then invites slights.

Spending money on science like all I've got are carbon credits.
I'm just lookin' to spread it, ain't got no chick who can spend it.
And I'd spread her like butter if my dough was impressive,
but my bread's only crumbs, my cheese is all that is shredded.

Sure I can take a hit and give a shit and roll with the punches,
but my life's a fist-grape fruit basket, the hits come in bunches.
Mostly filler in this killer like I'm made of school lunches.
The peanut-butter jelly sandwiches of black-tie brunches.

If you think that you can follow this I ain't gonna fight you.
My glass-like raps will shatter fast, my lyrics clearly are see-through.
And I'm a giant boring chicken, call me Ennui the Emu.
Shoulda stopped it before it started like T-1000 tried to.
But it could always be worse...