Monday, August 23, 2004

"Speed: Aberrations of Time and Movement"

Oliver Sacks, the author of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, has an article by this title in the August 23, 2004, issue of The New Yorker. It describes how time is perceived by people with Parkinson's Disease or Tourette's Syndrome, and by the people around them.

It seems that people with these syndromes are frequently speeded up or slowed down by their illnesses, but that their perceptions of time are not. So while a person with these ailments may seem to be engaged in rapid tics or incredibly slow motor functions, from the inside, everything seems temporally "normal." Sacks writes

People with severe Tourette's...may find the movements and thoughts and reactions of other people unbearably slow for them, and we 'neuro-normals' may at times find (Tourette's patients) disconcertingly fast.
In Parkinson's, the temporal perception may change in a single person in a flash. Sacks writes about one patient

One parkinsonian friend of mine says that being in a slowed state is like being stuck in a vat of peanut butter, while being in an accelerated state is like being on ice, frictionless, slipping down an ever-steeper hill, or on a tiny planet, gravityless, with no force to hold or moor him.
Scary stuff. But as I read the article, all I could think was that our world is suffering from a similar temporal dislocation. At times, it feels like time is hurtling out of control, with technological and social change battering us faster than we can possibly deal with it. At other times, the pace of change seems glacial, as we attempt to do the things that seem so obvious, but which feel like an incalculable effort is needed to press even slightly forward.

This isn't like what happened to Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's classic novel Slaughterhouse Five. Billy never knows where he is going to be in time, but time moves at a "normal" pace for him. This is more like watching a time lapse movie of a flower opening, getting to see what may take weeks happen in a matter of seconds, or those famous ultra slow motion films of a bullet piercing a balloon, where what takes milliseconds in our temporal reality takes several seconds for us to view.

We see things in the scan that seem so obvious. But to some observers, we're slogging through that peanut butter, while to others we are all frictionless on a river of ice. If we are to introduce change successfully, we need to find ways to turn peanut butter into a lubricant while putting a little sand down on the ice.

And so it goes.

3 comments:

ruhan said...

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