Another Rabbit Hole

Is there a god? What is the meaning of life?
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steven lloyd
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Another Rabbit Hole

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Because “we live by seconds,” Money reminds us: Our stomachs contract every twenty seconds, our intestines squeeze every five, our hearts beat about once a second. Stimuli in bursts of roughly two milliseconds completely escape our notice. We cannot hear the sound waves bats use for echolocation, produced at two hundred calls per second at eighty kilohertz. But the predatory larvae of certain winged insects, known in their youthful state as ant lions, can—and dive into sand to take cover when they do. Insects can process far more images per second than we.

A dragonfly watching TV would see over two hundred separate still images each second. Until high-definition TV, dogs, too, would see on the screen a series of still images separated by blackness, while we would see a smooth flow of action. The maximum speed at which a creature can see flashes of light before the light source is perceived as constant is called flicker fusion frequency, and it is one measure of how we and other animals experience time.

A housefly’s flicker fusion frequency is 250 flashes per second. A pigeon’s, 100. A dog’s, 80. A human’s, 60. A sea turtle’s—the only kind of turtle tested—is 15. Based on the results of flicker fusion rates of thirty species of animals, an international collaboration led by scientists from Trinity College in Dublin concludes that the ability to perceive time is linked to the general pace of life. Why might this be? Because heightened visual processing takes a lot of energy.

Published in the 2013 issue of Animal Behavior, the study shows creatures with small bodies and fast metabolic rates perceive more information in a unit of time—and experience time more slowly—than animals with slow metabolic rates. You would expect that an Etruscan shrew, whose heart thrums at a frenzied rate of twenty-five times each second, experiences each hour as lasting much longer than does a Galápagos tortoise, whose heart beats at a stately eight times a minute. And this seems only fair. The shrew may, with luck, live only two years; a Galápagos tortoise can live to at least one hundred and seventy-five, maybe older. But one might hope that both animals, if allowed to naturally attain the end of their vastly different life spans, may experience a full measure of life.

And if this is so, perhaps nature has granted the slow-living, long-lived turtles the patience of the calm spirits in Our Town. “Everybody in their bones knows that something is eternal,” the Stage Manager tells the audience. The dead are at peace, knowing that at the end of their waiting, the eternal part of their selves, like a turtle in the spring, will emerge. “We don’t see, hear, or touch its passing,” states The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry “The Experience and Perception of Time,” “and yet we would still notice the passing of time even if all our senses were prevented from functioning.”
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steven lloyd
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Re: Another Rabbit Hole

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Or perhaps not, given the right perspective: When Einstein’s great friend, the Italian engineer Michele Besso, died, the physicist wrote the grieving widow, “Though he has left this strange world a little before me, this means nothing. For us believing in physics know the distinction between past, present, and future is nothing more than a persistent, stubborn illusion.” For Einstein, his friend is still there.

As the astronomer Michelle Thaller explains, if we understand the nature of the universe correctly—as a landscape, with all of time laid out before us at once, as a whole—“He’s just over the next hill—he’s still there, we can’t see him where we are now . . . but we’re on the landscape with him, and he still exists just as much as he ever has.”
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steven lloyd
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Re: Another Rabbit Hole

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