Rubinstein S.L. The Perception of Time

                                                    THE PERCEPTION OF TIME

If the space problem was the main psychological issue at the turn of the XIX - XX centuries, the time problem in the recent years has become one of the central problems of modern philosophy.

The absolute weight of the time problem in todays philosophical consciousness could not help but reflect on the psychology; and this problem is of considerable interest nowadays in the psychology. But, unfortunately, it has not yet received sufficient consideration and development. In the real life, as shown by a number of studies, animals orientation in time occurs based on reflex activities. For humans, this becomes a very complex process of the perception of time.

In the perception of time, we distinguish: 1) constitutive sensitive basis of temporality perception due mainly to the spontaneous (visceral) sensibility, 2) the actual perception of time related to this sensual organic basis. Just as with the space, we distinguish between the elementary extention and the actual space; in terms of time we also need to distinguish between two concepts the temporality (duration) and the actual time, but in order to tie them into a single whole. In the perception of time, we differentiate between: a) temporality perception and b) temporality sequence perception. Both of them involve the unity and convergence for direct and indirect components. We have some direct experience, sensation, or the feeling of time. It is caused by organic sensations and associated with the rhythm of the basic processes of organic life - heart rate, breath, etc. At least for those patients with anesthesia of the internal organs, there is a lost or highly reduced ability to estimate the time. Apparently, significant role in the feeling or the sensation of time plays irreversible chemical reaction in the nervous system.

Based on the recent studies, evaluation of short time intervals is also dependent on the internal body temperature. No matter how undeniable the dependence of direct time estimation on a variety of physiological visceral factors could be, one cannot (as some authors, e.g. R. D'Allon) consider only the visceral sensitivity in time. The perception of time is due not only to this sensitivity but also to the content that it fills and divides: the time is inseparable from the real time processes.

As shown by the experiments of some researchers, short periods of time filled with, for example, viewing of pictures more or less overestimated, while longer lapse of time - underestimated. These findings can be generalized to thelaw of filled time interval: the more it filled and, therefore, divided into smaller time intervals, the longer it seemed to be. This law defines the deviation pattern of the psychological time of the last memory from the real time.

The perception of the real time has the reverse position. If the past time in our memory seems to us longer in case it was full of events and activities, and shorter the more empty it was, it is on the contrary with respect to the current time: the fewer events and monotonous activities, the longer and long-winded the time we experience; the richer and more meaningful the time, the quicker it slides by and flies. Such segmentation of the law of filled time interval into two opposite provisions is affected by the qualitative characteristics of the past and present. The past is objectified in its content and is entirely determined by it; the events are external - thus they segment the time and extend time experience. At the present time, no matter how intense, it is essentially experienced as a single whole; any events can't segment the time since its our present experience. The absence of events at a point in time usually creates agonizing tension and, so that the attention is focused on the flow of time, which would be extended as a result.

As long as we set up our future plans at a specific point of time, this again modifies consistent patterns determining temporality of experience. The waiting time of the desired event within this direct experience is deadly prolonged, while in case of unwanted event it is excruciatingly reduced. In the first case, the time never passes fast enough, in the second - it always flies too fast. Experienced temporality deviates from the real time in the opposite direction of the agents trend. The role of the factor associated with the emotional nature of the experience, can be called the law of the emotionally deterministic evaluation of time. It applies also to the fact that the time filled with some positive emotional events is shorter based on the personal experience, while time full of negative events extents from the emotional experience point of view. Sad hours seem long, from Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet.

According to some researchers, in a subjective underestimation or overestimation of time intervals there are some age differences: the underestimation of small time intervals and overestimation of long time intervals was on average higher for children and adolescents than for adults. For adults, the re-assessment of minute intervals reached 133%, for children, adolescents, and young men at the age of 7 to 19 years it reaches 175%. The individual differences also influence subjective time value judgement. The experiments of X. Erenvald showed that some testee had a very strong tendency to underestimate, and others to overestimate the time. Therefore, Erenvald considers it possible to distinguish between two types of time perception - bradychronical and tachychronical. The first type shows strong tendency to accelerate, the second type - to slow down and delay the time. The first one overestimates, the second underestimates the duration of time intervals.

According to Erenvald, errors in the time estimation were quite significant. The task to determine the duration of one minute time interval showed that one of the testee defined it after only 13 seconds, the other in 80 seconds. Special long-term training may (as revealed by M. Francois experiments) for some time increase the accuracy of time estimates. But during the training, the testees revealed steady individual tendencies: underestimation or overestimation of the time. Study conducted by L. Belenkaya found using clinical pathological material the connection of underestimation and overestimation with the emotions1. It turned out that all the testees, including manic patients with hyper tonicity of emotional excitatory tendency and motor functions associated with inconsistency and haste, showed apparent underestimation of time intervals (sometimes twice less). Moreover, almost all testees records mentioned feeling of flying time as the subjective experience of the patients.

Patients in the depressive position (reduced tonicity, delayed motor functions, depressed mood, negative organic coloring sensitivity) split into two groups. One of the groups provided a reevaluation sometimes very significant for the time intervals under consideration in the experiment. In the records they usually mentioned a viscosity of time based on their experience. Another group of depressed patients showed persistent underestimation of time intervals. Such underestimation was experienced by the patients whose general depression was combined with the state of depressed excitation (by Krepelin). In generally depressed state they experience constant turmoil, restlessness, always in a hurry, afraid of being late, can not complete the work. Dreary state combines with the affective state of anxiety, generating mania-type behavior. Like the patients with manic excitability, these patients showed explicit underestimation of time.

All these deviations in time intervals for manic patients and in both groups of patients in the depressive condition find a pathological material connection of time intervals underestimation and overestimation with the emotional relation of the testee to the experience, and confirm the abovementioned statement about the emotionally deterministic evaluation of time.

A characteristic feature of time is irreversibility. We can go back to the place in the space, but we can not bring back the time that has passed. The establishment of the objective order or unique, irreversible sequence of events in time involves the disclosure of a causal dependence between them.

It is on the basis of causal relations we usually indirectly decide the question of the objective sequence of events. In addition to establishing the order or sequence of preceding and succeeding, time localization involves the determination of the intervals separating them. Knowledge of such things as what is a day as the time interval includes the knowledge that the day refers to the specific century, year, month, etc., includes hours, minutes, etc. Besides, in order to truly realize the value of this quantitative characteristic, it is necessary to establish the right balance between this quantitative characteristic and qualitative content, i.e. correctly understand the real, meaningful capacity of an hour, day, etc. The immediate localization in time is limited to only a very general undifferentiated sense (not knowledge) that this event is close since its actual or distant since its unfamiliar. More precise time localization requires the ability to operate the time values. Since the time is directed quantity (vector), its definition implies not only a system of units of measurement (second, minute, hour, day, month, year, century), but also a constant starting point for evaluation. On this count, time differs from the space fundamentally. All points are equal in the space. There should be one preferred point in time. This is related to the further point, especially complicated by the indirect components. A natural starting point in time is present, it is now, which separates the prior time in the past and succeeding in the future. It is immediately given as something determinate; afterwards the gaze can be fixed on the past and future, which can only be identified by the attitude to the present. But the problems are complicated by the dialectics of time definitions related to the flow of time.

Complete problems resolution associated with the current dialectics of time determinations requires the adoption of a common coordinate system with a constant point from which we count using constant, total units of measurement (year, month, day). This initial general starting point can be fixed only outside of the subjective, personal experience in the historical process of a certain historical event from which it is counted (specific year of century on the twentieth year of the October Socialist Revolution). The lifetime is determined objectively only as the time history. Only on the basis of a historically determined system of time measurement one can relate time records of different observers, freely switching from one point of view to another, and set out correspondence of dating. All the mathematical formulas related to the transformation of coordinate systems are only the technical design of the fundamental intellectual operation, which is enclosed in temporal relations, methodical narration that requires a transition from one starting point to another. This operation is the most difficult, as shown by the study of symbolic aphasia. Thus, its not reasonable to acknowledge this particular duration of experience as something self-contained, absolute and oppose it to some abstract time, specified in the definitions. The perception of time, reflecting the objective time, indirectly include the intelligent components. Indirect elements are included in the identification and sequence of events and their duration. Any time localization, even bygone, requires the ability to operate a temporary pattern or coordinate system that goes beyond the experience. Even our present can get genuine time characteristic when we are able to look at it from the past and from the future, freely transferring the starting point beyond the immediate present.

Present, the starting point from which both the past and the future can be defined, is not a psychological abstract point of time, but always a certain time interval.

Experimental studies were used to determine the minimum size or the magnitude of the moment. Under the magnitude of the moment it means the astronomical duration of the interval, which is perceived as an indivisible present. For example, a spark that travelled 1 m during the moment is perceived as the object presented simultaneously at all points of its way, i.e. as a continuous luminous line. The size of the moment is usually determined by thresholding of the merger of the separate periodical fluctuations in one perception. Flicker is usually used to determine the threshold of visual sensation. The characteristic of the moment in this case is rate of rotation at which the black and white half of the rotating disk will undergo fusion, and it will become whole coloured. This value is measured and tested in practice: it is the basis of calculating the frame rate in the movie projection. <...> A. Lalande found that for tactual sense modality the visual-fusion frequency is equal on the average 18 stimulations per second. Typically, the fusion frequency of these feelings was approximately the same for all points of the body. Experiments with animals have shown that the magnitude of the moment is not the same for different species. The fact that the fusion frequency is the same for visual, auditory and tactile sensations has led to the conclusion that this frequency is not determined by the peripheral perceptive receptors, but by central factors affecting tactile, visual and auditory perception.

The upper limit of the psychologically present time, filled only with simple, unrelated sensory stimulation is very limited; the maximum size of the time intervals created, for example, by a hammer strike, which we perceive and directly compare, equal to about 5 seconds. Comparison of the intervals with longer duration requires count and indirect methods. For the time content fillings corresponding to the usual real life conditions related to the vast whole, the edges of the present significantly expand.

In some pathological cases there is a distinct splitting of direct experience duration and indirect time evaluation. Very informative was a group of (surveyed by Belenkaya) schizophrenics (which often claim that they do not feel the time). The tested F (student, 25 years old) states the following: I do not feel time, how long it was or how little time has passed does not matter for me, its tasteless. Other people say: how quickly or slowly the time has passed, I do not care. Schizophrenics in this group are able to indirectly estimate the time, but they cannot feel it. Being able to fully understand the most complex temporal relations, they are unable to determine the temporality of the short time interval, when you have to do it using direct experience. Moreover, testee F provided the following results: time objectively defined by the tester - 5,15, 30; time defined by the testee is 9, 5, 1.

The splitting of the direct time experience and its indirect assessment, which undergone fusion of normal perception of time arises in some cases because of the disruption of the normal real time filling as a result of a pathological personality detachment from reality, and generation of the second delusional experience. Sometimes this splitting can be clearly understood by the patient __. For example, the tested G, actor, 35 years old (same schizophrenics group) says: I am aware that time is flowing, that the days, weeks, years change from one to another. However, subjectively I feel that time has stopped, its motionless, only one date stuck in my brain July 10, 1925. I perfectly realize that the real, current moment corresponds to the another time, but to remember and fix it I have to write it down, and in the future I have to use a calendar with the starting date indicated in it for self-orientation (italics supplied by S.R.), otherwise the fixed date will triumph over which does not give the time ability to move and change and binds it.

In this case, the direct components of experience and indirect components of perception and orientation intime are separated, and each of them acts independently and definitely: on the one hand, a distorted direct temporality experience, on the other hand, normal proper indirect orientation in time, correcting the defective direct experience. In other cases, patients with cortical lesions and the intellectual defects on the contrary were unable to process the temporal relations while keeping the direct temporality experience, which assists in the everyday life.


Translated by S. Tikhomirova

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