In some instances, people will report witnessing time appearing to slow down. This obviously does not occur in objective reality, but in some cases, the subjective phenomena is a real entity in itself. Called “the stopped-clock illusion”, there are special instances in which a second might appear to last longer than it should, sometimes by what intuitively feels like several seconds. There is a scientific explanation for why the stopped-clock illusion may occur, as well as experiments you can perform yourself in order to perceive time slowing down.
Why The Stopped-Clock Illusion Occurs
It’s long since been established that a hefty portion of perception is the result of our brain making judgments. In fact, all optical illusions occur when the brain judges incoming information inaccurately. The stopped-clock illusion is no exception. Whenever we look at an object, our brain assumes how long that object has existed within the given space. Though neuroscience is still unsure of exactly why this happens, they believe it is probably to compensate for the suppression of vision which follows moving our eyes.
This might seem like a lot of jargon for understanding the stopped-clock illusion, but it’s really very simple. Basically, without the suppression of vision, we would see motion blurs and tracers whenever we move our eyes. Taking into consideration that our eyes actually move hundreds of thousands of times each day, including the unnoticed rapid eye movements we make when we think we’re looking at a fixed point, it’s lucky that suppression of vision exists. However, in order to perceive objects as staying in one fixed spot in the face of the suppression of vision, our brain makes certain judgments, including how long an object has remained in one place.
This is where the stopped-clock illusion becomes relevant. Because our brain assumes an object has existed in space for as long as it takes to look at that object, making a bigger motion to look at a second hand on a clock will give the illusion of that second hand having been stationary for longer than if it were glanced at more quickly. Therefore, anyone can easily conduct a stopped-clock illusion experiment by merely testing how long time seems to stand still when changing the variable of how quickly a second hand on a clock is observed.
Hale-Evans, Ron. Brain Hacks: 80 Tips, Tricks, and Games to Take Your Mind to the next Level. Hoboken: John Wiley, 2011. Print.