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According to several sources, all organisms process information at different rates - to a fly, the world is in slow motion (relative to humans), for instance, but to a pigeon, the world may move faster.

If the ability to see the world in "slow motion", which is now known to be biologically possible, could be passed to a human, it may have some interesting consequences - boredom, perhaps, unless the person adapts - but also faster responses to stimuli, faster reflexes, and possibly an edge over slower-reacting, non-altered human competitors.

So how do we do it?
What is (if there is) a feasible way to alter a person, either genetically or surgically, to see the world at an altered rate, thus allowing for "slow motion thought" and the resulting enhancements?

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    $\begingroup$ How do you know if we (you and me) even process at the same speed? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Nov 27 '16 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot certainlywe don't: I’m sensitive to flashing lights that most people perceive as continuous. I think those crasy disco LED automobile tail lights are dangerous; most others have no idea what I’m referring to. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 27 '16 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ That's property of an eye, width of the sliding window of integration, not the processing speed itself. Longer window means no perception of flickering, but also more shades seen. That's... Complicated. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Nov 27 '16 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ The experiment I discuss in my answer suggested that tall people have a rather substantially different time sense than short people because of the nerve lag needed to corolate simultaneous events, possibly as much as a 10th of a second. I think more experiments are warranted to find the disparity among members of the same species. $\endgroup$ – SRM Nov 28 '16 at 1:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot but I also see more shades of blue than average. As a kid I could never use blue pH testing strips because none of the printed swatches look like the sample. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 28 '16 at 4:03
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How fast we see the world is probably mostly tied to our ability to process sensory information. A fly have a quite small brain with very little processing and interpretation compared to a human and can thus process it's limited perceptual world faster.

If the above hypothesis is correct I see three possible routes to perceiving the world in slow motion:

Speeding up the brain

By installing augmentations into the perceptual parts of the brain it could theoretically be possible to improve its processing power and thus allow it to churn through all the input faster. This is an unlikely alternative since the brain is already an immensely powerful parallel information processor. Maybe quantum-computational cybernetics could do something in this area but it would probably be far off.

Information Sorting / Blinds

Instead of attempting to speed up information processing, one could try to install something that cuts away unimportant interpretation steps or discards non-important information thus allowing the brain to process the remainder faster. Maybe this could even be achieved by an advanced drug targeting specific receptors or areas of the brain. The effects of doing this would probably be severe in some respect:

Speedup but tunnel-vision and singular focus — useful for hackers.

Speedup but all emotional interpretation and meaning disappears, it's all just movement and reaction — useful for drugged super-soldiers.

Drop all outside awareness but speed up thought (Meditate 1 hour in 5 minutes) — useful for philosophers, mathematicians and maybe monks.

Adrenaline surge

Lastly it seems like the brain have a mechanism of its own to do this. When in a life and death situation many people claim time moved slower. This could be because when the body gets huge levels of adrenaline it kicks everything into overdrive using all resources available to just get through the next few moments. Probably this also works partly like the second alternative — non-essential interpretation and critical thinking is discarded and everything falls down to instincts. Either implants could release high levels of adrenaline artificially, or a drug of some kind could trigger similar responses. Either way it is likely that long term use would be dangerous. Outside a few moments the stress of going on overdrive would start to cause damage and resources would run out.

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    $\begingroup$ An interesting note with the "time moves slower:" our reaction times show that we are not processing information any faster during those times than any other time. The effect people describe seems to have some other origin. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 28 '16 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ Yea, I have also read that. Maybe instinctual reactions are already maximally optimized and the effect is from cutting away non-instinctive behaviour and processing. Then again it could be an effect of us putting more emotional weight on every memory of the event and thus remember it as if it was longer, although it really wasn't. It is hard to tell when it is subjective and memories can't be trusted. $\endgroup$ – Sesdun Nov 28 '16 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ An experiment relevant to this answer (please consider adding description and link to the answer): sentientdevelopments.com/2006/04/… $\endgroup$ – SRM Nov 28 '16 at 1:15
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM, your link points to a blog post that shortly mentions an experiment but the reference from there is broken. A quick Google search brings up this scientific publication by the mentioned researcher. It seems to come to a different conclusion than what's presented in the blog post: "Our findings suggest that time-slowing is a function of recollection, not perception […]" $\endgroup$ – Emil Nov 28 '16 at 8:15
  • $\begingroup$ During an Adrenaline surge, your perception is enhanced, but at a cost: 1. false positives, you see something that is not there - it's better to sometimes see an imaginary tiger and run away a few times too often than to not see the one real tiger and getting eaten; 2. some processing is just postponed - a symptom might be not sleeping well, e.g. after a quarrel or an accident (or PTSD in extreme cases). $\endgroup$ – user24582 Nov 28 '16 at 8:17
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Unite the Conscious and Subconscious Minds

The United States military is currently using the preexisting ability of the human subconscious to process visual data at a rate of 5 images per second. Even though the conscious mind is unable to be aware of what is seen, the person's nervous system signals when something interesting has been seen. EEG measurements pick up the signal.

So, the human subconscious already has the ability to perceive and process data at a rate significantly faster than the conscious mind does. I have no idea how it could be done, but if the conscious mind and the subconscious mind could be united to function as one consciousness, that could do the trick.

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    $\begingroup$ The subconscious is faster because it is much simpler - same as computer systems. Subconscious uses "conditioned reflexes" which cause a pre-programmed reaction to a frequently-encountered stimulus. Good for playing tennis, riding bicycles and (it has to be said) combat. But it's fast precisely because its analysis is crude, and if not well-inhibited it can lead to tragic consequences like the off-duty soldier whose combat reflexes are unleashed on a loved one who startles him. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Nov 28 '16 at 9:01
  • $\begingroup$ We see images after we convolved them. this is conscious, subconscious is barely capable of detecting higher frequencies details $\endgroup$ – GameDeveloper Nov 28 '16 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ @nigel222 Well, there is the case of savantism, which seems to suggest that some form of cognitive functioning is proceeding with superhuman accuracy and skill, yet possibly without conscious processing. My answer below below discusses savantism. $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Nov 28 '16 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ @DarioOO What about the processing of involuntary physiological functions--neurohormone regulation, vasodilation, muscular coordination, etc. These functions are incredibly precise and processed at amazing speeds, yet not consciously. For example, a concert pianist is not consciously regulating his neurohormones, blood flow, inter-muscular coordination, yet it all is being coordinated with extreme precision and speed. I assume this is being done by the subconscious awareness of the involuntary nervous system. I have no proof the subconscious is regulating involuntary actions, just my theory. $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Nov 28 '16 at 21:49
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To really see details that are happening quickly, it would be necessary to make the brain think faster. That’s why flies are fast: their brain is simpler and naturally works faster.

In limited cases, special systems could be used to buffer the fast signal, which is then processed slower. This is how bats hear their sonar returns.

For a repeating cyclic event, the brain could build up an awareness of the details from snapshots taken at different points in the cycle, over time.

Of course, in our case, general intelligence allows us to build instruments and recording devices, and supplies the curiosity to go beyond our bare senses.

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  • $\begingroup$ Experimental citation for the "flies experience time slower" statement: theguardian.com/science/2013/sep/16/… $\endgroup$ – SRM Nov 28 '16 at 1:19
  • $\begingroup$ This is helpful information but could you elaborate on the how part? I agree with "buffering fast signal", "build up an awareness", "build instruments" but how do you employ these? What is the physical process, or the training, or the surgery, or the genetic modification, etc that would actually put these changes into effect? That is most useful to me. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 28 '16 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ I think “how to modify the brain” would be another question. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 28 '16 at 4:07
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Experiment: http://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2009/05/18/104183551/the-secret-advantage-of-being-short Have someone lie on their back with eyes closed. Touch a pin to their big toe and to their nose at the same time. Ask them if they felt them at the same time. The answer is always "yes". What's weird about that is that this was true regardless of the person's height. 4'0" or 6'7", both felt the two touches simultaneously. But the nerve propagation is slow enough that there's a 10th of a second difference in transmission time from those extra 2.5 feet, easily within human perception. From this and several other tests, the researchers determined that our senses are already working far faster than we perceive, but our brains process that data to create a coherent worldview. So training the mind to give you the unfiltered data might be possible. Indeed, that's what several meditation techniques claim to be able to achieve.

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  • $\begingroup$ Found the link!!! :-) $\endgroup$ – SRM Nov 28 '16 at 1:24
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    $\begingroup$ This is relevant to the question but an answer to a different one. I ask "how do you slow down the speed of the mind" and you answered "this is how you sharpen the senses" - $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 28 '16 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ I'm suggesting those two things are equivalent. It's an open hypothesis in psychology/biology. The perception of time is sense based, but how they relate has several plausible ideas at this time. This is one of them. $\endgroup$ – SRM Nov 28 '16 at 20:03
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Genetically Enhance the Brain

Perhaps the time processing parts of a fly brain could be added into a human's brain, via genetic engineering. Perhaps a hummingbird's time sense would be even faster than a fly's.

I assume the human would adapt best if the relevant DNA was inserted in the egg & sperm, so they physiology would have the ability from birth, and thus would have the best chance of adapting fully. If human-sized fly parts were surgically inserted into an adult human, it might be much more difficult for the rest of the physiology to adapt.

I have no idea how many other human physiological characteristics would need to be changed to allow the fly brain parts to work perfectly in a human physiology, but in time I'm sure science will try this and figure it out, if it is at all possible.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Human-sized fly parts" would lose their edge because they would be human sized. The speed is gained by it being small and thus low-latency. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Nov 28 '16 at 17:01
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A note regarding adrenaline surge, as suggested by JDługosz:

I can confirm that it is a valid thing, I was in somewhat severe accident about a decade ago during which I experienced a pretty strong adrenaline surge. I completely lost my ability to judge time and I think the entire event took anywhere between 5-30 seconds, but I experienced it as if it took 5-10 minutes regarding how much time I had to think. Without going in to gory details, I got stuck with my arm on a farm and was about to get it ripped off and I tried to figure out ways to get away in once piece. What I noticed was that while I had a lot of time to think about potential ways to escape, I could not move faster than I could during "normal time"; trying to perform any action in "bullet time" was like trying to swim in syrup. In the end, I never managed to move enough to take any real action to save myself, I simply ended up lucky and only lost a finger. My point is, while adrenaline surge will act as a way to increase the mental reaction, it will not work as a way to boost any body reaction. One will be able to see what is about to happen, but one will not be able to do much about it. If one compares that to the Smarter every day episode where they look at a raptor strike at a moving target, then it appear as if the bird is capable of seeing the error it is about to make and almost be able to adjust for it while "on the fly".

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  • $\begingroup$ Birds really do have faster brains. Different architecture, different metabolism. Last common ancestor of birds and mammals was a really long time ago. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Nov 28 '16 at 21:55
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Unlock Savantism

Savantism proves humans can have abilities normally considered superhuman.

For example, someone with highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM), like Becky Sharrock, can remember every single thing that has ever happened to her. Daniel Tammet can mentally perform extremely complex mathematical calculations, such as 27 to the 7th power, in seconds.

If scientists discover how to unlock savantism without inducing degrading side-effects, then superhuman feats could become common. Perhaps one savant ability could be the ability to think at extremely high speed.

I have thought if people ever evolve to naturally have savant abilities, they might be considered an entirely new species, homo superior, or a more politically correct homo savant.

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Something to also think about is whether the rest of the human body can speed up to match the faster perception: muscle contraction, oxygen delivery and waste removal, etc.

EDIT: In the simple case, a person with sped up perception might feel like they are wearing a heavy cumbersome suit. More fundamentally, a sped up perception might require increased oxygen flow to the brain, i.e. faster heart rate. I am not sure how fast a fly's heart beats, but there would surely be physiological limits on how fast a human heart can beat.

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    $\begingroup$ This is helpful information but it is a very short answer, so it will likely be flagged for length and removed. You could consider fleshing it out and adding detail, or waiting until you get the comment privilege and adding this information as a comment instead. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 28 '16 at 3:31
  • $\begingroup$ Flys don’t have a closed circulatory system, and the fluid doesn’t carry oxygen. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 28 '16 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz This answer doesn't mention the fly's fluid carrying oxygen, nor does it mention a closed circulatory system. It only mentions some sort of pump (a heart) and that is only for an analogy. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Nov 28 '16 at 17:04

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