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Accelerating a person's perceived sense of time is a fairly common subject in science fiction, and to keep a long story short, I was wondering just how far you could stretch time out when you're working with an organic brain rather than a digitally uploaded mind. Is the limit something like experiencing a subjective ten seconds for every one second relative to the rest of the world, or could you take it further? Would a hundred or a thousand times normal speed still be in the realm of possibility? What about a million times?

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    $\begingroup$ There's a ton we don't know about the brain, and as far as I know, there's nothing that can actually change the perception of time. This would be guesswork and opinions at best. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Mar 16, 2017 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ I want to note that the in real life, the only the perception of time is stretched, as far as we know. People recollect perceiving the world in slow motion, but they were not really having faster sensory input, so they did not really experience it faster. Whatever or not the person was thinking faster is inconclusive, although the perception of time has correlation with the energy consumption of the brain (the more energy it uses, the slower the world seems), meaning that... perhaps. $\endgroup$
    – Theraot
    Mar 16, 2017 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ I think you may be talking about 2 different things. One is this virtuallabs.stanford.edu/tech/images/ReactionTime.SU-Tech.pdf the other may be this ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2709177 the short version, there is the process time that ... detects stimuli to quantification. There is a Fast acting cycle that "can" over-ride the quantification. The "go" action seems to be the default action, it is slow enough (my words) to allow for the "stop" action to over-ride it. You may be talking about the entire action as a package. Don't invoke the later, you catch falling objects $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2017 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Andon not sure if we can't change the perception of time, is a well known fact that week-days hours run slowly than weekend hours. ;) $\endgroup$
    – roetnig
    Mar 16, 2017 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ "how fast can you run a human brain" words matter. I took my brain out yesterday for a run and i could only get to go as fast as my body could carry it. I "thought" i was going pretty fast but i was not. $\endgroup$
    – Alaska Man
    Mar 17, 2017 at 5:40

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If you've ever experienced this stretched perception of time, you may have noticed that while your perception speeds up (that is, you see the world in slow motion), your reaction time doesn't speed up by anything like the same ratio.

There are two factors at work here. One is the neuron transmission time: that is, the time it takes sensory input to get from say the eyes to the visual cortex, then for a response to travel from the brain down the motor neurons to muscle cells. The other is the brain's calculation speed, which (since the brain is highly parallel) can be increased by training, moving some things from conscious thought to reflex action.

In the current state of knowledge, there really doesn't seem to be a lot you can do to speed up the fundamental "clock rate", since it depends on the speed of nerve conduction, which in turn depends on ion channels & neurotransmitter releases. Something like adrenaline can (I think) potentiate some of this, but only within limits.

Sticking with known science, I'd make a semi-educated guess, and say you could probably speed up perception by 5:1, reaction time by 2:1.

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A brain "calculation speed" or "clock rate" is pretty much limited by the related metabolic rate.

Assuming there is a linear relation between the two rates, if you want to speed up the clock by a factor of 10, you need to do the same with the metabolism, which is already optimized and limited by chemical reactions at body temperatures.

And while you can increase the fan speed of an overclocked CPU, enzymes in biological bodies stop working out of their design temperature.

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  • $\begingroup$ What if you artificially cooled the brain during the process? Say it was being kept alive with a life support structure consisting of various machines and maybe implants? $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2017 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ Enzhymes used to speed up chemical reactions at body temperature are already optimized by million years of evolution. I think there is no way to improve them. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Mar 16, 2017 at 4:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Z.Schroeder Some of our best cooling mechanisms use water to carry heat away from the processor. Our bodies do the same thing - using blood. While there might be a way to improve on this using gas coolants, the rest of the body would have to be modified to utilize this advantage. Pretty heavy genetic engineering would be necessary. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2017 at 6:31
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Alternate Biology OR the Inorganic Brain:

Short of actually altering the flow of time around a brain, the perception of time could be sped up by increasing the speed of the brain. Biology only allows for information exchange at a certain rate (the movement of molecules), so a non-chemical brain becomes important. This does not rule out biology if you have information transfer in the brain by something like entangled particles. Alien conspiracy theorists talk about "monoatomic gold" speeding up thoughts. Perhaps this could be a means of transmitting data at FTL speed from one neuron to another. An alien with some sort of solid-state(crystal, etc.) brain could approach computer speeds. Or assuming a hyperspace reality, a character could have his cognitive functions in another reality where physics ran differently and translated his thoughts to our universe.

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  • $\begingroup$ monoatomic gold - cocaine? LoL Actually not a bad answer, especially if imagine that we can lay a second wiring, like with carbon nanotubes, with help of some nanogue, which can create some shaddow replica, or spring boards for neuron conductivity, which can process things much much faster, maybe less flexible, in burst mode and then sync with bio part if required or relevant parts or results. Close to those digital uploaders but not quite. So yeah, there is hope that we can type our dumb ideas faster, so we need to work on it, push it guys push it ... $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    May 21, 2021 at 19:19
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Let's be clear that physical duration is a constant vector. It is bound by the laws of relativity to progress at the same speed. We are limited by this fact. Now, the only way to make time seem slower is to cram more processing power into each segment of time. If you have a fight-or-flight response, your body will trigger a short burst of what I'll call "brain overclock," where we become hyper-aware and ready to react more quickly to external stimuli. I would venture to distinguish reaction from deliberate action, which happens much more slowly, and requires much more processing power to perform.

Also, we are limited by physics. Even if you could somehow perceive time "more slowly" than the rest of the world, you still couldn't run the 40m dash any faster than you could in "normal time".

I think there's something wrong with trying to give a ratio of relative duration, or perception of time, because all time is linear. It's the speed at which our brain calculates that makes time seem to progress more slowly, and even that is unsustainable as you can see from the other answers.

Perhaps a shot of epinephrine, or some crazy amphetamine salt concoction could give you a temporary boost in brainpower, but can a person subjected to that honestly say that, for instance, time dilation is 2:1 in their favor? I don't think its quantifiable in that way.

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