Monthly Archives: May 2011

Brain Time

“Time is this rubbery thing,” Eagleman said. “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”

– from:
The Possibillian : The New Yorker.

I can relate to Eagleman’s memory of the suspension of time during his childhood fall. I experienced it once as my car launched into the air over a ravine, tree branches whipping by, and also during a fall from a galloping horse, and while in the basket of a rapidly deflating hot air balloon plunging towards a swamp.

Like Eagleman and his grad students, I feel bedeviled by time. Tasked to invent a test for an industrial organizational psychology class, I wrote a measurement for “time sense.” But my test was primitive and rudimentary, especially compared to Eagleman’s methods using EEG, fMRI, musicians, and dropping subjects into a horrifying 110 foot free fall backwards to a net.

Missed exits

I had a mechanic check the cooling system of my car yesterday. It had overheated last Friday, late in the afternoon. Some thingamajiggy had popped off and all the coolant dumped out.

“Freak accident,” Tim the mechanic said. “It’s fine now.”

I don’t really believe in freak accidents. I’ll apologize right now to my scientist friends. I do know that my feelings about that are normal. I plead normalcy!

Because the car had overheated, I changed all of our plans for the weekend. Instead of farmers markets and friends and family, we had a quiet weekend at home because I didn’t trust the car. Who knows what the weekend might have been like otherwise? Might we have gotten in an accident or gotten a ticket? Whatever it might have been, the thingamajiggy changed it.

Once, years ago, my brother Bill called me from his truck.

“I missed my exit,” he said. “How do I get to your house from the next exit?”

I told him how and we hung up but it wasn’t long before he called me again. He’d had an accident and he needed me to come get him.

It turned out that he’d gotten caught in a left turn only lane at the 2nd stoplight. He’d had to stop behind a little Honda turning left. A massive SUV, a Navigator, came up full speed behind him and smashed into the back of his mid-sized Dodge Dakota pickup truck. It pushed him forward and he hit the back of the Honda in turn and almost pushed it into oncoming traffic.

I went and picked him up. He was upset and kicking himself. When he saw me he started to cry.

“I’m such a screwup!” he said.

I gave him a big hug. It wasn’t his fault! The girl in the SUV had been gabbing away on a cell phone and not paying attention. She hadn’t even hit the brakes!

“Besides,” I said, “I think you saved that girl’s life by being there. What if that SUV had back ended the Honda instead of you? Think how much energy your truck absorbed. It acted as a buffer. If she’d hit the Honda it would’ve gotten the full force of the impact and it certainly would’ve been pushed directly into the oncoming traffic.”

“Bill, I think you were meant to be there. I think God asked you to miss your exit and he put you there to save that girl.”

He got quiet. The tears stopped while he thought about it. It seemed to make him feel better.

It was true. Whether there was a higher power involved or not, his truck had buffered the impact on that little car. The girl in that car was hurt enough that an ambulance had taken her to the hospital. A direct hit from that SUV could have killed her.

I believed then and I still believe that Bill saved her just by being there. He seemed to believe me too. At least, he stopped beating himself up over it.

God bless Bill for feeling comforted by the thought that he’d taken a metaphorical bullet for some girl that he didn’t even know.

Whenever I miss an exit or something happens to cause me to reroute my plans, like a thingamajig jumping off my car, I think about Bill and the girl in the little Honda.