Friday, October 30, 2015

Our "experience of duration is a signature of [...] coding efficiency"

David M. Eagleman, and Vani Pariyadath, Is subjective duration a signature of coding efficiency? (PDF) Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2009) 364, 1841–1851 doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0026
Perceived duration is conventionally assumed to correspond with objective duration, but a growing literature suggests a more complex picture. For example, repeated stimuli appear briefer in duration than a novel stimulus of equal physical duration. We suggest that such duration illusions appear to parallel the neural phenomenon of repetition suppression, and we marshal evidence for a new hypothesis: the experience of duration is a signature of the amount of energy expended in representing a stimulus, i.e. the coding efficiency. This novel hypothesis offers a unified explanation for almost a dozen illusions in the literature in which subjective duration is modulated by properties of the stimulus such as size, brightness, motion and rate of flicker.
Hmmm.... I wonder. Time and again I've noticed that, when going somewhere unfamiliar, the trip there seems longer than the trip back. When I'm going THERE for the first  time, the route is strange; I've got to code it into my mind for the first time. But when I'm coming back coding is more efficient because I've already laid down a record of the landmarks and directions. All I have to do coming back is lay down some reverse pointers.

Looking through the bibliography, however, I notice that they don't cite Robert Ornstein's 1969 On the Experience of Time (reprinted in 1997), which makes pretty much the same argument. Perhaps 1969 is too far back to go in a literature search? Or perhaps the fact the Ornstein's later career has had a New Age edge got in the way? I don't know. But Ornstein was there back in the late 1960s.

Here's a synopsis of the book from Questia:
How do we experience time? What do we use to experience it? In a series of remarkable experiments, Robert Ornstein shows that it is difficult to maintain an "inner clock" explanation of the experience of time & postulates a cognitive, information-processing approach. This approach alone makes sense out of the very different data of the experience of time & in particular of the experience of duration-the lengthening of duration under LSD, for example, or the effects of an experience felt to be a success rather than a failure, time in sensory deprivation, the time-order effect, or the influence of the administration of a sedative or stimulant drug. Contents: The Problem of Temporal Experience. The "Sensory Process" Metaphor. The "Storage Size" Metaphor. Four Studies of the Stimulus Determinants of Duration Experience. Two Studies of Coding Processes & Duration Experience. Three Studies of Storage Size. Summary, Conclusion, & Some Speculation on Future Directions.


  1. Hi Bill:

    You might find these two books that I haven't seen in a while, but that struck me when I saw them as offering unusual angles on time, worth dipping into:

    Marie-Louise von Franz, Number and Time: Reflections Leading Toward a Unification of Depth Psychology and Physics

    Tarthang Tulku, Time, Space & Knowledge: A New Vision of Reality