Time standing still…


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Quickly glance at an analog clock. You might find that the second hand seems stuck at first. But if the precise machinery ensures every second is the same, why the pause?

Amelia Hunt, a neuroscientist with the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, says the standstill (nicknamed the stopped-clock illusion) occurs because our brains anticipate what we will see before we actually view it. When we move our eyes, everything shifts position on the retina. If we couldn’t sense those adjustments coming, we’d be incredibly disoriented. So our brains figured a way to cope: As we navigate the world, our visual cortex creates and updates an interactive map of what’s around us. The brain uses it to ­predict what we’ll see to prevent discombobulation.

So, when you look up at a clock, your mapmaking brain has foreseen what it will look like. And when your gaze does reach it, you are a step ahead of time. In a 2009 study, Hunt’s team found that, on average, clock gazers set the time as 39 milliseconds earlier than what actually landed on the clock.

For a fleeting second, time might seem to stop. Too bad it won’t help you catch up if you’re running late. (1)

Yes, time can be an illusion.

Every time you think of you, as a child. Every time you sense love, for someone long gone. Each time you rip through the fabric of the universe, seeking kindness into the touch of your grandma.

It is then that time seems just a shadow in our mind.

But time can be very real as well.

When you are running late to see the birth of your child. Every time you miss her birthday because you were overseas. Each time you lose your opportunity to say that you love her before it’s too late…

It is then that you know that time exists.

And the shadow disappears.

Look at that clock.

Yes, it does move.

And yet…

It doesn’t…