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Monday, January 28, 2008

Overclocking the Brain

There are 24 hours in a day. There have always been 24 hours in a day, and barring some major societal shift, there will always be 24 hours in a day. Put under constant pressure to accomplish more, the average person, regardless of whether they are a student, a wage-laborer or an executive with a well-known company, begins to feel the suffocating limits of time and productivity bearing down on them.

Of course, there are many ways to attempt to defy the natural limits of body and clock--an entire time-management industry has sprung up to satisfy the needs of millions of workers who are constantly pushed to do more, think more, produce more.

The entire problem can be summed up by the standard formula used in the time-management business:


Logically, more work=more productivity. however, there is a limit to a person's ability to multitask; ironically, the stress caused by having so much to do arguably decreases this ability more than any other factor.

However, research into the way the human mind controls its perception of time (Discover: Science, Technology, and the Future. April '06) shows promise in controlling productivity in a whole new way.

Under stress, the body's internal caps on the amount of sensory information absorbed begin to break down. For example, a simple test developed by David Eagleman, a U of T-Houston neuro-biologist, seems to validate this hypothesis. Two test subjects attempted to read numbers on an LCD screen. Then, they bungee jumped off a platform. On the way down, both were able to clearly read all the numbers. Evidently, the brain can be tricked into running in overdrive.

But what does this mean? Does thinking faster mean thinking better? The simple answer is that it depends. Some occupations or tasks do value speed over comprehension. On the other hand, those who deal with abstract mental tasks, such as graphic design, writing, etc, would not necessarily benefit from added mental processing speed.

Another problem with altering time perception is the drug-like experience. A Duke University neuroscientist, Warren Meck, is interested in "whether its possible to administer a drug that speeds up time without making the experience euphoric" (22). In my opinion, the polar shift between medically induced, euphoric productivity and "normal" life would cause numerous personality and mental disorders.

For years, scientists and engineers have modeled machines after humans. We want robots to stand upright, have hands, 3D vision, and brains that function identically to ours. Put another way, we are gods crafting beings in our own image. Now that principle has been turned on its head--the gods have seen the benefits of what they have created, and they are attempting to emulate that. A person is flesh and bone, not metal and plastic. We can't add RAM or a faster processor. We are born the way we are meant to be. Maybe one day, either through evolution or by deliberate, conscious medical interference with our own genetic codes, we will go beyond the limits of what our current bodies support. However, that day is not now.

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