More About Time – A Real Life Example

I got the following comment to my last post from Dave:

“Maybe this is related, and maybe not. When the human body is about to go thru extreme stress ( or say and accident) Everybody describes the event as “going into slow motion” I too can relate with examples. I think the mind manipulated the passage of time as needed to give you ” Time ” to react. Seems like a powerful miracle of life to me- but very possible.”

 I also got an Email comment from my English friend expressing his agreement that it seems that people experience time differently and it appears to be situational.

So apparently my post was not so weird after-all.

Dave’s mentioning of accidents reminded me of my own personal experience of “going into slow-motion’.

It was eleven years ago this spring.  I had just purchased a new car – in fact it was the day after I drove it off the dealer’s lot.  There were less than 50 miles on the odometer.  A little after noon I decided to head over to the park and “shoot some hoops”.  I was on a major North-South street approaching an intersection with a major East-West road.  The traffic light was green;  I noted what looked like four lanes of cars stopped on each side – a left turn lane, a right turn lane and two through lanes.  The speed limit was 45 mph (approx. 70 kph).  I was definitely going 45 or a wee bit faster.   😀

The instant my car entered the intersection one of the cars stopped for the light in one of the through lanes to the right just started forward into the intersection directly in front of me.   It was impossible to stop my car or even veer away to avoid impact at the speed I was traveling. I was going to hit  that car broadside – and that would happen in less than a second.

Talk about slow-motion, for me, that second or less lasted at least 5 seconds, maybe longer.  I recall somehow getting both feet on the brake with every ounce of strength I possessed, but knowing it was not going to avoid the inevitable.  I don’t know why, but I had absolutely no fear of being hurt myself – but I do remember thinking: “I’m going to kill someone!”  I remember turning the wheel slightly in order not to hit the driver’s door and slowly watching the paths of the two cars and realizing that, thank God, I was going to make impact behind the driver’s door.  I can recall bracing myself for the collision and the release of the airbag.  Then  a tremendous crash, and I saw the airbag expanding like a balloon being blown up by a person – it seemed to happen that slowly.

I was out of the car almost immediately headed towards the car I’d hit, noticing on the way that the entire front end of my car had been flattened almost to the windshield – and realizing that without that airbag I would have been thrown through the windshield and would be quite dead.  The other car was totaled, but thankfully, the driver, an elderly lady, although disoriented, did not appear to be hurt.

People from the other stopped cars  rushed towards the collision.  Several remarked that the car had run the red light.  That was a great relief to me – I asked a few to stay to tell that to the police when they arrived.

Not my fault – a good thing!  But oh dear, my shiny new car appeared to be totaled.  As it turned out the other driver’s insurance company did not want to pay for a replacement – they insisted on having it repaired.  It took nearly a month and cost almost the new car price.  For awhile I was concerned about the safety of the vehicle, but it was still going fine when I traded it in six years later.

I’ve done some calculations to see if I could figure out how much clock time elapsed from the moment I entered the intersection until the collision.  At the rate of 45 mph (probably a bit faster) I’d cover 237,600 feet in one hour.  That works out to 66 feet per second. At the point I entered the intersection I was less than 40 feet from the lane the other car was in.  At my speed, without attempting to break it would have taken no more than two-thirds of a second to impact.  My breaking couldn’t have delayed impact much – another tenth of a second or two, maybe.

And yet, all those things took place in barely an instant – and to me they happened so slowly.  Consider how much time is required to even get the feet on the brake and to apply pressure.  In real time I believe it would have been impossible to even hit the brake before impact.  I wasn’t aware of the car entering the intersection until I, myself, was entering it – there were only three traffic lanes (36 feet maybe) between us and I was moving at a rate likely more than 66 feet per second.

It just doesn’t compute.  I had to have actually lived about five seconds in a period of less than a second.  I don’t know how else all those things could have happened, and how I could have observed, thought and acted as I did in what felt like normal time to me.


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