Slowing the time or Hyperdrive? — Possible Science behind the same !

Anand Arora
6 min readAug 1, 2020

Warp speed or Warp drive, a concept that was introduced in Star Trek, in which the Enterprise ship gets into a warp drive, faster than light, that enables them to travel larger astronomical distances in seconds. While it might be a regular life for the fictional characters viz, Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Mr. Sulu, etc ; it definitely is a 3rd degree science fiction for us humans and a completely unimaginative reality for sure.

Now comes the second application of the same technology; the one shown in Justice League, X Men and even Shazam, which is the so called Hyperdrive technology. A man moves faster than the light; practically invisible to human beings and does the Superhero stuff, he is supposed to do. A unifying pattern in these movies is that especially for the superhero, the whole thing feels like a normal walk or maybe a run, and the time slows down allowing them to execute things at their own leisure. If you recall the scene from X Men, when Magneto is rescued and the cops surround them during their escape through the kitchen, Quicksilver runs, time slows down for him and he is able to alter the course of bullets, imbalance the cops, even tastes the pasta sauce and in the end rescues Magneto from getting shot. Similar analogy happens in Justice League with the super hero Flash. It makes us think that maybe for people like Flash or Quicksilver, its not about running super-fast at an impossible speed, that human muscles and body wont allow to; it might as well be that they are able to slow down time and walk in the continuum of time-space for say a progressive movement of time (i.e. they can’t go back but only further slowly). This certainly is an interesting phenomenon and makes me think whether at a micro level it is possible to harness such super-power.

In an article published in 2012 in the journal “Frontiers in psychology”, Valtteri Arstila, advocates that

The experienced speed of the passage of time is not constant as time can seem to fly or slow down depending on the circumstances we are in.

The article discusses the experienced perception of time for people who have experienced accidents / other frightening events that impose life-threatening imminent danger. The examples discussed include those of climbers of Alpine club, where they experienced heightened mental quickness and alertness during the state of accident fall / traumatic events. Other cases include a 14 yr old boy who apparently shot himself in the chest , a jet pilot during Vietnam war, etc.

Arstilla states the key experiences involved in such events include :

  • External time expanding and slowing down to a greater extent (Temporal resolution of perception — TROP)
  • Heightened mental alertness and increase in speed of thoughts
  • Altered sense of duration of a particular event/ Interval perception (IP)
  • Narrow focus on the event under consideration
  • Unusually sharp vision or hearing

To understand the truth behind TROP or IP, scientist conducted an experiment where a set of people were allowed to experience a near-death situation of a free-fall. The findings indicated that while TROP remained the same for subjects during the free-fall / observing someone else’s freefall; the IP was altered and improved 35 % more in case of their own freefall. This suggested a theory that perhaps during such situations, emotional memory comes in to play. This is postulated by a theory that amygdala in the brain leads to a dilated duration judgments due to a richer processing of memories. However such notions were challenged, for the experiments were found flawed by many scientists. (as the subjects were aware of the cushioning before they fall, and hence it was not a 100 % near death experience). In the end it was concluded that :

The experiences of time slowing down results from the fact that the relation between the temporal properties of events in the external world and internal states is suddenly (so that adaptation is yet to occur) distorted as result of increased speed of internal processes.

- Valtteri Arstila

Read the above article here for more detail :

Now comes the major question :

Can we alter temporal perception of events in such a way that our velocity of internal processing increases vis-a-vis the latter ?

Here comes : The Attention Gate Model !

There are 3 models of interests here :

  • Scalar-Timing Model
  • Treisman’s Model
  • Attention Gate Model

The first two explain the phenomenon of temporal perception independently through the concepts of signal, working memory, reference memory and specific arousal centers. However, Attention Gate Model gained importance because it combines the first two and includes both scalar-time property as well as considers the role of human cognitive behaviours.

Attention Gate Model is depicted in the flowchart below :

Below are the concepts involved in this model :

  • Internal Clock : This consists of a pacemaker, a switch and a storage (including Reference Memory). The pacemaker generates more or less regularly paced signals at a particular speed unless altered.
  • Attention Gate : This is a cognitive mechanism controlled by the attention time i.e. how much time we allocate to our attention for that task. Also it is directly related to how concentrated our attention is. The higher it is, the higher is the opening of attention gate and vice versa.
  • Switch : It is a boolean 0 or 1, on or off; type of switch which allows or blocks the signal received from Attention Gate. If the event has a temporal relevant meaning attached to it, switch opens up and allows it to go to the next stage that is Cognitive Counter.
  • Cognitive Counter : Cognitive Counter records the number of pulses entering through the Gate. It is set to zero during the start of time interval and when the switch opens up to send more signals, counter starts. When the relevant event is perceived as finished the counter is reset to 0 again.
  • Reference Memory and Short Term Memory : Humans are more flexible than animals as the latter only act basis reference memory but humans can even process decision basis short term memory i.e. the preceding events (prior or on-going). In the case of human beings, the actions can either be taken from reference memory or short term memory.
  • Cognitive Comparision : When the signal passes through reference memory, it goes into a cognitive comparision block where a judgment call is made for the decision. In absence of the same, the very signal goes into short term memory for an Extempore-style action.
  • Response Mechanism : In short, you gotta do what you gotta do!

Now my take on this model is that if the attention allocated time is higher and the Attention gate is wide open, the amount of signal going is higher and more meaning is attached through either reference or short term memory . This coupled with the pacemaker frequency + arousal state provides a boost to the signal causing this entire chain to work faster thereby allowing a perception of time slowing down for a particular event. The state of mind becomes natural to the subject while it could be different to the spectator. However, a lot of further research is needed on this topic to create a viable model and explain the ones already existing.

However , one evident observation is “Pay more attention and focus to an activity you love to do and is under the time-speed consideration” and time will slow down for the same. For, the love of activity will increase the arousal state, causing the pacemaker to boost the frequency along with attaching temporal meaning to the switch, and attention would allow the gates to open more thereby completing the loop.

In the american action movie, “Wanted” directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the character Wesley has a special condition which he mistakes as “Panic attacks” and is medicated for the same. However, this is the very skill which allows his temporal perception of time to slow down giving more meaning and focus on the activity. This is how, he is able to shoot down a fly through a bullet. However, this is all still in the realm of a fiction story. But the real question is:

“How long will science be running away from the possibility of actually creating a real hyperdrive?”

(or has this already been done and some of us are already one of those superheroes like Flash ,Quicksilver or Wesleys living a normal life, and exercising such superhuman powers regularly in shadow)