While time itself appears to be objectively “fixed” when gazing at a clock or stopwatch… a person’s subjective experience of time can vary quite extensively depending on their environment (internal and external). Most people who have experienced a traumatic event in their lives such as a car accident or even an emotional event such a relationship break-up have described time as “moving very slowly”. In cases of the car accidents, many have alluded to notion that they saw everything transpire as if in slow motion. Following emotional trauma from a relationship break-up, many have stated that each day following the break-up felt like an “eternity”. In some cases, time can appear to slow down significantly during non-traumatic, yet perceptually intense sporting situations. On the opposite end of the spectrum… there’s a famous phrase that goes something like, “time flies when you’re having fun”.
One of the leading researchers of altered perception of time is Dr. Michael Flaherty. In his book, “The Textures of Time: Agency and Temporal Experience”, he describes the many methods in which people attempt to change their perception of time in terms of “speeding up” negative experiences and “prolonging” positive experiences. In a 2017 piece titled, “Why Time Seems to Fly-or Trickle-By”, Dr. Flaherty covers what he believes to be six general categories of time slowing down: 1) Intense physical suffering/pleasure. 2) Intense violence/danger. 3) Waiting/boredom. 4) Altered states of consciousness via substances (ex. psychedelics). 5) High levels of concentration or meditation. 6) Shock and novelty (ex. learning a new skill or visiting a new place).
While standard temporal units remain the same (seconds, minutes, hours) from a clock/calendar perspective, Flaherty states that standard temporal units can vary based on a unit he coined as “the density of human experience” (the volume of objective and subjective information they carry). He postulates that the greater the density of the objective experience per standard temporal unit, the slower that time passes by. These increases in density can take place from two different occurrences at the opposite ends of the stimulation spectrum (ex. battlefield vs. solitary confinement) being that increased attention tends to take place when placed in very strange environments. When it comes to the accelerated perception of time, Flaherty speculates that there are two general conditions that compresses one’s perception of time. The first one he describes coincides with a lower density of objective experience occurring from engaging in routine tasks. An example he gives is of a person at work who might be engaged in complex activities but due to the repetition and routine nature of the task… the “density” of the experience is low hence the perception that time “flew by”. The second factor in time acceleration according to Flaherty is the erosion of episodic memory (the collection of past, personal experiences that took place at a particular time/place). In a 1994 study published in the Sociological Quarterly, Flaherty asked subjects to describe their perception of the passage of time in terms of “yesterday”, “last month”, and “last year”. The subjects described an acceleration of time the further back they looked (ex. last year went by faster than last month). Flaherty attributed this to the accelerated erosion of episodic memory the further one goes back in time leading to a lowered density of experience recollection coinciding with the perception that time passed by more quickly.
What does any of this have to do with DMT?
One of the interesting observations that has been reported from exogenous DMT ingestion is the changes in the perception of time. There is a consistency among experiencers claiming that it feels as though time essentially “stops” during the peak moments of the experience. From an outside observer’s perspective it is merely an internal perceptual change as the seconds on any clock surrounding the vicinity “tick and tock” at the same speed as they always did.
As we’ve covered quite extensively at DMT Quest, we believe that endogenous DMT is upregulated during states such as meditation, hypnosis, dream sleep, sensory deprivation, Wim Hof Method, and much more. There have been many anecdotal claims citing that time distortions take place when engaged in these activities at significant degrees. However, as we’ve cited in the past… there are also stress related pathways that have been observed to coincide with the upregulation of DMT and endogenous MAOI’s in the brain of rats. According to Dr. Flaherty, it appears as though these stress states (battle, boredom, suffering, shock) also coincide with alterations in the perception of time. Perhaps the brain data will allow us to better understand how certain brain activity might coincide with these changes.
A 2013 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology utilized magnetoencephalography (MEG) equipment to measure the brain activity of 12 long-term meditators requesting that they meditate on “Timelessness” (outside time) and “Spacelessness” (outside space). The researchers observed significant increases in theta amplitude (predominantly right hemisphere) coinciding with the experiences.
A 2013 study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition would include 40 college students and expose them to various visual stimulus that would was timed. Following the stimulus these students were exposed to 2 different sets of audio recordings lasting 10 minutes. One of the audio recordings was a mindful meditation exercise while the other was a neutral recording (audiobook). After the students listened to each recording they were exposed to the same timed visual stimulus as they were prior to the audio track. The researchers found that when students listened to the mindful meditation exercise it led them to classify the visual stimulus duration as ‘‘long’’ more often in comparison with prior to this exercise. In comparison, the participants who listened to the neutral recording showed no change in their responses in comparison with before the task.
In perusing the various meditation/time perception studies, it appears as though the analysis of altered time awareness in relation to meditation is largely based on changes following meditative practices. It would seem rather disruptive to request time sensory measurement tests in the midst of a meditative practice as this would essentially break the trance state. A 2005 study in the International Journal of Neuroscience would find that meditators exuded greater amplitude of theta and low alpha waves while resting (not meditating) in comparison to non-meditators.
A 2012 study in the journal Behavioral and Brain Functions would utilize EEG equipment to measure the brain activity of 21 human subjects in relation to time perception tasks. It was observed that increases in slow wave amplitude altered time perception reactivity while fast wave activity correlated with enhanced accuracy in time perception tasks. This study had nothing to do with meditation but rather attempting to identify changes in the perception of time in relation to specific changes in EEG activity.
A 1979 study in The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis would find that subjects under hypnosis would significantly underestimate the length of time they had been hypnotized. A 1994 study in the the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that time estimates are a by-product of attentional processing demands in both hypnotic and non-hypnotic subjects.
It appears as though the amount and density of the processing taking place can significantly effect the perception of time regardless of the altered state. In some cases, hypnosis can induce a slowing of time and in other cases, hypnosis can induce a speeding up of time. This might possibly coincide with increased amplitude of specific brain waves (delta, theta, gamma) during certain moments of the experience.
A 2014 review in the journal Neuroimage discusses the observation that the theta frequency appears to be key in terms of encoding and retrieval within the brain. Here is an excerpt from the researchers in terms of the relationship between theta frequency and time/space retrieval: “Recent data also supports models showing how network and cellular theta rhythmicity allows neurons in the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus to code time and space as a possible substrate for encoding events in episodic memory.” This is especially intriguing in light of the strange changes in the perception of time from practices that induce marked changes in theta wave amplitude.
There is much conflicting data regarding the experience of time during sleep and more specifically during dreams. Urban legends have abounded stating that dreams take place in much shorter durations than the first-hand experience of the actual dreams themselves. However, this is not definitive when analyzing the entire body of data generated by sleep studies. Nevertheless, a 1975 EEG study in the journal Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology observed that very emotional dreams or dreams of a bizarre/complex nature induce a significant acceleration of time perception. An example given in the study was that of a subject who was observed to generate the brain activity of a dream for about 12 seconds… when asked to describe the duration of the event the subject claimed that it lasted 10 to 20 minutes.
As we’ve covered quite consistently at DMT Quest, in Dr. Robert O. Becker’s “The Body Electric”, he observes that the polarity of the direct current (DC) flow of the brain changes based on changes in “consciousness”. Waking states generated negative frontal potentials while sleeping states generated positive frontal potentials. This means the direction of the current flow in the brain is measurably different according to the changes in perceptual states. Becker would find that this change in the DC directional flow in the brain would also coincide with changes in the DC directional flow throughout the body.
Based on the information outlined above, it appears as though the perception of time is more accurate when we are in an average state of consciousness. Anything deviating significantly from the “average” leads to significant changes in our ability to accurately deduce the amount of time that has passed by. However, when we look at brain activity from either a DC direction or EEG data perspective, it’s quite evident that there are many changes taking place in real-time that can alter these perceptions. While theta wave (slow) amplitude might increase significantly in relaxation inducing altered states techniques (meditation, hypnosis, breathwork, sensory deprivation), they can also increase gamma wave (fast) amplitude during certain moments. These dynamic changes seem to have a significant effect of the perception of time during these experiences.
(This is an image from the book “Cross Currents” by Dr. Robert O. Becker
The image above is described in “Cross Currents” as follows: In the diagram on the left, the current is shown to flow as a series of streamlines from the positive electrode to the negative. In the diagram on the right, the lines of equal voltage, also called equipotential lines, are shown. On each voltage line the value of the voltage is the same, but the value for each line is different from the others. Therefore, for any single point in the voltage/current field there will be a unique set of values of voltage, current strength, and current direction.
Perhaps during instantaneous moments of phase-coupling of slow (theta/delta) and fast (gamma) waves during trance states our “consciousness” is able to move outside of the brain and across equipotential lines allowing us to step outside of linear time/space? Since there are many equipotential lines to choose from, our intent would dictate our ability to accelerate or decelerate our perception of time? These are nonsensical questions in the grandest of sense… not statements.
An interesting periphery discussion regarding time is the concept of cellular aging and metabolic activity that effects this process. Metabolism is defined as the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life. If one were to take a specific group of cells and place them in a petri dish with the proper nutritional components… we could observe the average lifespan of those cells. During these average lifespans, genetic expression markers could be utilized to measure the genes correlated with average aging. Theoretically speaking, if the metabolic activity of the cells were altered, it would then either decrease or increase their lifespans coinciding with gene upregulation or downregulation. An example would be as follows:
“An average cell lives 3 weeks and sees genetic changes every 3 days coinciding with aging. At the beginning of the cell’s life, gene “C1” (just a random name) is the indicator for it’s age. Three days after inception gene “C2” gets expressed indicating 3 days of life and six days after inception gene “C3” gets expressed indicating 6 days of life… etc. etc. etc. By the 18th day, gene “C6” is expressed indicating that the cell is very near the end of it’s life cycle. Over time, researchers no longer measure the lifespan of a cell utilizing units of time but instead simply look at the genetic markers indicating their process in the life cycle. One could potentially make the case that a cell can experience time in reverse if they are capable of down regulating the expression of “C6” genes correlating with the end of life. What if these cells’ metabolic activity are so drastically altered that instead of expressing “C6” genes at 18 days of existence, they instead express “C2” genes indicating a physiological age of 3 days old?“
While some traditionalists might state that these are not changes in time perception/experience of a cell but rather strictly changes in metabolism, when taking into account an entire organism, the discussion gets more interesting. A 2011 study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism observed that higher resting metabolic rates predicted earlier natural mortality indicating that higher energy turnover may accelerate aging. It’s been cited that a person’s metabolic rate is at it’s lowest during non-REM sleep stages. A 2003 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the resting metabolic rate of humans is significantly higher in the afternoon compared to other times of the day. This alludes to the notion that while “objective time” would appear to remain the same throughout the 24 hour cycle… a person’s biological time does not take place in the same linear format. There is in essence, an acceleration of internal cellular/biological clocks that peak in the afternoon and a slowing down of this clock while we sleep. In addition, practices such as meditation and yoga have been observed to slow down metabolism in humans. In addition to the changes in metabolism from these activities are also the changes in brain activity (DC/EEG), biochemical release, age-related gene expression, and ultimately the perception of time.
A 2016 study in the journal Mechanisms of Ageing and Development discusses the role of the gene Sirtuin 1 (SIRT1) in aging. It was observed that SIRT1 is downregulated in mice with progressed aging and is an overall biomarker of accelerated aging. A 2009 study in the Journal of Pineal Research observed that exogenous melatonin upregulated SIRT1 levels in sleep deprived rats. This alludes to the notion that biomarkers of systemic cellular aging is not only circadian based but also EEG/DC activity based. Since systemic cellular regeneration takes place during sleep, does this indicate an experience of a deceleration of time or (gasp)… an inherent time reversal?
An interesting (albeit extreme) Ayurvedic practice known as “Kaya Kalpa”claims to stimulate the ability to reverse aging. While this obviously sounds quite far-fetched… from a strictly mechanistic perspective, since sleep indicates a significant metabolic slowdown, “Kaya Alpa” would necessitate a mimicking of those conditions. This practice takes the term “dark room retreat” to a very extreme level (by Western standards at least), being that it comprises of 90 days in the dark. Not just “dark” but essentially a purposely constructed room to shield out all forms of light. The rejuvenative properties of the retreat consist of isolation, purgative techniques, exfoliation/massage, highly specialized diet, supplements, fasting, and the integration of “spiritual” techniques such as meditating, reciting mantras, and practicing breathwork. The description claims that following the retreat, some participants have experienced their gray hairs falling out while being replaced with black hair. Other experiences describe include regrowing teeth, rejuvenation of the senses/skin, and a healing of pain within the body.
While these claims might sound far-fetched when being analyzed in isolation, based on much of the information presented at DMT Quest since inception it seems plausible that a person could in fact experience a vast array of effects. There are hundreds of studies citing the systemic wide protective/optimization effects of the biochemical melatonin. There are also hundreds of studies observing the upregulation of melatonin production as a result of exposure to dark conditions and relaxative practices. Based on this notion alone, the “Kaya Alpa” protocol is intriguing from an endogenous regulative phenomena. When you combine the extended darkness period with breathwork, meditation, fasting, purging, etc., the effects could be magnified to a degree that modern biologists are not aware of generally speaking.
It would be very interesting to observe a subject who would undergo such an experience in terms of measuring various biochemical markers during the process. It could be safely assumed that a person would undergo hundreds if not thousands of genetic expression changes during this time period based on the amount of long-term external and internal environmental changes experienced by the subject. This is not to mention the “hallucinatory” phenomena commonly reported from “dark room retreats”. How these visual experiences coincide with the cellular aging process has yet to be determined…
One of the more interesting yet esoteric concepts in regards to time comes from hypnosis in the form of a “past-life regression”. One of the most famous proponents of this form of hypnosis is American psychiatrist Dr. Brian Weiss. Weiss would claim to accidentally stumble upon this form of hypnosis which he chronicled in the book, “Many Lives, Many Masters”. Past life regression consists of hypnotizing a subject to a degree in which they begin to essentially recall a “past life”. While most mainstream academics generally shun the notion that reincarnation is a legitimate occurrence, the University of Virginia has generated extensive data indicating that there is something very complex taking place. Nevertheless, the interesting aspect of Dr. Weiss’ work regarding “past life regression” is the notion that a person can vividly experience moments of life that took place in the distant past. Not to be relegated solely to the past, Weiss has integrated what he deems as “progression therapy” as he claims the ability for hypnotic subjects to experience future events. He has outlined this in a book titled, “Same Soul, Many Bodies”. This obviously complexifies the situation to a high degree.
It’s obviously not as simplistic as equating a specific brainwave with a certain generalized change in the perception of time. It appears as though intent is key and an acceleration or deceleration of time can take place when in an altered state based on this intent. The concept of “time ceasing to exist” is an inherently difficult idea to quantify. A quick glance at one’s phone or stopwatch would seemingly refute this claim. However, having looked into this from a different perspective, perhaps it is true that time is more malleable from a biological and perceptual perspective.
While one minute on a clock is objective… the amount of processing abilities within that one minute is anything but objective from person to person. Some have the ability to process information in a much more rapid format than their peers. While the default argument is that this is based on levels of intelligence, perhaps those deemed as “smarter” also experience time in a different manner than those deemed as “less intelligent”.
This is a very complicated topic we have found ourselves discussing as it seems clear that we can indeed alter our perception of time and how our body experiences time… yet we have the pesky clock doing it’s job.
The only manner that we might conceive of the notion that time doesn’t exist is that prior to the invention of the pesky clock is that “time” was based more on generalities than precision. Indigenous tribes would measure “time” based on the location of the sun during the day and the possibly the stars at night. This wouldn’t necessarily be a true measurement of time but rather the experience itself… “the sun is setting and therefore we will take shelter”. Lifespan itself wasn’t measured in days, months, or years but more so on accomplishments and vitality. A crop wasn’t measured in terms of the day it was planted but more so in the stages of it’s proliferation.
“Modern” humans devised the pesky clock and we now perceive the world in units of the pesky clock.
Does this prove that time exists?
Perhaps it only proves that a clock can exist?
Forget you even read any of this…
P.S. The idea of temporal time malleability makes it an inherently difficult task to study the neural correlates of things like the “Near Death Experience” (NDE). While brain activity is measured attempting to intertwine it with the real-time mystical experiences of an NDE, there lies the possibility that a fraction of a fraction of a millisecond is all that is necessary for the entire NDE experience to take place in linear time. While some scientists will cite the lack of brain activity as proof that the experience took place outside of the “normal” confines of neural based perception, there lies the possibility that the signaling burst was missed altogether in the blink of an eye.
DMT Quest is a non-profit 501(c)3 dedicated to raising awareness and funds for endogenous DMT Research. This specific field of psychedelic research has been underfunded for many decades now. It’s time to take our understanding of human physiology, abilities, and perception to the next level. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions. You can also follow us at Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.