Have you ever experienced, while glancing at an old analog clock, that time seems to stand still for a brief moment?
Don’t worry you are not alone.
A phenomenon, referred to as Chronostasis, occurs when we simultaneous move both our eyes from one object and rapidly focus on something else. During this movement, we experience a temporal illusion that's known as the “Stopped-Clock Illusion”.
The best way to demonstrate this illusion is by looking an object in the room and then flicking your eyes quickly to stare at an analog clock. Your immediate impression of the second hand of the clock is that is seems to be moving slower than normal.
This occurs because of a short interruption in consciousness as the brain is trying to fill in the gaps between inputs of our senses. Rapid eye movements are one way to cause gaps in your sensory perception because you don’t actually see anything between looking at the first object and glancing at the clock. In order to make sense of things, the brain fills in the gap with whatever comes after the break.
Going back to the “Stopped-Clock Illusion” and the test subject, when you divert your eyes to stare at the clock, the brain tries to cover up for the information it missed by telling you that you were looking at the second hand during the gap. Thus, the first tick of the second hand seems much longer than the ones that follow.
Researchers believe that we do not notice these little gaps in our sensory information because we experience vision as one continuous flow. The brain achieves this by covering up and making certain visual perceptions seems longer than they really are. It is only when observing an object that moves in a regular and familiar motion (like a clock) that we can perceive the distinction.
A short Gif explaining Chronostasis:
Chronostasis occurs every day of our lives — we are constantly blinking our eyes to keep them moist and clean. This blinking also causes small but still considerable gaps in our sensory information, which the brain will naturally cover up by extending the time we perceive!
Michael from Vsauce in the video below discusses in further detail how the “Stopped-Clock Illusion” works, alongside the fact that we lose up to 40 minutes of sight every day, just by blinking our eyes! I have never thought of it in that way!
If you enjoyed this article, you might like: Our Mirror Universe: Where Time Moves Backwards