Our Perception of Time, Biologically Speaking

In Pale Horse, Pale Rider, we can see Miranda losing her perception of time. In the almost first-person storytelling, we as readers were misguided to believe that she hasn’t been hospitalized for as long as a month. Stemming from curiosity, this post seeks to provide biological insight into this “time flies” sensation.

TED ED’s wonderful video explaining how our brain retains its regular activities and approximates time.

Our brain has its way of regulating our daily activities. Through a seesaw relationship of two proteins, CLK, which activates genes that keep up awake, and PER, which deactivates genes that produce CLK, in the SCN, our brain maintains the circadian rhyme that controls when we wake, eat, and sleep in its primitive cycles of time.

To be more precise, our brain has its own count clock, the cortex utilizes the roughly constant speed of electric signals transmitting between a pair of neurons to calculate the passing of time. That becomes our perception of time.

Miranda’s terrible body conditions caused by influenza may have severely impacted her brain activity, further disrupting her 24-hour rhythmic cycle. The disrupted circadian rhythm then, in turn, affects her consciousness in normal activities.

Furthermore, in Michel Siffre’s experiment in the cave, the darkness of the environment warped his conception of time as he counted to 120 in 5 minutes instead of 2 mins. In Miranda’s case, being severely sick may have also impacted her neurological activity that led to her confused conception of time. Time, in my experiences, truly did spin on a different axis when I was ill or sleep-deprived.

Frankly speaking, her delayed realization of time may have been included to exaggerate her sickness or her sentiments of lost love. Forcing biology into theater somehow takes away the impact of evoking this bitter-sweet feeling. Such a drama pooper. However, there must have been a scientific explanation for such phenomenon for it to widely resonate with so many of us. After all, she was merely a fellow lovestruck human in the shifting times of an epidemic.

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