Very very slow thinking

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Very very slow thinking

Postby Robert'); DROP TABLE *; » Thu Dec 01, 2011 1:47 am UTC

I'm considering writing a scene in a sci-fi novel that features the pilot/monitor of a relativistic but STL starship. He's hooked up to life support, but is still fully concious. However, the issue I'm dealing with is the idea of him artificially slowing down his thought process to 1:1610 real time, i.e. 1 subjective second = 26m 50s real time. The logic behind this arrangement (ATM) is that triggering his return to real time is near-enough instant, as opposed to reviving someone from cryogenic storage taking several tens of minutes.

Can anyone see any immediate problem with this idea? Can anyone offer suggestions about what he would experience in this state?
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Dec 01, 2011 1:51 am UTC

I really like the idea. If you've ever seen the movie Bubba Hop-Tep, there's a really phenomenal scene that I can best describe as time compression.
Also, there are some sci fi books that play with the idea of long lived, slow minded minds. Stranger in a Strange Land comes to mind, as does Stephen Baxter's alien race the Qax.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby AvatarIII » Thu Dec 01, 2011 10:12 am UTC

also The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rediscovery_of_Man although I can't remember specifically which short story mentions it, possibly The Lady who Sailed The Soul) has a very similar mechanism used by starship pilots, (the passengers are cryogenically stored but the pilot has to be aware for the whole journey and so is medically slowed down so a decades long trip feels like months, there is a very detailed description of it, if you can find and read the book.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby tomandlu » Thu Dec 01, 2011 5:14 pm UTC

Robert'); DROP TABLE *; wrote:I'm considering writing a scene in a sci-fi novel that features the pilot/monitor of a relativistic but STL starship.


What sort of speeds and what distances?
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Plasma Man » Thu Dec 01, 2011 6:28 pm UTC

Heinlein's Time For The Stars uses paired telepaths, one on a ship and one on Earth to allow instantaneous communication (telepathy is instantaneous, apparently). To get around the time dilation problem at near-light velocities, they use a combination of drugs and hypnosis, though this can only work so far, leading to them falling out of communication for their peak speeds.

I'm not sure why your pilot would need to slow down his thought processes though. They'd perceive everything in their frame of reference (presumably everything inside the ship) as being normal, it would seem to be the outside that had changed.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Robert'); DROP TABLE *; » Thu Dec 01, 2011 7:08 pm UTC

Less than 10 lightyears, and less than 0.999c. It's not an intergalactic trip or anything.

Also, thanks everyone for the recommendations. I'll have a look at those.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby tomandlu » Fri Dec 02, 2011 1:38 pm UTC

Robert'); DROP TABLE *; wrote:Less than 10 lightyears, and less than 0.999c. It's not an intergalactic trip or anything.

Also, thanks everyone for the recommendations. I'll have a look at those.


So, that trip is going to take him around a year (from his reference frame)? Okay, I guess slow-thinking might make the trip more bearable, but it's not essential...
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Robert'); DROP TABLE *; » Fri Dec 02, 2011 4:47 pm UTC

The trip takes 4-5 years from the ship's reference frame. I just used that ratio because it meant that he experienced the entire trip as roughly 24 hours.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby idobox » Fri Dec 02, 2011 4:51 pm UTC

A few suggestions:
-The pilot is in a stasis-chamber, where time is even slower than on the ship. Good luck explaining how the chamber works.
-The pilot is drugged, but it would take a few minutes at least to "wake" him up.
-The pilot has brain implants that control his thought speed. I don't see how this one could actually work.
-The pilot is an AI.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Robert'); DROP TABLE *; » Fri Dec 02, 2011 6:13 pm UTC

Brain implants and other neurological messing around is a fairly major part of the setting. Is there a particular reason why you think it couldn't work?
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Rowadanr » Fri Dec 02, 2011 10:00 pm UTC

Well, to slow thought effectively by that much (assuming the pilot is an animal like us. given?) would require pretty major modifications to every single neuron and probably most of the axons and glial cells. Unless this pilot has undergone some mind-uploading thing and is thinking with a prosthetic brain... ve may as well be, for the amount of "neurological messing around" that would require.
Plus, is every biochemical process is also slowed down to a similar time-rate? in that case the distinction between this and some sort of stasis kind of disappears, and coming back to normal time perception is not going to be instantaneous. If not, your person should either be floating in a well-sealed sensory deprivation tank or they're going to have a horrible time. To keep them running smoothly most of their bodily functions would have to be disconnected from higher thought, and they'd have to be asleep for the disconnection between the global consciousness and their normal sensory feedback not to drive them absolutely bursar from overstimulation and pain. We filter the feel of blood flowing under our skin even better than we edit our noses from our visual field or a ticking clock from hearing, since it's fairly constant, but flowing at 1610 times "faster" relative to global consciousness, it'd be like a river. it would hurt. That and the roaring of little breezes and pressure fluctuations compressed down, and a few hundred other things I haven't considered.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Robert'); DROP TABLE *; » Sat Dec 03, 2011 1:47 am UTC

Rowadanr wrote:Well, to slow thought effectively by that much (assuming the pilot is an animal like us. given?) would require pretty major modifications to every single neuron and probably most of the axons and glial cells. Unless this pilot has undergone some mind-uploading thing and is thinking with a prosthetic brain... ve may as well be, for the amount of "neurological messing around" that would require.

Unfortunately, that's an idea I want to keep out of the story for now. (Mostly because the setting runs on excessively hard science, so positronic brains would make minds copyable, and I don't want to deal with that just yet.)

If not, your person should either be floating in a well-sealed sensory deprivation tank or they're going to have a horrible time. To keep them running smoothly most of their bodily functions would have to be disconnected from higher thought, and they'd have to be asleep for the disconnection between the global consciousness and their normal sensory feedback not to drive them absolutely bursar from overstimulation and pain. We filter the feel of blood flowing under our skin even better than we edit our noses from our visual field or a ticking clock from hearing, since it's fairly constant, but flowing at 1610 times "faster" relative to global consciousness, it'd be like a river. it would hurt. That and the roaring of little breezes and pressure fluctuations compressed down, and a few hundred other things I haven't considered.

(Biochemistry is not decelerated.)
Since we're already assuming that it's possible to "lift" global conciousness out of the pure biology, wouldn't it be sensible just to intercept all those sensations and either deaden them or remove them entirely? I'm not entirely sure how any of those sensations would automatically be painful, i.e. damaging, since the skin's elasticity, etc, are still the same, relatively. Since the pain would be the unexpectedness of of blood seeming to flow through you at supersonic speed, can't that be "edited out" by the cybernetics?
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby idobox » Sun Dec 04, 2011 3:48 am UTC

Robert'); DROP TABLE *; wrote:Brain implants and other neurological messing around is a fairly major part of the setting. Is there a particular reason why you think it couldn't work?


First of all, slowing down the process of a neural network with some kind of implant is likely. The best I can think of would be to let it run at normal speed, put the implat in the middle of the "output stream", and do some kind of transformation of the signal. This would work only between, and not within, parts of he brain, and would require heavy modifications of the brain.
There is no reason to believe today there is anything like a central clock in the brain you could alter with an implant.
An implant in the thalamus could alter conciousness, and senses, for example, but would not alter higher functions, so you would still think at normal speed, with sensory inputs feeling very slow.
You would ned implants in most of the neocortex (the outer shell of the brain) and many deep structures to get a uniform feeling of "slow thought".

A drug altering the biochemistery of the neurons would have a more global effect. But time dilatation would be limited to a few times, otherwise some basic workings of the neuron (namely time integration) will not be possible to maintain, resulting in weird behaviour of single neurons, and possibly brain death.

An alternative I just thought of, would be to have the brain work at normal speed, but to alter the concious perception of time (you know, one hour on your favorite game seems shorter than 5 minutes in a queue at the post office), or maybe a more advanced system that erases memories, so that you just remember the last x hours/minutes, and don't get bored/insane as easily.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Dec 04, 2011 4:14 am UTC

idobox wrote:There is no reason to believe today there is anything like a central clock in the brain you could alter with an implant.

I'm curious if you've ever heard of clock genes.

Basically, what is being proposed is science fiction, but there's nothing that suggests it's a system wide impossibility.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby tomandlu » Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:59 am UTC

Any mileage in making it a meditative state? i.e. not technologically driven, but achievable via mental training. I quite like the idea of weird zen classes being part of crew/pilot-training...
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Robert'); DROP TABLE *; » Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:57 pm UTC

idobox wrote:An alternative I just thought of, would be to have the brain work at normal speed, but to alter the concious perception of time (you know, one hour on your favorite game seems shorter than 5 minutes in a queue at the post office), or maybe a more advanced system that erases memories, so that you just remember the last x hours/minutes, and don't get bored/insane as easily.

That was all I was looking for, actually. It's fine if the autonomous nervous system and things still function in real time, so long as that doesn't cause any other problems. The only one I wanted was "conciousness," whatever that turns out to be.

tomandlu wrote:Any mileage in making it a meditative state? i.e. not technologically driven, but achievable via mental training. I quite like the idea of weird zen classes being part of crew/pilot-training...

I don't think you'd be able to squeeze a factor of 1000 out of that, unfortunately.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby idobox » Mon Dec 05, 2011 1:20 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
idobox wrote:There is no reason to believe today there is anything like a central clock in the brain you could alter with an implant.

I'm curious if you've ever heard of clock genes.

Basically, what is being proposed is science fiction, but there's nothing that suggests it's a system wide impossibility.


I was thinking of a central clock like what we find in electronics, that paces the process. For example the eye doesn't work at roughly 25Hz because it receives a 25Hz synchronisation/clear signal, but because it's the intrinsic speed of the retina cells. To alter the "refresh rate" of the eye, you cannot modify a clock signal, you have to alter the biochemistry of the cells.

Robert'); DROP TABLE *; wrote:That was all I was looking for, actually. It's fine if the autonomous nervous system and things still function in real time, so long as that doesn't cause any other problems. The only one I wanted was "conciousness," whatever that turns out to be.

I don't think it's possible to get a 1000 or something ratio, but if you can avoid boredom and insanity by inhibiting the "hey I've been doing that for a fucking long time" feeling, you basically get the same result.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Dec 05, 2011 1:55 am UTC

idobox wrote:I was thinking of a central clock like what we find in electronics, that paces the process.

Right, but my point was that while you can't just 'slow the clock', there are regulatory mechanisms that govern the rate of brain activity. Look to hibernating mammals my guess is. Shutting down brain functions till it's barely ticking along is probably not exactly what we're talking about, but not horribly dissimilar either.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Soralin » Mon Dec 05, 2011 3:46 am UTC

idobox wrote:
Robert'); DROP TABLE *; wrote:That was all I was looking for, actually. It's fine if the autonomous nervous system and things still function in real time, so long as that doesn't cause any other problems. The only one I wanted was "conciousness," whatever that turns out to be.

I don't think it's possible to get a 1000 or something ratio, but if you can avoid boredom and insanity by inhibiting the "hey I've been doing that for a fucking long time" feeling, you basically get the same result.

Hmm, what if you temporarily disabled the pilot's ability to form new long-term memories? Induced temporary anterograde amnesia. Your pilot could go for decades and not get bored, because they never remember doing it for long enough to be bored of it. They wouldn't even remember doing it for long enough to really lose focus, assuming that what they're monitoring doesn't take longer than their short-term window of memory.

If you have enough control over the process, you could then also restore functionality whenever something novel comes up, or at certain intervals, to update the ship's current general position and status in the pilot's mind.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby nitePhyyre » Mon Dec 05, 2011 9:27 am UTC

People on meth have been known to do things like scrub a spot on the floor for 8 hours straight without realizing the any/much time has passed. I imagine future scifi drugs designed specifically to make someone lose track of time could do it even better.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby Xanthir » Mon Dec 05, 2011 4:31 pm UTC

Essentially targeted autism, then? That's the premise of one of the "villains" in a Vinge book.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby idobox » Mon Dec 05, 2011 5:09 pm UTC

nitePhyyre wrote:People on meth have been known to do things like scrub a spot on the floor for 8 hours straight without realizing the any/much time has passed. I imagine future scifi drugs designed specifically to make someone lose track of time could do it even better.


I'm picturing ads FOR meths, that would look a lot like the anti-meths campaigns, but instead of promising misery, prostitution and death, they would promise an exciting life as a space-pilot.
But yeah, you don't want a pilot on meth.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby tomandlu » Tue Dec 06, 2011 9:10 am UTC

idobox wrote:But yeah, you don't want a pilot on meth.


Hmm... you could have fun with drugs + training. i.e. drugs that normally would make you unfit to pilot a ship, but would give you the ability to tolerate long periods of relatively low activity - solution, lots and lots of training under the influence of the drugs...
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby idobox » Tue Dec 06, 2011 2:38 pm UTC

Easier, more ethical way to keep the pilot sane : get a geek, give him the whole 9gag database, or whatever the equivalent is at that time.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby WarDaft » Tue Dec 06, 2011 2:49 pm UTC

You could just let him sleep in an induced lucid dreaming state at regular speeds. It has to be pretty hard to get bored of that.

Although I suppose there is risk of the pilot becoming addicted to it and not wanting to leave.
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby nitePhyyre » Wed Dec 07, 2011 12:10 pm UTC

idobox wrote:But yeah, you don't want a pilot on meth.
Was this going for irony, or....?
You do realize that meth is standard issue for modern fighter pilots?
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby tomandlu » Wed Dec 07, 2011 4:39 pm UTC

As an aside, the last chapter of the Mortal Engines Quartet/Hungry City Chronicles features a cyborg who goes into a slow state lasting a couple of millenia iirc.

Well worth a read imho - and that last chapter had me crying my bloody eyes out...
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Re: Very very slow thinking

Postby idobox » Fri Dec 09, 2011 7:31 pm UTC

nitePhyyre wrote:
idobox wrote:But yeah, you don't want a pilot on meth.
Was this going for irony, or....?
You do realize that meth is standard issue for modern fighter pilots?


I was under the impression meth was really bad for its users, and did not realize it has beneficial effects. I guess the dose makes the poison.
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