Speed of Human Consciousness

Hey! Frosted bubble here!

Today I wanted to just talk about an interesting topic: the speed of our consciousness or thinking. This is one of the thoughts that are pretty fun to mull over in the shower, and I wanted to discuss it because I don’t see many articles on it. Though, with that said, my thoughts are not that polished. This is mostly me laying out some thoughts and observations that I thought were interesting, so please do read this with a grain of salt, and maybe come up with your own theory on why things are.

I. Definition

First, let’s try to describe and define the speed of consciousness. Vaguely, I think we can describe the speed of consciousness as just the pace at which we experience time.  I imagine that someone with a fast speed of consciousness could feel like time is slower, and if we were to speed up someone’s speed of consciousness, they would feel like time has slowed down.

Quicksilver slowing down time

It’s a bit difficult to quantitatively describe the speed of consciousness; one possibility I thought about was defining it based on how long it takes someone to perform a set amount of thinking (for example, calculating 1 + 1), but that doesn’t make too much sense, because while it is true that one with a faster speed of consciousness has more “experienced time” to do a task, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will do it faster than someone who is more adept at the task but has a slower speed of consciousness and thus less “experienced time.”

A potentially related measure is reaction time. After all, if someone has a faster speed of consciousness, shouldn’t time feel like it’s slowed, so shouldn’t they be able to react faster? This would have interesting implications, since this would imply that top athletes, who train to have fast reaction speeds, are experiencing time slower. With this definition, however, we would be equating the reaction speed to external stimuli with the speed of internal thoughts as well, which I’m not sure are related.

II. Evolution

Next, I want to try thinking about why it came to be, why humans settled on this speed, not something faster or slower. Theoretically, the faster an organism can experience time, the more of an evolutionary advantage they have. So either we have reached the physical limits of what’s possible (examples of hard limits: speed of light, the speed of chemical reactions in our bodies), or that humans have evolved enough to dominate all other competition and that there is no need for further evolution.

The science fiction book, Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, also touches on this topic. The book offers its own interpretation, explaining that evolution is lazy and that there was no need for humans to think any faster. The book then puts forth the theory that gravity is related to how many movements an organism can make (land faster when they jump) and thus how fast another organism needs to think in order to survive; the conjecture is that organisms that evolve and develop on planets with stronger gravity eventually grow to think faster because of the need to do so. My only question with this is that while gravity may be applicable to organisms on land, what about organisms in the water or in the air, where the same explanation doesn’t fit as well?

III. Implications

First thing to realize is that even for humans, it may be possible that the speed of consciousness differs from individual to individual. It is entirely possible and likely that people who live together can experience time at different paces, yet still communicate as if nothing was off. Also, imagine if in the future artificial intelligence develops to the point where computers are basically humans. In that case, what is their speed of consciousness, if they have one? Could we speed it up and slow it down by will?

That’s all for now,

Have a frosty May.

Leave a Reply