Where did the time go?

Do most people really understand what’s happening? A homeless man says to me yesterday, “Wow, where did the last 8 years go?”

Where did those years go? My first response is to think its mainly about getting older, now into my late 20s. My mom and other respected elders frequently proclaim how fast the years go by. “Kids grow up so fast” and all that.

I fall back on that most of the time, but sometimes what’s really happening hits me. Things are speeding up. The easy markers are traditionally Moore’s Law. Yeah, computers are getting faster. We all share information at an increasing rate. But the problem is, these are just single facets that people trumpet out as examples. But they don’t really understand what it means.

We’re already moving into the singularity. How many phone numbers can you remember without looking at your cell phone? Is it easier for you to look on Google for a bit of information you need than to ask someone you think might know the answer? When you lose your phone or switch out for a new one, can’t you feel that vacancy of your contact list being gone? Doesn’t it feel like you left your wallet or purse in the house when you went out the door in the morning, with that nagging feeling like you left something important behind but you can’t immediately place what it is? Is it easier to bring up your computer’s calculator than to try and do simple multiplication in your head?

Our minds are already moving outside of our wetware.

The reason our brains work so well is that they are always re-wiring connections. Our brains are largely neural maps of our various body parts. Let me bring up people who have lost limbs and have phantom pains. The pains have nothing to do with the location of the lost limb. Its all in the brain. Its cause is rather interesting. When you lose a limb, a corresponding section of the brain that was devoted to handling sensory input is suddenly left without any activity. Other surrounding areas of the brain then begin “invading” and connecting into the non-active area, cross-connecting normally separate neurons into an area of the brain they aren’t supposed to be in. So, you might have activity for your left upper thigh stimulating neurons that are mapped to your left hand that you lost. The mapping is still there, except now sensations from your thigh are sending information to the wrong part of your brain. Your brain’s map of the lost hand interprets it as pain. The way to fix this is several weeks of therapy with a mirror. Put a mirror in front of you that bisects your body, so that an image of your right hand and arm are reflected onto the left side where you lost your hand. You fool the brain into thinking it has a left hand again. You then proceed to walk through physical therapy excerises for a few weeks, and the pain goes away. What you are doing is re-wiring your brain so that it correctly remaps that part of the brain to the new physical state of the person. Good story about this over at ITConversations.

So, if you lose your contact list and you feel that vacant spot, that is probably very similar to what happens with the accident victim. Your brain has created special neural maps for the use of your cell phone in the same way it maps for your body parts. Take that away, and your brain feels its absence.

So to go back to what I was saying before, our minds are moving outside of our wetware. Our brains are adapting themselves automatically to use information technology as an integrated part of the functioning of our consciousness. Hollywood has gotten stuck on this idea that we have to use brain implants to get this effect. In reality, its already happening a few decades before direct neural interfaces become common.

So when you next stop and feel the passage of time and ask, “Where did the last 8 years go?”, realize something very important. You are subjectively experiencing the singularity. Its not a far off sci-fi dream. We’re already in it, and its just getting started.

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