Neuroscience: The man who saw time stand still
One day, a man saw time itself stop, and as David Robson discovers, unpicking what happened is revealing that we can all experience temporal trickery too.
It started as a headache, but soon became much stranger. Simon Baker entered the bathroom to see if a warm shower could ease his pain. “I looked up at the shower head, and it was as if the water droplets had stopped in mid-air”, he says. “They came into hard focus rapidly, over the course of a few seconds”. Where you’d normally perceive the streams as more of a blur of movement, he could see each one hanging in front of him, distorted by the pressure of the air rushing past. The effect, he recalls, was very similar to the way the bullets travelled in the Matrix movies. “It was like a high-speed film, slowed down.”
The next day, Baker went to hospital, where doctors found that he had suffered an aneurysm. The experience was soon overshadowed by the more immediate threat to his health, but in a follow-up appointment, he happened to mention what happened to his neurologist, Fred Ovsiew at Northwestern University in Chicago, who was struck by the vivid descriptions. “He was a very bright guy, and very eloquent” says Ovsiew, who recently wrote about Baker in the journal NeuroCase. (Baker’s identity was anonymised, which is typical for such studies, so this is not his real name).