The Material World, Temporal Distance – Time Lags – Can Put Our Perception Out Of Sync With Reality

In addition to the material world, temporal distance – time lags – can put our perception out of sync with reality. Remember, it takes time, even just a split second, for data to reach our brain, where it’s decoded, and then gets interpreted… so it can translate into a shudder or a jump. No matter how immediate our reaction is, it will always be a little out of sync with the initial sensation. It may feel like it’s instantaneous, but that’s physically impossible. It takes time to cover distance – even 20 nm – and that’s exactly what sensory input needs to do, myriad times a day. And in the short time it takes to react to input, the source of the input, itself, may have changed.

While unloading the moving truck, you don’t have a lot of time to talk to your new neighbors. Snow is starting to fall, and you’re losing light. Your new neighbor says something to you while you’re focused on picking up a box, and by the time you can respond to them, you’ve already started to forget what they said to you. You’ve lost your train of thought in the briefest of moments, and your neighbor may have interpreted your delay as lack of interest, even coldness. You don’t have time to explain exactly why you and your partner don’t have any kids. You don’t have the time to apologize for your brusque reply. Your neighbor may in fact be slightly less receptive to you than when they struck up the conversation. But the time to reply adequately is gone, and so is the chance to establish rapport a little more easily.

Temporal constraints are very real factors in information loss. Even if feels like it’s all happening at once, our responses never happen at exactly the same time as the messages we get from the world around us. Even if we’re talking about one one-millionth of a second, there is still a difference in time between what we sense, what we register, and how we interpret it. Just as data is lost as neuronal signals travel across sequential synaptic clefts, so is information lost in the successive temporal gaps of our interaction with the world around us.

And that time constraint, which limits our back-and-forth, also leads to conceptual distance – meaning lags – in the “data transfer” of our communications. Even if we want to, our conditioning and state of mind can thwart our best attempts to understand what someone is saying. You’re feeling rushed while you’re talking, and that makes you uncomfortable, so you’re brusque with your new neighbors. The new people in your life don’t know you, and they don’t understand your situation, so they draw the conclusion that you’re being short with them because you’re rude – not because you want to be polite, but don’t have the time to do so.

You may not understand what they’re saying, either, because you’re distracted and aren’t following the conversation very closely. And they don’t understand you because they’re unfamiliar with your living situation. And so everyone jumps to conclusions that separates them from each other – largely because they don’t realize just how much information they are missing. People make up their minds and decide what they think, based on partial information… and that rarely serves anyone.

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