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erasing it

In his essay Speed, Oliver Sachs describes the phenomena of altered time, but he does not explain the why or how it occurs. He lists triggering causes: epilepsy, the focused flow of the artist and the prodigy, THC, and the like and alludes to the neurochemical reaction which occurs with each, but ultimately he does not explain why the chemicals spill and how they actually alter our mental time-keeping mechanisms.

I’ve found via my own experience that there is actually a cognitive sequence that dictates why we lose track of time, why it seemingly slows down or speeds up. For the aforementioned causes may open up the physiological flood gates, so that synapses burst into branches of antennae that make us feel as we are one big libido, but they do not sway time itself.

In the plush fold of one of these altered states, we tend to be receptive to every buzzing and bright light and breeze. There is a litany of individual extasies, each luring with equal vigor, so that the course of our individual attention is unconditionally and hopelessly detracted, diverted and detoured every other way but towards the one which was once the original route to our destination. We lose track because we are lost to sensation and our whims and the wonder of all the stimuli that our altered state has opened us up to.

Time only is because we have invented markers to keep track of it, it does not exist in and of itself. The earth revolves about the sun and we don it a year, the moon orbits and a month passes, and so when the world turns - we deem it a day. But without the big ball of fire in the sky we are usually oblivious to time.

If anything, we are taught time. Children quite naturally have little sense of it until they are battered into making it part of their dispositions by being made to go to bed and get up to go to school and eat and play and learn according to clocks and calendars day-in and day-out for years on end. Watch parents and their kids interact and rather quickly you’ll notice that they move in different time zones, parents become flustered, frustrated and then scream because they are beholden to schedules which their children remain oblivious to until it becomes obvious that mama is angry.

As individuals we also constantly create new ways of delineating time through association and a memory that relatively registers experience as well as any other chronometer. The length of a certain song we’ve played repeatedly, the block we walk every morning and every night, the hunger and the waking and the somnolence, all these habitual things become our idiosyncratic means of telling time. Soon, after experiencing these phenomena over and over again, our internal clocks adapt to them so that we no longer need little and big hands to tell us when we might see or feel something again.

And so, because we are so inextricably accustomed to certain patterns that regulate our lives, our expectations, as well as our sense of time itself, if an altered state amends the usual course of our conversation, our thoughts and our usual milling about, our sense of time is likewise thrown awry. Since you cannot focus as well as usual, you lose control, as well as direction. Every little whim and whimper of our body begins to resonate and dictate what we pay attention, so that ultimately, that part of our constitution which regulates time gets lost in the fray.

Get high and the day passes into night erratically. Take a walk anywhere you have walked a hundred times before and what would usually take a quarter of an hour will now seem to drag on for many more times that. For as we stroll we suddenly take notice of the rue and all the elements anew, which we were otherwise missing when sober and somber and certain of what we have to do.

Moreover, we experience ourselves more than ever before. A cool autumn breeze tickles, while the savory waft off the street cart whets our appetite, neon lights shimmer and delight, and a myriad of other sensations implore like sirens beguiling us away from home.

Hence, when we suddenly regain consciousness of the future we were working towards, we are surprised by how here-and-now, somehow, has waylaid the basest and most basic of our intentions – to walk from here to there, to make a simple point while conversing, to appease a sudden pang of hunger.

And so when we do not reach a certain juncture that we might have reached and exceeded a million times before, our clocks seem to tock and tock and tock without ever ticking, and in turn belie an imbalance that only sobriety can restore.

Thus, it is not that altered state itself which alters time or the internal mechanisms which regulate it for us. Rather, it is the physiological changes incurred because of them that open the flood gates to everything around us and drown out our normal, functioning patterns of existence and interaction with our environment – including time itself.

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