RPT: Akira and Thought

I just finished watching Akira, which is a really excellent example of good anime in my book. Well drawn, strong plot, well timed action, good characters and large gaps in the scheme of things we need to fill ourselves.

In any case, I noticed something extremely odd. For a movie that is only one hundred and twenty four minutes in length, it felt as thought it lasted at least an hour beyond that. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about the "When will this movie end?" kind of additional duration. I'm not even certain I've encountered a movie that's done what this one did to me before timewise. The material of the movie was spaced out in a careful manner, there's a lot of time to think about everything that is happening as it happens, and after it happens. It doesn't resemble in any way the Hollywood tendency to throw things at you in thousands a minute. Yet, despite the seemingly liberal, time eating spacing, Akira seemed to get through more material than one could imagine crammed into a two hour film. I started the film at half past ten, and when it was finished I was dead certain that three hours had passed, yet it was only twelve thirty.

This got me thinking.

Actually, the film itself got me thinking, because while one can probably view the film without a shred of thought there's a lot of thinking to be done if any shred of understanding of how it ends is to be gained. So, I was already thinking a lot after the movie (especially because the ending requires it) and it struck me that perhaps therein lay the answer to my puzzlement at the difference of one hour between reality and my perception.

The secret lies not so much in the spacing, but in delivery. Akira must be giving me material at a very appreciable rate in order for it to cover as much as it does, because mystical bubbles projected from the VCR that allow the viewer to only take two hours to complete a three hour movie are still only a dream nerdy geeks like myself come up with. So if there isn't a different there, it must be a matter of delivery. The way in which digestible information in Akira is given lends itself to giving the view more mental breathing room than the "in your face" methods we see in many films today.

Beyond that, the film does actually call upon the viewer to think. As excellent a film as The Last Samurai was, there wasn't a whole lot of thought required to watch it. Not necessarily a bad thing, but notable. Akira requires a lot of thought, although there are times when you stop to simply take in events and action.

The key to it all is really just that, Akira both asked me to think, gave me a lot to think about, and gave it in such a way that I had some breathing room to work with. Because of that I was, not surprisingly, thinking. So, after all that typing, we still haven't come to understand why I thought three hours had past when it was really only two. While we can simply ascribe it to a lack of chronological sense, I think the following is more interesting.

The key is stated above, but in a sense the door that the key unlocks is thought. Because I was thinking, my perception of time changed. Actually, that statement isn't really true. In one sense or another we are thinking all the time, and when we stop we're brain dead or comatose. It wasn't thinking that changed my perception, but the rate of thought which did so.

If you think about it, it's very much akin to film in the old days. A man literally cranked the movie camera in order to film a scene. That man had the power to crank faster or slower, and thus speed up or slow down the scene. The faster he cranked, the more frames per second, the slower the playback would be. In a similar way when our rate of thought increases we perceive a greater number of the infinite moments that constitute time, and in doing so thing slow down.

Now, it is important to note that rate of thought is a complicated thing. While we may not think exactly like computers, rate of thought is somewhat analogous to the CPU's processing speed. The higher the speed, the more instructions a CPU can handle every second. Rate of thought is the same. The importance here is that rate of thought does not mean we're necessarily either thinking straight, or orderly. I could be thinking very quickly in the sense of rate of thought, but if each thought segment is jumbled and disordered the amount of time I'll take to complete my thought or get anywhere pointful with it can still be quite long. In the same way, someone thinking quite orderly and efficiently but with a slower rate of thought isn't hampered by thinking "slowly".

It seems to me that the brain works very hard on maintaining a pretty constant rate of thought. Even when we get tired, we still percieve time at least close to how we do well rested. However, our thoughts become less orderly and our senses less reliable. Yet, the brain still maintains rate of thought and thus perception through all that mess. However, sometimes when we get sufficiently focused (or unfocused, in which case the opposite happens) on something, rate of thought can increase greatly. Sometimes, we look back and wonder how we managed to get quite so much mental gymnastics done in the last hour. More dramatically, I still remember when I had my car accident, and got to read my mom's van's liscence plate over and over again in slow motion as it spun in the air in front of me. While the incredible change of rate of thought there was rather wasted on arguing with myself whether I really had just gotten into the car accident I was witnessing, the point remains that it seems humans are capable of increased rate of thought and thus, a perception of more moments of time.

So, if we're capable of this, why doesn't humanity simply run in overclocked mode all the time? Once again, I've thought about it and came to some conclusions. For computers, overclocking yields faster processing speed. However, it runs down (and even potentially damages) the hardware. This doesn't mean that the computer doesn't run, but it means the lifetime of the CPU and motherboard will be shortened. Similarly, were we to overclock our brains all the time, at the very least we'd grow tired far more quickly, if not wear ourselves out of brainpower before retirement.

This isn't even to mention the fact that at the super heightened brain speeds achieved at such times like when I had that car accident, communication between people breaks down somewhat. Because sound and the rest of the universe aren't speeding up with you, you don't get input any faster. Although thinking quickly, a person can't really talk any more rapidly (despite breakthroughs in radio disclaimer technology). That's not to mention the large amount of wasted perception we spend already, waiting for rendering to finish, coffee to brew, compilers to compile etc. If a watched pot never boils, imagine watching it in slow motion, not boiling.

While there is obvious survival benefit in being able to have plenty of time to see and think about how one might not get mauled by the fierce animal that is attacking, if doing so makes you sleep more (and be vulnerable), makes communication more difficult (it's hard enough to have clear communication between genders as it is), and most of the time isn't terribly useful, it doesn't make sense to do it all the time. This isn't even bringing into consideration the possible chemistry of the situation.

So, while we are capable of super quick thinking, it seems we're set up, at least biologically, to save it for times of need.

Rambling is finished. I sleep now.

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