On the afternoon of Sunday 21 November 2010, I was sitting in my study, having just finished tying my shoelaces, and was preparing to go outside when I heard a scream.
It was my wife, Penny, who was upstairs. I just had time to think: ‘Oh, bloody hell, another spider crisis!’ (Penny hates spiders and is prone to a spontaneous scream if she sees one.)
The penny drops
But this scream sounded different. I got up from my chair and went to the foot of the stairs. I have just measured this distance and it is about four metres. As I arrived, I saw Penny, literally in mid-air, falling down the stairs. I positioned my body to catch her in my arms. I even had time to angle her body so that her head did not smash against the door frame. She had fallen about two metres, at speed, head first. Had I not been in that exact position I have no doubt she would have hit the wall at the bottom of the stairs and broken her neck or cracked her skull. We are both sure she would have been killed.
We were both in a state of shock and Penny was clearly quite traumatized by it all. After we calmed down (I have never experienced such a rush of adrenaline) we looked at each other and realized that what had just happened was impossible. Let’s break it down:
Penny trips on the stairs and launches into space. As she does so she screams. I am in the study four metres away when I hear her scream as she starts to fall. My brain processes the sound waves that travelled from Penny to my ears. These are then converted into electrical impulses that are presented to my conscious awareness. I have ‘time’ to think that this is probably Penny encountering a spider in the upstairs bathroom. The sound of her voice tells me that this is not the case. I get up and go to the foot of the stairs. I recall not being in a great hurry as my intention was to call up the stairs and ask if she was okay. I get to the foot of the stairs to see Penny in mid-air, flying down the staircase.
I have time to evaluate the trajectory of her fall and catch her in such a way that her head does not hit the protruding door frame to my right. I also position my body so that Penny’s momentum does not knock me over and push me backwards into the wall (thus injuring both of us).
A complete impossibility
I was so intrigued by this that I took my video camera and I timed how long it would take for me to react to a sound from a sitting position in my study and get to the foot of the stairs. The video runs for four seconds. In my opinion there was no possible way that I could have crossed the distance any quicker. This suggests that either Penny was ‘in flight’ for nearly four seconds or something very strange took place with regard to time on that potentially fateful afternoon.
In some yet-unexplained way I was able to expand time or shrink space, or possibly even both. The distance between my chair in the study and the foot of the stairs cannot be traversed faster than four seconds and yet I was at the foot of the stairs watching Penny in mid-air. In other words, at the point when she had just started to fall, my mind had managed, in some amazing way, to do the impossible. It had affected the flow of time itself.
What took place that afternoon? Clearly, I seemed to enter some form of altered state of consciousness in which I was able to warp time or space, or both. To say that this was a subjective experience is simply incorrect. I managed to cross a distance in a time scale that was simply impossible. Is this evidence that time perception is far from fully understood by modern science?
The adventure of discovery
It is clear that there are many different times. There is, as we know all too well, ‘clock time’. But is this really time? I have often experienced that sensation of ‘nowness’ – an immediate feeling that time is an illusion and that in reality there is no time, just a permanent ‘now’. For me, these incidents happen not only if I see something of great beauty, like the sun setting over the sea at Santorini, but also when I receive bad news or when I have an accident. During times of physical pain, time seems to lose all meaning.
So what exactly is time and how can we really understand its true nature? The Labyrinth of Time is my attempt to bring together possible answers to this question. I review the philosophy, the physics and the neurology of temporal flow and then I turn to the subjective experiences of time.
I discuss evidence that under certain circumstances people can precognize things yet to happen, visit the past, journey into the future, slow time down and even speed it up. I visit the furthest reaches of human understanding and discuss how such ideas have stimulated some of the greatest writers, poets and film-makers.
By the end of the journey, we should know a great deal more about time. Whether we will be any closer to understanding what it is may be open to debate. However, if you enjoy the adventure half as much as I have then we will have at least not wasted too much of that most precious of commodities – time itself.
From The Labyrinth of Time, © 2012 by Anthony Peake, published by Arcturus.
THE LABYRINTH OF TIME Anthony Peake
In The Labyrinth of Time Anthony Peake explores the relationship between consciousness and reality and in the process puts forward an amazing hypothesis that can explain many enigmatic phenomena, including déjà vu, precognition, near-death experience and altered states. Central to Peake’s hypothesis is a new understanding of the nature of time and a radical updating of the theories of two of the twentieth century’s most original thinkers, Peter Ouspensky and J W Dunne.
Peake then looks at the concepts of time and how they have shaped our thinking as individuals through the prism of science, philosophy and literature. Featuring a cutting-edge account of modern time theory, covering ‘time-slips’, precognitive dreams and the elasticity of time during moments of extreme stress, near-death experience and certain stages of hypnotic trance. The Labyrinth of Time is as compelling and persuasive as Peake’s groundbreaking Is There Life After Death?