Feeling Fast Feeling

Sometimes humans can perceive movements that do not align with familiarity.

Posted Nov 22, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

Joseph Mazur
Time x 3
Source: Joseph Mazur

With no need for anyone to tell readers that the brain is immensely complex, we do need to be reminded now and then that almost all complex human organs are likely to hit an occasional odd bump of haywire malfunction.

After being sent a wealth of stories involving a peculiar sensation that some people call the tachysensia episode, I felt a need to share a few. Over 1800 people belong to a Reddit community called r/fastfeeling. To get a hint of sentient understanding of what those members feel when under the spell of a tachysensia attack, here are two of the most vivid descriptions.

The first comes from Dusty Mitchell, a 32-year-old woman experiencing one or two episodes a year who started the community in 2018. She bravely permitted me to use her real name.

“I usually notice the sounds first,” she wrote, “if I’m listening to music, it slowly starts to feel louder and faster. Like someone put it on 1.5x playback speed and turned up the volume twice as loud. I’ve heard clocks ticking three rooms over that I never noticed before. Things like typing feel VERY aggressive. Like you’re pounding the keys very quickly and very hard.”

For many who have never undergone such an odd sensation, Dusty’s account seems as if it happened as part of a dream. It is a typical dream-experience in which one watches an abstract representation of reality. Any sense of speed, however, is generally relative to what one expects. While driving a car, we do not always watch the speedometer to get a read-out of the physics of speed or acceleration. We think we know how fast we are going by the perception of passing trees, buildings, and other indicators in the background panorama.

Do we, though? Drive for an hour at 65 mph on an interstate alongside other vehicles moving at similar speeds. Then take an exit ramp onto a quiet street with no other visible vehicles traveling at your pace. You slow down; however, with nothing to indicate otherwise, you are likely traveling far faster than the local speed limit. The mind has to readjust to take in a new reality of motion. We tend to do that automatically, but the brain has to agree that the new surroundings require a new way of thinking. It readjusts recollections of all the past experiences of traveling at a certain speed to bring us to a sense that we are moving too fast for the new location.

Dusty tells us that during a tachysensia episode, the body loses track of what its speed should be: “There is something about moving your body that feels weird because it looks and feels and sounds like you are moving way too fast or aggressively while at the same time you mentally know you are not. Walking a few steps across the room feels like speed walking.”

Perhaps, for just a few minutes, synchronization of her body clock with environmental time slipped a few notches. Many body organs go through blips of abnormal function from time to time. A head can ache. A bowel can get upset. The body can feel cold for no particular reason, then warm for whatever reason. Hardly does a day go by without some slight modification of signals. We have moods, changing preferences for food from one minute to the next. We have accidents caused by rare and minuscule moments of slipshod attention.

Sensing self-speed without any precise timing mechanism is a perception process that likely developed in the early stages of human evolution. Does a cheetah reflect on how fast it moves? The human hunter had to learn to control speed, from hiding for cover to swiftness for an attack, fitting his moves to the particular situation. If true, perhaps the clocking network is still fine-tuning from time to time. Dusty’s episodes might be just that, occasional strays from the standard frequency.     

The second vivid description comes from Brian, who asked me not to use his last name. Brian is a 55-year-old male musician who recently had two episodes.

“It happened to me twice, one year apart in a large room of my apartment,” he wrote, “I’d get this aura of flickering colors—reds, blues, and yellows—before the room expanded in all directions. Windows at the far end seemed strangely distant, vastly far away. I tried to walk toward them at a slow pace, but the pace seemed increasingly fast. Yet as fast as I walked, the windows receded faster. I felt as if they were interminably far away, heading toward infinity.”

What can I say about his aura, other than to bring up a similar odd episode that happened to me a few years ago? One morning I awoke with the impression that there was something strange happening outside my bedroom window. The shades were half-closed. As I lay motionless, staring at exceptionally fast-moving clouds, the sky appeared overcrowded with fast-moving specks. On closer inspection, I saw those specks as clusters of flying cars and drones dropping minuscule parachuted packages. It was not a dream. I was alert and frightened.

A few days later, I made an appointment to let my GP know what happened. He was not surprised. He checked my reflexes, vestibular reactions, eye responses to his moving index finger. Then, with a reassuring grin, he concluded by telling me that though unexplainable things do happen, it is more likely my phantasm will never happen again. So far, he has been right.

Miraculously, we stay alive by well-coordinated organic factors that are mostly electro- and bio-chemical lifeblood systems relying on a complex synchronization between what the brain expects from its developmental experience of the world and what the body needs to stay healthy. That synchronization is generally locked as if it obeys some gear-to-gear ratios of an automaton. Our organic-ness enables some occasional interferences and modifications that accommodate the odd mind-changing inhibitors such as fear of danger, awe, stress, and changes in body temperature.

With billions of neuronal connections firing night and day through events of stress and rest, and repeated stress and rest, there are likely to be short-circuited moments that throw off the electrochemical “memory” of how time should pass. For most hours of our lives, we feel the speed of actions as expected by the brain. Is that not astounding, considering the billions of neurons that could misfire their electronic signals through the network?

Should we not celebrate that we have so few moments of speed-sense misfiring? Perhaps fast-feeling episodes are glorious moments that could be reminders that we are human, and we have enough cognition to be aware that our perceived movements do not align with familiarity. Like the cheetah, we should run with the show, savor it, and soak it up. At least take the sprint.

As I often say in posts on topics that drift from my fields of expertise, I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist nor a neurologist. To be more accurate, know that I am just a mathematician and science journalist bringing forth useful information from research papers and readers' accounts of tachysensia experiences. So everything said comes with a warning: Some symptoms resulting from tachysensia might require clinical attention. If you have any concerns about your symptoms, you should first consult your physician, and then, if necessary, consult a neurologist.

© 2020 Joseph Mazur