Can you exercise your imagination to move very fast? and is there a paper on that, sort of?
December 30, 2011 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Can people visualize themselves moving faster than they are physically capable of moving?

Back in the stone ages when I was in college taking some psyc classes, I vaguely remember hearing about a study where subjects visualized(?) navigating to a location. They timed the task, and it matched up with the walking speed of the person. Am I completely confabulating this? I can't think of good enough search terms to find an article about it. speaking of which, mental time travel, pulls up interesting articles.

Anyhoo, I really would love to find a paper on that experiment, if it exists. And then on to the stupid second part of the question. sometimes I am semi lucid in a dream and want to shift my perception to a different location in the scene. I can't seem to imagine myself just showing up there (like teleporting). So I was wondering if there would be a way to exercise my imagination so that I could move of shift perception to a location faster than I can literally move.
posted by bleary to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Generally in the second circumstance I'll just give a little jump and fly there. Holding the elbows in really tight to the rib cage seems to be key to making this work.
posted by flabdablet at 8:27 AM on December 30, 2011

Going back to my ~30 years ago college education, I was under the impression that all dreams, lucid or otherwise, take place in actual time that is significantly compressed from real awake time. That is, that while you may think you are moving in real time while semi lucid, you are actually in dream time that is almost a flash as far as I remember.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:31 AM on December 30, 2011

So I was wondering if there would be a way to exercise my imagination so that I could move of shift perception to a location faster than I can literally move.

Yes. I don't know how to tell you to do it other than "use your imagination". In dreams I've run faster than "normal", flown, teleported, done any number of "impossible" things. Try shifting you default mindset from "can't" to "can".
posted by 3FLryan at 8:46 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I studied such things in grad school. Here is a paper that might be the one you were thinking of: Decety has done a lot of research like this, on the differences between imagining and doing a task. Really cool stuff.

I used google scholar and searched mental walking, if you want to find others, or mess around with the related articles/cited by features.
posted by freezer cake at 9:03 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

If people can't do this then I'm not a people.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:04 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: omg omg omg thank you freezer cake.
posted by bleary at 9:11 AM on December 30, 2011

Interesting, I am also unable to move quickly in my lucid dreams or speed up my pace.
posted by timsneezed at 9:12 AM on December 30, 2011

What if you envisioned some sort of device whose purpose was to take you places faster than you could walk. It could even have a real world analogue to help. For example, when I think about moving some place quickly I automatically imagine myself on a bicycle with the world blurring by and the wind in my hair. Since you're not limited by physical constraints in your dream perhaps your dream-bicycle could help you travel at whatever speed you wish to move at.
posted by talkingmuffin at 9:48 AM on December 30, 2011

Interesting, I am also unable to move quickly in my lucid dreams or speed up my pace.

Probably because in some way, you believe that you can't. Try playing tricks on yourself in lucid dreams - for example, instead of thinking "i am now going to run faster than i can run" (which is of course is not possible), think "oh i am going to run really fast and im also on a conveyor belt and the world is also spinning really fast under my feet and the wind feels just like i am in a car."

In other words, there is no spoon. Really.
posted by 3FLryan at 9:49 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

talkingmuffin's suggestion is good, too. Try to find your "dream bike". This is the bike that lets you go really fucking fast, because hey, it doesn't exist in the real world, and it's sole purpose for existing in your dreams is to help you go fast. There are no subconscious preconceptions about how fast you should be able to go on said bike. Or, you could even make sure it is not a bike, but a "drike", which if course is even less like an actual bike.
posted by 3FLryan at 9:54 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or every time you find yourself in your dream, realize that you have on your "dream shoes". Your dream shoes are pretty great.
posted by 3FLryan at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2011

I would expect that it correlated with the real travel time in a sort of logarithmic scale, rather than matched it. I'd also expect that it was different from person to person and was dependent on how familiar they were with the route.

For example, if you ask me to visualize going to someplace close over a route I know well, say the kitchen, yeah, it's going to take me about as long as the real trip but I can visualize every blemish on the door frame and linoleum if I try. If you ask me to visualize going on a long trip, over a route I'm not as familiar with, say from here to Chicago, it's going to take me a fraction of the time it takes me to drive the route because a whole lot of detail is going to chunked as "Soybeans, Corn, Soybeans, Corn..." and I will mentally compress all those dull bits into a green blur.

On preview, note that in the experiment in the paper freezer cake links to, they're talking about short distances - 5, 10 and 15 meters.

I thought a lot about this sort of thing while playing Fall Out 3. The map is supposed to be about 40 miles on a side but you can traverse distances as if your walking speed about 75 mph. In order to make things scale and not break immersion too much, they edit out the boring bits - no mile upon mile of post apocalyptic suburbia and trackless wastes. Instead, you get from point of interest to point of interest at a rate that seems reasonable as long as you don't actually think about it. The moment you ask questions like, "Why haven't those raiders and these mutants killed one another off if they both attack on sight and live like a minute and a half from one another? you're going to trample all over any sense of immersion you might have. (It also helps that there are like 400 points of interest on the map so it feels big and diverse.)

Fall Out 3 (and Oblivion and Fall Out: New Vegas and Skyrim) all have "Fast Travel" where you can just teleport from wherever you are to any landmark where you have been and then walk onward from there. Several people on the MeFight Club Skyrim thread have said that they're not using fast travel at all because of how badly it kills that sense of immersion. It sounds like your subconscious has reached the same conclusion about your dreams. (If you want to see this in person, New Vegas is only $5 today for Steam's Christmas sale.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:03 AM on December 30, 2011

Now that I'm older, I actually often find (in real life) that I can't move as fast as I imagine I can. My conceptions of what my body can do haven't entirely caught up with the changes to what it can actually do.
posted by philipy at 10:19 AM on December 30, 2011

I really don't understand this question at all. I'm going to visualize myself going to the water fountain, only in my imagination I have cartoon like legs that move super fast and have a funny sound effect. Zooom! I'm there! Drinking water! Zoom! I'm back! In my imagination it only took three seconds each way, even though in real life it would take at least a minute.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:24 PM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: croutonsupafreak, ask yourself what your results would be if you were a participant in the experiment freezer cake links to. That might help you understand the question.
posted by bleary at 8:04 AM on December 31, 2011

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