Jewish World Review August 4, 2004 / 17 Menachem-Av, 5764

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

Life in ... slow ... mo ...; 'trip the light fantastic'; more | Q: Why does time seem to slow down during a traumatic event? I have been in a couple of car wrecks, and I clearly remember details such as seeing the air bags unfold. Why did I see them in slow motion? - Rebecca Plunkett, San Antonio

A: Rebecca, many people who've been in a car crash, fallen from a high place or been in some other kind of traumatic event describe this same sensation.

David Eagleman, head of the Eagleman Laboratory for Perception and Action at the University of Texas, Houston Medical School, has done extensive studies on this topic. He explains it like this.

During a traumatic event, your "fight-or-flight" instincts kick in. Adrenaline floods your system as your mind races to try to find a way to protect yourself or escape. During this time "your brain processes information more quickly," says Eagleman.

He likens this to slow-motion techniques in the movies, when the camera takes more snap shots per second. That's how movie scenes unfold gradually, allowing you to see more detail.

"Since you are used to taking in a certain amount of information per unit time, this gives the impression that time has slowed," Eagleman says.

Interestingly, this slow-motion effect is much more pronounced when you can see the car crash coming. In contrast, when drivers are blindsided from out of nowhere they often find the moment of impact very sudden and disorienting.

One wreck seems very slow; the other seems very fast. Yet they take about the same length of time. What we're actually talking about, Eagleman and other experts say, is how we perceive the passage of time.

Randy Hall, a Ph.D. researcher at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, has also studied this phenomenon. He says experts use the term "flashbulb memories" to describe vivid memories that occur during emotionally charged events.

He and his colleagues have identified one type of receptor in the brain that responds to adrenaline during the forming of memories. Beta blockers, drugs commonly prescribed for hypertension and heart conditions, have been shown to block the action of adrenaline at these receptors, reducing the intensity of flashbulb memories.

For this reason, some psychiatrists use beta blockers to treat patients suffering from severe post-traumatic stress.

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Q: Where did the saying "trip the light fantastic" come from? That term and dancing seem to have nothing in common. - Guillermo Torres, San Antonio

A: Guillermo, do you know what that phrase has in common with these?

— All hell broke loose.

— Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven.

— Look homeward, angel.

They were written by the great poet John Milton.

The phrase you mention - often used in reference to dancing - appears in the poem "L'Allegro":

"Come, and trip it, as you go,

"On the light fantastic toe"

The allusion to dancing probably became popular in the United States thanks to a song from the 1894 Broadway musical "The Sidewalks of New York" that went:

"Boys and girls together,

"Me and Mamie O'Rourke,

"Tripped the light fantastic,

"On the sidewalks of New York."

Do you know who first penned these everyday phrases?

— Eaten out of house and home.

— Foregone conclusion.

— Neither rhyme nor reason.

— Seen better days.

— A sorry sight.

— A spotless reputation.

— Strange bedfellows.

— The world's (my) oyster.

Why, William Shakespeare, of course.

Sources:, wikipedia, "brush up your shakespeare"

— — —


On the `70s:

1. What post did Gerald Ford hold before President Richard Nixon named him vice president?

2. What cloying 1974 hit featured a young woman begging her soldier fiance not to risk his life?

3. Why was the Ford Pinto so dangerous?

4. Which movie didn't win a best picture Oscar in the `70s? (a) "The French Connection" (b) "The Sting" © "Rocky" (d) "Jaws"

5. What `70s fragrance for women had a man's name?


1. Ford was House minority leader and a congressman from Michigan.

2. "Billy, Don't Be A Hero."

3. Because of the placement of the gas tank, the cars exploded when struck from behind.

4. The answer is (d) "Jaws,"

5. Charlie!

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here. If you send him a great question, he'll send you a Glad You Asked T-shirt.



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