Our event perception results as a conclusion from the continuous data stream from our senses; sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. The brain manages to decipher this incessant bombardment, compares it to a constantly updating database of knowledge (our experience) and delivers a result that we consider reality. Although influenced by our mood (which can skew our perception of reality) we do this without decision and very efficiently for the majority of the time.We can also reverse the process and conjure up a detailed picture in our mind's eye or generate the reality of a dream.
We define the senses as five; sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste and the cognitive process as the act of reasoning and knowing rather than an emotional response. Yet we allude to a sixth sense: we have all witnessed or had experience of it. Perhaps we all have it and the sixth sense is our perception of time. All the five senses measure change relative to time. We have memory of sequences. If we possess an ability to roll time forward can also predict and perhaps there is our of sixth sense. When our sense of time malfunctions or is deluded the information from the other senses is confusing and the mind struggles to match events to our knowledge data base. What we conclude as reality can suddenly be way off the mark. So far off the mark that survival is at risk. Our perception of time is most under stress when things suddenly happen fast; particularly when our sense have settled into a quiet mode of low activity. They suddenly hit hyperactive, gathering as much information per second as they can, driving vast amounts of data to the brain to try and make sense of what is reality. Anybody that has been in a serious car accident will remember one thought in common; "When will it stop?" Time, or our perception of it, actually slows and for those moments you live longer.
It was a wet afternoon on January 7th 2014. I was grateful to "call it a day," retire to my caravan home and shut the door on the wind and rain. I sat down on the bench seat and shared a warm welcome from Pixel my Jack Chi dog. I looked around. It was home. I was just thankful that we had a roof for winter. I'd take off my wet things and ignite the gas fire in a while; there was plenty of time...
I awoke with a jolt by a knock on the door. I must have dozed off. My kindly employer stood in the dismal night with a plate of hot food which I accepted with thanks. I pulled out the table and sat under the watchful eye of Pixel from the bench opposite as I made good with the food.
"What?" I asked; then relented and shared a bit of the meat her way. Steam vapour rose from the gift arm as my core warmed by the food drove the damp from my clothes. "I'll put the fire on in a minute" I reassured and continued to eat. She knew better than to beg so concentrated on the intent watchful and occasional twitch of tail end until I relented. "Tell you what Pixel, when I've finished this..." stabs pointing finger at food plate for emphasis.. "I'm gonna phone that prat in Bradford. He still owes me over £200." The Pixel tail went into full wag mode which I took as approval. I finished my meal and made a smoke. I was ready to make the call. I looked at the dog. Tail wag. I picked up the tobacco pouch and showed her. Tail wag again so I read it out loud to make her understand, "See, Smoking seriously harms you and others around you!" I pressed dial and flicked the lighter.
I looked at the flame. Strange, I didn't remember turning it up. Why was it so long and what was the purple fringe that danced on the edges? I stood up. The flame started to lick at my fingers below. I let go of the button. It still burned and was starting to hurt. Pain hit brain and I rapidly dropped my hand to my knee and back up again, still holding the lighter. Instantly the flame was replaced by a dancing globe of rainbow coloured flame between me and the watching dog. We were both mesmerised, transfixed. I remember the thought "That's beautiful!" as a cascade or fountain appeared from the pole and flowed down the sides of the dancing globe. Still rational perceptive thought there was none. Then a noise. A hiss? That was a rush? That was a whoosh? The "fountain" had dropped and was now rolling at ever increasing speed to the ends of the caravan. The closer it got the louder became the noise which I later described as standing at the entrance to a tunnel that an express train is exiting. A small dog's intent stare through the tidal fluorescence demanded that my brain find sense and reality. The brain was fixed on "Can this get any louder? Can this get any louder?" until it finally settled on the conclusion that there was going to be one hell of a bang as a finish. "What happens when it gets to the far end?" Finally an answer to the barrage of search queries...
I jumped forward and grabbed Pixel; tucking her under my right arm as I had stowed the ball playing right wing on a rugby field years before. Turning I made for the door less than 6 feet away. We had to get out. The flame wave was getting very close to reaching the far wall. The noise defied mental analysis by proving it could get louder. Again the warp of time perspective relative to the other senses defeated reality. How can a door that I am moving towards be getting more distant? I was running out of time. The flame reached the far end. Sixth sense was right it ended in a bang, whipping instantly straight over the ceiling line and hitting its partner from the other direction.
KBOOM! as a comic book would say.
Followed by a distinctive crash and a descending glass-like tinkling as the debris settled.
I was propelled forward. Something hit me down the centre of my face. I forward rolled and then silence. I was sitting in the mud with Pixel still clamped firmly under my arm. I looked back. There was no fire, just total carnage. The real pain kicked in as I hobbled across the ice cold wet of the yard in my socks . Cold wet towels were applied to face and hands as shock started to set in. A small flame could be seen at the top of one of the 2 propane bottles that still stood where a caravan had been. Then it started. It sounded like a rocket launch as propane was spewed from the regulator into what remained of home. A massive Roman candle glow lit up the sky. We evacuated the house and made for safety at the top of the lane. Neighbours gathered; roused by the the noise and reporting ceilings bouncing. Eventually the emergency services arrived by which time the inferno was over; the propane bottles were all spent. The fire brigade made safe; there was nothing left bar a pile of white ash and the paramedics took me in handle. Thank God for morphine because I was starting to loose it. Apparently the more pain you are in the less severe or deep the damage as it means you still have some nerves intact. Then it was off to the specialist burns unit for my first stay ever in hospital. A few days later I met a total stranger who asked what had happened (I looked pretty gross.)
"You had one hell of an unlucky night mate."
"No, I had the luckiest night of any man still walking" was my reply.
In just a few seconds I was reduced to my well cooked body, a wee small dog and a pair of under pants. Time to start again I guess but "Hey what are things anyway? I still have all my six senses intact!"... Just!
What have I learned?
I can not smell propane. Apparently there are a few people who just can't.
Time, or our perception of it, is a funny thing; it can seriously screw with your mind.
Oh and "Smoking CAN seriously harm you and others around you!"