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The Physics of Regret

© Wakr10 | Dreamstime.com

While any high-speed “get-off” from a motorcycle is a brush with death, each one is unique. So here you are, zipping over the asphalt at sixty miles per, and the next moment your machine’s wheels depart the ground. Its normal exhaust note, a throaty, twin-cylinder rumble-and-thump, vanishes, immediately replaced by the alarming, metallic whine of a combustion engine freed from resistance. In this blink-of-an-eye example of Newtonian physics, you are also airborne, floating, momentarily weightless, like an astronaut above the moon, and semi-nauseated by the gratuitous excitement. In this mystical moment of confusion, in your state of high levitation, you begin in earnest to consider your options. The clock of life has stopped.

You’ve heard of these episodes, how, just as the physical world flings at us a wild and dangerous threat, our perception shifts the speed of that incoming harm to a crawl. The tiger leaps! but time freezes—or near enough—and the ETA stretches out. The brain’s calculations on the imminent risk proceed unabated, even accelerate, but the perilous, suddenly-unstable slice of a moving universe intent on delivering us a heinous injury decelerates in the lens of one’s mind to a glacial pace. Though it’s all perception, perception is reality.

Married to the limits of your experience, though, you viewed such tales askance—until now. Now, like the astronaut, you are weightless, swinging free of gravity in some ineffable bubble of time in which the second hand has become the minute hand. Events unfold in your mind like the blossoming petals o...