Tuesday, May 19, 2009

For Tall People, "Now" Is Really The Past

As a teenager, my daughter often accused me of living in this past, and this NPR story by Robert Krulwich suggests she had scientific evidence on her side. Excerpt:

It may be that our sensory perception of the world has to wait for the slowest piece of information to arrive, Eagleman says.

"Given conduction times along limbs, this leads to the bizarre but testable suggestion that tall people may live further in the past than short people."

It also gives me the perfect excuse for never being quite as good as others in soccer:

Because for the taller person it takes a tenth of a second longer for the toe-touch to travel up the foot, the ankle, the calf, the thigh, the backbone to the brain, the brain waits that extra beat to announce a "NOW!" That tall person will live his sensory life on a teeny delay (at least as regards toe-touching). This, of course, could apply to all kinds of lower-extremity experiences — cold or heat against the skin, tickles, rubs, hitting a soccer ball — the list goes on and on.


e-Patient Dave said...

Ah, I see: this explains why getting high slows down one's reaction time.

Or so I've heard.

Istvan said...


Although neurological (nerve conduction velocity) studies can indeed confirm this phenomenon purely from neurophysiological standpoint (i.e. longer nerves have slower impulse velocity), I am sorry, but after reviewing the huge scientific literature of antropometry and soccer I have to say that, if any, the elite soccer players are taller than others. The height of elite soccer players are between 175 and 185 cm.

Paul Levy said...

I plan to delete the comment above . . . .

Istvan said...

This is what scientific research says. I just found a study abstract from Bilbao, Spain, in which successful (selected) and non-succesful (non-selected) 14-17 yrs old soccer players were compared. This study found that "Selected players were taller, heavier, leaner and faster...", also "at older ages, other factors such as agility seem to be more important"

Paul Levy said...

Is the last sentence meant to apply to me???

Istvan said...

No, I think you are still younger than that age group

nasov said...

The centimeters translate to about 5 foot 8 to 6 feet. That may be tall by population standards, but I'm guessing that Mr. Levy is referring to tall as "really tall."

Istvan said...


By the way, “living in the past” in your term is not necessarily bad thing. This phenomenon may lead to better short- and long-term memory in tall people because the perceptions in them are more dispersed in time and one moment lasts longer, making a greater influence on the brain.

This may also lead to a better decision making skill because you have longer time to analyze, but more importantly you already see the result when the perception comes from your toe.

In terms of soccer, scientific studies show that among elite soccer players the defenders and midfielders are usually taller than the forwards. We all know that good short-term memory is almost essential for good soccer performance and good decision making is also necessary, particularly for defenders and midfielders.

So, “living in the past” might be a good thing for soccer player, which by the way, reminds me that you are a very good midfielder and defender.