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In science fiction stories, we often see the use of virtual reality, a 3d world that allows you to actually 'be' there. The writers often use a pod or helmet to signify the use of some sort of computer that reads and sends information to the brain. What many, if not all, of them have in common is that time is sped up. If it isn't double then it's triple or much more. Now, while this is science fiction and far removed from any real basis, I'm curious. Is it possible to speed up brain in such cases? I.e. Would we be able to make time move faster in a virtual space?

My gut, deduction, and the meagre amount of information I found online, says it's impossible. I know very little about the brain, but processing information at a much faster speed would force a much bigger strain on the organ, thus overtaxing it. Not to mention, if the brain could actually run faster, wouldn't it have it's own mechanisms for running faster, considering it would be quite the advantage when you want to survive as a cavemen against a lion that's in need of some breakfast.

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There are just too many ways to answer this question. But I suspect all of them will be proxies to the ultimate answer - the goldilocks principle.

To give an example, for the human brain to be faster, it would either have to be smaller, or would consume more energy. There is an optimal balance between the size of the brain and its energy ratio (to the rest of the body). Like many factors, these were heavily shaped by evolution (which in turn is heavily affected by our environment).

You can also argue that a faster brain will accumulate processing residues faster, thus we'll have to sleep more frequently, which may have adverse effect on survival chances. I know it sounds far-fetched, but you can actually argue that the size of the brain is correlated to the distance of earth from the sun. That's the goldilocks principle for you.

Would strongly recommend:

What is so special about the human brain? (TED Talk)

And the first chapter in:

Gibb, B., 2012. The Rough Guide to the Brain, 2 edition. ed. Rough Guides, London.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't think the brain necessarily has to consume more energy to be faster. I think the reason why people think so is because of things like a memory competiton I once observed where people appeared to be concentrating hard to hold onto so many memories and I saw saw a YouTube video of a 12 year old who appeared to be doing rapid mental abacus which probably also used more brain energy. That does not mean it's a theoretical impossibility to make faster calculations using less energy by a natural talent that avoids the conscious effort. $\endgroup$ – Timothy Nov 29 '18 at 5:27
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Generally speaking, stimulants make the brain process information more quickly, just as depressants tend to slow the processing down. In reality, things are more complicated since (a) many drugs increase activity of one part of the brain while decreasing activity in another and (b) the brain builds tolerance via various mechanisms, which often negates the net stimulatory effects of stimulants over time. Sympathetic hormones such as epinephrine also speed up parts of the brain responsible for processing of external stimuli. As you probably know, you cannot stay too healthy under prolonged stress. The more stress, the more quickly health will deteriorate. Presumably, the faster (beyond normal speed) that your brain is running, the faster it will age and or develop mental problems.

There are, on the other hand, ways of increasing the brain's potential to maintain itself and hence presumably its potential to handle being more stimulated for longer periods. One way is having proper nutrition for your body's specific needs -- just the right amount, not too much since build-up of certain substances can impair cellular function. Exercise is another essential since it keeps the blood flowing more smoothly and may help to provide more oxygen to the brain. Sleeping well is very important since memory consolidation happens mostly at night. Moreover, sleeping on your side has been found to improve waste removal within the brain, which would in theory allow it to process more information the next day without becoming overloaded with metabolic waste. Finally, avoid wasting your reserves stressing out about things that are not in your control or that do not really matter.

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