Vierordt’s Law and experimenting with time

Karl von Vierordt has a relatively short Wikipedia bio (compared, for instance, to this) for someone who pioneered the measurement of blood pressure, the measurement of lung function and – the activity that would link his name with a “law” for posterity, the experimental study of the time sense. Indeed, he seems to have been one of the first experimental psychologists.


This excellent set of slides gives an overview of Vierordt’s career and a very detailed discussion of the time experiments, their methodology, context, and implications. So what is Vierordt’s Law? As stated by Wearden in the talk:

the proposition that short intervals
of time are judged as longer than they are,
whereas long intervals are judged as
shorter, with an indifference point, where
intervals are judged correctly, somewhere
between the two

In 1868, Vierordt published Der Zeitsinn nach Versuchen
– “The Time Sense According to Experiments.” This was not the first study of time perception, but by had by far the most data. Wearden describes Vierordt’s experimental methodology:

The data collected in Der Zeitsinn come from
experimental studies in which Vierordt himself,
or sometimes his pupil Höring, was the sole
experimental participant
• Höring [Vierordt’s student] not only carried out time perception
studies to qualify for a medical degree, but his
thesis work has the oddity that Höring was the
participant and not the experimenter (who was
• The data were derived from very extensive
experimentation, often involving hundreds of
experimental trials carried out over many days

Two taps (on a glass plate) define a target
time interval and the participant must
make a response so that the time between
the second tap and the response is equal
to the time between the two taps

A very full account of the Vierordt effect (perhaps a better term than “law”) is given in Wearden’s paper linked to above. Wearden has an intriguing conclusion:

A potential conclusion is that the Vierordt effects
shown in different tasks don’t actually have any
common cause, and that different processes are
responsible in the different cases

• Here, unusually, theoretical analysis seems to
suggest that things that look the same aren’t
really the same at all, a kind of theoretical
“disintegration” rather than the usual theoretical
“integration” of different phenomena within the
same theoretical framework

He ends with two points that should give pause to those who see the science of today as inherently superior to the science of the past:

You can see that this 19th. Century work, in spite
of some peculiarities, not only produced reliable
data, but also has posed some problems which
are unsolved (and, it seems, quite difficult to
solve) even today in the light of many recent
advances in our understanding of time
• More generally, Vierordt seems to be a pioneer
of experimental Psychology who is unjustly
neglected….until now


Circadian Rhythms video from Oxford Nuffield Sleep & Circadian Neuroscience Institute

From here

The myth of digital natives and health IT 

I have a post on the CCIO website on the Digital Native myth and Health IT

The opening paragraph: 

We hear a lot about digital natives. They are related to the similarly much-mentioned millenials; possibly they are exactly the same people (although as I am going to argue that digital natives do not exist, perhaps millenials will also disappear in a puff of logic). Born after 1980, or maybe after 1984, or maybe after 1993, or maybe after 2007, or maybe after 2010, the digital native grew up with IT, or maybe grew up with the internet, or grew up with social media, or at any rate grew up with something that the prior generation – the “digital immigrants” (born a couple of years before the first cut off above, that’s where I am too) – didn’t.

Presentation by Pedro de Bruyckere: Urban Myths about Learning and Technology

An excellent presentation by Pedro De Bruyckere, co author of the recent paper on the myth of the digital native I blogged about before… “I believe in education, I believe in teachers… but do I believe in technology in education? It depends”

Obviously these are slides which can’t compete with the real thing and clearly Pedro de Bruyckere has a rich sense of humour!

From experience to meaning...

This is the presentation I gave at the National ResearchED conference, September 9 2017. The presentation is in part based on our book Urban Myths about Learning and Education and in part based on the recent article I co-wrote with Paul Kirschner published in Teaching and Teacher Education (yes the one that was mentioned in Nature).

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Review of Compulsive Acts, Elias Aboujaoude, 2008


This book did not impress me much at all. A far more readable and useful books on obsessions and compulsions is David Adam’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop” which I regularly recommend to patients. I did some book reviews for Fortean Times from 2003 til around 2008, I think this is likely to have been one of the last – none seem to have a life online but will turn up in various archives I have.

Compulsive Acts: A psychiatrists tales of ritual and obsession

The best that can be said of Elias Aboujaoude’s Compulsive Acts is that it’s an easy read. Director of the Impusive Control Disorders Unit at Stanford University School of Medicine, one would hope that Aboujaoude would give both the general and specialist reader some great insight into the world of compulsion. He ranges from obsessive-compulsive disorders to pathological gambling and problematic internet use, yet never really rises above the level of a decent magazine article, in say Time or Newsweek.

In his introduction Aboujaoude makes much of the weighty ethical dilemma facing him putting pen to paper. Clearly the issue of confidentiality looms over every medical writers wishing to make use of the material presenting every day. However Aboujaoude’s throat-clearing and disquisitions on storytelling in his Mediterranean ancestry serve to annoy when it finally comes to the writing itself. In his fictionalised composites, Aboujaoude adopts an irritatingly breezy style, as well as betraying a tin ear for dialogue and a weakness for twee framing devices (in particular his receptionist Aurora, an attempt at down-to-earth wisdom) Furthermore, the cases seem to progress neatly to their conclusions (not necessarily happy or successful ones) and lack real drama. One feels that Aboujaoude must have a decent book inside him – if only it could be compelled to come out.

3/10 – Far from compulsive

Language recognition in the womb – Fetal rhythm-based language discrimination – study from NeuroReport

I have blogged before about on the tendency to grandiosity of neuroscience, or rather (very often) how the science media portray neuroscience. This phobia of neurohype is not the same as a suspicion of neuroscience. The ingenuity of the methodology of studies like this is staggering. I don’t have access via my usual library sources to recent issues of NeuroReport so I’m afraid that I can’t assess the study directly (in so far as as I am at a certain stage of clinical practice, and the consequent distance from what personal study of relevance I have done)


Fetal rhythm-based language discrimination: a biomagnetometry study
Minai, Utakoa; Gustafson, Kathleenb; Fiorentino, Roberta; Jongman, Allarda; Sereno, Joana

Neuroreport: 5 July 2017 – Volume 28 – Issue 10 – p 561–564

Using fetal biomagnetometry, this study measured changes in fetal heart rate to assess discrimination of two rhythmically different languages (English and Japanese). Two-minute passages in English and Japanese were read by the same female bilingual speaker. Twenty-four mother–fetus pairs (mean gestational age=35.5 weeks) participated. Fetal magnetocardiography was recorded while the participants were presented first with passage 1, a passage in English, and then, following an 18 min interval, with passage 2, either a different passage in English (English–English condition: N=12) or in Japanese (English–Japanese condition: N=12). The fetal magnetocardiogram was reconstructed following independent components analysis decomposition. The mean interbeat intervals were calculated for a 30 s baseline interval directly preceding each passage and for the first 30 s of each passage. We then subtracted the mean interbeat interval of the 30 s baseline interval from that of the first 30 s interval, yielding an interbeat interval change value for each passage. A significant interaction between condition and passage indicated that the English–Japanese condition elicited a more robust interbeat interval change for passage 2 (novelty phase) than for passage 1 (familiarity phase), reflecting a faster heart rate during passage 2, whereas the English–English condition did not. This effect indicates

that fetuses are sensitive to the change in language from English to Japanese. These findings provide the first evidence for fetal language discrimination as assessed by fetal biomagnetometry and support the hypothesis that rhythm constitutes a prenatally available building block in language acquisition.

“#Sleeping, as we all know, is the most secret of our acts.”- #Borges and #sleep in #literature

I have blogged both here and on my other blog quite a few quotes from novels and other literature on sleep. I have found these passages capture a sort of phenomenology of sleep as effectively as any clinical text. In this post I use a quote from Jorge Luis Borges as the starting point for a more general, although ultimately quite personal, discussion of literature and sleep and other altered states of consciousness.

Séamus Sweeney

Sleeping, as we all know, is the most secret of our acts. We devote a third of our lives to it, and yet do not understand it. For some, it is no more than an eclipse of wakefulness, for others, a more complex state spanning at one and the same time past, present, and future,; for still others, an uninterrupted series of dreams. To say that Mrs Jáuregui spent ten years in a quiet chaos is perhaps mistaken; each moment of those ten years may have been a pure present, without a before or after. There is no reason to marvel at such a present, which we count by days and nights and by the hundreds of leaves of many calendars and by anxieties and events; it is what we go through each morning before waking up and every night before falling asleep. Twice each day, we are the elder…

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