Do Hypercars Move Faster Than Our Eyes Can Perceive?
Some console gamers will claim that the human eye cannot see beyond 30 frames per second, which is about as true as you are when you say that you have read all the terms and conditions for any online document that you agree to. I think the answer to the limits of the human eye lie not in the eye itself, but in the velocity of the neural network in which it operates. That might sound complex, but I’m about to explain this by turning to the upcoming Bugatti Chiron which should make things a bit more exciting.
When car enthusiasts watch Nürburgring lap videos and races, we know where the cars are going to go – around one of the most famous racetracks in the world. Many of us know every turn, and some of us can accurately predict lap times before the race even begins. You know that the car is about to set off and will return to the same point, the beginning of the next lap. Yes, there are many complications and dramatic bits which make it entertaining, but once things are settled in, we know what’s going to take place. Even though we can predict what will happen, it still has to happen for it to occur, which sounds obvious. There is a point to this though. Our eyes are much the same as the car on the track.
When we look at something, light enters our eye. We perceive an image but only when the neural impulse from the eye reaches the brain. Then, your brain sends a signal to your hands and a separate one to your feet to tell your body how to react. As you can imagine, this happens very fast, but is there a threshold at which the human eye and brain can no longer keep up?
The speed of a neural impulse ranges from 89.41m/s or 200MPH (according to David Myers’s Psychology 4th Edition) up to 119 m/s or 266 MPH (according to Susan Hall, et. al’s Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology). Most likely, the average person’s mental limit is somewhere in between those two speeds. The Bugatti Chiron is supposed to top 288MPH. To oversimplify this a bit, that means that the car is traveling faster than your mind can comprehend.
According to the Journal of the American Optometric Association (c21.phas.ubc.ca/article/nerve-impulses), the time from seeing a visual stimulus to moving your hands is .28 seconds and your feet is .45 seconds. It’s time for some maths. If you were driving a Bugatti Chiron at top speed, what you do with your hands will theoretically be what you thought was best when the car was between 2.73 and 11 meters back from where it actually is! Your feet would be reacting to when the car was anywhere from 4.39 to 17.7 meters back!
In the moment that you need to be as precise as possible, your body isn’t even functioning in the present moment.
This begs a question. Why aren’t more racecar drivers and hypercar owners dead? I don’t particularly know to be honest, but my guess is that the body doesn’t just react solely to a visual stimulus but rather to a number of factors, which includes cognitive anticipation. By seeing how quickly the road is approaching over some time and distance, we can guestimate how to react when appropriate. I hope to find a more detailed answer to this question in the future.