The secret behind James Bond's success

'It’s Bond. James Bond.' Even if you haven’t seen the movies, you know exactly what I'm talking about; the man of all men, with the women, the cars, the guns, the money and the license to kill. A new exhibition at the London Film Festival proudly boasts Bond in Motion, a collection of all the vehicles Bond used, starting with Ian Fleming’s 1962 introduction of the franchise. My personal favorite? The Aston Martin DB5. And yours?

In those high speed chases Bond is always depicted as cool, calm, and collected. Time slows down, acquiescing to every want and desire imposed by Bond. But what about us, the tube-takers, commuters to work, 9-5ers? Do we have the power to change time?  

David Eagleman neuroscientist at the Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston has researched time perception extensively. In one of his classic experiment he dropped 150 people from the top of one of those free fall towers you can find in amusement parks. He wanted to see whether time really slows down if you are in a high pressure situation. He had this clock rigged up that would have the numbers flash by really quickly. When people looked at it standing on the ground the numbers would just blur into one another, but would they be able to see the numbers with their bullet-time perception as they fell from a great height? Turns out that even though they did get the experience of time slowing down they were no better able to see those numbers, they still blurred. He concludes that what happens is that these stressful events get recorded in our brains in 'high definition' and because extra detail is recorded (not perceived at the time) then we have the subjective feeling of more time going by. It appears that the brain judges the passing of time in the past based on how many details are recorded. You can read his full essay on the topic that summarises all his research here. During high-stress situations, such as a James Bond Toyota 2000GT convertible car chase, the brain’s perceptions of time changes as it processes and records massive amounts of data. This is useful to make quicker decisions the next time Bond finds himself in a high-stakes situation. He has done it so many times no wonder he is so cool under pressure.

Interestingly enough, perceptions of time can shed some light on your emotional state of mind. People suffering from depression commonly complain of time standing still or dragging on, but it turns out that in the lab those feeling depressed generally perceive time passage more accurately than those who are not. One of the most recent studies on this topic published in PLOS One concludes that indeed people who are depressed seem to have a more acute perception of the passage of time and that leads to more accurate judgements. Academics call this 'depressive realism' but the way this works is still unclear.

Slow motion recording is an evolutionary feature, true to survival of the fittest. Perhaps this is the reason Bond, James Bond, has remained alive since 1962. He has a lot of experience of high stakes situations and every time he goes into another he has high-def memories to draw upon. Either way, we see its not a magic trick, or some special ability only Bond has. It’s the power of the brain; my brain, Bond’s brain, your brain.