0.225 seconds

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Something remarkable happened in a recent game of doubles tennis:

I was at net with my partner receiving. Both teams were in the standard doubles configuration of one up and one back. The ball was served to my partner who hit a weakish shot at the opponent at net. The opponent promptly wound up for a massive forehand winner and let loose at full strength, sending the ball hurtling toward my face at maximum speed from about five metres away.

I ducked out of the way.

For the last few days I’ve been thinking about the incident and how it was possible I avoided being hit square in the face. At an educated guess I’d say the ball was hit in the vicinity of 80kmph, so at five metres away, the time it took to ball to travel from the opponent’s racquet to my face was 0.225 seconds. Less than a quarter of a second!

This explains why I can’t really remember the ball in my field of view, and only vaguely remember the ball being hit. Somehow, genetics (or evolution) took over from logic and problem solving and — in an instant —removed me from the path of ‘danger’. In under a quarter of a second.

Out of all physical things in my field of vision, my brain identified the specific yellow/green spectrum of light reflecting only off the tennis ball. This light hit my eye’s retina and sent the signal to the brain. Then much more of this light hit my retina — as the ball came closer it took up more of my field of vision — and was again sent to my brain. My brain calculated there was a discrepancy between the first bunch of yellow fuzz and the second (or third, or forth?) bunch, and decided the yellow fuzzy object was getting closer to my eyes at a rapid pace.

My brain then sent the signals along a metre or so of nerve system to the muscles in my legs, whereby they contracted/expanded to allow my body to remain upright and balanced but drop towards the ground, out of harm’s way.

In under quarter of a second.
(And I’m sure I don’t have extraordinary reflexes.)

Maybe ‘remarkable’ isn’t the right word to describe the unconscious chain of events my body strung together in such a hurry. ‘Incredible’ barely does it justice. ‘Unbelievable’ is more appropriate, but the best term I can think of to sum this up is… ‘thank fuck.’