Under the assumption that Barry Allen can think as fast as he can run, how does he perceive things around him?

Is everything else just moving at a minuscule rate to him? How does that not drive him insane?

Does he have the ability to turn his powers off?

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    It's not an unknown phenomenon even in the real world for people's perception of time to change with adrenaline, the most famous example being when people talk about "time slowing down" during a car crash. A more common example: try to sprint through a crowd without hitting anyone, and you'll find yourself "thinking faster" than normal as you weave between people. It's only logical to assume that Flash's reflexes aren't always cranked to eleven, but rather that they ramp up naturally when he needs them to, similar to normal people.
    – Nerrolken
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 23:27
  • The new show actually did a pretty interesting take on this in a couple episodes. In the most recent, he's helping in an investigation and speeds in front of his partner and the guy he's chasing in real time. And when they get close to him, it show's them slow down to almost a halt and he's watching and reacting to everything in his time, which is much faster. So as the answers have said, I think he can control how he perceives it.
    – Robert
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 14:57
  • There is an awesome Justice League Episode where Flash gets stuck in a nightmare. You see he fears always being in a speedy state. The world around him his frozen. The bad guy who looks like the Taskmaster leaves him to be stuck there forever. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 13:47

9 Answers 9


Just as with his movement speed, he's able to control how fast he perceives time. So day to day, he spends his civilian time mostly perceiving time at the rate we all do. When fighting crime he'll vary it to keep up with how quickly he needs to be moving.

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    Begs the question, can he go slower than that? There are whole sections of days I'd love to perceive at 1% of normal time.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 18:00

The Short Answer:

It is likely the Flash (and other speedsters like him) have complete control of the temporal aspects of their speed powers because it would otherwise be intolerable to be faster than everything around you and having no control of how you were able to perceive it.

  • Such a perceptual state would leave the world, from his point of view, a world of immobile objects, frozen in time. It is hard to imagine not having the ability to alter one's perception to the passage of time, slowing or speeding it up in relationship to yourself.

  • The Flash's perception of space-time is highly fluid, while he is often shown speeding up his perceptions, it should be theoretically possible for him to slow down his perception of any particular moment in the same fashion.

  • It is hard to imagine why he would want to slow down his perception of the flow of time, but it should be within his ability to do so, since he can instantly decide in a split second how he wants to maneuver himself through space-time.

Super-speed and perception

Anyone capable of moving at speeds greater than human reflexes will allow are considered to be utilizing some aspect of super-speed. But the concept of super-speed in comics is a bit more complicated than it would initially appear.

  • Highly trained humans can perform feats such as blocking or catching arrows and other feats of hand-eye coordination only with significant practice as they have to overcome their own internal process of actually thinking about the action.

  • Unfortunately, this prevents all but the most dedicated such as Batman, Bronze Tiger, Chesire or Ras Al Ghul from being able to appear superhuman in their reflexive responses. To them, most normal humans appear to be moving through molasses. But this is not superhuman, it is merely a highly trained and reflexive combat technique.

  • The concept of no-mind or mushin no shin, is the martial idea that a trained warrior will be able to move as fast as his reflexes allow only when he is no longer required to THINK about the movement and can act as fast as humanly possible.

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Bronze Tiger and Batman engaging in combat in a mushin state; both are acting reflexively, moving faster than their conscious minds could would normally.

In the case of superspeed users, mushin is either how they live completely, reflexively activating and utilizing their powers, without consciousness of that power use, or that they are in complete control of their awareness and interaction with the flow of time around them. This makes using superspeed an ability with a dazzling array of permutations, physical, mental and temporal.

"Fast Reflexes are enough for me"

  • Speedsters who do not manipulate the flow of time and are only acting within the boundaries of physical limitations, such as superfast martial artist types like Marvel's Quicksilver, the Whizzer or Speed Demon, would be limited to the neural capacities of their brains. Quicksilver stayed irritable by how slowly everyone seemed to move in comparison to his own ability.

  • Even then, they would likely have some sort of neural development allowing them to control their body's awareness of itself, their enhanced movement and their ability to alter their perception of the flow of time.

  • This awareness of the flow of time would be a natural adaptation to their high speed movement ability. They would likely have a highly developed sense of their body's position, speed and movement in relation to everything around them. Otherwise any use of their superspeed might result in grievous injury as they slammed their high speed body into something during their use of their powers.

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"I'm so fast, I don't even have to think about it."

  • In the case of super-speed users who are not necessarily speedsters such as Wonder Woman, or Superman, they are likely users of superspeed in a reflexive manner as a subset of their already advanced mental and physical capabilities. Otherwise any use of their superspeed along with their superhuman strength could destroy everything around them.

  • In the rare instance you have people with superspeed and mushin; they can use their speed reflexively in combat. DC Comics Wonder Woman reminds Superman of this fact in a conversation about his combat ability versus hers. Batman agrees with Wonder Woman, that under most circumstances, her reflexive superspeed is still greater than Superman's because she trained until she can utilize it without thought.

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  • To be fair to Superman, he rarely uses superspeed in conjunction with his other powers because this makes him a highly destructive force akin to a tornado or hurricane. Lacking the Speed Force Aura of the Flashes, when Superman uses his superspeed, he creates atmospheric effects and can cause environmental damage as he utilizes his powers.

  • It is for this reason Superman holds back in fights against his enemies because the more of his powers he brings to a conflict the more collateral damage he creates, likely requiring a greater expenditure of powers to bring under control.

  • For him, super-speed would only be used if it could bring a conflict to a close faster than any other use of his powers. In a conflict with Encantadora, Superman uses superspeed in tight quarters to defeat her henchmen because it allowed him to take a box filled with Kryptonite in less than the three seconds it would take her to react to his movement.

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  • The same would apply to Wonder Woman, since most things like weapons and tools would be destroyed by the stresses of super-speed, unless she was using augmented tools, it is simply easier to keep her speed below the thresholds of super-speed unless necessary.

"I'm so fast, I have to move through time to use my powers."

Now beings such as the DCU's Flash, whose abilities allow him to move faster than the material universe allows, would have to have a change in state, because there is no way his mental capacity (his human brain network) would have the ability to keep up with speeds that he sustains in his superspeed state. He would be moving faster than his electrically-charged brain could send messages.

  • Thought is a process involving neurons in the brain, and is thus subject to the speed at which impulses can travel along nerves. Depending on which nerves are involved, transmission speed can vary; regardless, nerve conduction tops out at around 250 miles per hour. Since the Flash can reach the speed of light, the speed of light is six orders of magnitude faster than the speed of thought!

  • Therefore, the Flash is somehow manipulating either his thought process, changing the rate of information transfer in his brain, accelerating it until he is able to think as fast as he can move or manipulating his interaction with the flow of time, appearing to be moving at superhuman speeds.

  • In some unknown fashion, he is manipulating the flow of time around his body, allowing him to appear to be faster and to act at superspeed without becoming an energy-form himself. Such a transition would allow him to move faster, think faster, and act faster without changing him into energy, which would be required for him to move at the speed of light.

  • It would seem though he may be achieving a change in state because he is able to defy gravity, pass through matter like electromagnetic radiation and achieve speeds only achievable by electromagnetic phenomena like light. If he is faster than light he is moving as fast as only a theoretical particle, the tachyon can move.

I support the concept of the Flash altering temporal physics and his ability to act in a Heisenburg-like fashion with a feat he performed to save the population of a city from a nuke. In 100 picoseconds he saved half a million people, two at a time. This meant he had to be moving many times faster than the speed of light, in atmosphere!

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The Need for the Speed Force

The energy required for him to manipulate the time stream in this fashion would be fantastic, and I believe this was what led to the idea of the Speed Force storylines, because otherwise there could be no way physically for any Flash to move faster than he could think without causing catastrophic damage to the environment.

  • The Speed Force is a vaguely defined extra-dimensional energy force from which most, but not all, superspeed-powered heroes in the DC Comics universe draw their enhanced abilities. For example, the multiple heroes named the Flash (Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West, and Bart Allen), Johnny Quick, Jesse Quick/Liberty Belle, XS, the Tornado Twins, and Max Mercury all draw their powers from the Speed Force. The Speed Force is also seen as a physical space to which speedsters can travel.

  • Max Mercury traveled through time as a result of his efforts to enter the Speed Force and ended up several decades into the future every time he made an attempt.[citation needed] Bart Allen could control the Speed Force and could "commune" with the spirits in the Speed Force through meditation. When speedsters die, they become one with the Speed Force, as it is an afterlife for them. Max Mercury's own spirit is trapped inside following his possession by The Rival.

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A physical representation of the Speed Force. Panel from Impulse #66. Artwork by Ethan Van Sciver.

This temporal manipulation allows him to move through time in a limited or controlled fashion with the proper practice, skill or technological augmentation such as the cosmic treadmill popular in the 1970s and 1980s Flash stories.

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  • Recent Flash tales show him moving through time in a less controlled manner which would be consistent with his ability to manipulate his position in time and space. This theory would also be consistent with the Flash having complete control of his molecular and atomic energy movement, vibrations and states of temporal phase.

"I'm so fast, I barely know where I am"

This transformation of the Flash's thinking gives him an expanded consciousness and he takes on a more Heisenburg-like positioning; he simply wills himself through his perception of running to be where he wants to be and he crosses that distance manipulating time between where he starts to where he finishes.

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  • For him to do this, he must both speed his perception of time to a point where objects in motion become, to him, relatively immobile, remove himself from many of the physical laws of our universe including inertia, conservation of energy and momentum. And as long as he can maintain his concentration, he is effective at altering these fundamental laws of physics.

  • It is likely the reason his Rogue's Gallery is so effective because many of them use weapons, technology or techniques that distract, distort or alter the Flash's perception of his surroundings. It is that perception that allows him to use his superspeed to alter his position in space-time. If you can distract him, you can reduce his effective use of his abilities.

See SFSE Article for amplification on the Flash's temporal awareness: Can the Flash See the Future Now?

  • 1
    Is this your speculation, or sourced from somewhere? Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 2:49
  • 10
    Having read the Flash for 35 years and at one time having written a variety of technical publications on superheroes and their powers, these are my speculations based on the publications, their notes, my knowledge of science and the examples presented by the comic writers themselves. Yes, they often contradict each other so I figure I have as much of a chance of being correct as anyone. I was once the creator of the Metahuman Information Database many years before most superhero databases went online. Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 4:10
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    Quicksilver isn't a martial artist. Perhaps you had someone else in mind? Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 15:15
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    If you are engaging in combat and moving at super-speed you are a defacto martial artist, since speed and mobility are two of the major tenets of martial arts. Lacking formalized training in a particular martial art is more of a technicality. Call it speedjutsu if you must. And if we must split hairs, he did work with the Avengers for many years and it is a protocol that the Avengers were known to cross-train to increase team effectiveness. Captain America has trained many Avengers in hand to hand. Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 15:59

It has been shown in Mike Baron's run on The Flash (80s) when Wally West has inherited the mantle and could only move at the speed of sound (about 750 mph) he he was not "on" at all times. In fact he did live the majority of his life as you and I do. What is interesting is that his powers would come on both through force of will or in the presence of certain stimuli.

This is best illustrated while he was watching a film in a theater and felt something touch the back of his neck. It turned out that a madman had opened fire in the theater and the first bullet had outpaced the sound of the gunfire to strike him. With his powers on he quickly removed the bullet before it pierced him rounded up all the others making their way "slowly" through the air and defeated the gunman before anyone else was aware of what had transpired before he went back into "real time".


Flash can change his running speed. I'm sure he has control over his mental processing speed, as well. Wally has expressed on more than one occasion that one of his worst fears is getting stuck in "On" mode, moving at super speed forever. He gets his powers by tapping into the DC-coined "Speed Force", and he is afraid that, someday, it may consume him.


In an Grant Morrison JLA Story Clark Kent just writes an Article with Super Speed when Lois enter the Room an say his Name. But for Clark everything around him was in Slow Motion before he slows down. The reader see this through the elongated first letter, Kuuuuuuuuuuhhlark. Something similar happens in "the dastardly death of the Rouges" when Captain Boomerang hits an Helicopter and Barry Allen rescued the crew.


Taken from ComicVine: "While [Barry Allen was] working late one night at the Police lab, a bolt of lightning came through the open window; striking a chemical rack nearby ... When he stood he found himself unharmed but incorrectly found that time had slowed down when in reality he was moving at super speed" So, originally he was confused by his super power and, presumably, once he realised the truth was able to cope with it being he was moving super fast, rather than everyone else was slow.


Everyone knows the flash uses the Speed force, as well as many other speedsters in his and other universes, to move or appear to move at speeds exceeding the speed of light. Different situations have perceived the flash using his abilities in a way that leans to several sides. I a few Justice League movies the flash and other speedsters would "Vibrate" there particle at an extremely accelerated rate that they became pure energy. Other times it is as if he uses the speed force to manipulate time to where the world around him is almost motionless. I wonder. If flash does exceed the speed of light,is the world he sees when moving faster than light dotted black due to the gaps in lights particles? Or maybe they are to small.


If you move very fast, or slow down time around you, light would be red-shifted. The upshot of this is that the Flash could see ultraviolet, x-rays or even gamma rays depending on how fast he was going at the time.

So, the Slash has x-ray vision, and no one seems to have noticed until now.


My answer doesn't have nearly as much evidence as the guy above, but my headcanon is that Barry is slower in time than everyone else. His brain only conducts neurons as quickly as a human brain, he heals normally for a human, he burns the same number of calories over the same distance as a human, but time is slower for him.I mix a couple sources, "The Ballad of Barry Allen" by "Jim's Big Ego", who is the Flash's creator's nephew, and the CW's properties. Early on in the CW show, Barry frequently enters hypoglycemic shock, cured by Cisco's super calorie bars. In the pilot, his heart beats at an extremely accelerated rate, despite barry being in a coma. He heals from broken bones in hours, not months. This suggests that he moves through time more quickly, as a single superpower. Relative to himself and other speedsters, he is normal.

My other source, the song, depicts that Barry is constantly moving at this pace, and cannot slow his brain down so much that crime fighting does not bore him. He treats saving people falling from bridges as a casual stroll down the road. even the wings of a hummingbird are slow. He can't hold a conversation or live a normal life.

The hole I'm having trouble filling is how he doesn't age.

  • Can you provide any sources for your answer? It is recommended that you support your answer with as much evidence to show proof your answer is valid and not just an assumption you've made.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 21:23

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