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Science & Technology

Does consciousness occur in 'time slices' ?

By T.K. Randall
April 18, 2016 · Comment icon 30 comments

How does consciousness work - how do we perceive the world ? Image Credit:
Scientists have shed new light on how we experience the world through our perception of consciousness.
Understanding how consciousness works has intrigued both scientists and philosophers alike for centuries, but while it is something that we experience every day without even thinking about it, conscious perception remains a very difficult thing to describe or explain.

One theory suggests that consciousness occurs as a constant stream similar to how you might experience a movie at the cinema, while another implies that our conscious perception consists instead of a series of individual moments stitched together in to a seamless, cohesive whole.

Now however scientists in Switzerland have put forward a third possibility - one that takes in to account both of the previous theories by suggesting that consciousness is comprised of 400ms "slices" of time that are processed unconsciously before we become aware of them.

"The reason is that the brain wants to give you the best, clearest information it can, and this demands a substantial amount of time," said researcher Michael Herzog. "There is no advantage in making you aware of its unconscious processing, because that would be immensely confusing."
The team believes that the period of time in which the processed data is experienced consciously may last only 50ms before new sensory information is received and the process repeats.

Somehow the brain is able to effectively combine all of this together in to a single flow of events.

"Metaphorically, such a representation is akin to the answer to the question of how were your holidays: 'We enjoyed the colours of the Tuscan landscape for three days and then went to Venice for four sunny days at the sea'," the study authors wrote.

"The response is a compressed post-hoc description regarding the temporal features of the trip, even though the actual event was spread over a long period of time."

Source: Science Alert | Comments (30)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #21 Posted by GreenmansGod 8 years ago
what unexpected benefits did we get from theory of gravity. Gravity boost for spacecraft for one. It also helps tracking those pesky near earth crossing objects and someday we my actually need to defect one.
Comment icon #22 Posted by pallidin 8 years ago
Well, I've read the article, these posts, and will give my very poor 2 cents worth of opinion... My understanding is that, biologically, we actually process perception not in the current, rather "in the very near past" Look at yourself in a mirror, or even at another person or object... There is a delay that seems both imperceptible and inconsequential, because in most cases it is. Yet the delay is there. I guess I don't know what to make of all this.
Comment icon #23 Posted by danielost 8 years ago
Gravity boost for spacecraft for one. It also helps tracking those pesky near earth crossing objects and someday we my actually need to defect one. I said unexpected. newton knew about gravity boost. from the apple that supposedly hit him.
Comment icon #24 Posted by Emma_Acid 8 years ago
what unexpected benefits did we get from theory of gravity. Jesus, really?? You don't? Someone had to be interested enough in the subject to work on the theory. Someone else had to fund it. Now finding/inventing Mauve while trying to make synthetic quinine is a hidden benefit. Finding anything by serendipity can be a benefit. I still don't see the benefit in this work unless it leads to time travel of some sort. Thankfully the scientific world cares not a toss whether you personally see the benefit in something. This is how science works. You don't say "lets research x because in 100 years tim... [More]
Comment icon #25 Posted by HDesiato 8 years ago
I'm reminded of this cool study titled: "Does Time Really Slow Down during a Frightening Event?" Observers commonly report that time seems to have moved in slow motion during a life-threatening event. It is unknown whether this is a function of increased time resolution during the event, or instead an illusion of remembering an emotionally salient event. Using a hand-held device to measure speed of visual perception, participants experienced free fall for 31 m before landing safely in a net. We found no evidence of increa... [More]
Comment icon #26 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 8 years ago
I said unexpected. newton knew about gravity boost. from the apple that supposedly hit him. That is not gravity boost,or gravity assist as it is more commonly called, that is just acceleration due to gravity, which is something else all together. The gravity assist GreenmansGod is talking about is when a spacecraft uses the gravitational field of a planet to accelerate or decelerate, changing it's trajectory without the use of engines. Newton most certainly not know about this as it was first proposed by Yuri Kondratyuk between 1918 and 1919, more than 190 years after Newton's death. So it was... [More]
Comment icon #27 Posted by Tiggs 3 years ago
Handclap's have always been my favorite example of the brain processing separate events, and stitching them back together again. The 80-millisecond rule plays all sorts of perceptual tricks on us. As long as a hand-clapper is less than 30 meters away, you hear and see the clap happen together. But beyond this distance, the sound arrives more than 80 milliseconds later than the light, and the brain no longer matches sight and sound. What is weird is that the transition is abrupt: by taking a single step away from you, the hand-clapper goes from in sync to out of sync. Similarly, as long as a TV... [More]
Comment icon #28 Posted by Susanc241 3 years ago
It doesn’t have to be life threatening but something that is a bit of a shock and unexpected.  I have experienced this slowing down of time, or the speeding up of the thought processes - haven’t decided which one - only once when I was assaulted on the street as a young boy passed me.  Full daylight, early afternoon, he was was with two others and as he touched me totally inappropriately, in the space of two steps I had processed all the possible reactions I could make, from flattening him with a punch, grabbing his hand and breaking a finger, right through to doing absolutely nothing a... [More]
Comment icon #29 Posted by closed for business 3 years ago
Hi Tiggs Thank brings back memories of sitting in class and watching the rail workers putting up snow fences you would see them strike the steel rod with a sledge hammer and a second or two later hear the sound, the further away they were the longer the lag. jmccr8
Comment icon #30 Posted by closed for business 3 years ago
Whether my acts are conscious or is not beyond answering for them

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