If you’ve ever noticed that it seems like you’ve missed a piece of information that you were focused on receiving, it may well be due to the fact that our brains relay and translate information a bit slower than instantaneously. Generally, this relaying of information takes approximately 80 milliseconds. As such, we are all living in the past, even if it’s less than one second.
According to a series of works by David Eagleman of Baylor College of Medicine, it appears that our brains have to work overtime to try and process information as quickly as we are receiving it. However, it seems to be unable to do so immediately. As a result, our brains retroactively reconstruct what just happened as a means of getting us our information as quickly as possible. Due to the immense amount of information being absorbed at any given moment, this sometimes does not work and our brains skip over small bits.
One of Eagleman’s studies demonstrated how this works: using an experimental design, Eagleman devised two stimuli (a light, and a moving object passing in front of it) to fire simultaneously, and asked participants to identify what they saw. What he found was that participants reported seeing one and then the other; no participants stated that the stimuli occurred at the same time.To account for human error, experimenters used carefully calibrated machines to control the deployment of the stimuli. This finding suggests that participants perceived a slight offset in the occurrences. Eagleman explains that this occurs because our brains are trying to create the fullest and most cohesive picture possible, meaning that our brain cannot relay to us that two events are happening in the exact same millisecond.
Will our brain also attempt to compensate for other moments we might miss, such as when we blink? How much do you believe we actually miss in the 80 milliseconds it take for us to perceive what is happening? Could 80 milliseconds really make that much of a difference? What about in a potentially dangerous situation, like an impending car accident? Food for thought.
Edited by: Seraphina Leong
Edited by: Tatum Wilson
Musser, George. (2011). Time On The Brain: How You Are Always Living In The Past and Other Quirks of Perception. Scientific American. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2011/09/15/time-on-the-brain-how-you-are-always-living-in-the-past-and-other-quirks-of-perception/
Chess Stetson, Cui, Xu, Montague, Read, Eagleman, David. (2006). Motor Sensory Recalibration Leads to an Illusory Reversal of Action and Sensation. Neuron. Issue 51, pg 651-659. http://www.eaglemanlab.net/papers/StetsonetalNeuron2006.pdf