Since the dawn of humankind, we’ve believed that we’ve been immersed in a continuous flow of consciousness. But that was merely an illusion our brains created according to cognitive neuroscientists at the Swiss National Science Foundation. Their paper, published earlier this month, is titled “Time Slices,” and theorizes that consciousness works much like a movie reel–we rapidly perceive myriad discrete images and our brains splice them together to create what we perceive as consciousness. Because visual processing takes only a few milliseconds, and the rendering of consciousness takes a few hundred milliseconds, there is a significant lag between when we see things and when we become conscious of them. The neuroscientists diagrammed the process below:
The bottom line is that we see things as a patchwork quilt of consciousness created by our brain, not necessarily as they actually are. At first blush, one might opine that such a processing delay is inefficient and ineffective, but not so, say the neuroscientists. The fact of the matter is that it greatly enhances our perception of the world by allowing our brain to ensure that our consciousness is as accurate as possible while minimizing cognitive dissonance/confusion. And after all, we don’t even notice it.