Study suggests consciousness happens in small, fast intervals

A new study suggests that consciousness is not a constant state, but rather a series of intervals — frame rates, essentially — that play in series. The moments between each interval are spent in an unconscious state, though we obviously don't perceive it that way. The work was done by researchers with the University of Zurich, Ulm University, and the EPFL; they came to their conclusion by studying both behavioral and psychological studies.

For a long while, humans thought consciousness to be a single, uninterrupted stream — that's how we usually perceive it, though there are times we might notices 'lapses,' such as when we zone out while traveling home or do something out of habit and not take notice of it — flicking off a light switch as we leave a room, perhaps.

This new model of consciousness dismisses the single-stream notion, instead suggesting a two-stage process in which the unconscious comes first, with the brain doing things like processing information about objects — the color of a car, for example. The unconscious processing part, as far as researchers can tell, does not involve any perception of time.

Following along in tow is the second part of the process, the conscious part where all the previously processed data is brought to conscious awareness, completing and presenting what we see and perceive. It is in that moment we become aware of something, even though it was already processed by the unconscious.

The study says:

...intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images.

Each of these unconscious-then-conscious intervals can range in time spans up to 400 milliseconds. This is the first of such models, perhaps answering questions about how consciousness arrises and manifests. The implications it has for certain mental disorders, such as dissociation, aren't clear at this time.

SOURCE: Science Daily