For a direct link to the video go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txSqMO4OrOY
Last entry, in Time and Schizophrenia, we looked at studies indicating that schizophrenics can have a great deal of trouble properly organizing the information coming in through their senses and associating them properly with their own thoughts: a schizophrenic who hears a sound that is before or after a visual cue can have trouble determining which event came first. In my life as a sound designer and composer for film and television this is something I do every day - how late was that car door? how early was that guitar note? - and experience shows me that with practice a normally functioning human being should be able to tell whether a sound is a thirtieth of a second early or late to a visual event, which just happens to be about equal to a "frame" of video.
Much less of an offset than that, though and we get into stranger territory. In Time is in the Mind, we returned to the work of Dr. Stuart Hameroff, who tells us his research shows that consciousness works at a rate of between 40 and 90 frames (or "bings" as he calls them) per second, and that this number varies as to the situation and the person's frame of mind. In that same entry we looked at an article from New Scientist magazine called Timewarp - How Your Brain Creates the Fourth Dimension. This article includes a description of research done in 2006 by Rufin VanRullen, a neuroscientist at the University of Toulouse in France, who reached the conclusion that "the continuity of our perception is an illusion". In that case he saw evidence that human consciousness operates at about 13 cycles per second, even slower!
For me, that number seems too low to be supported by other evidence. For instance why does 20 hz tend to be the lowest vibration that we interpret as a sound? Why was 29.97 frames per second selected as a video frame rate that was fast enough for us to start to see continuous motion, and why are many people able to tell the difference between films shot at 24 frames per second and video shot at the faster 29.97 fps? There is something that is happening in this area with our consciousness, where events make the transition between being perceived as individual "events" and instead become a continuous stream. If our consciousness really were at 13 frames per second, then wouldn't events any closer together than 1/13 of a second appear to us to be simultaneous? Watch an animation at 15 frames per second and tell me how continuous the motion looks to you. But in that magic range somewhere between 20 and 40 cycles per second, we do indeed seem to have just such an experience, where things start to blend together into a seamless stream.
Also in Time is in the Mind, we looked at a study conducted by neuroscientist David Eagleman to determine whether dangerous situations cause the frames per second of consciousness to accelerate, which would explain the common feeling that "time slowed down" that people often report from intense experiences such as car crashes or bungee jumping. While Dr. Eagleman reached the conclusion that this effect may have more to do with our data-rich memory of such an event rather than the frame rate of the mind, great musicians do deal with fine gradations of time on a regular basis, which leads me to conclude that some humans operate at a more accelerated "frame rate" than others, and that our frames per second experience of time is directly related to our state of mind and our health.
Let's throw one more wrinkle into this equation - the speed of sound. The speed of sound is roughly 1 foot per millisecond. This means that if you saw someone clap their hands and they were a 1000 feet away from you, it would take about one second before you heard the sound associated with the action you had seen.
How does this relate to the frame rate of consciousness? There is a tendency, as events get closer together for our brains to meld the two into a single event. We usually do this without even being aware of it! Have you ever sat at the front of a movie theatre and then moved to the very back? Clearly, with the time it takes for sound to travel, the sound and the light from this movie are arriving at your brain in quite different relationships depending upon where in the theatre you sit, but the "frame rate" of our consciousness tends to correct for these differences. For musicians trying to play complex timings, though, being thirty feet apart from each other could make the difference between tight and sloppy playing! The ways that the human brain corrects for such delays and allows groups of musicians to create complex and exciting music together is where we'll go next with this discussion.
Here's one final thought - do you know what the Nyquist frequency is? In digital audio, a sound cannot be properly represented unless the sample rate is at least twice the frequency of the sound being recorded. So a CD, for instance, with a sample rate of 44.1K, cannot represent any sounds pitched higher than 22.05K (and in fact does an increasingly less accurate job of properly representing waveforms as they approach this 22.05K limit as well). What happens when we try to apply the logic of digital sampling to the "bings per second" of consciousness? Here we see a fundamental difference between the two concepts. With digital audio, each of those frames is very precise, and nothing between those frames is captured. With consciousness, each of those frames tends to encompass everything that happens from one frame to the next - and this is how our brains can end up assembling events that were not directly simultaneous and perceiving them as having been so, and how we end up perceiving a reality around us as being continuous when it most certainly is not: go back to entries such as The Flipbook Universe, Slices of Reality, and The Holographic Universe for more about all that.
Enjoy the journey!
Next - Time and Music
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Reading: Consciousness in Frames per SecondPost Link to Twitter
Posted by Rob Bryanton at 3:55 AM