May 29 2012

Varela

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From an e-mail list:

Here’s the e-mail:

The following is a short explanation of works developped by Francisco
Varela and his mad crew of neuroscientists. For all who study neurosciences
like me, or who are interested in the magic of our nervous system, it is
really fascinating. When you think about it, awareness seems to be a
continuous experience. These researches tend to show that such is not the
case.

It all starts with a basic experiment. In a dark room, a person sits
and watches a wall. There, a slit of light appears, disappears and is quicky
followed by a second silt of light, just a inch more on the right. Depending
on the delay between the two lights, we can have three differcent perceptions
of the phenomen.

If the delay is long, one can see the first light then the second.
When it is too short, one can only see the two lights seeming to appear
simultaneously. But the more interesting event is when the dealy is about 50
to 70ms. You will see the first slit appear, then have the illusion that it
moves to the right, ending where the right slit appears.

The scientist did grin while he took his helm full of little electrodes
to record the brain activity, coupling it with a machine designed to test
interactions between the delay and the frequency of the brain waves. There,
appeared something REALLY interesting. Brain waves can be seen as ups and
downs. If one light appears on a Up and the second one on another Up, then
you will see the first slit then the other. But if both slits appear on the
same Up, you will either see them both simultaneously (might also be due to
retina persistency), or see this illusion of the slit moving.

Being the mad scientist he is, he kept trying things with meditation
for instance (it changes the frequency of brain waves) and the results are
very interesting and tend to present “consciousness” or more accurately our
“awareness” to be a discontinuity. Ups and downs. We would be “aware” during
the Ups. I must admit it is an obscene simplification of the thesis, but it
is a good image. It could even explain why during some critical events,
“time” seems to slow down. It could be explained by an acceleration of the
frequency of our awareness.

Looking for Francisco Varela on the web, I found his website. I’m currently purring heavily over his article The Specious Present: A Neurophenomenology Of Time Consciousness.

With sections having titles like “Lived Time is not Physical-computational”, “Duration: The experience of visual multistability”, “The Just-past is not memory”, and “The genetic analysis of temporality”, I’m grinning madly.

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