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2. Seeing: Hacks 13–33 > 18. When Time Stands Still

When Time Stands Still

Our sense of time lends a seamless coherence to our conscious experience of the world. We are able to effortlessly distinguish between the past, present, and future. Yet, subtle illusions show that our mental clock can make mistakes.

You only have to enjoy the synchrony achieved by your local orchestra to realize that humans must be remarkably skilled at judging short intervals of time. However, our mental clock does make mistakes. These anomalies tend to occur when the brain is attempting to compensate for gaps or ambiguities in available sensory information.

Such gaps can be caused by self-generated movement. For example, our knowledge about how long an object has been in its current position is compromised by the suppression of visual information [Glimpse the Gaps in Your Vision] that occurs when we move our eyes toward that object—we can have no idea what that object was actually doing for the time our eyes were in motion. This uncertainty of position, and the subsequent guess the brain makes, can be felt in action by saccading the eyes toward a moving object.


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