DO YOU EVER wake up a split second before your alarm goes off? Not a couple of minutes or even a couple of seconds before, but an eye blink before it does.
I’ve often wondered if this might be a small clue to some bigger questions about the workings of our minds.
My experience is of waking up suddenly some mornings (for no apparent reason) and then the very next instant the alarm goes off. Other times it’s like I’ve heard a distant echo, a phantom of the sound of the alarm in my sleep — which wakes me up — and then my actual alarm sounds.
It’d be nice to fantasise that my body clock has been tuned to such a degree that it’s allowing me to tell the time subconsciously to within fractions of a second (yeah right).
Either that or it’s second sight, which would be very cool, or there’s a tiny time lag in our perception. In other words the alarm goes off and wakes me up but it takes a moment for me to actually “hear” the alarm/ register it in my awareness.
I’m not one to discount any of these notions out of hand, but dropping the supernatural and the supernatural timekeeping for now, I’ve had a look at the time lag theory and it does, it seems, hold water.
WE’RE ALL LIVING IN THE PAST (LITERALLY)
Apparently there is an 80 millisecond lag between events happening and our conscious minds catching up on the information, according to a scientific study which measured what is called the Flash-Lag Effect.
80 milliseconds is 0.08 of a second, or a blink of an eye.
One of the leaders of the study, David Eagleman of the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, says that this means that “when you think an event occurs it has already happened”.
We’re literally living in the past. Like when we stare up into the night sky and see stars that appear to be there but are actually hundreds of thousands or millions of years old — everything that enters our awareness that we see, hear, touch, smell and taste in our everyday lives much closer to home happened 80 milliseconds before we think they do.
Further studies have found that our minds cobble together a coherent perception of what we are experiencing from events which might actually be happening at slightly different times.
An example: if we see someone clap their hands — and they are less than 30 metres away — even though the image of the clap arrives to our eyes before the sound does to our ears, we perceive the events as happening at precisely the same time. Our perception fills in the gap.
At least it does if it happens within 80 milliseconds.
If the hand clapper is to stand even a metre or two beyond the 30 metres however, then the sound will arrive to our ears more than 80 milliseconds later — and we’ll perceive the sound and the sight to be out of sync.
Apparently too if someone’s mouth is out of sync with the soundtrack on screen we don’t notice if it’s out by under 80 milliseconds; more than that we do.
EXPERIMENTS IN TIME AND FREE WILL
Back in the 1980s meanwhile another scientist, Benjamin Libet, devised an experiment that monitored brain activity to discover how long it took for someone to decide to perform an action (pressing a button) and to actually press it.
It was found, on average, it takes around 200 milliseconds between an individual deciding to press the button and pressing it.
More interesting though it was found that there was brain activity registered 500 milliseconds before actually pressing the button and 300 milliseconds before the subject thought they had decided to do it.
This showed that the brain activity started before the individual willed it to happen.
This has led some people to conclude that free will is an illusion; others have suggested that it means that we have free won’t.
Mind blowing stuff with complex philosophical implications, but I’m not sure where this leaves me and my alarm clock musings.
Does it mean that my alarm is actually going off 80 milliseconds before it intrudes on my consciousness — that is before I register it and “hear” it (but by which time it’s already woken me up)? … But then again if it takes 300 milliseconds between me hearing the alarm clock and deciding to wake up and waking up, by the time I’ve woken up, wouldn’t this be longer than the 80 milliseconds it takes for me to register this fact? …
… my head’s spinning, it’s late, time to set the alarm and turn in for night.
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