You Experience Reality Only In Snapshots

By Jenny Xu | Updated

snapshot picture

It’s what scientists have long suspected: like your circadian rhythm in which you go through a sleep-wake cycle, your brain also operates in a similar cyclic manner, but faster. The world you think you see isn’t always it seems.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow wanted to determine whether recurrent neural activities in our brains or brain oscillations affect brain function. They did this by studying brain rhythms associated with the visual cortex. It showed that the cyclic pattern of the brain oscillations correspond to the underlying brainwaves.

Therefore, there is rhythmicity in both your brain activity and function, which supports the hypothesis that we experience the world in “discrete snapshots determined by the cycles of brain rhythms.”

So, moving past all of the fancy schmancy scientific vocabulary, it pretty much means that your brain activity is switching on and off in intervals faster than an over-excited tourist in the middle of Times Square.

After taking as many pictures as quickly as his or her index finger can function, the tourist goes home and photoshops them into one huge panorama. That’s what your brain is doing, albeit so fast that you don’t even realize it. It’s all without the occasional pauses to shriek “Ohmigawd!” over having just seen the sign for M&M World.

Considering this original finding came out in 2012, this study about our brains seeing things as slideshows reads a little differently in the present. We have ubiquitous technology now in our pockets or hands nearly 24/7, and the ability to snap a photo or video of our surrounding world at a moment’s notice. That allows more memories to be literally downloaded all of the time, something that just wasn’t the case a decade or so ago.

At some point, we might see a full-on merge between the two, our memories and the technology melding in such a way that they are nearly or totally indistinguishable.

But understanding that our memories are merely a function of our brains in snapshot mode can help us understand why some things stick longer than others. There are chances for details to get missed or smudged along the way, causing a misunderstanding of what we “saw.” Knowing this can help us try to understand our memories.

And know that this function in our brain is ongoing and never stopping. If we are seeing it, then it is being stored. Again, like a camera that never stops recording and is always taking in new surroundings. Our brains are the same way.

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