Time and the brain: the illusion of now | Hinze Hogendoorn | TEDxUtrechtUniversity

Translator: Fatma Abdeldaem
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs Good evening, everyone. So the theme of today’s event is change. Change from within, but what is the one thing
that all change needs? The one thing that
all change needs is time. Change needs time, it needs now and then. Without either of those there’s no change. But what is now? And perhaps even more profound, when is now? And to answer that question,
we need to look at the brain. We need to look at time in the brain,
time in our perception, in our experience. And I think you can share with me the experience that time
in our mind, in our experience is perhaps a little bit more flexible
than time in the real world, right? Sometimes it can go a little faster,
it can go a little slower. I think we have all learned
as young kids, five, six years old that five, 10 minutes waiting
in the dentist office takes hours, whereas an hour in the playground
flies by in five minutes. So time in the brain is subject to change. Now, where does that leave us
with the question of when is now? When is now in the brain? Now, in answering that question,
I’ll show you a few things along the way. I’ll show you that sometimes we can be blind with our eyes wide open
and not even notice. I’ll show you why it’s so difficult
to hit house flies in midair, And I’ll show you that
as opposed to real time, which goes only in one direction, in our brain we can actually
go back in time and rewrite history. So let’s start with that moment
of blindness with your eyes wide open. This is where you can pull out
your little purple mirrors. So, I’d like to invite you to take out
your mirror and look in it. Look at your own left eye. All right, everyone doing that? Now, move your eyes
so you’re looking at your right eye, and go back and forth between
your two eyes a couple of times. Once you get the hang of that ask yourself this question. Do you ever see your own eyes move? (Laughter) Well? And I think you’ll find the answer’s no. You don’t ever see your own eyes move. Now, isn’t that odd. Why is that? Why do you
not see your eyes move? Well, let’s approach it from a scientist’s
perspective and form a hypothesis. One possible answer is that you don’t see your own eyes move
because eyes move too fast to see. Let’s test that hypothesis. So now, put your mirror away,
and now look at your neighbor. So, this requires a bit of logistics. So, look at your neighbor’s eyes and one of you –
you have to take turns here – one of you stare at the other person’s
left eye and then look back and forth, and then the other person can have a look. Do you see the first person’s eyes move? (Audience chatter) And now you can swap if you want to. (Audience chatter) Okay. (Audience chatter) So, I think we’ve found that when you’re
looking at your own eyes in the mirror, you cannot see your eyes move, but when [you’re] looking at someone
else’s eyes, you can see their eyes move. So what’s going on? The other person’s eyes
don’t move faster than yours. So, what’s going on? Why can you see their eyes
and not your own? And the answer is,
for the briefest moment you are blind. When your eyes are moving you are blind,
you cannot see when your eyes are moving. But do you notice? You don’t. What happens? It’s not like your vision
goes black for a split second, like when you close your eyes. It’s also not like
there are image stutters, like you’re watching Netflix
on a bad internet connection. It’s also not like
that moment of time is lost because then my voice
would be all chopped up, then parts of my sentence
would be falling away, and that doesn’t happen either. So, what’s happening? And the answer is there’s this little gap when your eyes are moving from wherever
you were looking before to your other eye, when there is no visual input, and your brain covers it up,
it pretends it never happens, it takes what it knows from before
and after and stitches it together and pretend everything is okay. So, you were blind
for the briefest instance. Now, it actually gets a little bit
more complicated than that. Your brain takes time to do things. This is Andy Roddick. Andy Roddick was a professional baseball –
excuse me – professional tennis player. (Laughter) He was a professional tennis player, and one of the reasons
he was so good at what he did is that he had the exceptional ability
to hit that little ball so hard that it would cross
the court at 250 km/hr. That’s really fast. And what does that mean
for the person on the receiving end? Now, let’s just do the math for a moment. At 250 km/hr, it takes roughly
a third of a second for the ball to get to
the other side of the court. Now, this is where it gets problematic because your brain needs time to process incoming sensory
information including vision. You might think that goes
pretty fast and that’s true, but this ball is also going pretty fast. So, it actually takes – a conservative
estimate – about 1/10 of a second for the brain to process
the visual information about the location
of the ball as it’s flying. So, in that moment of time, The receiver sees the ball
in a particular location, it takes 1/10 of a second for his brain
to figure out, What am I seeing? It’s right there. In that tenth of a second,
the ball has continued moving. Now, how relevant is this? Is this a an intellectual curiosity, these minute segments of time
that don’t really matter in real life? No. In professional tennis, the ball has moved
seven meters in that time. Which means that this poor receiver is seeing the ball seven meters
behind where it actually is. Now, as impressive
as Roddick’s achievements are, I think the receiver’s achievement at even getting near this ball
is at least as impressive. So how does the brain do this? How does the brain manage
to interact with a ball at seven meters away
from where it’s seeing it? And the answer is that
the brain predicts the future. It knows about its own delays, and tries to compensate for them
by predicting what’s going to happen. And the brain can do this
because the trajectory of a ball, for a professional tennis player
at least, is fairly well established, it’s very fairly predictable. But what about if that
prediction breaks down? What if the future is not so predictable? This is a common housefly. A common housefly flies at approximately
eight kilometers an hour. This is 1/30 of the speed
of Roddick’s serve. So, if this thing moves so much
more slowly than a tennis ball, why is it so hard
to hit these things in midair? And the answer is,
they move unpredictably. Why is that a problem? Because your brain still has the same
delay in its own internal processing, and it tries to compensate for it. So, this housefly is moving. Your brain knows
it’s behind on the real world, so it compensates for that
and predicts where the fly is going to be. It gives you a location
where the fly never goes. You see the fly where the fly never is, never will be, never was. So, no wonder you will miss it
when you try to hit it. So the prediction works sometimes,
but it also breaks down sometimes. And actually it gets even more complicated
because this delay period isn’t constant, the delay is variable depending on
what sort of features were talking about. What do I mean by that? Here’s a scene – there’s the baseballer
I was referring to earlier. So, when you look at this scene,
you see everything together, right? You see the color, you see the motion,
you see the shape – it’s one object, one person. But in the brain, all of those
features are pulled apart and processed in different
areas of the brain. More importantly, they’re processed
at different speeds. So, it turns out that color is actually
processed more quickly than motion, and that, in turn, is processed
more quickly than form. So why does that matter? Well, let’s see. You see this image? It comes on your retina, in your eyes,
and your brain gets to work on it, and then the color
information is extracted. Well, according to this image
not at all – there it is. It’s processed more quickly
than the motion information, which, in turn, is processed more quickly
than the form information. So, one moment is spread out
over time in terms of processing, which means that at any given time, the finished information
that the brain has about the outside world comes from different pasts. It comes from different moments in time, which means even if we just sort of
put everything together that it has, what you would see is not this …
what you would see is this. This scrambled mess where the color
is more recent than the motion, and that, in turn, is more
recent than the form. But that’s not what we see, right? This is not what we experience. We see a baseballer with a color
and a form and a motion all together belonging to the same object. So how does a brain fix this? How does the brain stitch
all those features back together again? Well, one possibility
is that it simply waits. So, it sees something coming,
you get a formless color and then … it waits until the motion
information is available, and the form information is available,
then it tells you, here’s that baseballer. But if you think about it, that’s a pretty
inefficient strategy, right? From an evolutionary perspective, you’ve
got information that might be relevant, and you just wait until
you know more about it? So imagine our caveman ancestors. They’re sitting around
a campfire in the dark, and they’re talking
or grunting or whatever, and at one point one of them sees motion
in the darkness behind his companion. Well, so if this caveman had this brain,
then he would do nothing with this motion. He would wait until he figures out
what the precise shape is of the thing that’s coming out of the shadows
to eat his companion. This is not a good thing for this caveman. A better evolutionary brain would be to be able to act
on this motion right away. It’s not important
what the shape is of that thing. He needs to be able to act on the motion
as soon as his brain detects it. So that would mean that
the color information is available to us, and then after the motion becomes
processed and the form becomes processed, then we finally know what the object is. But are we ever aware of a shapeless form
that then resolves into an object? Is that how we experience the world?
It’s not how I experience the world. Or is it? Let me rephrase it more carefully. That’s not how we remember
seeing the world. Now, what’s the difference,
is that as it turns out we do for the briefest instant experience
a new object as a shapeless color, but as soon as the form
information becomes available, that gets added to it, and after that,
it’s only that object with the form known. The original impression
of the shapeless color is gone, is wiped out, is rewritten. But that would mean that the brain
is allowed to go back in time and rewrite its history. And it turns out that
the brain can indeed do this. And here’s an everyday example. I put up this clock because this is
the first time I observed this illusion. This only works for a clock
with a second hand that actually ticks, that stops and moves. And my first experience of it
was at the train station. I looked at the clock
for the first time in that sitting, and what I notice is that the first time the second hand moves
seems to last longer than the other times. Does anyone else get that? So, that phenomenon
is known as chronostasis, and in fact, you already know
why that happens. Because it’s the same thing
as with the eyes in the mirror. When you move your eyes
from some other place to the clock, there’s a gap in your visual input,
nothing’s coming in. Your brain has a gap to fill
with information that it doesn’t have. So, it takes the information
that it gets when it gets there – the clock hand
at that particular position – and backfills the history. It fills that image over
the whole history that was empty, and you get the impression,
I’ve been looking at this clock for ages, and it has been standing still
this whole time, and after that
it starts ticking on its way. And so that first time seems
to last longer than the later times. Your brain rewrites history, But this is only a matter
of a split second, right? And it turns out that the brain
is actually able to rewrite much larger periods of history
than just that second. And here’s a cool experiment
that showed that. This is a fun experiment where
the researchers took two groups of people and told both groups of participants
that they had to do a task for 10 minutes. And in actual fact,
the first group of people, the researchers came back
into the group after just five minutes and told them the 10 minutes were up. In the second group, the researchers
came back after 20 minutes and told them the 10 minutes were up. So for one group of people,
time artificially flew. And for the other group of people,
time artificially crawled. Now, we know that time flies
when we’re having fun, but can the reverse also happen, can time flying cause us to have more fun? And the answer is yes. The group who thought
the time had flown had more fun, reported enjoying the the task more than the group for who time
artificially crawled. So, where does that leave us
with the question of when is now? Coming back to this, we’ve seen that the now in our brain
is actually the past, predominantly. Admittedly the brain does a pretty good
job of compensating for its own delay by predicting the old future and therefore
currently the present, hopefully. It runs into problems
when the future is less predictable, so when that housefly changes direction. You end up seeing things
that never happened, never will happen, never have happened. You end up seeing different pasts
because of differences in delays. And all of this would lead to an absolutely not understandable memory
or experience of the world if it weren’t for the fact
that the brain, unlike real time, is actually allowed to go back in time
and clean up its own mess. So, the brain is able
to restructure the whole story because it’s allowed to go back in time. So where does that leave us with
the question of when is now in the brain? I don’t know. And the one thing I do know
is that when you open your eyes – whether these beautiful
eyes or your own – when you open your eyes
and look out into the world, there’s one thing that you are not seeing, and that is now. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Time and the brain: the illusion of now | Hinze Hogendoorn | TEDxUtrechtUniversity

  1. Now exists only if the universe came to a standstill and all things froze.and I can move one eye at a time so I can see my eyes moving

  2. Move two eyes together you will not see them move a use it takes a fraction of a sec to input sight o the Brin from your eyeball

  3. I think the only way you can have now is if you froze time. But with quantum mechanics nothing is ever still do i don't think now exists. What he said about the second hand on a watch taking forever to tick when you first look at it is true. I am a watch collector and noticed this but didn't know why.

  4. Unlike the speed-of-light (c), time is not a universal constant and neither is distance. The reason is that the universe and everything in it is expanding which makes both time and space relative to the observer (relativity). Speed = distance divided by time  (miles-per-hour; meters-per-second etc.). If the speed of light is a universal constant (c), then both space and time must be subject to relativity. This means that distance and time are both relative to the observer. Time is really a simple tool of measurement based on the earth's planetary rotation (days, months and years subdivided into minutes/seconds, nanoseconds etc.) this obviously means that our measurement of time is only relative to planet earth and nowhere else in the universe. More than that, relativity means that time slows if you apply the speed of light (c) into the speed=distance/time equation and it applies to everything and everyone in the universe. we all live in our own time-zone but the relative time differences between you and I are so small that they are simply undetectable by human senses. On a universal scale the differences can be dramatic. For, example we can still see light originating from the birth of the universe due the slowing of time at light-speed (or speed=distance/time).

  5. Boring…the content of this presentation was already resolved in 1985 when the renowned cosmological physicist Morrissey asked and answered the question, "How Soon Is Now?"

  6. Mind blowing!!! That's exactly what I have been pondering upon. Love to hear it from someone else with a better way of expressing the idea.

  7. Time is physical property. This is why we cannot conceive eternity, since it exists outside of time.

    This will be evident when we die. Jesus spoke the truth.

  8. I have done my own observation and thought on past, present, and future. We all have a memory of the past whether it was years ago or just seconds ago. The future is coming toward us at any measurement of time then becomes the past. So what is the present? The present has to lay somewhere between the future and the past, so how do we quantify the present in time, now that becomes a much harder question. Take a person and a chair, as the person approaches the chair, the thought of setting in the chair is the future, but once this person sets in the chair the approach is now the past. Now one might quantify the present as how long the person sets in the chair until the moment the person gets up and does something else. But let's go deeper, that is the person is having a conversion with another person about what they did in the past and what they plan to do in the future. Every word spoken between the two quickly becomes a past spoken word, yet one might quantify time by saying the present is sitting in the chair while having a conversation. But is this really a true time quantify of the present, setting in the chair having the conversion? No it is not, it is only a prescription of quantifying time of the present. We live, breath, eat, walk and all things we think and say are causal effects of our brain, or more precise the firing of synapses in our brain. Once the synapses in our brain fires, then that action is the past. So the present for the brain only last long enough to fire off synapses. So on quantifying the present with time as we are accustomed to based on moments and other measurements of time, is our only way of measuring the present as we experience it, but is it really the present. Breaking down of the present based on our brains synapses firing thus becoming the past makes an interesting conversion. The past and the future can be quantified by said measurements if only in the planning stage of the future. But does the present truly exist at all?

  9. You can always tell which TedTalks are from the humanities and which TedTalks are from educated people.

  10. Brain works by association of neuron pulse networks. Mind then puts the content together, also by association.
    Thoughts come and go as neuron networks are passively reactivated by the memory of an older experience,
    by association with the current neural experience. When you see an apple, retina creates electrical pulses on
    certain neural networks and they travel from site to site (optic nerve, chiasm, optical thalamus. optical cortex etc.)
    finally grounding in the fluid when the eye moves away from the apple. Where is the content,
    ie shape, form, color, contours of the apple, held? Brain deals only with pulses moving along neural pathways.
    That'd how ideas are born, subjectively by association of the old and the current status.
    Not easy to visualise unless you sit in meditation and concentrate on the longitudinal neurons running
    from Cauda Equina to the stem. This takes a lot of concentration and special knowledge.
    Unfortunately, the current human brain-mind complex has been conditioned by Time, Money and Mathematics
    over the last 200-300 years . Look at the achievements of pre-science age cultures in India, Peru, Egypt,
    Chaldea, Canaan, Babylon and Sumar. Our mental status is fast deteriorating by this conditioning.
    Talk to teenagers; they will tell you.

  11. I CAN see my eyes move in the mirror. I see it extremely clearly. I also live with a rare medical condition that's caused by brain to develop uniquely. I wish I knew what this means!??!?!??! :O I am so fascinated! GREAT talk, soul friend!!!!!!!!!

  12. So I literally can't live in the present now? All the spiritual teachers for thousands of years were all wrong? Sooo Yeea.

  13. Awakening can last for a lifetime, but opening ones' eyes will happen in an instant. – Anthony de Mello, not a philosopher per say but an inspirational author to me nonetheless.

    Will this have anything to do with the Ted Talk? I think not but decided to share it anyway.

  14. Good talk, time is the ultimate deciding factor for all predictions. Just like vision, we cant see our eyes because we only look forward, it's like 2 parallel lines, it will never cross over to the other line and see ourselves through our eyes. The caveman could be also not in an alert state to immediately assume hes right about what he sees therefore he needs more time in order to make something of it. If the caveman has had the pressure of losing time, then he will presume that what he sees is right and possibly have the wrong conclusion. But then again cavemen didn't have the concept of time or did they. So before you even finish the phrase when is now, the though has already passed, since our brains process information much faster than we speak it. That is why sometimes people prefer to not say anything, because before a person has finished speaking we already know what he will say and how we should react to it.

  15. Now is to be experienced or is experienced with the whole body (beauty) not to be seen by eyes or decoded by brain. Is the only connection to reality so is to say beauty is experience in present

  16. "NOW" is when you slow the brain waves right down as can occurre in meditaton ,,, i think i was meditating for 10 minutes but an hour has passed

  17. I don't like this guy. He is just thinking too simple. And I'm not talking about what he said in this presentation!
    But hey, he's got potentials as well as me or anybody else. just saying.

  18. If time flying does in fact mean one will have more fun, would that also explain why humans get stuck in ruts? For example, when driving a route, the second time driving it often feels shorter than the first time. Under this logic it would mean the second drive was more enjoyable. This would back up the idea of why humans love routine; it feels shorter and thus it's more enjoyable. So, could the actual reason for why change is hard for people be because it feels as if it takes more time?

  19. High doses of psilocybin mushrooms removes the sense of time. It is an incredible feeling to be present and at one with the universe.

  20. when you open your eyes in the morning, the one thing that you are not seeing is NOW!!!!… woww!!!
    thinking makes us travel in the past and future and we miss the moment bcoz this moment cannot be imagined it can be lived with full awareness. living in the moment is eternal living.

  21. I have a good example of the delay of your thoughts in real time : When you close your door, while doing it, you become aware, your key is inside. But even though, you KNOW you forgot the key, its too late to send a new signal to the brain NOT to close, its already too late. Though you are aware you forgot the key!!

  22. Rub some dooky in your
    hands you can catch all
    Kinds of flies in your hands.
    Especially green and gold ones.

  23. The time gap is not so small, everything has happened a long time ago, but we all need time to realize it. This is destiny.

  24. I live in Australia, there are always flies in my room. Today I caught 3 with my hand. Can I travel through time?

  25. I try to explain to people about how unappreciative we are with Time. We can't go back a single second and change anything it is ALWAYS moving forward

  26. We are not in the past because it's already happened. We are not in the future because it's not yet happened.  According to this person, there is no "now".  Does that mean we do not exist ?

  27. If a man can split a ball the size of a pea with a blade while it's moving at 200 feet per second there are other senses at work beyond sight that we are not aware of conciously

  28. To answer the description of this video…. they mention that it takes time for all our neurological functions to process the things we sense. So they ask why we don't notice that delay. It's really simple. As an analogy it's like a dry river. When the beginning stream of water comes down you will notice the delay of the stream. But once flowing it's just a consistent flow. It doesn't go on off on off. Like water disappearing and reappearing. It's not the best analogy but I hope you get what I'm saying. It's like once the senses get processed then you won't realize there's a delay. I mean you don't have to know all the science to understand that. And when it comes to baseball and specifically batters they apparently process visual information quicker than normal people. It's like they adapted after practicing and exposing their visual senses to fast moving objects all the time. There's no science needed to understand that is what's going on. And I speak from personal experience that is true.

  29. Funny, many spiritual leaders take the opposite point of view. That time is an illusion and the only thing that is real is the "NOW"!

  30. What I do know for sure is, when I'm waiting to hit "skip" on a YouTube ad, that last second is about three seconds long.

  31. There is no such thing as time, only change, and there is a subtle difference. Time is an abstract concept used to understand, measure and explain change.

  32. There is no such thing as time, only change, and there is a subtle difference. Time is an abstract concept used to understand, measure and explain change.

  33. "Now" is unpredictable because it emanates from the quantum probability cloud of the unified field matrix.

  34. I have a problem in the phrase "looking back in time". My very simplistic view is that a "moment" at my location is the exact same "moment" at any point in the universe or beyond the universe. The fact that the very distant "moment" can take numerous light years to tell us that it (a particle, a group of particles a star) has just had its moment for me to observe that moment on earth I will need to live all most forever to witness the arrival of that moment at my location . The conclusion that I draw is that each and every particle has a "moment" in which every other particle has a mathematical fix in space. If you will, a "Universal General Positioning". What the human race is observing is "Change" in the absolute coordinates of all partilces in what ever form. Being that is the case, the need to have a "dimension of time" becomes redundant. After all, the measurement of time is one that we humans have invented and is a concept to allow us to organise when and where our bodies our things, our World can be coordinated. Given that, once Einstein got to Special Relativity he got stuck on General Relativity and then he really got hung up that Gravity is observed but cannot be explained. Einstein had a buddy, a mathematician, who he turned to with his problem. His problem was given that a particle with mass is travelling in a straight line through space how can a second particle travelling through space on a different trajectory be mathematically cleared to meet with each other. Thats when Herman Minkowski offered a solution which was to cause a depression, a vortix, in which a particle can be taken through a change of direction by following a straight line which has been curved. It is referred to as Minkowski Space Time. This clever solution has never been proven and has led science, in my humble opinion up a blind alley trying to bring together Special and General Relativity together as one.

    The concept of travelling back through time is therefore binned as to travel, "to return", to a original form would infer all the particles of the universe would have to conform in a mathematical relationship to each other coincidental to the form that is anticipated by travelling back in "time". Similarly, the concept of travelling forward through time would infer an arrival in the future would need all the total elements of the Universe to be in lock-step in accordance with the mathematical lock on their postions at that "time" chosen. If time is binned it will make the understanding of our universe that much easier as I feel confident the solution will turn out to be a very precise but simple one

  35. Time is the 4th dimension of the eternal now where our creator is. From hyperspace
    of the spirit dimensions, the physical dimensions are an illusion.

  36. Im kind of blown away by the fact that time slowing down for the brain is a tangible, chemical reaction. I had a car accident once and it was 4 seconds but took 45 minutes in my head.

  37. I try to hit the fly where i think it won’t be, and more times than not I now actually do hit them. But then I have watched The Karate Kid many times 🤔

  38. Example with fly from my experience. As I am Lithuanian, to hit fly is hard at my country. As I currently live in UK, English flys are slow, why? 😀 English flys getting higher time delays? 😀

  39. It‘s also difficult for us to hit a resting fly because it‘s reaction to our movement is so fast. Prediction of trajectory does not matter at all here.

  40. My brain understands itsself a little better now.

    My brain is talking about itsself learning about its self

    Is there a second brain that is not attached to my physical brain? Wouldn't there need to be a second reference point to refer back to when referencing my physical fleshy brain?


  41. Also I wonder what the ratios are of other senses picking up the slack of reality when our vision is artificial in those moments of eye movement. I’d wager hearing, which is the predominant sense in time, is doing the heavy lifting. Oh also, drugs!

  42. How then am I supposed to be present in the moment (…since ‘now’ in my brain is predominantly a mental projection/prediction based on the immediate past)?

  43. There are no coincidences but only plans, once you tune yourself to the right vibration that resonates well with the universe everything will just flow for you, even time

  44. Sit in the room and do nothing and observe you brain how it telling you do this and di that and it's trying to justify oh you are going to be late or need to do this. You are basically breaking the ego in your mind or I should say your software.this is cool !

  45. All measurements are relative. Reality is what you believe it to be, even if it’s not. Senses and other people can prompt confusion or confirmation. Problems arise when you believe you are right, the other is wrong and you and they are not prepared to learn otherwise. Hence we experience the result of the problem with dogmas, whether they are categorised as religious, economic, political, scientific or whatever.

  46. i would say it differently, the brain does not predict where the ball is going to be, it just hope it will be there to hit it back. but the brain is often wrong.

  47. Relativity: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute—and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity.”

  48. Started off very strong, liked the thing about the fly but then, Didn't really make since and said "Ahhhh and ummm" way too much….. just trying to help.

  49. All I know is that I want the reality of his clothes on my bedroom floor because that's where they'd look much, much better.

  50. Time is the illusion, not the Now. There is no such thing as past and future. They are just words for describing the now in a different moment/place. Our brain needs the concept of linear time so it would be able to process everything. Since Time is an illusion it is easier for the brain tot jump back to 'the past' (which is actually now but in a different place/moment).

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