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Reality Thoughts: Human memory, sparks and refresh rates

Posted on Friday 30 May 2008

I’ve had two realizations about reality and the way the mind works. Sorry if this post is too random or metaphysical; they’ve been rattling around in my brain and I’d rather have them written down.

The first is that we typically think of knowledge as a tree: We are born as a root, and as we gain new information and memories, those become limbs and branches. This is true, but we are not the entire tree; our consciousness has to propagate through the limbs and branches in order to reach a memory or idea. This is not a new idea – we forget things all the time when those paths become broken or muddled. But nor are we the entire path of consciousness from the root to the leaf; think of the last time you’ve lost your train of thought. What happened when you said, “What were we talking about?” This wouldn’t happen if our consciousness was the entire length from root to leaf. In other words, it’s just as hard to get back to the root from the leaf as it is to get to the leaf from the root. Our consciousness has to be a tiny spark then in our brain, that in this case found its way from root to leaf but then lost its way back. I think “we” are a tiny spark, a pointer in this vast grey matter network of our brain.

The second thing is, I think our brain has refresh rates. It’s well known that our eyes have refresh rates; we can’t see the flicker of film or TV screens or alternating current light bulbs because our eyes’ refresh rates are too slow. Well, I think our brain does too. I think of it a lot like computers; computer memory has to take in information and write it down, take in memory and write it down; these cycles are calculated in kilohertz and are a measure of memory speed. Well our brain has to do this too; we are constantly processing and storing new information. I think it does this one at a time like computers do. I have experienced times where I think my brain’s refresh rate has gone out of whack; I heard audio stopping and echoing like a computer CPU processing too much audio information and having an audio dropout. This insight into my brain’s limited ability to perceive makes me wonder how much of the world we cannot perceive just by trusting our senses. Also, when I’m not feeling well, feeling very nervous, or am falling asleep, often my ‘pointer’ mentioned above goes in loops and gets stuck and I can only focus on a word or idea looping around. I’m not sure what all of this means but I think the idea of the loop and the spark are keys to understanding consciousness and reality.

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