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What would it feel like if your neurons fired more slowly?

  1. Aug 20, 2010 #1
    I am assuming this would have the effect of causing things to appear to move faster, thus remaining in view for shorter subjective periods of time (if crossing your field of view perpendicularly). I think the more you slowed thought, the more the objects would "stutter" as they moved, skipping over space repeatedly. But what if you slowed thinking to the point where objects move so "fast" that you are only conscious of them existing in your field of view once, looking effectively static. So that it would just appear that things were popping in and out of existence, never to return. Faster objects would "pop in" less frequently. What would beings with slow thinking like this make of such a situation? How might they try to explain it if they didn't know the objects were actually moving? Could this be going on with us? Virtual particles?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 20, 2010 #2

    This could be what is going on, but do you remember - "I think, therefore i am"?

    If you can't make sense of what is going on(in a basic way, as we do now), you wouldn't be able to say "I think, therefore i am". Thought is existence.
  4. Aug 22, 2010 #3


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    You are presuming here that the brain is like a computer with a clock rate. But conscious experience is based on anticipatory processing - forward modelling the world - and perceptual events are handled in dynamic fashion. Things are glued together or broken apart, depending on which reading of the world makes more sense.

    So some basics. Neurons fire at around 50 times per second at rest, 500 when active. Habitual or preconscious level perceptual integration takes 80-200 milliseconds, depending on the complexity of the scene or task demand, conscious or attentive level integration~differentiation takes 300 to 700 ms, again depending on task difficulty.

    What this means is that your eye can blur together a succession of film frames to read them as smoothly continuous action.

    But equally, it can do the opposite, picking out an event far more fleeting than the 300-700 "processing frame" of attentional integration~differentiation - with the proviso that the mind is blind to other events within that shared perceptual monent.

    Now the interesting question you pose: what if we imagined a world where neurons fired either 10 times faster or 10 times slower? How would that chance conscious experience?

    Clearly, the brain would still want to do what it already does - anticipate its input, and deal with the world in a dynamic way so that within its frame of perceptual integration, make decisions about whether events are joined up to make some continuous flow of action, or are instead isolate events. But if this decision making frame for attentive-level awareness is around half a second, then faster neurons would contract this frame, so allowing for a finer grain of resolution, or extend this frame, meaning that either paying attention to a particular fleeting event would make us effectively blind to other events for 10 times longer, or events like a flickering chain of lights could be spaced out 10 times longer and still be read as one continuous action.
  5. Aug 31, 2010 #4
    Ask someone with a demyelinating disease, because that's precisely what's happening to them.
  6. Aug 31, 2010 #5


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    But wouldn't you say demyelination affects conduction rates rather than spiking rates? And so the cognitive changes seen in such diseases are ones of general integration and deterioration, such as psychosis, affect and dementia.

    However it is good to point out that just changing spike rate by an order of magnitude would be only part of the task. Conduction speeds would also have to be adjusted as part of the package. And they may even be more critical to actually achieving change.
  7. Aug 31, 2010 #6
    Yep, it's damned complex. I admit I didn't really consider spike vs. conduction, but you're right.
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