Our brains take time to update unless we are shown the update

A clever experiment has shown how our brains ignore change or incorporate it into our perceptions only slowly through a “continuity field,” as described below:

Like our social media feeds, our brains are constantly uploading rich, visual stimuli. But instead of seeing the latest image in real time, we actually see earlier versions because our brain’s refresh time is about 15 seconds, according to new UC Berkeley research.

The findings, appearing today, Jan. 12, in the journal Science Advances, add to a growing body of research about the mechanism behind the “continuity field,” a function of perception in which our brain merges what we see on a constant basis to give us a sense of visual stability.

“If our brains were always updating in real time, the world would be a jittery place with constant fluctuations in shadow, light and movement, and we’d feel like we were hallucinating all the time,” said study senior author David Whitney, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology, neuroscience and vision science.


The study itself—Illusion of visual stability through active perceptual serial dependence—focus more on the illusion of visual stability:

Despite a noisy and ever-changing visual world, our perceptual experience seems remarkably stable over time. How does our visual system achieve this apparent stability? Here, we introduce a previously unknown visual illusion that shows direct evidence for an online mechanism continuously smoothing our percepts over time. As a result, a continuously seen physically changing object can be misperceived as unchanging.

If you watch the videos in the first link above, you can notice two things: 1) the slowness and blurriness of our perceptual change as we watch the video, and 2) that we can and do accept that change the moment it is shown to us in comparative stills.

I believe it is fair for me to extrapolate from this that our psychologies or, more precisely, our psychological memories do something similar on both points. Though the medium of memory is vastly less crisp than that of visual perception in real-time, a fruitful comparison can be made.

Many old movies are based on the two points mentioned above. The protagonist thinks someone is either bad or good and acts accordingly and then at the climax is shown indisputable proof that the opposite has been true all along. This plot is very common in movies predating WW2 but is still an undercurrent in many movies since then.

Humans like this plot and resolution because it mirrors real life in an ideal way. If only we could resolve similar problems in our own lives so quickly and easily!

This can be done in FIML practice. In fact this is the goal of FIML practice—to update our psychologies or psychological memories (almost the same thing) quickly and in real-time. In FIML practice “real-time” means analysis should begin quickly while the initiating percept is remembered by both partners. Rather than allowing us to proceed with our normal “continuously smoothing our percepts over time,” FIML stops us and forces the update immediately.

I was intrigued to see that the authors of the study notice the time-span of 15 seconds:

We find that online object appearance is captured by past visual experience up to 15 seconds ago. 

This is roughly the “speed” of our working memories. FIML works most of all with the working memory because when we correct a mistake in our working memory or upgrade the data of our working memory while it is still present, we are able to make large changes in our psychologies almost effortlessly. FIML leverages the working memory to make large changes in our whole brain memories. It works well because changing your working memory to fit the obvious reality staring you in the face is easy.

In contrast changing whole brain memories and psychologies through rumination and recollection only entrenches them further and deeper.

While it is very easy to see how this happens visually as in the linked materials; and while it is also easy to see that many old movie plots exploit this feature of our consciousness, it can be hard to see how to do this in real time with our complex psychologies as they are functioning in real-life.

FIML completely solves this problem and yet is still hard for many to see how and why.

The why is psychologically analogous to correcting the illusions produced by our brains “continuously smoothing our percepts over time.” This “continuously smoothing over time” causes most of our psychological problems, often making our lives dingy self-fulfilling prophesies or uninterrupted narcissistic fantasies.

The how is done by pausing real-life in real-time so you can compare your own mind’s percept with your partner’s percept of the same thing and make corrections as warranted. Easy-peasy, right? Actually it is once you see the point.

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