Experiencing the present via memory

Experiencing the present via memory

From Recursion, Blake Crouch

By Luciana Rosa, Aug. 2020

“But in actuality, [memory] it’s the filter between us and reality. You think you’re tasting this wine, hearing the words I’m saying, in the present, but there’s no such thing. The neural impulses from your taste buds and your ears get transmitted to your brain, which processes them and dumps them into working memory—so by the time you know you’re experiencing something, it’s already in the past. Already a memory.”

Our minds perceives the past, present and future. Meaning, our mind constructs and interprets the past, present and future to create our reality.

Every time we experience something, our mind collects bits of information from our five senses and our past experiences and processes them to create a narrative. So what we recall from the experience is actually our brain's narrative.

Isn't it fascinating? When we experience the present, we recollect it from our memory, so in fact we are experiencing the past. A very recent past, a lag of 80 milliseconds to be exact.

Our brain couples stimuli together. For example, if you touch your toe and your nose at the same time you will have the experience of touching it at the same time, even though the brain receives the signal from the nose first. It also gaps missing information, such as eyeblinks. And I won't even get started with the perception of colors, suffice to say that there is a lot of adjustment in that area as well.

But our brain is imperfect. For example, it pays more attention to novelty than to repetition, since there are more details to process and store. A boring event might seem to last for a long time and an exciting event might seen to go by in a flash, but when we retell it, it is the opposite: we have little to retell about the boring event but a lot about the exciting one, as though in our memory it stretched in time.

After learning all this, I will consider more the effect of our imperfect perception on our experiences.

“Consciousness is a result of environment. Our cognitions - our idea of reality - are shaped by what we can perceive, by the limitations of our senses.”

Blake Crouch, Recursion