Early morning musings on mind, brain, time and coffee

Early morning thoughts stream slowly and meander leisurely through the mind without much of discipline. Yesterday I fixed a new mirror in the bathroom. The old mirror is still laying next to it. Seeing them both, I remember the adventures with “mirror-books” that Fynn describes with so much love in Mr. God, this is Anna. With some apprehension I hold the old mirror in front of the new one. Such tricks rarely work for me, but the effect is immediate. An infinite series of mirrors inside mirrors pops up. And it is true: the mirrors appear so quickly that it is hard to resist the impression that they have actually always been there, that I just peep into a pre-existing reality. Anna is right, there is something magical about this.

Several old thoughts get triggered. “How quick must something happen to give the impression of simultaneity?” And from there, “What does it mean that there is a difference in the length of ‘now’ in vision and hearing?” I have never heard anybody else bother about this, but I find it intriguing. Children learn in school that the length of time the eye needs to discern a difference is  somewhere between a thirtieth and a sixtieth of a second. Movies and TVs are based on this, but I don’t remember ever having learnt anything about the length of “now” in terms of sound. Musicians and sound-engineers must have studied it, but I haven’t stumbled on any writing about it. I’ve noticed that my own auditory “now” seems to last about a second and a half. Beyond that stretch of time, my sound perception tapers off gradually into the past as well as into the future. It is as if I watch a river: water flows into my field of vision from one side and flows out from the other. I see sharp only what is in the middle. Is the length of the auditory “now” a biological constant or is it something that can be trained to expand? Do musicians hear a whole concerto “in one go”, as one piece? Or do they move, like me, through the music as if they were looking at a parade through a vaguely bordered slit or window? However precisely I may know how the parade looks as a whole, I still can see only a few marchers at a time. Does everyone hear in the same manner? Or can the borders between knowing and perceiving shift? Or blur?

The thoughts withdraw, there is silence again. I make some coffee and watch a bit of milk fall into the cup. While I see it falling, there is another fleeting thought: “Should I add a bit of sugar?” I see my mind’s eye move to the sugar pot and back within the tiny bit of time it takes the milk to fall a centimeter or two. Now another train of thoughts follows.

“How long does a ‘fleeting thought’ actually take? The image came and went while the milk fell at most 2 cm, judging from the size of the cup. From physics class I remember that free-falling objects speed up during their fall, so I should take into account that the milk must have been falling already for another 20 cm or so. With some embarrassment I realise I’ve hopelessly forgotten how to calculate how long falling those 2 cm should take, but it must have been a small fraction of a second. (A bit later the formula comes back, it and I guestimate it should have taken something of the order of 10ms). The time it takes for a signal to pass from one brain cell to another through a chemical synapse is similar, about 2 ms. I wonder whether this observation is sufficient to conclude that thoughts and consciousness must take place within single cells. Probably not. I should try to find out whether it is possible for loads of slow working cells to produce together complex results in a short timespan.

“The image of adding sugar and the words in which that suggestion was clad were vague. Could it be that such thoughts arise simultaneously in a number of individual cells and that a thought becomes more precise, detailed and solid as and when more cells get involved? Could this offer a hint on the process through which intuitions and ideas from more subtle vital and mental planes enter the physical brain? Could it explain why some scholars think consciousness goes together with certain frequencies of coordinated brain activity? In the field of “Consciousness Studies” people tend to look at consciousness as the ability of the organism as a whole to react to stimuli, and that type of consciousness might indeed need the whole brain to work in unison.

“And all this, while consciousness in the Indian understanding can exist without any brain at all….”

The whole train of thought lasts hardly a few sips of coffee. It takes almost two hours to write it all out. Was it worth it?

2 thoughts on “Early morning musings on mind, brain, time and coffee

  1. I just came across this – didn’t realize these older posts were here. What a lovely stream-of-consciousness/musing!

    Speaking of “musing”, as a musician, i found your comments on the “now’ of music fascinating. There are so many different kinds of “times” for a musician – and different, I’ve found, for a performer vs composer.

    I recall a lesson with Joseph Prostakoff where I had just played the first note of a Bach prelude and he called out “STOP!”. Somewhat taken aback – had I done so badly already, on the first note? – he said he could see I was not aware of the silence before the notes started.

    That silence seems to be always “now'” but not the passing now but rather the timeless now. And the more that silence emerges (or we/I allow it to emerge) the more fluid and effortless the playing.

    When composing – there is quite often an inchoate sense, the vaguest intimation of “something” waiting to emerge. The finding of the notes seems to be only a making conscious of what was already present, whole, One. And there’s even a devilish playfulness about it. You’re going along, putting in this note, that chord, and suddenly you get this clear indication – “no you fool, that note doesn’t belong there at all. please listen more carefully so you can get the right notes.” And then you step back into that silence, the note gets clear and you say to yourself, “of course, that is so obviously the right note, how could i not have seen it?”

    And time seems to wind back on itself in the process of composing (or decomposing). You seem to have heard something before but you’re not sure, then later you come up with some new sounds and you realize it was there ‘before” but at this point you’re not even sure what “before” means.

    And there’s yet another whole experience of time when you’r listening, vs performing or composing.

    And yet another consideration – when listening (or attempting to play or compose) different kinds of music, the time sense is dramatically different. Time is different when you’re playing Scarlatti vs Chopin vs Gershwin vs Eastern European folk music vs a raga vs Afro-Cuban vs improvising free style for a dance performance.

    Maybe there are infinite times as well as an Infinity of no-time!

  2. I guess writing this was worth it, … ideas jump from cells of one brain to cells of another brain more easily. Reading and replying to a mail we never got, dont happen every day 🙂

    Though underlying your question is a never resolved dillema, if developing the ability to walk on the water is better, or if boats and bridges should be means of transportation for larger humanity.
    Knowledge from within is great, but I often use internet to help in the process. Waste a lot of time, but also learn a bit of it. Not yet learned to completely depend on my own means … guess! Your blogpost was helpful, see 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.