October 26, 2006

Does the brain tap into the future?

[I’m writing this article at the risk of venturing awfully close to the world of parapsychology. I've included several links and references, which you, fine readers, can assess for yourselves in terms of determining legitimacy. Comments and criticisms are always welcomed.]

While researching my protopanpsychism article, I came across the work of Dean Radin and Dick Bierman whose research has yielded some very eerie results.

Before I get to this, however, I’d like you to conduct a short experiment. While looking at your feet, stomp on the ground. You will notice that your visual perception of your foot hitting the floor matches your sensation of touching it. This would be fine except for one thing: the speed of light is vastly faster than the conduction times and synaptic delays through the long nerves and spinal cord from your feet. As a result, you should be seeing the event before you feel it – and the delay should be noticeable.

But it’s not.

Benjamin Libet and his associates first documented this phenomenon in 1979, which is now referred to as the ‘delay-and-antedating hypothesis/paradox.’ A number of explanations have been posited to reconcile this strange observation.

Perhaps there is a lag in the visual information. If this is the case, then the visual cortex is set for a time delay such that it can keep up with the slow pulses from the extremities. This would be a rather bizarre revelation if true, meaning that we are constantly viewing the world with a small degree of latency. This is almost certainly not the case, as Darwinian selection would favour those animals that do not experience any kind of visual delay. Living in the past would be grossly disadvantageous out in the wild.

Another possible solution is that sight and feel are experienced at separate times, but are remembered as happening simultaneously. Problems with this hypothesis are similar to the previous one – a suggestion that we are not meaningfully rooted in the present and that our brain “edits” reality for us.

A third solution, one that seems ludicrous at first glance, is that the slow sensory information is referred backwards in time from the near future to match the fast information.

Impossible, right?

Well, that’s where the work of Radin and Bierman come in. They have performed experiments in which it appears that the brain is reacting to stimuli before it is experienced. Radin and Bierman have conducted experiments in which subjects viewed random images flashing on a computer screen. Some of the images were rather neutral while others were meant to invoke a highly emotional response. The researchers discovered that the subjects responded strongly to the emotional images compared to the neutral ones, and that the response occurred between a fraction of a second to several seconds before the images appeared.

Bierman recently repeated these experiments using an fMRI brain scanner and documented emotional responses in brain activity up to 4 seconds before the stimuli. Other laboratories have made similar findings.

Assuming the data is being recorded and interpreted correctly, what's going on here? How is it possible that information can run backwards in time? Roger Penrose believes that quantum effects in the brain could explain backwards referral. He suggests that such effects may occur commonly and even routinely. “If in some manifestation of consciousness,” says Penrose, “classical reasoning about the temporal ordering of events leads us to a contradictory conclusion, then this is strong indication that quantum actions are indeed at work!" Neuroscientist Fred Alan Wolf has come to a similar conclusion and has offered his ‘Two-Time Observable Transactional Interpretation Model’ (TTOTIM) of consciousness.

Stuart Hameroff notes that quantum information can indeed run backwards, or be time indeterminate, citing the Aharonov formulation which suggests that each quantum state reduction has a dual vector, both forward and backwards in time.

What does this all mean? As Wolf notes, “we need to look toward altering our concept of time in some manner, not that this is an easy thing to do. Perhaps we should begin with the idea that a single event in time is really as meaningless as a single event in space or a single velocity. Meaningful relation arises as a correspondence, a relationship with some reference object.”

In addition, this not also adds further credence to the quantum consciousness hypothesis, but to panpsychist notions as well.


Fred Alan Wolf: "A Quantum Physics Model of the Timing of Conscious Experience"
Stuart Hameroff: "Time Flies (Backwards?)"


  1. Anonymous1:20 AM

    Daniel Dennett talks at length about the hypothesis that we remember stimuli as being simultaneous even if they're not in Consciousness Explained. I don't see the the problem with the idea that the brain does heavy editing on short-term memories, since the very fact that we can make some sense of our perceptions seems to rely on the brain doing massive preprocessing of the raw sensory data.

    Also, this hypothesis seems to have evolutionary plausibility. Compensating for nerve latency for high-level cognition might help with learning limb-eye coordination, while such a system doesn't preclude quick instinctive actions, which can be performed without any conscious cognition.

  2. Anonymous5:03 AM

    Glad that you brought this up - hasn't been 'on my mind' for a while! I came across similar research to the mind-consciousness delay in work published in the 80s by Robert Ornstein (also president/founder of the 'Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge' - ISHK) in such books as 'The Psychology of Consciousness' - also recommend 'New World, New Mind'.

    Much has been done on the 'quantum' - or rather 'holographic' - qualities of the mind, which replicate much of Radin's work - this was first put forward by neurosurgeon Karl Pribram decades ago. Also see 'Holographic Universe' by Michael Talbot for correlations.

    I consider this work to stand alongside the physics of David Bohm and the biology of Rupert Sheldrake - as they all resonate with phenomena that basically has similar roots.


  3. Anonymous1:21 AM

    For some possibly relevant insight, see the Sept. 30--Oct.6, 2006 issue of New Scientist, ref. the cover article, "Time Twister--
    When the future affects the past" by Patrick Barry.

    Quote from article:

    "When we finally find the theory that unifies quantum mechanics and relativity, it will involve retrocasuality"

    Further reading: "The Goldilocks Enigma" by Paul Davies

  4. Anonymous12:40 PM

    i think it likely the responce to the images shown happening even before the image was viewed is subject to the mind of the one showing the image
    in relation to the mind about to see the image
    in other words
    the person showing the images knows what will come next and is broadcasting that image to the person about t o view the image before the image is seen

  5. Anonymous6:51 PM

    the mechanical workings of the brain/body react/sense then the conscious mind is informed/ made aware of whatever stimulus is there - that is the time lag being observed here

  6. Anonymous8:49 PM

    There most certainly is a difference in the time required for the event to be perceived via the two proposed senses. This difference is also certainly far too small to detect consciously regardless of one's temporal sensitivity. The perceived simultaneity of the arrival of these two signals at the doorstep of our curiousness by no means implies a measurable discrepancy in the local fabric of time. Just as the great artists of history have all learned the rules before they break them, the proponents of this idea should take it upon themselves to become fluent in the body of knowledge currently available before attempting to extend these concepts in logical support of their hypothesis. The formalisms and theoretical aspects in science (physics and mathematics in particular) must be fully understood in order to appreciate the pseudoscientific abuse of the terminology with has been involved in this discussion thus far.

  7. Anonymous9:16 PM

    Just a quick point for Igor and not really germain to the subject under discussion. A cinema film projector must flash twice per frame since the eye refresh rate is higher than 30fps.

  8. Anonymous3:55 PM

    ok ok i can't be bothered to read all the comments, but your version takes no account of the fact that there is not one SINGLE axon responsible for 'sensation'. Nerves have synapses at two junctions within the brain (at least) before reaching the cortex. Expectation (top down processing), or previous activation (eg whilst moving) would alter the threshold for forming action potentials at that level. It's a continuous dynamic process, and information is essentially flowing both ways.
    Nuff said. Maybe not the most exact scientific explanation, but the best i can do at this time of night.

  9. this guy is a fucking idiot....he didn't take into account that you also HEAR your foot stomp at the same time you see and feel it....does that mean that humans can HEAR the future too, cause we all know that sound travels slower than light.

    Perception is a bitch, the future is unwritten, and most humans are stupid controlled pieces of rotting flesh

  10. Anonymous2:59 AM

    Most studies show nerve impulses have verying speeds, but tactile nerves have a speed of about 100m/s. This means the time difference between seeing something and feeling it is about 17ms.

    That is an extremely short period of time. This is easily short enough for our brain to edit the different sensory information to make it all appear simultaneous, as many of the above posts pointed out.

    But yes it does imply that there is a certain latency in our cognition. This is not an extreme evolutionary disadvantage. Think how f-ing confusing the world would be if you could not link up sights, sounds and touch properly. You would not even be able to run without hurting yourself.

    This article is utter BS.

  11. Anonymous7:56 PM

    Jesus, mate, no wonder you started out so tentatively in this piece - you must've 'parapsychologically' foreseen the coming of the indisputable revelations of he who is known throughout all the Universe as simply IGOR THE ALL-KNOWING.

    Some of us did get the business about the foot and the speed of light; the mistake you made was to illustrate your point that normal everyday events are not so straightforward as they initially seem with something on a scale sufficiently subtle to allow Igor the Rottweiler off his leash long enough to get off your real point - the strange implications of Radin and Bierman's research.

    Ultimately, though, you must've succeeded in sufficiently hitting your target to scare the living crap out of Igor and co., given all their howls of outrage, yet not so much as even an attempt at pretending to 'scientifically' or 'mathematically' explain away your real point.

    In fact, you were so successful, Igor and his boys ended up reminding me of nothing so much as a gaggle of prissy little schoolgirls running home squealing to their mommies because some nasty little boy went and waggled an icky chicken claw at them - for 'chicken claw' read real Science asking real questions.

    You see, what Igor forget is his job isn't to go around getting the hump because everyone else won't "fuck the evidence, logic and science" and believe what he wants to believe: his job is to lopsidely stoop and skulk about in the shadows, listening respectfully to anyone who is his scientific master before answering, "Yeth, mathter."

  12. Anonymous11:23 PM

    I am always amused at the larger number of nay-sayers who offer only logical assumptions without the slightest hint of careful empirical data :)

    For example, most any gradeschool student knows that the speed of sound is such that at the scale of eye-to-foot, it is practically instantaneous, whereas we know that cell-communications isn't like telecommunications, it is a bucket-brigade of capacitance charge/discharge relays. Every gamer knows the way to beat the game is to anticipate the game because raction time just isn't fast enough.

    But for an alternative interpretation of the prescience data, now that is a different thing and one alternative interpretation is the time-frames notion, that what we perceive as a moment in time is really a smeared region of asynchronous events coallated for consciousness, but from which the animal may extract useful (read: ecologically advantageous) information long before consciousness becomes aware. The work of Christov Koch and Francis Krick comes to mind.

    Now, if Radin is measuring mirror-cell activity directly with a resonance machine and still seeing a 4-second lead time on the naughty pictures, then that would be something entirely differe,t. Do you know if that is the case? (can you post a link to the actual paper?) I'd be curious to know what happens, subjectively, if they intend to show a hot picture, get the 4-second lead reaction, but have the presenting computer change to a dull photo instead ... would the subject show a feeling of "hey, what happened?" when reality did not meet the NCC expectation?

  13. Anonymous11:32 PM

    Some very harsh comments here from people who choose to ignore the forest for single trees that they don't like!

  14. Anonymous3:42 AM

    "Perhaps there is a lag in the visual information... This is almost certainly not the case"
    I'm afraid that you may have dismissed this too quickly. The Darwinian evolutionary model is a bit more complex than you let on. This is not an effective way to dismiss evidence. If humans have evolved blind areas in their range of vision then in your understanding of evolution this could 'almost certainly not be the case'. But we humans have evolved a blind spot that most of us remain blissfully unaware of. After reading some of the harsh comments directed at igor I humbly conclude that the blind spot has evolved in the intellect of some of the bullies that have posted here.
    To quote from a previous comment,
    "The formalisms and theoretical aspects in science (physics and mathematics in particular) must be fully understood in order to appreciate the pseudoscientific abuse of the terminology which^ has been involved in this discussion thus far."
    I'll end with a quote: "There is no such thing as magic and wishing doesn't make it so." Me paraphrasing James Randi.

  15. im not an expert, infact, physically, all i can do is bad SUVAT equations, but recently i have discovered quantum mechanics and have become fascinated by it.

    i just thought that i'd say that i have noticed that when i run as fast as i can, the sound of my feet hitting the ground dosen't match what i see and feel, perhaps then, my physical exertion is affecting my brains ability to perform this theorised ability to organise sound, sight and touch.
    Does this support the 'delay' theory?, is it possible that every living creature has evolved with this delay? This would be a reasonable explanation for not being eaten by a rock.:)

  16. Anonymous8:10 PM

    Neither the article nor the Explanations given make any sense....You Cannot find RIGHT Answers to a WRONG Question.

    Why is that we always hear the sound a bit later than we see the light for instance coming from either in a Fire-cracker or a that of GUN? Why cant the Brain tap in to the future there???? hahaha...seems retarded!

  17. Anonymous10:15 PM

    nov 18, 2007

    brain tap is not into the future...it is here and now...it is happening to some people and one of them is me...i am liza from the philippines and as far as i can remember i am into this brain tap last 2001 but got aware only last feb 7, 2005...i mean many filipinos are aware with my situation...like the people from paranaque (BERT DELEMOS, BYRON DELEMOS, ANNA BLANCA, SALVE BLANCA, YNNA BLANCA, PAOLO, BOB, STEVE, BAMBI AND THE PEEPS FROM SOUTH GREEN PARK VILLAGE FROM PARANAQUE)...IT IS A REMOTE BRAIN TAP VIA SATELLITE...THE PUBLIC ARE FOOLED BY THE GOSSIPS...BUT WHERE THE GOSSIP CAME FROM OR WHERE IT STARTED OR HOW IT STARTED ARE NOT DISCUSSED IN PUBLIC...IS IT CLASSIFIED OR CONFIDENTIAL WHERE AND HOW THE GOSSIPS STARTED...



  18. Anonymous9:25 AM

    I think most of the posters have missed the interesting part of the article: the reference to a study showing a response to a stimulus BEFORE it occurs. (I do think that the beginning example of your brain syncing incoming stimuli is not exactly what the Beirman and Radin study are about) Do what you should have learned in Junior High and look behind the article into the research behind it THEN comment on it. I googled 'bierman and radin' and quickly found this link http://members.aol.com/NeoNoetics/Anomalous.html

    Read that and see if you think the brain has a little bit of precognition ability.let's start a 'square one' to see if the precognition is real , then worry about how it happens

  19. Anonymous7:38 AM

    Basically this says something very fundamental to our appreciation of ourselves.
    It would be useful to note that our conception of time has been largely unchanged since the middle ages... ie... the means of deciding how much of it has passed remains the product of the mind that first cut notches in candles...
    If this is a fundamentally flawed approach to time, then not only does our perception of time require a further examination, but every single scientific observation and deduction, including Einstein's, could be based on a completely false premise.

  20. Anonymous3:15 PM

    What if you were blind? The speed of light would have nothing to do with you if you were born blind, and yet, your brain would still be able to tell you what you feel.

  21. Anonymous9:59 PM

    I am not an expert on this subject, so please correct me if my understanding is wrong:

    Light travels at approximately 299,792,458 m/s in a vacuum. It travels slightly slower through air. Sound waves travel at 349.2m\s through air at 30 degrees Celsius. If you divide 299,792,458 by 349.2, you get approximately 858,512. Thus, light travels approximately 858,512 times faster that sound waves. This is most evident during thunderstorms; we see lightning before we hear the thunder. Most of the time, however, we percieve light and sound as occurring simultaneously, or very close to it.

    How is this relevant to the topic? It raises the question "How fast does the brain process information?" Another question: How fast is too fast for our brains to percieve two events as occurring simultaneously?

    Also, you must remember that it takes time for light to travel to our eyes, for our eyes to send signals to our brains, and for our brains to make sense out of the information. It also takes time for the nerves in any part of our bodies (e.g. a foot) to send impulses to our brains and for our brains to process the signal, resulting in the sensation of touch. If the brain recieves the information from our eyes at the same time as the signal from the nerves in another body part, we would interpret the events as happening at the same time.

    Again, this all depends on the speed at which our brains process information recieved from nerves and how quickly those nerves relay that information to our brains.

    Of course, I could have a completely incorrect understanding of the topic, and if I do, please let me know. I'm no expert on this or anything; I'm just a high school freshman with way too much time on her hands and an interest in physics.

    And a totally irrelevant, yet completely relevant (isn't that an oxymoron?) statement: I believe that the best questions are those answered by questions.

  22. C'mon George, man up and just post the article without adding the wishy-washy caveat at the start. What, do the reality-police have your balls in a vice?

    Speculation is not only fun, it's healthy.

  23. Another exercise for the reader:
    Ask a friend to stomp their foot next to you (or even across the street etc.) and observe this happening.

    You will see and hear the stomp happening simultaneously. But it is obvious that the sound has taken longer to arrive in your sensory organs than the light. What's happening? Is your brain perhaps seeing the future?

    Now, increase the distance between you and your stomping friend. From the other side of a football field you will already start to notice the difference between arrival times of those two signals. How come your brain doesn't do the "prescience" thingy anymore?

    By altering your distance to the phenomenon being observed, you will be able to find the maximum distance within which your brain still considers the two stimuli as simultaneous, even though they are not in sync. You will soon find that the maximum "lag" is in the ballpark of a fraction of a second and the max distance is around, I dunno, 50 m (~50 yards).

    This is a similar phenomena to stomping your own foot, as in both cases there are two "competing" signals arriving to your brain and waiting to be combined into a meaningful perception. The difference being that speed of nerve impulses is ~100 m/s, i.e. roughly 1/3 of speed of sound. This means that you should probably divide the max distance in previous experiment by 3. It's still a heck of a lot more than the distance between your foot to brain.

    As noted in another comment, there is no ecological disadvantage in having your brain "edit out" this minor lag - on the contrary it helps develop your sensomotoric coordination. And in any case the same handicap (if you insist on it being a negative trait) would most likely apply for our predators too, as the human nervous system is not that different from other mammals or even more remote species (you do remember that we can study neurological phenomena with banana flies as well?).

    Ad hominem attacks and colorful rhetorics against Igor are not going to make his arguments untrue, you know? The research on quantum causality may yield interesting results one day, but it doesn't make this "magic" explanation any better.


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