One could ask if the above question is valid – since Cartesian times we “know” that the mind is different from the body as the latter is spatial and extensive, whereas the mind does not have these characteristics, therefore is beyond space. Unfortunately, this notion is present not only in everyday thinking but also in science. It is high time to question it, as in the light of Albert Einstein’s theory (formulated over 100 years ago) about the fusion of time and space into a four dimensional spacetime, the further application of the Cartesian criterion for distinguishing the mind and the body would lead to the conclusion that the mind is located not only beyond space but also beyond time. However, even though it is quite easy to imagine the mind beyond space, it is difficult (if not impossible) to imagine the mind beyond time. What is more, we posses quite a lot of empirical data on the time of the mind.
The time of the mind: what do we know?
1) Some time must pass before a certain stimulus can reach our consciousness (Koch, 2008; Poppel, 1989). This time is different for different senses and depends on:
- so called asynchronous threshold, that is the time that is needed to recognise two stimuli as two stimuli, not one stimulus. This threshold is the shortest for the sense of hearing (a few milliseconds) and it is much longer for the sight – about 20-30 milliseconds.
- so called order discrimination threshold, that is the time that our consciousness needs to register not only the fact, that two stimuli occurred but also identify the order of their occurrence. The threshold is about 30-40 millisecond (for auditory, as well as visual and tactile stimuli) .
2) The famous research of Benjamin Libet (1985) showed that the activation of the adequate area of the cortex appeared 200 ms earlier than the conscious decision to move one’s finger. Right now similar research is conducted by using the magnetic resonance, which enables a significantly faster scanning of the brain. It shows that the activation of the prefrontal cortex can appear even 10 seconds before the conscious decision about which hand to use to perform a task (Haynes et al., 2007; Soon et al., 2008).
The relation between the time of brain events and the time of consciousness events
The above research indicates that:
- the time of consciousness events does not coincide with the time of brain events
- these times are not parallel either as they are not separated by a fixed interval.
A question arises: what is the relation between them? The answer to this question is depicted on the graph below. As indicated, a nerve impulse moving in the brain time from the past to the future, in the consciousness time can move in the other direction, that is from the future to the past (!).
The fact that a nerve impulse can move in the opposite time direction in consciousness:
- explains how consciousness controls the brain
- suggests that consciousness can be built from antiparticles as they move in the opposite time direction
- suggests that consciousness, and therefore the mind, can have not only its own time but also space, and, as a result, its own spacetime.
Haynes, J-D., Sakai, K., Rees, G., Gilbert, S., Frith, Ch. & Passingham, R.E. (2007). Reading hidden intentions in the human brain Current Biology, 17, 323-328.
Koch Ch. (2008). Neurobiologia na tropie świadomości (tłum. G. Hess). Warszawa: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego.
Libet, B. (1985). Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 8 (4), pp. 529-566.
Poppel E. (1989). Granice świadomości. O rzeczywistości i doznawaniu świata (tłum. A.D. Tauszyńska). Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy.
Soon, Ch. S., Brass, M., Heinze, H.J. & Haynes, J-D. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in human brain. Nature. Neuroscience, 11 (5), 543-545.