As I woke up this morning, I experienced consciousness. It was my brain signaling to me that I was awake and ready to interact with the world. Much like the movies, this is experienced as a steady stream. So much so that American psychologist James William likened it so calling it a “stream of consciousness.” A never ending chain of events from one moment to the other. While the nature of what I was experiencing changed, sometimes rapidly, sometimes not so much, the continuous flow never wavered once from its momentum. Buddhism talks about something similar by saying the mind never stops, it is like the river, there is no hour, no moment when the river stops.
But what if I were to tell you that your consciousness is not a stream at all. In fact they are discrete events. Scientists theorize that each discrete event can be broken into 0.4 seconds. To milk my analogy of the movies, what you see is made up of discrete frames. It is just when you are experiencing it that the intervals are too brief for you to tell. You therefore imagine it to be continuous.
Why this is particularly interesting to scientists and researchers is this. If your experience of consciousness is indeed discrete and can be broken up into parts, can they then be rearranged? This is to say, can you take your experience from 4.31 am, and place it before that from 4.29 am? This is something that you routinely do in a movie. If you do not like the sequence of Brad Pitt beating up the bad guys, you simply re-arrange it. Heck, there are movies that even go backwards. So why can’t you do the same with reality? Ah because time is continuous you say? Really? Isn’t time just a figment of your own consciousness and therefore by definition discrete?