To be precise, our conscious selves live 80 milliseconds in the past.
"What you think you're seeing at any given moment is actually influenced by the future," said David Eagleman, lead author of a study in the current issue of Science. "This doesn't mean the brain is clairvoyant, however."
He compared the timing of conscious perception to the broadcasting of a live television show, "which is actually not live. The show is delayed by about three seconds, so it can be edited if something happens. The brain does the same thing."
Using a visual illusion known as the flash-lag phenomenon, Eagleman and Salk Professor Terrence Sejnowski showed that the human brain appears to construct conscious awareness in an after-the-fact fashion, which they term postdiction. Their findings counter a leading hypothesis that visual awareness is predictive, extrapolating ahead of perceived events.
"In fact," said Sejnowski," it looks like the conscious mind is just catching up on past information."
And, I like the TV analogy. The idea behind that, the idea of "editing," also correlates with Libet-class experiments, conducted years after Benjamin Libet's original They show a delay, albeit longer yet, to "censor" action that's not consciously willed.
Scientific American had more on this here.
And, that's only the tip of the iceberg that David Eagleman has brought to the field. Eagleman, as show in this New Yorker profile, is a very interesting person. His new idea of a middle ground between theism and atheism doesn't totally jazz me up, but, I'd not reject it entirely, and certainly not with the vitriol that the likes of a Sam Harris does. (Nuff said there.)
I do think Eagleman needs to lose his wide-eyed optimism over Obama's BRAIN project, and along with it, his optimism about how well neuroscience will spill some secrets. As I've said before, I think it's still in the Early Bronze Age, and will be for some time; I'm sure Eagleman would disagree.
In turn, all of this corresponds to another idea of mine.