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See Inside October 2005

The Movie in Your Head

Is consciousness a seamless experience or a string of fleeting images, like frames of a movie? The emerging answer will determine whether the way we perceive the world is illusory
brain movie



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The brain is an amazingly dynamic organ. Millions of neurons in all corners of our gray matter send out an endless stream of signals. Many of the neurons appear to fire spontaneously, without any recognizable triggers. With the help of techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG) and microelectrode recordings, brain researchers are listening in on the polyphonic concert in our heads. Any mental activity is accompanied by a ceaseless crescendo and diminuendo of background processing. The underlying principle behind this seeming racket is not understood. Nevertheless, as everyone knows, the chaos creates our own unique, continuous stream of consciousness.

And yet it is very difficult to focus our attention on a single object for any extended period. Our awareness jumps constantly from one input to another. No sooner have I written this sentence than my eyes move from the computer screen to the trees outside my window. I can hear a dog barking in the distance. Then I remember the deadline for this article--which isnt going to be extended again. Resolutely, I force myself to type the next line.

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