Build observation skills – Supercharge your imagination
It’s a phenomenon that’s got a hold of my attention throughout this last couple of years and has had me questioning it. What really is the extent of our ability to actually experience this ‘living in the moment’ thing.
‘Live in the moment.’ That phrase is something that’s spruiked all over the healthy living, martial arts and sports domains online and offline and has for a long time. I actually think it’s great and the closer we can get to experiencing that, the better we’ll be for it. However, I’ve recently learned about something that totally gets in the way of this ideal. You see, our conscious minds can never actually experience the present moment. Not at all. Not even a little bit.
Why is this? Well, I’ve done a fair bit of research into this concept and I believe I’ve found some answers that might explain this strange phenomenon quite nicely.
Things that we experience while being fully aware of them happening around us.
Eg: Watching an eagle soaring overhead.
Conscious experience is the result of our unconscious experience being heavily filtered and only allowing a very small fraction of reality to enter our conscious minds. This filtering takes a little bit of time and as a result is experienced after the moment has actually passed.
Things that we experience while being totally unaware that they are happening around us.
Eg: Not noticing that ant crawling over your bare foot while you’re watching an eagle soaring overhead.
Unconscious experience includes massive amounts of data pouring in and happens instantaneously; In the moment.
What Zimmerman was saying here is that from our eyesight alone, the average person can only be consciously aware of 0.00004% of actual information gathered from the eyes. Where’s the rest of the information go? Well, it’s not deleted straight away. It’s used as Exformation according to a researcher called Tor Nørretranders in his account of the nature of consciousness in 1998. Exformation is the stuff surrounding information that helps us to make sense of the information. It’s context. Now think about this for a minute. If the rest of the information is context then that means 99.9996% of the information we actually sense using our eyes is purely context.
These numbers are pretty extreme. I can only assume the research was done well, but even so, I’m finding it pretty hard to believe. However, even if only 20% of what we see is transferred to our conscious experience then still, 80% of what we see is pure context. That’s still a very large percentage. (Without having done the study myself, I think I’ll hover somewhere around the 95-99% mark. Not very scientific, I know but it’s well in the ballpark of that study.)
As for hearing, isn’t it interesting that we’re only wired to hear around 1% of the data of what we see. It’s no wonder our eyesight is our dominant sense.
So understanding that this extraordinary filtering takes place, and this happens with each one of our many senses, it’s not so surprising that the filtering process takes some time. In fact, it’s amazing that it takes so little time. Here’s an excerpt from Dylan William’s essay explaining the research that took place to discover this.
“In an experiment reported by Benjamin Libet in 1979 … participants were asked to flex a finger whenever they felt like doing so. In order to answer the question as to the sequence of events, it was necessary to get data on three events—when the increase in readiness potential began, when the conscious decision was made, and when the finger moved. The first and last of these were easy to obtain. In order to get reliable data on when the conscious decision was made, the participants were asked to look at a clock face with a single hand which made one revolution every 2.56 seconds. Asking the participants to note the position of the hand when they decided to flex the finger provided a reliable measure of when the decision was taken.
The results were highly consistent and showed that the increase in readiness potential began 0.55 seconds before the act, but much more surprisingly, the conscious decision occurred 0.2 seconds before the act. In other words, the conscious decision to act occurs 0.35 seconds after the body has started the mechanism to act!”
I wonder, though. If these experiments were done in different situations like, running away from a hungry tiger or after meditation or during martial arts practice, would the results have been different?
My instincts say it’s possible. My experience also says it’s possible. I have absolutely no science to back this thought but I can’t imagine that given all of the knowledge we have about brain plasticity, body reflexes, muscle memory, mindfulness, etc, that this consciousness delay would remain a fixed value. Consider the reflexes of a master samurai or table tennis player. They have way less that half a second to see, judge and then make decisions. Watch this video of a swordsman cutting a bullet in mid-air with his sword and listen to Dr Ramani’s response.
What kind of exercises can we do to decrease our conscious awareness gap, decrease our reaction times and bring us closer to living in the moment?
Matt Charnley, co-former of the Hoshiki Kiritsu mode of martial arts gives a great set of exercises to his students to prime their senses and decrease their reaction times using peripheral vision and hearing. I won’t set it all out here but check out his article at Blitzmag.net.
Many describe movement practices such as Yoga, Nia or other dance arts as transformative and helping one to have excellent body and consciousness awareness.
But the standout way of becoming closer to living in the moment is Meditation. Mindfulness means to empty your mind of all but what you’re currently experiencing through your senses meaning being more in touch with your unconscious mind. This does not need to be a spiritual practice in the traditional sense of the word and can be exercised at any point in the day.
At Observance Imaginate, I take that mindfulness practice one step further and while becoming more aware of all that I currently experience, I also take those senses and experiences and link them with my conscious mind, my memories, my logic, my imagination and my creativity. To get to this point of connection, though, I need to go through the process of mindfulness. This allows all of the conscious thoughts to happen more fluidly, more rapidly and more effectively.
It’s great. I love it. It’s also very energizing.
I’m about to head off to Karate tonight after a pretty substantial break and I’m thinking my reaction times are going to be somewhere around 1 – 2sec. Pretty slow. Maybe I could blame conscious awareness delay tonight, or perhaps I could try meditating and practicing some observing beforehand. Maybe then I won’t come home with another broken rib. Ha!
Other articles by Steve Nossiter