We're aware of a delay in perceptions due the the brains processing speed, but if thoughts and actions are a subconscious process and our conscious mind only becomes aware of the thoughts, the same way it becomes aware of perceptions, is it possible that what we perceive is actually a much more delayed perception of reality? As in, more than ten seconds?

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    If your perception were delayed ten seconds, you reaction time would also be delayed by at least that much. Imagine how that would affect your driving.
    – user3017
    Dec 2 '17 at 12:54
  • @PédeLeão you're assuming reactions are a conscious process. I'm asking, what if they're not? Dec 2 '17 at 12:57
  • It sounds like you're talking about epiphenomenalism, and, no, I don't subscribe to that idea. As William DeVries wrote: "Epiphenomenalism fragments a person into a causally active part (that is not as such an experiencer) and an experience that is causally inert. [...] It both asserts the existence of experience and denies experience the most essential hallmark of existence." Maybe someone else can give you a more complete answer concerning this question.
    – user3017
    Dec 2 '17 at 13:29
  • @PédeLeão that's illogical. How can perceiving anything imply non existence? But that's another debate and has nothing to do with my question. If you can prove that Epiphenomenalism is untrue, that would answer my question. Believing it's false only disqualifies you from answering. But thanks for your input. I'm sure many share your beliefs. Dec 2 '17 at 13:36
  • Good point. In my haste, I omitted an important part of the quotation, namely, that power is essential to existence, so he's saying that epiphenomenalism denies power to experience and, thus, the very thing that is essential to its existence. And I realize that doesn't serve as a conclusive proof.
    – user3017
    Dec 2 '17 at 13:46

If perception is delayed, as it must be, because cause is before effect, it is still important to synchonise the two so that it feels immediate; so in a hypothetical situation where perception is delayed by a significant fraction of time means the psychological impression of time would be very different and that might point to a psychological now that is structured in a very different way to the way we experience a now.

  • Yes, it's obvious that if perception is delayed, now wouldn't be now. We've already established the fact that now is indeed, not now due to delays resulting from the processing of visual images. Is there any evidence which suggests that the subconscious reacts to perceived information, before the conscious becomes aware of the situation? Dec 3 '17 at 14:58
  • @zane Scheepers: if you want to chat, there's this Dec 3 '17 at 15:01
  • I'm clicking on it and it's not doing anything. Dec 3 '17 at 15:04
  • @Zane Cheepers: I've just tried it - and it leads me into The Symposium which is the general chat forum for philosophy; so I'm not sure why its not working for you. Try using the actual menu - if you look at the top menu bar, choose the right most icon; this looks like a quotation bubble with stripy lines running through it; this should open up a new menu, and the choices are [philosophy/help/chat/logout]; choose chat, and the choose the Symposium. If this doesn't work I'm not sure what else you can do except flag it up on meta. Dec 3 '17 at 15:16

If we want to discuss unusual possibilities like highly delayed perception, then we probably need to make sure we all agree on what the terms mean. I would define a "delayed perception" to mean at least that our perceived world is highly correlated with our environment's state was at some time in the past (a delay period). We can define perception to mean something more if we like, but this seems like a reasonable minimum to work from.

The most natural place to disprove this claim would be in our ability to perceive responses to our own actions. If we choose to do something, such as fire a gun, we can then time our perception of the reactions of others to this gunfire. If it appears to us that the delay between us firing the gun and us perceiving a person reacting to it is short, then we must assume either:

  • Our perception delay time is short (shorter than the time between our choice and the perceived response)
  • We are highly predictable, and indeed all others responding to our action predicted it and acted in response to our choice before our choice. This includes the actions of the gun firing, which must technically go off 10+ seconds before we chose to fire it. The gun literally has to outsmart you and act on its own accord for this possibility to even make sense.

Obviously the former is recognized as a more likely reality.

There are several caveats to this, however, that are interesting. The first is that there are cases where our perception is delayed many seconds for physical reasons. For example, if an event happens far away, and our perception of it arrives to us via sound, it takes time for the acoustic propagation. If our perception arrives to us by light, it takes less time. In fact, this can lead to peculiarly dissonant situations:

XKCD #723

Presumably you were not thinking of these situations, and want to limit the scope of your question to the time delay between when the glimmers of an event reach the surface of our body to the point where we perceive it. But it was an interesting reality worth noting.

Another real life case is someone who is so caught up by a sudden event that they appear to disconnect, and then suddenly link everything up. We've experienced this when we're driving home from a bad interview and suddenly it hits us: "I should have answered the 3rd question this way rather than that way." In such a case, you could argue that our bodies acquired all the information about the interview minutes or even hours ago, but we didn't really perceive what happened until the last minute.

This and other extreme situations suggest that there are cases where there is a meaningfully delayed perception. However, in the majority of life experiences, the evidence suggests that we do not have a delayed perception measured on the order of seconds.

  • You're assuming we have choice. I'm suggesting a completely autonomous body and a completely unresponsive perception. Feb 3 '18 at 10:33
  • @ZaneScheepers Then can you define what it means to perceive? If we're tossing out concepts that are typically assumed, such as choice, then we have to be very careful with the remaining terms, and define them precisely. In fact, "reality" is a word that might need to be questioned. If our experiences were played back to us from a tape, then is the "reality" that we are perceiving really worthy of being considered as a reality at all? Or do we have to focus on something bigger?
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 3 '18 at 18:41
  • The reality we perceive is always subjective. The only thing I'm asking is, "How sure are we that ten seconds is impossible?". Feb 3 '18 at 18:53
  • Then the answer I provide is "at least as as sure as we are of our own freewill." If we have free will, my argument holds. If we lack free will, then other arguments may hold.
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 3 '18 at 18:55
  • Is what you describe materially different from the 10ms delay of our sensory neurons in our feet relaying a stimulus to our brain?
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 3 '18 at 18:55

Your question as asked can be answered by experiment. Suffice it to say, your reaction times is going to vary whether you are talking about reflexes or cognitive processing like finding a synonym. Reflexes are measured in tiny ms (think of how fast you can pull your finger away from a hot stove), and in cognitive processing, the sky is the limit. I still have no answers questions that I have been asked.

But as far as our general conscious state's reaction time, the chapter called Time and Experiencee in Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett the numbers cited are in the ballpark of 50 to 500ms. Those are miliseconds. There doesn't seem to be any data in the book to suggest that it takes us 10s to become aware of anything in reality, and think about the evolutionary causes for this. Any animal that finds it takes 10s to deal with "reality" is quickly going to become prey to a predator. Faster is better on the plains of the Serengeti!


Perception would have different levels of processing delays, regarding consciousness and the type of perception process.

In order to perceive skin damage (as pain), and even to raise a causal reaction to it, you just need a fraction of a second. But that's a subconscious perception and reaction. Not only instincts define quick subconscious reactions to perception. When you drive a car, you learn to apply the brakes as fast as possible when you detect a risk. This is a learned mechanism.

Other mental processes involve slower perception. How long did it took you to understand this message? Probably more than 10 seconds. Some interaction learning processes involve longer times: how long will it take to learn how to use photoshop? Such process involves also some particular types of perception, e.g. the perception of the status of the application by means of the graphical user interface.

  • Our body can react to detecting pain without us consciously feeling pain. Touch a hot stove and your jerk reaction is instantaneous, before your conscious detects any pain. During traumatic experiences we only feel pain minutes after an event, when adrenalin wears off. Drunks seem to feel no pain while drunk. This seems to indicate that detection and perception are seperate phenomena. As for applying brakes and any other bodily controlled function like walking, chewing food using photoshop, it's about muscle memory. Watch this clip. youtu.be/KUV_OleoGr8 Dec 5 '17 at 8:19
  • Precisely what was stated, don't understand the point of the comment.
    – RodolfoAP
    Dec 5 '17 at 10:49

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