Amit Goswami in his The Self-Aware Universewrites about the half-second time lag between our conscious experience of something and our secondary awareness arising (verbal thought) with which comes "the arising of the ego-self/I-am-this" type of introspection. This meshes well with research revealing that our brain presents to our awareness only a tiny percentage of incoming stimuli.
Table 1 below, based on data from Zimmerman (1989) demonstrates the bandwidth differences.
Sensory system (in bits/second)
Total bandwidth Conscious bandwidth
Eyes 10,000,000 40
Ears 100,000 30
Skin 1,000,000 5
Taste 1,000 1
Smell 100, 1
*** Table 1: information flow in sensory systems and conscious perception
from Dylan W. (1999). The half-second delay: what follows?1
Quoting from Libet, B. (1981). "The experimental evidence for a subjective referral of a sensory experience backwards in time." Philosophy of Science, 48, 182-197:
"A half-second lag occurs between the raw stimulus and our self-referencing capabilities, but the brain adjusts so that our conscious awareness and the original experience appear simultaneous. What therefore appears as a direct link from the environment is actually a filtered and prepared view by our unconscious."
Consciousness requires energy expenditures that unconscious stimuli do not, so inherited and acquired experiential filters automate various aspects of our sensory input. Thus we don’t have to expend our limited energy supply on unnecessary details. Also our consciousness lags about a half-second behind our raw perceptions. This delay is the price we pay for ‘knowing we know that we know’ – that self-referencing loop that makes us human, and is both our blessing and our curse. We ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and suddenly ‘knew’ we were naked!
Quoting from Goswami:
"Our preoccupation with the secondary processes (indicated by the time lag) makes it difficult to be aware of our quantum self and to experience the pure mental states that are accessible at the quantum level of our operation. Many meditation practices are intended to eliminate the time lag to put us directly in touch with these pure mental states in their suchness (tathagata in Sanskrit). Evidence (albeit tentative) shows that meditation reduces the time lag between the primary and the secondary processes."
I've been experimenting with a tiny time lag in breath awareness, (dscribed as a so-called 'backbeat) placing the awareness thus 'behind' the breath - classically stated 'from whence the breath arises.' But now I thought, 'What if I try to place my awareness one-half second ahead of the breath?' It sounds odd, but there does seem to be a easy way to do this - and it brings me back to a surfing metaphor I have used before, where you situate yourself right on the front shoulder of the breath wave.
Since our primary process perception already exists one-half second ahead of the secondary 'ego-grab' - it's not so much placing our awareness one-half second 'ahead,' but just merging what what is already occurring. I think most of nature and animal awareness lives on that 'front shoulder of the Now' already. So we 'relax into pure perception,' and the 'I' dissolves.
The minute anything is done to change the relaxed breath, either 'prior' or 'post,' the mind becomes very interested in watching it... and you've snagged its attention.