Time Slices: What Is the Duration of a Percept?

PLoS Biol. 2016 Apr 12;14(4):e1002433. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002433. eCollection 2016 Apr.


We experience the world as a seamless stream of percepts. However, intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images. To explain how the temporal resolution of human vision can be fast compared to sluggish conscious perception, we propose a novel conceptual framework in which features of objects, such as their color, are quasi-continuously and unconsciously analyzed with high temporal resolution. Like other features, temporal features, such as duration, are coded as quantitative labels. When unconscious processing is "completed," all features are simultaneously rendered conscious at discrete moments in time, sometimes even hundreds of milliseconds after stimuli were presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Time*
  • Visual Perception*

Grant support

This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (MHH: FN_320030_153001; FS: BSSG10_155915). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.