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      Moments in Time

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          It has been suggested that perception and action can be understood as evolving in temporal epochs or sequential processing units. Successive events are fused into units forming a unitary experience or “psychological present.” Studies have identified several temporal integration levels on different time scales which are fundamental for our understanding of behavior and subjective experience. In recent literature concerning the philosophy and neuroscience of consciousness these separate temporal processing levels are not always precisely distinguished. Therefore, empirical evidence from psychophysics and neuropsychology on these distinct temporal processing levels is presented and discussed within philosophical conceptualizations of time experience. On an elementary level, one can identify a functional moment, a basic temporal building block of perception in the range of milliseconds that defines simultaneity and succession. Below a certain threshold temporal order is not perceived, individual events are processed as co-temporal. On a second level, an experienced moment, which is based on temporal integration of up to a few seconds, has been reported in many qualitatively different experiments in perception and action. It has been suggested that this segmental processing mechanism creates temporal windows that provide a logistical basis for conscious representation and the experience of nowness. On a third level of integration, continuity of experience is enabled by working memory in the range of multiple seconds allowing the maintenance of cognitive operations and emotional feelings, leading to mental presence, a temporal window of an individual’s experienced presence.

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          Most cited references 88

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            Towards a cognitive neuroscience of consciousness: basic evidence and a workspace framework.

             S Dehaene (2001)
            This introductory chapter attempts to clarify the philosophical, empirical, and theoretical bases on which a cognitive neuroscience approach to consciousness can be founded. We isolate three major empirical observations that any theory of consciousness should incorporate, namely (1) a considerable amount of processing is possible without consciousness, (2) attention is a prerequisite of consciousness, and (3) consciousness is required for some specific cognitive tasks, including those that require durable information maintenance, novel combinations of operations, or the spontaneous generation of intentional behavior. We then propose a theoretical framework that synthesizes those facts: the hypothesis of a global neuronal workspace. This framework postulates that, at any given time, many modular cerebral networks are active in parallel and process information in an unconscious manner. An information becomes conscious, however, if the neural population that represents it is mobilized by top-down attentional amplification into a brain-scale state of coherent activity that involves many neurons distributed throughout the brain. The long-distance connectivity of these 'workspace neurons' can, when they are active for a minimal duration, make the information available to a variety of processes including perceptual categorization, long-term memorization, evaluation, and intentional action. We postulate that this global availability of information through the workspace is what we subjectively experience as a conscious state. A complete theory of consciousness should explain why some cognitive and cerebral representations can be permanently or temporarily inaccessible to consciousness, what is the range of possible conscious contents, how they map onto specific cerebral circuits, and whether a generic neuronal mechanism underlies all of them. We confront the workspace model with those issues and identify novel experimental predictions. Neurophysiological, anatomical, and brain-imaging data strongly argue for a major role of prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, and the areas that connect to them, in creating the postulated brain-scale workspace.
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              Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual-differences metric.


                Author and article information

                Front Integr Neurosci
                Front. Integr. Neurosci.
                Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience
                Frontiers Research Foundation
                11 July 2011
                18 October 2011
                : 5
                1simpleDepartment of Empirical and Analytical Psychophysics, Institute for Frontier Areas in Psychology and Mental Health Freiburg, Germany
                Author notes

                Edited by: Valerie Doyere, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France

                Reviewed by: Valtteri Arstila, University of Turku, Finland; Bruno Mölder, University of Tartu, Estonia

                *Correspondence: Marc Wittmann, Institute for Frontier Areas in Psychology and Mental Health, Wilhelmstr. 3a, 79098 Freiburg, Germany. e-mail: wittmann@
                Copyright © 2011 Wittmann.

                This is an open-access article subject to a non-exclusive license between the authors and Frontiers Media SA, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and other Frontiers conditions are complied with.

                Figures: 0, Tables: 0, Equations: 0, References: 115, Pages: 9, Words: 9173
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                temporal integration, the present, psychophysics, time perception


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