What We See Is Both Now and Then

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2014-04_b92000d9c6.jpgSergey Anatolievich Pristyazhnyuk/Thinkstock (CAMBRIDGE, Mass.) -- Are you seeing what you’re now seeing in real time? Well, yes and no, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Visual perception, it seems, is a combination of what we actually view now and what we saw as far back as 15 seconds ago.

It’s a process called automatic visual smoothing, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Jason Fischer, meaning the image of the world around you is actually a time-averaged composite of the present and the past…from a few seconds ago.

Fischer says one example of this is driving on a rainy day and seeing a road sign up ahead. Despite all the rain drops and visual fluctuations of the retina, we can still manage to see the sign with relative ease. In this way, the visual system isn’t overwhelmed by too many images.

Without this automatic visual smoothing acting as a filter, Fischer says the world would appear out of synch, meaning, “If we were sensitive to every little change, our brains probably couldn't cope.”

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