2004 : WHAT'S YOUR LAW?

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Neuroscientist; Chairman, Board of Directors Human Science Center; Department of Medical Psychology, Munich University; Author, Mindworks
Ernst Law

I refer to my "laws" as "Pöppel's Paradox", and "Pöppel's Universal". Actually the names have been invented by others.

Pöppel's Paradox

Not to see, but to see. Some years ago (1973) we described a phenomenon that patients with a certain brain injury show some residual vision although they do not have a conscious representation of their remained visual capacity. They can orient in space, or they can discriminate simple patterns, but they do not know that they can do it. This phenomenon became known as "blindsight". Apparently there is a lot of implicit processing going in our brain that lacks an explicit representation, but which usually is associated with conscious experience. Interestingly, the phenomenon of blindsight not only made a "career" in the neurosciences, but also in philosophy.

Pöppel's Universal

We take life 3 seconds at a time. Human experience and behaviour is characterized by temporal segmentation. Successive segments or "time windows" have a duration of approx. 3 seconds. Examples: Intentional movements are embedded within 3 s (like a handshake); the anticipation of a precise movement like hitting a golf ball does not go beyond 3 s; if we reproduce the duration of a stimulus, we can do so accurately up to 3 s but not beyond; if we look at ambiguous figures (like a vase vs. two faces) or if we listen to ambiguous phoneme sequences (like Cu-Ba-Cu-Ba-.., either hearing Cuba or Bacu) automatically after approx. 3 s the percept switches to the alternative; the working platform of our short term memory lasts only 3 s (being interrupted after 3 s most of the information is gone); spontaneous speech in all languages is temporally segmented, each segment lasting up to 3 s; this temporal segmentation of speech shows up again in poetry, as a verse of a poem is embedded within 3 s (Shakespeare: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day"); musical motives preferably last 3 s (remember Beethoven's Fifth Symphony); decisions are made within 3 s (like zapping between TV channels); and there are more examples. Thus, the brain provides a temporal stage that last approx. 3 s, which is used in perception, cognition, movement control, memory, speech, or music.