Skip navigation

Further research is suggested by the form of ZeitEYE – the purposely rapid montage of stills – was first tested at different frame-rates, with 7 fps being chosen as the most viewable mean (too rapid to need a voice-over, yet just slow enough for recognition. This got me to thinking that there might be an ‘ideal’ average exposure-recognition time – or ‘cognition moment’ (see below).

7 frames per second equates to 143 milliseconds per frame. That is, in the space of one second seven frames of information are shown, which may be include textual intertitles as well as uncaptioned or purely pictorial images. So in that period you are (a) seeing an image or intertitle panel. (b) recognising or not recognising the image, or (c) reading the intertitle text. and then (d) recalling the name/descriptor/title associated with the image or (e) deciding if you recognise or understand the words on the intertitle frame (that is if they are part of your stored knowledge or not).

After finishing the film, several viewers have commented that the experience is like an adrenalin-rush – and they said they got quite high watching and ‘trying to keep up with’ the film.

There was a recent New Scientist article that goes someway in casting light as to why this is:

According to Raphael Gaillard (Consciousness Signature – consciousness arises from the coordinated activity of the entire brain – New Scientist) (, the process of being aware (or conscious) of a visual stimuli is a function not of an individual part of the brain responding to a stimuli, but when several or all sections of the brain respond (proposed as the ‘Global Access’ theory of consciousness by Bernard Bears in 1983). In other words you can see an image perceptually, but not remember or even be aware that you have seen it (unless messages are sent from the affected brain sector to other parts of the brain – for example evoking memories from short, working or long-term memory. It takes around 300 milliseconds for you to perceive or recognise the image – perhaps a few moments longer to recall a descriptive word or ‘title’ for the image. Say about a minimum 400 milliseconds for the cognitive ‘moment’ that includes perception, processing, ‘image-forming’ in the mind, and recall of name or title from long-term memory. (But this is still guesswork, based on experimental results achieved by showing test subjects alphanumeric symbols, flashed in isolation. Pictorial images are not just such ‘one-bit’ objects (like an alphanumeric character), but have several possible associations – artist, movement, title, style, technique, period, subject or content etc)…

The interest in attention, short-term, working and long-term memory first arose in the 1970s with Piaget’s comments on attention and learning (Piaget, J. (1971). Biology and Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.) Although a decade earlier George A Miller of Princeton calculated a formula for the number of items we could hold in short-term memory – the famous 5(+/-2) – half a dozen items in short-term memory at one time for the average person (Miller, G. A. (1956). “The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information”. Psychological Review 63 (2): 81–97. (pdf)). Actually in my experience coders or computer programmers have a much more expansive short-term memory, able to coalesce dozens of parameters into coherent code. (Incidentally, this perceived limitation of short-term memory led Joseph Novak at Cornell University in the early 1970s (see to develop a way of mapping memory onto paper – by using what he called ‘concept-maps’.

Note the similarity between the schematic of hypertext and the concept map – both ideas for knowledge representation emerged roughly at same time in the 1960s and 1970s

(cf Tony Buzan – Mind Maps, Joseph Novak – Concept Maps late 1960s, early 1970s)

However, later in the 1970s (Baddely and Hitch 1974) propose a different data-processing model for the brain, based on the idea of a central executive that accesses memory-regions as appropriate. The idea of a visuo-spatial scratch pad emerged – a section of the brain that would store visual information in ‘working memory’.

According to Lehri and Fischer (1990), the basic-information-processing speed for one bit of information varies according to the subjects IQ – between c40 milliseconds up to about 100 milliseconds. Considering that an image is not just one-bit of information, but can represent several ‘bits’ – such as title, artist, date, colour, genre, format (landscape/portrait), medium, etc, I’ve arrived at a figure of about 1/3rd of a second (300 milliseconds), but this is a guesstimate of the average recall-time. I am planning some tests and experiments that may reveal the average ‘cognitive moment’ – the time of recall from perceiving a flashed image

In ZeitEYE you will have already seen about 3 more images before you have isolated and recollected the first one.

The advantage here is with those who already have some exposure to (or some memory of) the subject matter – some knowledge of art-history for example. In fact the more you know about the subject matter the better you learn – the more you enjoy the film. Even some knowledge is better than none, as you build on your knowledge to accommodate new items.

I think its the phenomenon of the left-brain attempting to catch up with the instantaneous iconic perception of the right-brain that gives us a buzz. I also want to test the image recall of viewers, and whether these recalled images correlate in any way to the frequency and content of intertitle copy. It would be interesting to conduct a neuroscientific scan of the brain of viewers, and see if the Global Access Theory correlates with positive identification of images. It would be useful to know what the ‘average’ cognitive moment was…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: