The Link is Always Missing

[This is the answer to May's riddle]

“There is a rare but dramatic neurological disturbance that a number of my patients have experienced during attacks of migraine, when they may lose the sense of visual continuity and motion and see instead a flickering series of ‘stills.’ The stills may be clear-cut and sharp, and succeed one another without superimposition or overlap [...]”

- Cited from Oliver Sacks, ‘In the River of Consciousness’, The New York Review of Books, Volume 51, Number 1, January 15, 2004

Much like colour, movement can also be broken down into discrete categories or stills, each one depicting a particular and recognizable moment. Removed from the context, each instant can stand on its own – colour code ff008a is a shade of pink and ff0900 a shade of red, much like the first frame on the film below depicts a man with a moustache and two hands in the air, while the last one depicts the same man with only one visible hand in the air. Neither of these need be placed before or after any other colour codes or frames in order for them to make sense.

Yet… removing any of the stills below from the other 35 stills to which it is linked will blind us to the greater picture: the continuum. Thus we will fail to realize that what we are in fact seeing is not a ‘man with a moustache and one (or two) hands in the air’, but a sneeze.


Earliest existing copyrighted motion pictures: ‘Record of a Sneeze’. The series of pictures running in sequence from top to bottom was made byW. K. L. Dickson in the Edison laboratory

If instead of displaying the frames in rows and columns, we juxtapose these images to each other in rapid succession, we create the illusion of fluidity, movement and the passing of time.

Picture 3

January 11 2000 to July 31 2006 with original music by Carly Comando

Such that this:

Picture 1

… becomes this:


But however many frames per second we are displayed, in essence a link is always missing between any two frames. Canon’s new camera (the world’s fastest), at 6.1 million frames per second, ever reduces the amount of time between each two captured instances of a movement – and to the human eye, anything above 30 frames per second appears as ‘fluid’. Thus ever more ‘links’ can be digitally captured between whichever two poses. But precisely because movement can always be broken down into ever smaller frozen snapshots, in the same way that a colour spectrum can be broken down into ever subtler categories containing minuscule differences in colour proportion, in a sense a link is always present.

In fact, it is up to our brains and consciousness to patch these categories together in succession in order to unravel the continuum of which they are part of. Crick and Koch for example, speculate on the neural correlates of motion perception – how visual continuity is perceived or constructed – and they propose that “conscious awareness [for vision] is a series of static snapshots, with motion ‘painted’ on them…[and] that perception occurs in discrete epochs.”

Migraines and certain types of brain damage can disrupt our ability to string stills from everyday life together with sufficiently small amounts of time lapse between them, so that we are unable to make sense of the world. A unique case of such an Akinetopsia disorder was reported in Germany. The patient complained of seeing first an object or a person in one place and then in another but not being able to see them moving between one place and the the next (see youtube video depicting disorder). Among other things like crossing roads or catching the subway,  she was unable to pour tea into a cup because the liquid appeared to be frozen like a glacier and she could not estimate its rise in the cup; she would see a glass half full, and then feel hot water on her feet… two disconnected ‘frames’ removed from their reel, between which lie a whole world of missing links.

… Links, without which we would be unable to see the dawning of humankind, or the birth of human life.


Images © 2000 Smithsonian Institution (A: Chimpanzee; N: Homo sapiens)


Carnegie stages of human development

Betraying the real way in which we see the world is our love for, on the one hand, breaking sequences down into stages and on the other, for stitching stills together into fluid perceptual streams.

… So why do we insist on forgetting our own place in this reel?

Since 99% of all living species that have ever lived on earth have gone extinct, we humans tend to suffer from an Akinetopsia of geological proportions. Indeed, in the absence of material links we are left with frozen tea cups and wet feet – to our heads and eyes two seemingly disconnected events which could not conceivably be linked. It is only when we come out of our epistemological caves and connect the dots, the millions of stills and html codes and weave them together in a colourful patched blanket that our place in the spectrum emerges. And as clear and intuitively as pictures on a moving zoetrope, where one frozen still gives way to another in a continuous and harmonious projection, we witness Evolution…

speciationFour skeletons in the ancestral lineage of the modern whale

…. And now you want the short answer I imagine?

The point I was trying to make was more philosophical rather than technical or even perceptual. This was essentially not so much a riddle as it was an exercise. Understanding the basic principles of Evolution is within everyone’s grasp, but rather than unleashing my frustrations on the misinformed in the form of angry comments, I tried my hand at a different, however over-simplified, approach. And that’s what my riddle was about.

Now, in the name of placing knowledge into categories like a good Homo sapiens, I will give you all marks:

Constantine Markides and Mark Huckabee, you get an A. You all saw my true colours and gave me an answer in tone with what I was aiming for.

Ciaran, Digger , Mark and David, you get an A- for taking the time to do what, in all honesty, I never did, which was taking the time to try to figure it out. However, Mark gets a bonus point for teaching us all about html coding. I should’ve done the homework on such details; hopefully the bonus point will redeem me.