The Anatomy of Time

* Karl Friston and Gyorgy Buzsáki, ‘The Functional Anatomy of Time: What and When in the Brain’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20 (2016), 500-11.
* Annett Schirmer, Warren H. Meck, and Trevor B. Penney, ‘The Socio-Temporal Brain: Connecting People in Time’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20 (2016), 760-72.

Two quick notes about time…
      Friston and Buzsáki have a big, complex theory about the hippocampus. They think that recent experiments show that our sense of time is made up of separable components: the when and the what. The hippocampus (a brain region that seems to do a lot of major stuff) is responsible for ‘ordinal structure’ – it does the when ‘without reference to particular events’. In interaction with other brain regions, the what is then factored in. They make links with predictive coding and the ‘Bayesian brain’ (I explained a bit about that here), and in the end it gets quite grand: ‘in short, the way we represent ordinal succession and the implicit narratives that predict and explain our senses lead inevitably to behaviour that transcends the rules of classical physics’. Key thing is: our brain’s sequences are special.
      The idea for Schirmer et al. is that timing is crucial in our social lives. When we interact with others, we have to do things at the right moment and at the right pace. And when we are interacting with others, we perceive time differently. So they are in pursuit of an ‘internal clock’, which involves ‘subcortically orchestrated cortical oscillations’ representing information about time, as well as processes which link this information to ‘internal and external experiences’. They hope to ‘give time a social meaning’, and to understand how social interactions work in time, by identifying how different brain regions interact.
      A long time ago I thought about trying to look at literature in the light of Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis. I think of that as a sociological and political version of what Schirmer et al. are trying to do. Lefebvre wrote about how senses, bodies, and social spaces produced different sorts of rhythms with one another. Perhaps this neuroscientific angle will rekindle my interest in it – I do think that literature (plays: scenic form, plotting, patterns of dialogue; and poems: rhyme, metre, stanza, repetitions and changes; and etc.) offers many versions of the intersections between temporal and social, and that some links could be made.

i.e. related to the brain region called the insula; is the adjective really OK? – not for me to say…
E-mail me at rtrl100[at]cam.ac.uk

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