Is your brain aware of more than the time right now?
Researchers have found evidence for “chronesthesia,” which is the brain’s ability to be aware of the past and future, and to mentally travel in subjective time. They found that activity in different brain regions is related to chronesthetic states when a person thinks about the same content during the past, present, or future…
The ability to remember the past and imagine the future can significantly affect a person’s decisions in life. Scientists refer to the brain’s ability to think about the past, present, and future as “chronesthesia,” or mental time travel, although little is known about which parts of the brain are responsible for these conscious experiences. In a new study, researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural correlates of mental time travel and better understand the nature of the mental time in which the metaphorical “travel” occurs.
The researchers, Lars Nyberg from Umea University in Umea, Sweden; Reza Habib from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois; and Alice S. N. Kim, Brian Levine, and Endel Tulving from the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario, have published their results in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Mental time travel consists of two independent sets of processes: (1) those that determine the contents of any act of such ‘travel’: what happens, who are the ‘actors,’ where does the action occur; it is similar to the contents of watching a movie – everything that you see on the screen; and (2) those that determine the subjective moment of time in which the action takes place – past, present, or future,” Tulving told PhysOrg.com.
“In cognitive neuroscience, we know quite a bit (relatively speaking) about perceived, remembered, known, and imagined space,” he said. “We know essentially nothing about perceived, remembered, known, and imagined time. When you remember something that you did last night, you are consciously aware not only that the event happened and that you were ‘there,’ as an observer or participant (‘episodic memory’), but also that it happened yesterday, that is, at a time that is no more. The question we are asking is, how do you know that it happened at a time other than ‘now’?”
In their study, the researchers asked several well-trained subjects to repeatedly think about taking a short walk in a familiar environment in either the imagined past, the real past, the present, or the imagined future. By keeping the content the same and changing only the mental time in which it occurs, the researchers could identify which areas of the brain are correlated with thinking about the same event at different times.
The results showed that certain regions in the left lateral parietal cortex, left frontal cortex, and cerebellum, as well as the thalamus, were activated differently when the subjects thought about the past and future compared with the present. Notably, brain activity was very similar for thinking about all of the non-present times (the imagined past, real past, and imagined future).
via 123 Monkey