What’s the next best thing to being able to see a few seconds into the future? Simulating the ability to see into the immediate future. And according to a study by Moser and Moser appearing in the January 11th issue of Nature, mammalian brains already take advantage of the benefits from simulating this ability by ‘preplaying’ anticipated experiences.
As the authors explain, we have known for some time that, immediately after navigating a novel spatial environment, the brain ‘replays’ the neural sequence of the just-past experience. Observation in mice has also shown that these sequences can be replayed during sleep.
However, mice have also shown the ability to ‘preplay’ a neural sequence when navigating a novel environment. Thus, a mouse at rest before a closed door in a maze will undergo a sequence of neural activity that is repeated once the door is opened. The brain appears to have a go at running through the neural sequence of an anticipated experience prior to (in this experiment) turning the corner of a maze. Where the preplayed sequence matches the real time experience, the mouse can be said to have successfully anticipated its future environment.
Phenomenologist Edmund Husserl insisted that temporal consciousness cannot be restricted to a brute ‘now’, but must be broad enough to include experience of the just-past and of the about-to-be. Has Husserl’s phenomenological description of temporal consciousness been (in part) vindicated by neuroscience?