The two brain clocks to predict the future

We all have two brain 'clocks', neural areas located in the cerebellum and in the basal ganglia. Their joint action allows us to make short-term predictions.

The two brain clocks to predict the future

We make predictions almost anytime. We know, for example, when the part we like most of our favorite song is coming. Or we tend to accelerate the pace when we perceive that a traffic light is about to turn red. We predict the future in a simple and instrumental way thanks to two fabulous and precise cerebral clocks.

Albert Einstein he said that time is little more than an illusion. If there is an organ that seems to understand this dimension almost objectively, it is the brain. Thanks to it, we are able to predict events that can happen at a precise moment and to react in order to exploit them in our favor.

That what which allows us to swerve at the last moment to avoid an accident or that helps us choose the right words during a conversation by guessing the phrases that can help our interlocutor.

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Experts, therefore, speak more of 'attunement' than anticipation. Most of the time, we adapt to the events happening around us to prevent risks and always benefit.

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“Don't worry if the world ends today. It's already tomorrow in Australia. '

-Charles Monroe Schulz-

Black and white alarm clock.

The two brain clocks with which we predict what will happen

Human beings invented watches with one purpose: to accurately measure the passage of time. Thanks to this, this dimension is always linear. For our brain, on the contrary, the idea of ​​time is more complex. When we are happy and having fun, time passes very quickly. Other times, however, especially when traumatic events occur, it seems to stop.

Similarly, due to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, the concept of time and rhythm are altered. It is as if something happens inside us that makes us experience time in different ways. The answer to this conundrum lies in the so-called brain clocks.

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A place in the brain where time resides

In our brain there is a place where the mechanism for understanding time resides . In 2005, the cells that make up our GPS system were discovered (which allow us to know where we are and to orient ourselves).

Today one studio of the University of Berkley explains where and how that area of ​​the brain that articulates and controls the sense of time works:

  • These would actually be two areas that scientists have called cerebral clocks and they are found in the cerebellum and basal ganglia. The two areas work together and allow us to make short-term forecasts.
  • The cerebellum it works in a specific way, namely the so-called interval time or rhythm, and is activated when it receives information from our senses. It also regulates motor coordination and attention and, according to experts, allows us to react by anticipating what can happen in a very short period of time.
  • The clock of the basal ganglia regulates movement, the perception and calculation of the passage of time.

Each brain clock located in a brain area works in a coordinated way. They allow us to predict strategies when playing football, during a chess match or when talking to someone. Similarly, they use experience and memory to obtain information on how to act and anticipate an event.

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Brain with brain clocks inside.

Brain clocks: a hope for some diseases

Dr. Assaf Breska, author of the aforementioned study, offers us interesting information that gives us hope. It is known that patients with degeneration of the cerebellum and with Parkinson's they have difficulty reacting to environmental stimuli. The former do not respond to “non-rhythmic” signals, while the latter show deficits related to rhythm and to everything that is based on sequences (music, movement, etc.).

In both cases there is a very evident distortion of the time factor (for example, lack of coordination) which has effects on the patient that can be observed daily. It is believed that in both cases there is a problem with the brain clocks.

In Parkinson's patients there is a deficit of the clock of the basal ganglia, while in patients with degeneration of the cerebellum there is a deficit in that area so important that it anticipates the future.

The good news is today we know that with training the function of one watch can be performed by the other. The therapy would be based on various computer games and on brain stimulation deep. This therapy would allow patients to move and react more naturally in the surrounding environment.

However, these are researches that are still in an experimental phase, so to date there are no defined treatments. We look forward to future progress in this area.

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  • Albert Tsao, Jørgen Sugar, Li Lu ,Cheng Wang et al. (2018) Integrating time from experience in the lateral entorhinal cortex. Nature. DOI 10.1038 / s41586-018-0459-6
  • Assaf Breska et al. Double dissociation of single-interval and rhythmic temporal prediction in cerebellar degeneration and Parkinson’s disease,  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.1810596115