Atemporal equilibria: pro- and retroactive coding in the dynamics of cognitive microstructures

Front Psychol. 2014 Sep 12;5:990. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00990. eCollection 2014.

Abstract

Synchronization of spatially distributed neural assemblies at frequencies in the range 30-70 Hz (the "gamma" band) may be instrumental in grouping stimulus features. In agreement with this we have shown that detection reaction times to a grouping target stimulus are expedited when the stimulus is preceded by repeated presentation of a priming stimulus, presented below detection thresholds in a matrix that flickers at particular frequencies in the 27-68 Hz range. This dynamic priming effect can be partly explained as a function of the return phase of the priming stimulus relative to the premask matrix, indicating one of the primary consequences of repeating stimulation is pre-activation of a priming response relative to prime-stimulus presentation. However, this cannot entirely explain the relationship that develops between the timing of stimulus events (in this instance the time of target relative to priming-stimulus presentations) and response. By varying the frequency and phase of priming-stimulus and target presentations we discovered that given a particular relationship between the phase of target presentation relative to the return phase of the prime, target coding is expedited by a prime that achieves its maximum activation at a phase that would precede priming-stimulus presentation by several tens of milliseconds. However, and in addition, the cognition concerned is flexible enough to be able to achieve an identical prime retroactively, that is to say at a phase during or subsequent to priming-stimulus presentation. This occurs because of a different relationship between the phase of target presentation (defined relative to prime frequency) and the frequency of premask-matrix presentation. On this basis, it can be concluded that by virtue of the relationship between its dynamics and the timing of stimulus events, microstructural cognition functions in a temporal context that can shift from past to future states. Consequently and at the lowest level of psychological function, the conventional, one-dimensional model of time flow-from future to past states does not fully explain how cognition can function. In fact depending upon the interaction in phase between different coding frequencies, the same form of cognition can anticipate or retroactively code events. Consequently, and in so far as our cognition at this level provides a content structure for consciousness, our psychological lives may be fundamentally based upon the ability of our cognitive states to travel backwards and forwards across very short intervals of time.

Keywords: gamma band; oscillatory synchronization; pro- and retroactive microcognition; protention; visual-event coding.