Space and time in the brain

Science. 2017 Oct 27;358(6362):482-485. doi: 10.1126/science.aan8869.


Nothing is more intuitive, yet more complex, than the concepts of space and time. In contrast to spacetime in physics, space and time in neuroscience remain separate coordinates to which we attach our observations. Investigators of navigation and memory relate neuronal activity to position, distance, time point, and duration and compare these parameters to units of measuring instruments. Although spatial-temporal sequences of brain activity often correlate with distance and duration measures, these correlations may not correspond to neuronal representations of space or time. Neither instruments nor brains sense space or time. Neuronal activity can be described as a succession of events without resorting to the concepts of space or time. Instead of searching for brain representations of our preconceived ideas, we suggest investigating how brain mechanisms give rise to inferential, model-building explanations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Rats
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Spatial Navigation / physiology*
  • Time Perception / physiology*