“What are the neural mechanisms of 'higher-order' timing? Complex behavior from low-level circuits”
Imagine if humans lacked any understanding of time. Could we communicate with one another if the words in our sentences were always spoken in a random order? Could early humans have found food if hunters did not understand that they should throw their spears before approaching their prey? Could Isaac Newton have begun formalizing our understanding of gravity if he could not grasp that the apple fell from the tree toward the earth rather than from the earth toward the tree? More generally, science as an institution seeks to discover causal relationships among phenomena in the natural world. Could it have developed if we could not comprehend that causes precede their effects?
From these examples, one could argue that a basic representation of time is not only necessary for the survival of any species but also for advanced civilization. All events are embedded within time, and this has shaped our nervous systems over the course of our evolution. Consistent with this, we now know that a variety of species, ranging from ants to humans, represent time at one level or another. However, we still have a limited understanding of how the brain encodes this dimension. While many neural theories of timing have been proposed, they often fail to explain certain ‘complex’ forms of timing behavior. In this dissertation, we outline and test an adapted theory of timing that appears to resolve many of these problems.