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Trends Cogn Sci. 2016 Jul;20(7):500-511. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.05.001. Epub 2016 May 31.

The Functional Anatomy of Time: What and When in the Brain.

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Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, London WC1N 3BG, UK. Electronic address:
NYU Neuroscience Institute, School of Medicine, New York University, New York, NY 10016, USA; Institute of Experimental Medicine, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary.


This Opinion article considers the implications for functional anatomy of how we represent temporal structure in our exchanges with the world. It offers a theoretical treatment that tries to make sense of the architectural principles seen in mammalian brains. Specifically, it considers a factorisation between representations of temporal succession and representations of content or, heuristically, a segregation into when and what. This segregation may explain the central role of the hippocampus in neuronal hierarchies while providing a tentative explanation for recent observations of how ordinal sequences are encoded. The implications for neuroanatomy and physiology may have something important to say about how self-organised cell assembly sequences enable the brain to exhibit purposeful behaviour that transcends the here and now.


Bayesian; hippocampus; inference; ordinal; sequences; spatiotemporal

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