- Alejandro Milan Valencia
- BBC News World
“How did nature create a clock out of neurons?”
With this question as a starting point, Dean Bonomano, professor of neuroscience at UCLA, set out to investigate how our brains perceive the concept of time.
Many of his conclusions led him to write Your brain is a time machine – the neuroscience and physics of time (In the free translation, Your Brain is a Time Machine – The Neuroscience and Physics of Time), which discusses various theories about the objective function of memory and how our brain has “many clocks” that count time.
That’s why many trade journals have described him as “one of the first neuroscientists to ask himself how the human brain encodes time.”
In the midst of a pandemic that has changed our perception of time, BBC News Mundo (BBC’s Spanish language service) interviewed Buonomano on the topic and topics such as free will.
BBC – Is free will an illusion?
Dean Bonomano – We have already devoted a lot of time to thinking and writing about the topic, but we rarely devote ourselves to defining it.
I guess I’ll start from there: How do you define free will? What does that mean to you?
BBC – It’s hard. I would say it is the ability of humans to make decisions, but this definition may be insufficient. So I come back to the question: Do we have free will?
Bonomano – As I just said, the answer to the question depends on how you choose to define free will. I choose the definition, I have this freedom. It’s a decision made by my mind.
And again, one way of explaining this is to say that free will is the decisions my brain makes, which in turn determine what free will is. For this reason it is something that transcends science or physics, but rather both.
I say this because, according to the laws of physics, there is no free will as such, because it must be subject to the laws of physics.
This is where another element comes into play: determinism.
This gives us two opinions: that the future does not exist and that it is already defined, and it is already expected.
The first version suggests that the future does not exist, because we have not yet made the decisions that will lead to it; The second, that it can be defined because we cannot escape the laws of physics.
But let’s put it in practical terms. And then I think we can say that the future does not exist, because it is impossible to predict what people will do or how they will act.
For example, if I ask you to choose a number between zero and a thousand, it is impossible for me to guess which number you would choose. Many factors come into play with this choice, and I don’t have all the information needed to be able to guess your choice.
You see, it’s a messy and hard to predict system; However, it is still subject to the power of physics.
What I mean is that we are uncomfortable with the idea that our decisions are limited or determined by the laws of physics. And even if they don’t like it, they are. Therefore, we can say that free will is an idea, and an illusion.
BBC – But how does the individual or his brain, which is the center of your research, get into this?
Bonomano – What I just said does not mean that in practice all actions are predetermined.
What I think is important is embracing the fact that my decisions, my free will, are the result of managing complex networks of information processed or processed by my brain.
This processed information is based on all the experiences you have had in life. It will depend on where I grew up, what I learned when I was young, and the countries I visited, because they all make up my nerve circuits.
That’s why I like to think of free will as the whole process going on in my mind.
BBC – According to this answer, and with your many articles and books, can it also be concluded that the future really does exist and is predetermined?
Bonomano – No. On this it is necessary to have two points of view, as I have indicated, starting from what we talked about before and relating to the nature of time.
On the one hand, there is a view called the present, which basically says that only the present is real. And that the past was real (when it happened).
That is, I can remember things from the past and the future is not determined. This is a semi-intuitive version that almost all humans possess.
Furthermore, since we cannot change the past, our decisions seem to somehow shape our future/
Now, there is another view called immortality, or the veiled universe.
This view holds that all time moments are equal, just as all points in space are real.
For example: London and Los Angeles are two real cities that exist. Just because I’m stuck in one of these places – Los Angeles – doesn’t mean what’s happening in London isn’t real anymore.
What this theory means is that time is a dimension, like space, in which all moments of time are equally real, even if one does not feel or experience them because they are trapped in a moment – in your gift.
This view suggests that just as I don’t feel what’s happening in London now, I can’t feel what’s going to happen in the future either, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.
BBC – You are closer to the first vision (present).
Bonomano – Eternity indicates, in many ways, that our perception of time is distorted or a kind of illusion.
why? Because it is difficult for us to change the idea that the future is a real thing, as if this path already existed. So if eternity were true, our view of time (and the world in general) would be misleading, because most of us would agree that the past seems to be gone and the future is still open.
This view suggests that our intuitions and perceptions can often be wrong, but I often disagree with this because our intuitions and perceptions adapt and evolve to help us survive – again – in a world governed by the laws of physics.
So our intuition, in my opinion, is probably correct, which is why I am present.
BBC – In other words, is there no future?
Bonomano – I don’t believe in the idea that the future exists at all, or that the past really does exist.
I think only the present is real. But when I say something like that, I have to be very careful with the theory of relativity.
Just because you’re there doesn’t mean we all have the same talent. It does not in any way imply that there is an absolute present.
For example, we know that clocks change depending on the speed of the gravitational potential. This means that this part of relativity indicates that the speed at which the clock changes or the rate at which time passes that the clock counts depends on the effects of gravitational potential.
The magnitude of this potential increases and decreases with proximity to the center of gravity, both on Earth and in space. All this to say that the clocks change at different rates.
Which shows that there is no absolute present or even absolute time.
BBC – What is the definition of time and why is it important?
Bonomano – Let’s go back to the beginning: it depends on what we time. (…]In its main meaning, it is about the measure of change, measured by the hour.
But the facts we’ve tested, the places we’ve visited, all make us think about the relative versions of this change. Subjective copy of time. For example, the time we just lived through due to the COVID-19 pandemic is very different from what we lived through in previous years.
This is why it is necessary to try to aggregate and measure this change in as uniform a way as possible, because our perception of time varies so much in our minds.
BBC – Has the pandemic changed our idea of time then?
Bonomano – It has certainly changed, but again this has to do with our subjective perception of time, (…) which depends on context.
If we are doing something that we enjoy or that inspires us, we can feel that time is passing by faster.
The pandemic changed this context, both for our current perception, the present, and for our perception of the past.
We feel like the months are passing by very quickly. But when we look back, when we are told of something that happened before the pandemic, we feel that it was a long time ago, perhaps longer than it would have if there was no pandemic in the middle.
BBC – You once said something interesting, that the brain is a time machine.
Bonomano – This has to do with two concepts.
The first is what we understand over time and how our perception of time is formed.
Second, our brains have the ability to plan ahead. It does this using the past.
I focused on the idea of how the brain stores memories that it will then use to guide us forward. My biggest motivation is to be able to see how this happens and why our brain does this.
And I think one of the conclusions I’ve come to is that our memories and our memories are there to build our future.
It’s not just to commemorate the afternoon, when we say the better time gone by. They have a practical use.
BBC – How does this happen in practice?
Bonomano – We accumulate our memory and preserve it to survive. So do animals that store food for the winter: they remember where to put food and come back to get it.
We do it another way. Our brains need to know what will happen and when – if and when it will rain. And to do this kind of calculation, you need time.
Both for animals and for us, it is essential that we learn how to move in our environments and in our habitats.
BBC – How does the brain process this?
Bonomano – There are many questions about how the brain perceives time, how it calculates it, how it remembers it, and how it predicts what will happen.
Perhaps the most accurate answer comes from the question of how the human brain perceives time, how it calculates and summarizes it.
People might think that there is some kind of central clock that measures everything we do. But we know that is not the case.
We know that the brain does not have a central clock that allows it to calculate time on this scale. We have various internal circuits that categorize time in seconds, in milliseconds; Others in hours, others in days.
This includes those who control circadian rhythms, which set people’s biological clocks over a period of time.
The interesting thing about this is that in this way, we have many internal clocks that measure different things from each other. This allows us to conclude that time is fundamental to the functioning of our brain.
You have seen our new videos on Youtube? Subscribe to our channel!
“Entrepreneur. Music enthusiast. Lifelong communicator. General coffee aficionado. Internet scholar.”