Space, time: bridging the epistemic gap of brain & mind


How do we become ourselves? How does neuronal activity turn into consciousness and the self? One of nature’s great scientific mysteries is the ‘common currency’ of brain and mind. Georg Northoff, Soren Wainio-Theberge and Kathinka Evers suggest looking for a ‘Spatiotemporal Neuroscience’ to dissolve the brain-mind puzzle.

Until now, researchers investigating how neural activity turns into actual function have used a specific stimulus or task for research subjects to react to, for a set amount of time. What has yet to be explored is the brain’s neuronal activity in space and time.

A Sunday afternoon might feel like an eternity if you are bored, or pass in a heartbeat if you are enjoying yourself. This is our inner time-speed perception, a mental feature that might be connected to the spatiotemporal neuronal activity the researchers are now suggesting might be the last piece to the brain puzzle.

Georg Northoff, Soren Wainio-Theberge and Kathinka Evers propose that closing the epistemic gap between neuronal activity and mental activity might require a deeper understanding of our brains’ activity in space and time. A ‘Spatiotemporal Neuroscience’ that conceives the brain and mind in terms of their spatio-temporal dynamics.

“We shift the focus away from the stimulus-induced or task-evoked activity to the brain's own spontaneous activity, the so-called resting-state activity. Analysing the dynamics of space and time, as they are understood in contemporary physics (in contrast to a classical physics), we suggest that the dynamics of the brain's inner space-time is key to understanding consciousness and mental features,” says Kathinka Evers, one of the authors of a recently published Physics of Life Reviews paper.

Looking beyond specific functions (cognitive, affective, cultural, social etc.) allows another view of non-causal, intrinsic and transformative relationships between mental and neuronal features. This is what the authors are now hoping will open the door to revealing the brain’s own temporo-spatial dynamics and finding the answer to what might be the ‘common currency’ of brain and mind.

By Anna Holm

Northoff G, Wainio-Theberge S, Evers K, Is temporo-spatial dynamics the “common currency” of brain and mind? In Quest of “Spatiotemporal Neuroscience”, Physics of Life Reviews, 2020, 33 (35-54)

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Last modified: 2022-01-10