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Scientists Discover ‘Time Cells’ In the Brain That Enable ‘Mental Time Travel’

Published in Brain/Neurology.

A new experiment probed how the human brain encodes and processes the flow of time.

When we recall past events in our lives, we can often mentally replay an experience in the exact sequential order that it happened. Revisiting these episodic memories may feel like a seamless and ordinary activity, but the ability for our brains to encode events in temporal order—and then draw them up as sequential recollections later on—is an ongoing scientific mystery.

Now, a team led by Leila Reddy, a neuroscientist at the Brain and Cognition Research Center (CerCo) at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, has isolated some of the neural pathways in our brains that are responsible for recording and recalling the sequence of time.

Reddy and her colleagues carefully monitored brain activity in human patients as they completed tasks that required sequential memory. The results “suggest a robust representation of time in the human hippocampus,” a structure embedded deep in the brain, according to a study published on Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience.