Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Time, space, and number - evolved brain computations

Dehaene and Brannon introduce a special (and open access) issue of Trends in Cognitive Science on Time, space, and number.
What do the representations of space, time and number share that might justify their joint presence in a special issue of TICS? In his Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant famously argued that they provide ‘a priori intuitions’ that precede and structure how humans experience the environment. Indeed, these concepts are so basic to any understanding of the external world that it is hard to imagine how any animal species could survive without having mechanisms for spatial navigation, temporal orienting (e.g. time-stamped memories) and elementary numerical computations (e.g. choosing the food patch with the largest expected return). In the course of their evolution, humans and many other animal species might have internalized basic codes and operations that are isomorphic to the physical and arithmetic laws that govern the interaction of objects in the external world. The articles in this special issue all support this point of view: from grid cells to number neurons, the richness and variety of mechanisms by which animals and humans, including infants, can represent the dimensions of space, time and number is bewildering and suggests evolutionary processes and neural mechanisms by which Kantian intuitions might universally arise.

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