Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Scientific American Mind IQ Brain Clock article

Another popular press article addressing the importance of the brain and the perception/temporal processing of time...this time in the Feb/March 2008 issue of Scientific American Mind.

The cover of the issue teases the reader with the title "The time machine inside your head." The actual title of the article is "An odd sense of timing" by Pascal Wallisch (currently located as a Postdoctoral Fellow at NYU/CNS).

In general, given the page-length constraints of these popular press type of articles, this is a well-written article. As is the case with most articles that attempt to cut a wide swath in the coverage of a wide and deep field of research and theorization, it has a number of strengths and limitations. The author correctly points out the fact that many questions still remain unanswered regarding the neuro-cognitive mechanisms involved in human temporal processing.

The regular reader of the IQ Brain Clock understands that human time perception covers a broad array of timing behaviors that have been ordered on the order of 10-12 scales of magnitude (click here for prior post). Although not made explicit to the reader, the authors discussion of the precision of timing involved in the brains coordination of motor control/timing is referencing the mental timing system operating at the second and millsecond levels. A quick transition (in the article) is then made to the top end of the end of human timing systems, namely the circadian system that regulates sleep and wake cycles. Potentially lost in this transition is the important understanding that human beings have a wide range of behaviors that are governed by multiple systems of timing, each operating on a different range of time.

On the positive side, the author does touch on some of the key brain areas involved in the processing of time at the second and millisecond levels (the key focus of this blog), temporal processing important to intellectual performance (see prior posts regarding temporal g). Correct mention is made of the importance of the the basal ganglia, striatum, cerebullum, and frontal lobes (the prefrontal cortex/lobes should have received more mention..but I'm probably being a bit picky). The author makes use of two common metaphors used to explain the IQ brain clock, namely, the synchrony involved in the performance of a symphony orchestra (see "Brain Clock IM 2007 Keynote" PPT slides, located on the right side of the home blog page, for the use of this analogy in some of my attempts to explain mental timing) and the "beat of a metronome" to represent the "salvo of nerve cell impulses in the brain" that are "counted" by the brain to represent time.

A significant portion of the article, and probably the material of most popular interest, is the coverage of the subjective perception of time. That is, why, under different circumstances, does time seem to "fly" while in other circumstances time seems to "stand still." Readers who want more information should check check out a prior post re: temporal awareness.

Bottom line - I'm pleased to see the increased recognition of the internal brain clock in more mainstream media. Understanding human temporal processing, IMHO, has the potential to help us better understand a range of important intellectual behaviors and, more importantly, has the potential to produce neuro-cognitive based IQ Brain Clock "fine tunning" interventions that may improve intellectual and academic performance.

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Pascal Wallisch said...

I think this is a fair review.

My main goal was to popularize a broad range of scientific notions about time perception and timing issues without pushing any particular agenda - the public interest is certainly there.

I'm glad that you realize that there are inherent limitations in a publication of this kind. Of course, most topics had to be given rather short shrift, some even had to be dropped entirely.

This was mostly due to what was the perceived (or editorially arbitrated) public interest, given rather strict page limits. Tough choices, really.

Kevin McGrew said...

Thanks. I envy people, like yourself, who can write about complex scientific topics for the popular press. Keep up the good work. If you publish anything else re: the brain clock, be it in the popular press or scholarly journals, let me know.


Chris said...

I am not very familiar with the brain clock research. I have had a few interesting cases involving students given dx of LD, ADHD, or both. During clinical interview and informal testing I have found that they cannot automatically order the months of the year. They also cannot order major U.S. holidays. They have no idea what month major holidays fall in or what seasons major holidays fall in. They have no scaffold in place to manage the passage of time over the long term. I remember reading some or Barkley's work on this in his book ADHD and the Nature of Self-Control. Is the difficulty I noticed in the students I described above related to the brain clock trouble you have been discussing in this blog?
-Chris Brown