What makes our internal clock tick

Melissa Healy in the Los Angeles Times:

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 11 09.54 In a healthy human brain, researchers believe that every second we are conscious, a circuit involving three distinct regions of the brain — the cerebellum, basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex — is essentially checking and cross-checking incoming information and its time stamp. In real time, that circuit builds a logical sequence of events out of information coming from different sources at different speeds.

From our earliest days, this circuit helps us to infer relationships of cause and effect, to make sense of the world and to learn. A baby bats at a dangling toy clown, feels its soft covering hit her hand and, less than a second later, hears it jingle: By correctly perceiving the order of those events and the tiny space of time between them, she learns that her action caused the clown to swing and jingle. And in so doing, she learns she can do it again.

When this sense of time is disrupted — as in several illnesses now under study — the world can become a chaotic jumble of seemingly unrelated events, or of effects attributed to the wrong cause. Chronically taken by surprise in an illogical world, a patient with what's increasingly known as a “temporal disorder” might respond with irrational anger or fear. Or he may feel helpless to understand how his actions affect things and people around him, and lapse into apathy.

David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, suggests that such dysfunctions of timing may underlie what he calls the “fragmented cognition of schizophrenia.”

More here.