A leading neuroscientist embarks on a groundbreaking exploration of how time works inside the brain.
In Your Brain Is a Time Machine, brain researcher and best-selling author Dean Buonomano draws on evolutionary biology, physics, and philosophy to present his influential theory of how we tell and perceive time. The human brain, he argues, is a complex system that not only tells time but creates it; it constructs our sense of chronological flow and enables "mental time travel" - simulations of future and past events. These functions are essential not only to our daily lives but to the evolution of the human race: without the ability to anticipate the future, mankind would never have crafted tools or invented agriculture. The brain was designed to navigate our continuously changing world by predicting what will happen and when.
Buonomano combines neuroscience expertise with a far-ranging, multidisciplinary approach. With engaging style, he illuminates such concepts as consciousness, spacetime, and relativity while addressing profound questions that have long occupied scientists and philosophers alike. What is time? Is our sense of time's passage an illusion? Does free will exist, or is the future predetermined? In pursuing the answers, Buonomano reveals as much about the fascinating architecture of the human brain as he does about the intricacies of time itself. This virtuosic work of popular science leads to an astonishing realization: Your brain is, at its core, a time machine.
I feel obliged to admit that, like the author, I am a scientist working on the neuroscience of timing. There are not many non-fiction books about time, behavior and neuroscience and therefore I simply had to read this book. And I am glad I did.
The book begins with a summary of the psychology, philosophy, pharmacology and physiology of time. The author has an excellent grasp of the issues at stake and the importance of doing research on these topics. How do humans measure short and long time intervals? What is the shortest time interval that we can detect? How does our body know when to go to bed and get up again, and how accurate is this circadian clock? How do drugs affect our time perception, and what does that tell us about the brain? How can neurons or neural networks detect measure time? I don’t agree with everything he says about the neuroscience of timing. However, it was a joy to read these chapters and, on their own, these six chapters justified the time and money spent on this book. During my own studies, I have read tons of studies on timing employing a broad spectrum of different techniques. This book helped me connect the dots and get a bird eyes view which is something that can get lost in science.
The book sidetracked a bit in chapter seven where Buonomano takes on the physics of time and the philosophical implications. Does time even exist, or is it (like many other things), a persuasive illusion that the brain construes to give us an advantage in evolution? Is presentism (only the ‘now’ exists) or eternalism (time is another dimension and ‘now’ is to time what ‘here’ is to space) the correct model of the universe? What does our subjective sense of time tell us about time itself? These more philosophically oriented questions are taken on, at depth, and Buonomano even gets into the ‘shooting particles in moving trains’ thought experiments to explain the implications of Einstein's theory of relativity. I, perhaps naively, did not expect to encounter so much of Einstein in this book, but in the author's defense, he does an excellent job of explaining the implications of relativity, and he even manages to link it back to the psychology and neuroscience of timing.
In the last chapter, the author returns to the core issues. He discusses whether animals plan for the future (they clearly do) and whether they reflect on the future in the same way that we do (debatable). We also get to meet the Pirahã tribe who, according to an anthropologist/missionary who lived with them, lives in the here and now. They were, for instance, quite unimpressed with Christianity when they realized that their visitor had never actually met Jesus. In the last chapter, the author also takes on free will. If time is just another dimension that we can, at least in theory, travel across, then that should logically mean that everything that is going to happen has already happened which presumably means there is no free will. Free will, the author suggests may only be the feeling associated with making decisions - just like we feel pain when we get painful stimulation.
All in all, if you are interested in time and its relation to human behavior - then this book is the book is for you.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
The most common word used, but the least understood. What is time?
This book takes on the immensely difficult subject of time, from the subjective, the scientific, the philosophical, the historical, as well as famous quotes.
The author delves into as much as one can do in a subject not easily understood. Whether you believe in presentism or externalism. The belief that only the present is real or the block universe where the past present and future are as real as each other, is discussed in detail.
A well worth read for anyone fascinated by time in all its aspects.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Well done book, but it becomes one of the most repetitive books I've ever read a he must rehash the same story and concept, one specific part in at least 15 different chapters. it's a good story he keeps rehashing, but the same point/story over and over just becomes too redundant (story of how black tar heroin came to the states ). take that one point out and it's excellent. terrific writing, great investigative journalism.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
The author presents very interesting facts and data about the physics and neuroscience of time, but in the that's all the reader is left. The author fails to adequately draw a conclusion
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
I find this book to be a gem on the topic of the science of time. Time is one the hardest nuts to crack physics has encountered, no one can define it. This book cites the many studies done on how brain perceives time, which are the most specific and conclusive scientific experiments on the topic of time, in my opinion. I like this neuroscience approach, because it avoids relying solely on “spooky” mysterious theories of arrow of time, entropy and inflation theory. It just mentions those briefly, but focuses on the temporal functionality of the brain. Very refreshing and engaging read among all other attempts to talk about time. Highly recommended.