After a very successful TRF1 in 2017, this year saw the second bi-annual Timing Research Forum held from the 15-17th of October, 2019 in Queretaro, Mexico. The conference largely followed the format of its predecessor, with the extremely exciting addition of a Moonshot session and keynotes from Mehrdad Jazayeri, Albert Tsao and Kia Nobre.
It would be difficult to comment on all the new ideas and findings, with so many exciting and inspiring talks/posters in one place, but some of the musings I took away were related to how we still have a long (and adventurous) road ahead of us in terms of defining what we truly mean when we speak of the specifics of timing and time perception. Specifically, several speakers proposed the idea of rethinking relative features of time such as what regularity truly means for the brain, and whether previously demonstrated functional networks account for all presentations of time as has been suggested (for example, beats and intervals), or rather whether different networks account for different aspects of time. The importance of rhythmic expectation via improved performance in behavioural measures were also touched upon, but again, extrapolating these behavioural effects to occur as a result of temporal expectation is a perilous stance that still requires further exploration (and may actually be more challenging than we initially anticipate). With every meeting dedicated to exploring time perception, it becomes increasingly obvious that we don’t all mean the same thing when we speak of time. Investigating the perception of ‘rhythms’ or ‘beat’ is distinctly different to the perception of ‘intervals’, and even that is different to the processing of ‘durations’. Perhaps, however, these differences are what make the study of time endlessly exciting and compelling – that there truly is so much more we are yet to discover (and eventually piece together).
The Moonshot session was a novel and particularly exciting addition at this years meeting. The basic premise for the discussion was this –
“For the next 5 years, all techniques, methods, and workforce are available to solve the question you think is essential to understand time in the brain. Which question would that be, and why?”.
Speakers proposed several really thought-provoking and progressive advances (the session was fully livestreamed and if you didn’t get a chance to tune in, you can still catch up at https://www.pscp.tv/w/1djxXRwNmYyGZ). Some of the suggestions included a focus on the ontology of timing and a particular need to develop a comprehensive taxonomy of time, as several accounts of interval timing actually describe pattern timing. Another suggestion was the immediate need to explore if distinct neurochemical systems mediate distinct aspects of timing and more social approaches to this question, for example, why synchronous movements with others increases social affiliation (even as early as infancy), and in a similar vein, the comparison that unlike humans, other primates (monkeys) do not spontaneously perform periodic temporal prediction, highlighting that predictive motor entrainment is intrinsically rewarding to humans (..and why exactly to species differ)?.
While the Moonshot allowed for many exciting ideas to be brought to the forefront, I was especially excited by Molly Henry’s radical approach to the perusal of needing to delimit the now, and what exactly this means. Molly described reports on an ‘expanded now’ from individuals on LSD and other hallucinogens, and proposed that if we truly were to aim for the moon, considering the use of such stimulants to explore the extent of the ‘now’ might actually be more fruitful and eye-opening (excuse the pun!) than we realise. Whilst this leaves much to think about (and in some cases, reconsider), there is something to be said for the feeling of each of us working together to piece this puzzle in our own creative ways.
In conclusion, it is no understatement to say TRF2 was a resounding success – presenting novel insights, but also reaffirming the need to continue pushing our own assumptions of approaching the enigma of timing creatively. Building on the foundations of its predecessor, TRF2 has paved the way for more exciting work to be presented at TRF3 in Groningen (The Netherlands). Thanks again to all the organisers and attendees. See you in 2021!
– Aysha Motala is a postdoctoral fellow at the Brain and Mind Institute (Western University, Canada) working on cross-modal timing and neuroimaging of speech and rhythm processing