Warren Meck: TRF1 Speaker Q&A

 

Warren Meck obtained a B.A. degree in psychology from the University of California, San Diego, a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Brown University, and has been a professor at Brown University, Columbia University, and now Duke University.

His publications are accessible at Google Scholar and can be downloaded at ResearchGate, which also hosts preprints and descriptions of current research projects.

 

How can we determine the brain’s code for time?

It will take well-designed psychophysical studies in combination with neuroimaging, optogenetic stimulation, and electrophysiological recording techniques (triangulation) to break the code. Evaluating subjects with selective lesions and/or genetic backgrounds will continue to be important as well.

 

What will your talk at the 1st Timing Research Forum Conference focus on?

My talk will focus on the pervasiveness of timing abilities across animal species and the idea that a common timing mechanism is used that co-evolved with motor systems, i.e., to move is to time.

 

What according to you are the most pressing and fundamental questions in timing research?

Goals:

a) To map out the “temporal connectome” for time, whereby central timing mechanisms can monitor and synchronize satellite timing mechanisms.

b) To better understand the relationship between intelligence/working memory capacity and timing accuracy/precision.

 

What current topics/techniques or new advances in timing research are you most excited about?

Optogenetics, i.e., selective stimulation of specific types of neurons and/or pathways thought to be involved in controlling the speed of the “internal clock” as well as its mode of operation (e.g., run, pause, and reset).

 

What advice do you have for students and postdoctoral researchers interested in investigating the brain’s code for time?

I would first recommend that students keep in mind the inspiration provided by Robert Rousseau (Laval University) in his forward to the book Functional and Neural Mechanisms of Interval Timing (CRC Press, 2003).

“For more than a century, time has been an object of study in experimental psychology. In his Experimental Psychology, Titchener (1905) wrote, “A student who knows his time sense … has a good idea of what experimental psychology has been and of what it has come to be.” At the dawn of the 21st century, I believe that Titchener’s judgment about the status of timing and time perception in psychology is still appropriate. As was the case a century ago, knowledge of the current research on timing gives a sense of what cognition, cognitive psychology, and cognitive neuroscience have come to be and will become.”

I would also advise students to learn as much as they can about the different levels of analysis that can be applied in the study of timing and time perception in humans and other animals. For me, this would involve comparative neuroanatomy, electrophysiology, and computational modeling.