The mechanisms of the reducing valve

I was fascinated just recently while watching this new video from PBS Spacetime, which is a channel dedicated to explaining physics and all the recent discoveries in the field. The video discusses whether the properties of space and time are inherent in the universe we see or are placed there by our minds. It’s not quite idealism, but it’s a step away from absolute materialism. Anyways though that’s not the most interesting thing. At the end of the video Matt O’Dowd discusses the mechanisms behind how our brains allow us to orient in space and time. There are neurons called place neurons that fire when we approach certain places in a given environment. There are other neurons that form a spatial grid for us called grid neurons. And brain wave patters, such as those targeted by brain entrainment, also supply us with a sense of time.

To me this all feels like the mechanisms behind the reducing valve Aldous Huxley talks about that filters and organizes our experience. This is how the brain creates three dimensions and a linear sense of time out of the vastness of the universe.

Another interesting thing that was mentioned was that these grid neurons and place neurons don’t only allow us to orient ourselves in space and time, but they also play a huge roll in how we thinking abstractly. Place neurons for example also fire when we move in our thought from one idea to the next when we are thinking discursively. And grid neurons fire when we consider the relationships between two or more ideas.

So not only do we perceive things spatially and temporally, our thinking is also locked into these patterns, because the spatial and temporal parts of our brain serve double duty to allow us to associate ideas and move from one thought to another. This seems to me to account for why our thinking has such a hard time grasping anything outside these spatial and temporal dimensions.

Anyways here’s the video. I think it’s promising physics is starting to ask questions like these.


Great point.

I wonder if the fact that our minds are only able to focus on one thing or one thought at a time plays a role with this concept. Kind of like one long string of dominos. I wonder if AI and computers are able to have multiple strings of dominos going at the same time, and thats what makes it so powerful? It is my understanding that we can delude ourselves into being able to multitask or split our focus and thoughts on multiple things, but really the mind is just jumping really quickly from one thing to another and then back again.

Did not watch video yet, going to check it out this weekend.