The Musical Structure of Time in the Brain: Repetition, Rhythm, and Harmony in fMRI During Rest and Passive Movie Viewing

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© Copyright © 2020 Lloyd. Space generally overshadows time in the construction of theories in cognitive neuroscience. In this paper, we pivot from the spatial axes to the temporal, analyzing fMRI image series to reveal structures in time rather than space. To determine affinities among global brain patterns at different times, core concepts in network analysis (derived from graph theory) were applied temporally, as relations among brain images at every time point during an fMRI scanning epoch. To explore the temporal structures observed through this adaptation of network analysis, data from 180 subjects in the Human Connectome Project were examined, during two experimental conditions: passive movie viewing and rest. The temporal brain, like the spatial brain, exhibits a modular structure, where “modules” are intermittent (distributed in time). These temporal entities are here referred to as themes. Short sequences of themes – motifs – were studied in sequences from 4 to 11 s in length. Many motifs repeated at constant intervals, and are therefore rhythmic; rhythms, converted to frequencies, were often harmonic. We speculate that the structure and interaction of these global oscillations underwrites the capacity to experience and navigate a world which is both recognizably stable and noticeably changing at every moment – a temporal world. In its temporal structure, this brain-constituted world resembles music.

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Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience