How our brains encode thoughts, such as perceptions and memories, at the cellular level is one of the biggest puzzles in neuroscience today.
A new study, published in a recent issue of Neuron, sheds light on how neural ensembles form thoughts and support the flexibility to change one’s mind. Earl Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, led the study which has identified groups of neurons that encode specific behavioral rules by oscillating in synchrony with each other. The nature of conscious thought, the results suggest, may be rhythmic.
“As we talk, thoughts float in and out of our heads. Those are all ensembles forming and then reconfiguring to something else. It’s been a mystery how the brain does this,” says Miller, who is also a member of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. “That’s the fundamental problem that we’re talking about — the very nature of thought itself.”