Navigational roots of spatial and temporal memory structure

Abstract

Our minds are constantly in transit, from the present to the past to the future, across places we have and have not directly experienced. Nevertheless, memories of our mental time travel are not organized continuously and are adaptively chunked into contexts and episodes. In this paper, I will review evidence that suggests that spatial boundary representations play a critical role in providing structure to both our spatial and temporal memories. I will illustrate the intimate connection between hippocampal spatial mapping and temporal sequencing of episodic memory to propose that high-level cognitive processes like mental time travel and conceptual mapping are rooted in basic navigational mechanisms that we humans and nonhuman animals share. Our neuroscientific understanding of hippocampal function across species may provide new insight into the origins of even the most uniquely human cognitive abilities.