The Predictive Brain

Our brains have an inherent challenge. It takes time to process information and the outside world is not still, nor are we. By the time we have processed an event it has already happened – so we are always in the past. Yet we interact in the present – catch the ball, have conversations and drive our cars. How do we do it if all we sense has already happened?

The only way to solve this dilemma is to be in the future. We have to anticipate or predict the incoming sensory information for interaction.

We predict the future to interact in the present and sense the past.

This important future function of the brain is revealed in numbers. There are 87 billion neurons in the brain and 80% of them are the granule cells of the cerebellum. The input to the cerebellum is from sensory areas of the brain and the output is to the motor and cognitive areas. The cerebellum synchronizes incoming sensory information with motor and cognitive function by prediction.

The cognitive connection has only been revealed recently showing that over 50% of the cerebellum output is to cognitive or attention areas of the brain. The cerebellum predicts correctly by learning so the brain can synchronize to think. That’s why we named the company SyncThink.

Prediction can be also defined as anticipation but it really is incomplete without accurate timing. Synchronization is a better term since it implies same timing – synchronizing sensory input with motor or cognitive output.

This sounds very much like attention, doesn’t it? Selecting sensory information in time and space to interact. Attention has many different meanings – selective, sustained, and distracted. Attention combines spatial and temporal prediction using synchronization to achieve (selective), maintain (sustain-concentration) sensory focus and not get distracted.

Attention is our window on the world. It allows us to interact with the outside world. Without attention, we are in a past driven by the outside world, not a future driven by ourselves.

Adding another wrinkle to our list of words attempting to describe how the brain interacts with the outside world – orientation. Orientation describes the positioning and timing of self with respect to the outside world. Dynamic orientation is even better since it incorporates referential movement of self with respect to the outside world.

It doesn’t make a difference if you can’t measure a difference. How can we measure prediction, anticipation, synchronization, attention or dynamic orientation? The best solution is to measure sensory-motor synchronization and the eye is the perfect system to use.

Vision and its processing take the majority of sensory brain space compared to other sensory modalities and it is the brain that moves the eyes. Visual attention is a necessary continuous function for us. What differentiates us higher primates from the rest of the world is the fovea and smooth pursuit eye movements.

If you hold out your hand and look at your thumb, that is all you can focus on or foveate, with the rest of the visual field a blur. Now move your thumb back and forth and follow it – that is smooth pursuit eye movement. Since we can only foveate a very small portion of the outside world and it moves, we have to have very precise smooth pursuit eye movements to accurately see. A good descriptor here would be dynamic vision synchronization or dynamic orientation.

How can we measure this? We need to have a predictable target stimulus and measure the eye position with respect to the target over time. The key metric is the difference in eye position, with respect to the target position over time – variance.

Motor and cognitive variances are excellent indicators of neurological impairment and pathology and are reflected in the neurological exam – eye movements, coordination using finger pointing, gait and balance. These exams, however, are qualitative and variance is not measured specifically.

The EYE-SYNC analytics from SyncThink for the first time give the medical provider a quantitative tool to quickly, accurately and reliably measure variance in the visual and vestibular ocular-motor system. The EYE-SYNC metrics can be used to measure dynamic orientation in all conditions of movement:

  • Self is moving with respect to outside world and focus on outside world. Vestibular Ocular Reflex (VOR)
  • Self is moving with respect to outside world and focus on self. Vestibular Ocular Reflex cancellation (VORx) – coming soon!
  • Outside world moving with respect to self: smooth pursuit, saccades and convergence.

The target stimulus test for each is just 15 seconds, sometimes repeated twice, with an automatic immediate report that shows the accuracy of spatial and temporal prediction using variance metrics.

For the first time, we have quantitative measures of an individual’s dynamic orientation to the outside world or how well one pays attention. Through SyncThink and the Brain Trauma Foundation (www.braintrauma.org) research, we now know that attention varies due to age, fatigue and cognitive impairments. We knew that attention varies from past research using neuro-cognitive testing which is lengthy, has learning and effort confounders but synchronization metrics have not been applied to attention assessment in a comprehensive manner.

Now that we have robust metrics that can be quickly calculated and displayed, we have the opportunity to improve attention. Instant feedback of the subject’s eye position variance allows brain feedback to correct errors and thereby improve performance.

Training using EYE-SYNC metrics in a dynamic visual environment is the future for optimizing brain health. Augmented reality headsets that can monitor eye and body movements simultaneously in real-world movements including sports will dramatically accelerate brain performance. Stay tuned to SyncThink!