Is mental time travel possible?

Scientists have determined that the human brain is capable of mentally “transporting” an individual through the past, present and future.

This ability is known as “chronesthesia” and is often referred to as “mental time travel.”

“Chronesthesia consists of two independent sets of processes. [First], those that determine the contents of any act of such ‘travel’ – what happens, who are the ‘actors,’ where does the action occur; it is similar to watching a movie,” Endel Tulving from the University of Toronto told PhysOrg.

“[And second], those that determine the subjective moment of time in which the action takes place – past, present, or future.”

According to Tulving, a recent study confirmed “some evidence” for the chronesthesia phenomenon.

“The most important result is the novel discovery that certain brain regions are more active in the imagined past and future than they are in the imagined present,” he said.

“[Yes, the] findings are promising. But they have to be replicated, checked for validity and reliability, and, above all, extended to other conditions and situations, before we can start thinking about their implications and applications – of which it is easy to think of many.”

However, Tulving emphasized that despite the above-mentioned study, scientists still understood little about perceived, remembered, known and imagined time.

“When you remember something that you did last night, you are consciously aware not only that the event happened and that you were ‘there,’ as an observer or participant (‘episodic memory’), but also that it happened yesterday, that is, at a time that is no more. 

“[So], the question we are [essentially] asking is, how do you know that it happened at a time other than ‘now’?”