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How is the brain able to use past experiences to guide decision-making? A few years ago, researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health discovered in rats that awake mental replay of past experiences is critical for learning and making informed choices. Now, the team has discovered key secrets of the underlying brain circuitry – including a unique system that encodes location during inactive periods.

“Advances such as these in understanding cellular and circuit-level processes underlying such basic functions as executive function, social cognition, and memory fit into NIMH’s mission of discovering the roots of complex behaviors”, said NIMH acting director Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D.

While a rat is moving through a maze – or just mentally replaying the experience – an area in the brain’s memory hub, or hippocampus, specialized for locations, called CA1, communicates with a decision-making area in the executive hub or prefrontal cortex (PFC). A distinct subset of PFC neurons are activated during movement, while another distinct subset, less engaged during movement in the maze, are inhibited during replay. (1)

Decision making is one of the greatest mysteries in science.

How do we decide on what to do?

Surely we base our decision on existing knowledge. Surely we speculate on the future impact of our decision. But when and how do we reach the point of no return? When and how do we say “That’s it! I have thought about it enough! It is time to decide!”? Our decisions are always made based on an incomplete picture of the world. Our decisions are taken based on an incomplete set of logical reasoning which is never extensive enough to analyze everything related to our decision.

And yet we decide.

Are we gambling based creatures? Or is it possible that after all and below all this apparent ignorance lies a layer of deep inner intuitive knowledge? Fate. Free will. They seem different. And yet something weird tells me that they are not so different after all…

A long long time ago a Thinker wrote a poem…

A long long time ago people had starred in the abyss…

A long time ago we knew all existed.

Now we “know” some things do not.

And we spend all our lives trying to find our way through ghosts…