British novelist Aldous Huxley in a bid to study perception supposedly taped his conversations after swallowing the hallucinogenic drug mescaline. During one such chat, a researcher asked him to describe how time felt. "There seems to be plenty of it," was all Huxley could offer.1

Silly as that sounds, few have done much better in explaining time or its sensation. Yet scientists are taking the first stabs at answering at least one part of the question: how the brain perceives time. For example, a University of Washington study is the first to document how neurons in primates track time from one instant to the next.2 And even in a research field where no one knows what to expect, the investigations are turning up surprises.

The findings cast some doubt on an idea that appeals to many, that the brain has an internal "clock" that somehow ticks ceaselessly away,...

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