I meant some time ago to mention Neural Substrates of Planning, a post by Chris Chatham that appeared at Developing Intelligence. I enjoy these glimpses of the science of the brain.
Chatham suggests that efficient planning is a balance between at least three characteristics:
- A relationship to a distant goal, yet grounded in the here-and-now.
- Flexible, current “sub-goals” need periodic updating, but the ultimate goal is stable.
- A recombination of old behaviors for new purposes, but without harmful interference with older plans.
Among other things, he says that the hierarchical organization of the prefrontal cortex “may allow for goals to be organized in a nesting cascase from the more temporally distant to the more immediate.”
While the prefrontal cortex is thus maintaining goals, other regions like the basal ganglia may help in flexible updating. The article says that the ganglia can “selectively update” the prefrontal cortex, and might also help choose the most useful plan from several alternatives.
Dealing with new circumstances may involve the hippocampus, which can “rapidly form new associations without disrupting older associations.”
Chatham’s post has a number of links as well as a list of related posts.