The default mode network (DMN) is classically considered an ‘intrinsic’ system, specializing in internally oriented cognitive processes such as daydreaming, reminiscing and future planning. In this Perspective, we suggest that the DMN is an active and dynamic ‘sense-making’ network that integrates incoming extrinsic information with prior intrinsic information to form rich, context-dependent models of situations as they unfold over time. We review studies that relied on naturalistic stimuli, such as stories and movies, to demonstrate how an individual’s DMN neural responses are influenced both by external information accumulated as events unfold over time and by the individual’s idiosyncratic past memories and knowledge. The integration of extrinsic and intrinsic information over long timescales provides a space for negotiating a shared neural code, which is necessary for establishing shared meaning, shared communication tools, shared narratives and, above all, shared communities and social networks.
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