Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics
The Westend Lectures on Brain and Cognition with Erich Schröger:
From Fechner's Psychophysics to Cognitive Neuroscience: a case for mental models
Gustav Theodor Fechner can be regarded as one of the founding fathers of modern psychology. He coined a new discipline, which had an immense impact on various scientific disciplines and applications: psychophysics, which aims at relating dimensions of the physical world and dimensions of the psychological world. While Fechner´s psychophysics is widely known, he stated that outerpsychophysics is only the preparation for the much further reaching inner psychophysics(Fechner, Elemente der Psychophysik, 1860). In fact, cognitive neuroscience can be regarded being a form of inner psychophysics as it relates physiological events / processes and psychological events / processes, stressing the importance of mental models. I will present some work from my and other groups supporting the idea that (in the auditory domain) such mental models are predictive in nature. They predict upcoming sounds on the basis of representations describing temporal/sequential regularities. Predictions help to identify the continuation of the previously discovered sound sources to detect the emergence of new sources as well as changes in the behavior of the known ones. The predictive models of the auditory environment produce auditory event representations which provide a full sensory description of the sounds, including their relation to the auditory context and the current goals of the organism. Event representations can be consciously perceived and serve as objects in various cognitive operations.