How are psychology and physics different?


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Eleven questions to Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Einhäuser-Treyer, who has held the Professorship of Physics of Cognitive Processes since April 2015

    Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Einhäuser-Treyer (37) has held the Professorship of Physics of Cognitive Processes since April 2015. In eleven answers he gives the readers of “Uni aktuell” an insight into his career, his goals and his time in Chemnitz.

    What is actually meant by the physics of cognitive processes?

    The name of the professorship is probably unique in the world, but in my opinion it very nicely expresses its interface between physics and psychology. More precisely, we try to make human cognitive and sensory processes accessible through physical methods. That sounds very modern, but it is part of a long tradition of so-called psychophysics. Even before Fechner coined this term, research on perception was carried out by researchers such as Maxwell or Helmholtz, who are known to us today for their contributions to physics.

    For me as a professor, Chemnitz University of Technology is the right choice because ...

    ... here the link between physics and psychology is seriously lived and institutionalized in the courses of study for sensor technology and cognitive psychology.

    Briefly introduce us to your academic career.

    Studied physics in Heidelberg and Zurich, doctorate in neuroinformatics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, then almost two postdoctoral years at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), a good year in computer science at ETH and finally seven years as junior professor for neurophysics in Marburg, in between a year at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) in Bielefeld.

    Describe your study time in a maximum of 15 words.

    Thanks to a stay abroad and a change of study location, new perspectives and above all new motivation gained.

    Did you have role models during your studies who encouraged you to pursue an academic career?

    Certainly my doctoral supervisor and our institute directors at the time during my doctorate, because despite all the administrative burden they never lost the joy of daily work in the laboratory and this enthusiasm has repeatedly conveyed this enthusiasm to us students. I only really learned to appreciate that later, however, when I realized that unfortunately this is anything but self-evident.

    What advice do you have for young students and graduates?

    Enthusiasm for the subject and its topics is much more important than primarily looking at its supposed importance and the prospects of success for the future career choice. The latter can change a lot over the course of a degree.

    What would you like to achieve in teaching in the future?

    The link between physics and psychology is to become even closer in the courses in sensor technology and cognitive psychology, and it is also to become clearly apparent at the level of individual events. In the medium term, I would like the master’s course to receive more funding from outside the TU Chemnitz and to establish itself among the leading cognitive science courses in Germany and Europe.

    What impulses do you set in research at Chemnitz University of Technology?

    In addition to the continuation of my work on eye movements under realistic conditions and on multistable perception, the connection to a physics institute initially offers the opportunity to significantly expand the theoretical understanding of these processes and also to examine them with regard to numerous possible applications. In addition, I am looking forward to bringing together results from visual and auditory perception to a comprehensive understanding of multi-modal perception and cognitive processes in cooperation with the Professorship for Structure and Function of Cognitive Systems. And finally, I see numerous possible points of contact with colleagues from other departments such as movement sciences or computer science.

    There are around 45,000 professors at German universities. What makes you stand out?

    Perhaps also shaped by my international experience, I attach very little importance to the boundaries between different subject areas and believe that I really live the - unfortunately overused - concept of interdisciplinarity.

    Which place in Chemnitz do you prefer to show guests?

    Guests with children definitely go to the zoo in Rabenstein, otherwise, of course, the Marx Monument is also very impressive.

    How do you get involved in the life of the city?

    In the few months that I've been in Chemnitz so far, there is of course still little institutionalized interaction with life in the city; But to me, the daily interaction seems to be the most important anyway. On a professional level, together with my colleagues, I would like to increase the interaction with the local schools at all levels in order to arouse and strengthen enthusiasm for science in general and our subject in particular at an early stage.

    Further information on the professorship:

    Catherine Thehos

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