Foreword

For more than a century, time has been an object of study in experimental psychology. In his Experimental Psychology, Titchener (1905) wrote, "A student who knows his time sense ... has a good idea of what experimental psychology has been and of what it has come to be." At the dawn of the 21st century, I believe that Titchener's judgment about the status of timing and time perception in psychology is still appropriate. As was the case a century ago, knowledge of the current research on timing gives a sense of what cognition, cognitive psychology, and cognitive neuroscience have come to be and will become.

The beginning of the modern era in timing and time perception was signaled by John Gibbon and Lorraine Allan's (1984) seminal volume in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Since then, the field has exploded. As is the case in other domains of cognitive and behavioral psychology, a very large corpus of descriptive data has accumulated and numerous experimental methods have been developed. For a number of years, prominent authors have claimed that cognitive psychology is in need of theoretical unification. Others have also called for going further than describing what are the critical phenomena by focusing on understanding how these phenomena are produced. The book is certainly the most impressive attempt at achieving the goals of both unifying the field of timing and time perception and understanding the timing process.

Functional and Neural Mechanisms of Interval Timing acknowledges the need to provide a way of bringing together different research areas that have historically evolved independently. Research on the analysis of animal timing behavior and work on human timing and time perception have to be systematically connected. A common understanding of the traditions of timing research with different time scales has to be provided. It has been generally accepted that timing of circadian periods operated under mechanisms different from those controlling interval timing in the range of seconds and minutes or in the range of milliseconds (e.g., Hinton and Meck, 1997). Again, evidence that auditory stimuli are timed differently from visual stimuli (e.g., Grondin and Rousseau, 1991; Penney et al., 2000) has to be accounted for. On top of addressing these issues, the book gives a striking demonstration that timing is pervasive across species, developmental stages, and forms and complexity of behaviors. One cannot help but be convinced that the study of timing is at the heart of the enterprise of understanding behavior and cognition.

Furthermore, the book has a unique way of promoting unification of the field through the adoption of a specific theoretical point of view rooted in the family of pacemaker-counter models of timing and based on the principle of scalar timing. The scalar expectancy theory has been, for the last 20 years, the most influential theory in that family. It provides a common theoretical basis for most of the chapters in this book. The reader is shown that timing in very different forms of behavior in animals and humans follows the principle of scalar timing.

Russell Church (1984) proposed that a description of how time was processed had to rely on at least three basic levels of analysis: psychological, formal, and biological. That approach has been generally adopted, but to my knowledge, the present book represents by far the best example of considering the three-prong approach. In this manner, Functional and Neural Mechanisms of Interval Timing makes a concerted effort to give timing research a driving thrust using all the existing power of cognitive science. Setting most chapters in the theoretical context of pacemaker-counter models has enabled a common way of addressing the psychological level. The concept of an internal clock linked with processes like attention, memory, and decision making form the current conceptual basis in the field, and that is skillfully reflected in the book (e.g., Fortin et al., 1993; Rousseau and Rousseau, 1996). Furthermore, the book gives the reader the current status of the development of formal models of timing. Probabilistic models, connectionist models, and oscillator models are described both in simple and advanced ways, giving an up-to-date comprehension of timing models.

The biological level of how time is processed has been heavily influenced by the recent development of various methods in the field of cognitive neuroscience. Techniques for recording electrical activity or blood flow of the brain, brain lesions and pharmacological interventions; study of patients with neurological problems; and even genetic research have been applied to the study of cognition. The book provides the reader with chapters covering the most exhaustive set of these methods applied to timing and time perception. It includes one of the first attempts at considering the genetic analysis of interval timing. The reader is also presented with the most advanced description of the brain structures supporting timing. The way the biological level is treated in the book is an invaluable contribution to the progress of the field.

The volume, edited by Warren Meck, presents cutting-edge scientific work in a way that promotes a concerted view of timing and time perception. The chapters systematically introduce and explain in detail the recent progress that has been made in identifying the functional and neural mechanisms of interval timing. Never before has such a large array of phenomena and methods been put together with such a coherent analysis. It is a remarkable achievement for both unity and synthesis in the domains of behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. The book is certainly a major step in giving the field of timing and time perception a theoretical focus of great scientific power.

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