Vienna Cognitive Science Hub: Predictive Processing Symposium

The Vienna Cognitive Science Hub invited me to do an intro lecture on Predictive Processing, moderate the Q&A session with Karl Friston and to host their panel discussion with Karl Friston (University College London),
Naoshige Uchida (Harvard University), Isabella Sarto-Jackson (Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research), Moritz Grosse-Wentrup (University of Vienna), and Manuel Zimmer (University of Vienna).

Predictive Processing and the Free Energy Principle?! Count me in!

Please find all the exciting talks on the symposium’s website.

@orf1 – Fannys Friday

Another one on fear, this time acrophobia. Normally I assume that everything on TV is staged for your entertainment. The wonderful Isabella Purkart who interviewed me was really, really terrified of heights. The whole show was quite an ordeal for her. At the end, she managed to climb all the 183 of the Vienna Jubiläumswarte. Not only was she rewarded with a fantastic view over our city and the Wienerwald, she also got a first hand experience how confrontation helped her to overcome her fear. Great job!

Why are we excited about predictive processing?

The lovely people from the brainstorms group invited me to give an online talk about predictive processing. Predictive processing theory suggests that all brain functions depend on comparisons between ongoing actual experiences and the brain’s expectations. It suggests that expectations and predictions about reality are, probably, more important than the direct live sensory evidence that the brain receives. But is it just a new data modelling method? Does it describe just one aspect of cognition? No, there is much more potential. Let us look at the loose ends of present day cognitive (neuro)science to see why we can be really excited about predictive processing.

Watch my talk on facebook

@orf2 – Covid-19, whatever next?

Using our brain we predict the future based on what we have learnt in the past. But what if there is no precedence to learn from? How can we cope with lock-downs, isolation, existential crises, and fear of an unknown infection?

Covid-19 brings most of us out of their comfort zone but we are built for enduring hardships and uncertainty.

I was invited to an afternoon TV talk show to discuss my outlook on the future with social economics Prof. Marina Fischer-Kowalski, psychologist Irina Nalis, behavioral biologist Gregor Fauma and Matthias & Tristan Horx.


The Interdisciplinary College (IK) will take from 13 to 20 March 2020 in Günne/Möhnesee, Germany, with this year’s focus theme: Curiosity, Risk & Reward: Shaping Autonomous Intelligence.

Together with Till Bockemühl (University of Cologne) I will teach Introduction to Neuroscience

The brain, the cause of – and solution to – all of life’s problems. According to our brains it is the most fascinating structure in the known universe. Consisting of about 86 billion neurons of which each can form thousands of connections to other neurons it is also the most complex structure in the known universe. In this course we would like to give you a rough guide and introduction to the basic principles, fundamental theories, and methods of neuroscience.

We will demonstrate that neuroscience can be seen as a multi-modal, multi-level, multi-disciplinary research framework that aims at addressing the challenges of this megalomaniac scientific endeavor. We will see that different frameworks and methods can lead to conflicting empirical evidence, theoretical assumptions, and heated debates. However, we argue that this might be the only way to uncover the mysteries of our brain. Read more about our course.

@orf1 – okidoki on fear

Finally, I was asked for an interview in the children’s television show okidoki. A childhood’s dream come true :) I was asked to explain what happens in the brain and the body when we are afraid. A very suitable topic for Halloween, I guess.

More evidence for dopamine’s involvement in creativity

Anna-Lisa Schuler has been working on our CREAM data and found out that people with stronger brain connectivity of the dopaminergic midbrain also show higher levels of creativity. She did her analysis on resting state data, this means, at that time our participants did not perform any specific task. Instead, while lying inside our comfortable MRI scanner, they engaged in daydreaming. Karl Friston has called this state of mind unconstrained cognition because people are not distracted by our experimental stimuli.

We previously observed stronger dopaminergic midbrain connectivity in people who have an Aha! moment. Now, Anna-Lisa’s new finding links a personality trait to brain connectivity. The next question is, does frequent engagement in creative trinking and repeated experience of Aha! moments boost your creativity – or are creative people more likely to have Aha! moments?

Schuler A, Tik M, Sladky R, Luft CDB, Hoffmann A, Woletz M, Zioga I, Bhattacharya J, Windischberger C. Modulations in resting state networks of subcortical structures linked to creativity. Neuroimage. 2019 Mar 29;195:311-319. 2019.

Is this is a trend?

Trends are not always a good thing. Sometimes trends can obscure the things that are really important. A common problem in signal processing is that measured data can be affected by signal drifts – for example, due to temperature changes in your sensor or the thing that you try to measure. To get rid of these drifts the signal can be detrended. This filtering is a standard data processing step for many applications.

However, in real-time fMRI we need to perform this detrending online, that is, while we acquire the data. This is not so trivial, so Rotem Kopel, Frank Scharnowski, and I wrote a paper about it.

Kopel R & Sladky R, Laub P, Koush Y, Robineau F, Hutton C, Weiskopf N, Vuilleumier P, Van De Ville D, Scharnowski F. No time for drifting: Comparing performance and applicability of signal detrending algorithms for real-time fMRI. NeuroImage 2019

Can cocaine users self-regulate their dopaminergic reward circuit using neurofeedback?

We found evidence that people can upregulate their dopaminergic reward circuit using mental imagery. This works even better when they receive fMRI neurofeedback of their substantia nigra brain region. Interestingly, this also appears to work in cocaine users – at least in those without strong obsessive-compulsive drug use.

Like we showed in our study on the Aha!-moment, mentally generated feelings of reward can activate brain areas that produce dopamine. Could neurofeedback be a new form of self-guided cognitive brain stimulation?

Self-regulation of the dopaminergic reward circuit in cocaine users with mental imagery and neurofeedback. Matthias Kirschner, Ronald Sladky, Amelie Haugg, Philipp Stämpfli, Elisabeth Jehli, Martina Hodel, Etna Engeli, Sarah Hösli, Markus R Baumgartner, James Sulzer, Quentin J M Huys, Erich Seifritz, Boris B Quednow, Frank Scharnowski, Marcus Herdener.