From a brain's-eye-view, when a stimulus occurs and what it is are interrelated aspects of interpreting the perceptual world. Yet in practice, the putative perceptual inferences about sensory content and timing are often dichotomized and not investigated as an integrated process. We here argue that neural temporal dynamics can influence what is perceived, and in turn, stimulus content can influence the time at which perception is achieved. This computational principle results from the highly interdependent relationship of what and when in the environment. Both brain processes and perceptual events display strong temporal variability that is not always modeled; we argue that understanding—and, minimally, modeling—this temporal variability is key for theories of how the brain generates unified and consistent neural representations and that we ignore temporal variability in our analysis practice at the peril of both data interpretation and theory-building. Here, we review what and when interactions in the brain, demonstrate via simulations how temporal variability can result in misguided interpretations and conclusions, and outline how to integrate and synthesize what and when in theories and models of brain computation.

You do not currently have access to this content.