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A series of studies in human auditory perception, memory, attention, discrimination, and learning are described, based on the use of physical synthesis models. The use of realistic sounding DSP-based physical models allows individual parameters to be isolated and tested, while still keeping an "ecological" approach to the experiments. Partly due to the flexibility of the model parameters, and due to the large numbers of subjects tested, and also due to the large collections of sounds we have been able to use, the studies described have provided much new evidence about the nature of human cognitive auditory mechanisms. A new research agenda has been born out of this work, endeavoring to answer difficult questions about the subjective nature of sonic "reality", "naturalness", "presence", "immersion", etc.