Three questions motivate my research. What is the basic structure of the human mind? How do we get ourselves to think and act in ways that comport with our values? What obligations arise from our understanding of these questions?
Philosophers and cognitive scientists often treat the mind as unified, as organized around a central processor which determines our mental lives. I argue that this is mistaken. The mind is disunified, composed of a collection of systems which coordinate—without always directly interacting—to determine what we think and do. Because of this disunity, a surprising degree of our self-control is indirect, involving not just momentary decisions, but also broader regulation of ourselves and our environment. I show that this brings new obligations: we cannot simply try to think, reason, or act rationally, we must do our best to construct the conditions which enable rational behavior.
My curriculum vitae: [PDF]
Visual Streams as Core Mechanisms. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. Forthcoming. [Draft]
Milner and Goodale (2006) argue that the ventral and dorsal streams of cortical processing are independent modules for different functions, perception and online motor control respectively. But this conception is undermined by evidence for functional and informational connectivity between the streams. I present a new conception of the visual streams on which they are core mechanisms for different person-level functional roles. I defend this view by arguing that it better accords with the empirical evidence and helps us better understand the role that the streams play in the study of visual perception.
Responsibility and Perception. The Journal of Philosophy. Forthcoming. [Draft]
I argue that beliefs based on irresponsibly formed experiences — whose causes were not appropriately regulated by the subject — are doxastically unjustified. Only this position, I claim, accounts for the higher epistemic standard required of perceptual experts. Section I defends this standard and applies it to a pair of cases in which either an expert umpire or a complete novice judge a force play in baseball. I argue that when the latter, but not the former, fails to follow rules about perceiving force plays, their resulting belief is justified. Section II shows that this difference can be explained by the fact that the novice, but not the expert, formed her experience responsibly. Section III shows that alternative explanations of the expert’s unjustified belief — from defeat, reliability, and inference — fail. Section IV shows that the epistemic relevance of responsible experience formation has broad implications for the epistemology of perceptual beliefs.
(Un)conscious Perspectival Shape and Attention Guidance in Visual Search: A reply to Morales, Bax, and Firestone (2020). Conscious and Unconscious States and Processes: Examining their Nature, Similarities, and Differences. Routledge. Forthcoming. (w/ Assaf Weksler) [Draft]
When viewing a circular coin rotated in depth, it fills an elliptical region of the visual scene. For some, this appears to generate a two-fold experience, in which one sees the coin as simultaneously circular (in light of its 3D shape) and elliptical (in light of its 2D ‘perspectival shape’ or ‘p-shape’). An energetic philosophical debate asks whether the latter p-shapes are genuinely presented in perceptual experience (as ‘perspectivalists’ argue) or if, instead, this appearance is somehow derived or inferred from experience (as ‘anti-perspectivalists’ argue). This debate, however, has largely turned on introspection. In a recent study, Morales, Bax, and Firestone (2020) aim to provide the first empirical test of this question. They asked subjects to find an elliptical coin seen face-on from a search array that also included a circular coin seen either face-on or at an angle. They found that subjects reacted more slowly when the distracting circle was seen at an angle. From this, they concluded that the similar p-shape between the ellipse and circle constituted a phenomenal similarity between the two, and thus that perspectivalism is true. We show that these results can also be explained by pre-attentive guidance by unconscious representations (in what follows, just “unconscious pre-attentive guidance”) and that this explanation is at least as plausible as one from phenomenal similarity. Thus, we conclude that the experiment does not support perspectivalism over anti- perspectivalism.
I defend a new account of the function of the “ventral” and “dorsal" streams of visual processing. On Milner and Goodale’s (2006) account, the streams constitute isolated processing systems, each with a proprietary function: ventral stream generates perceptual experiences while dorsal stream guides motor activity. This account is challenged by evidence for functional connections between the streams and for each stream’s involvement in the other’s “proprietary” function. I show that a weaker view—that dorsal stream representations directly guide motor activity, without cognitive intermediaries—is consistent with such evidence, but has the same theoretical and methodological implications for the perceiving mind.
Papers in Progress
Paper on Individuating Visual Streams
I address recent controversy over how to individuate visual streams (e.g. Grünbaum 2017). I argue that we should differentiate streams according to the person-level functions that they perform. An implication of this functional differentiation is the inclusion of a new “threat detection” stream, comprising connections between early vision and the amygdala, whose function is trigger “fight or flight” responses to potentially threatening stimuli. Thus, vision is functionally disunified into at least three separate streams, one for visual experiences, one for direct motor guidance, and a third for triggering threat responses.
Paper on the Function of Functional Division in the Visual System
I addresses the purpose of functional disunity. The dominant account is that perceptual systems are divided according to task, that multiple perceptual systems assist in the simultaneous performance of tasks with conflicting computational demands (Milner and Goodale 2006, Clark 2001). However, this account is challenged by evidence that multiple systems often perform the same task in different ways. I argue on evolutionary and computational grounds that the multiple streams enact distinct but complementary computational approaches in the coordinated performance of a single task. Specifically, the perceptual system employs both ‘action-coupled’ representations—which directly impact action—and ‘action-decoupled’ representations—which impact action via cognition—to accomplish complex tasks.
Paper on the Perceptual Division and the Structure of the Mind
I argue that functional disunity has two important implications for theorizing about the perceiving mind. First, the existence of coupled perceptual systems undermines ‘centralized’ conceptions of cognition, on which perception’s influence on action is uniformly mediated by a central processor (e.g. Fodor 1983). On the account I defend, cognition is an important part of a suite of systems which coordinate to solve complex perception/action problems, but not a central processor. Second, while we can directly intervene on experience’s role in determining action, our control over coupled processes is more indirect, requiring that we shape ourselves and our environment in order to enact self-control.
Paper on Pragmatic Encroachment
I articulate a new theory of pragmatic or moral encroachment according to which non-epistemic factors influence whether a subject has knowledge by determining which epistemic reasons and procedures one employs in forming one’s beliefs. Since justification is a function of reasons and procedures, this view entails that non-epistemic factors encroach on the epistemic by influencing the *degree*of justification a subject has for her belief. My view has two parts. The first, which I call the ‘reasons-determining view’, says that pragmatic factors help determine (without themselves constituting) which epistemic reasons a subject possesses. They can, for example, help make it the case that one possess a normative defeater for one’s belief (Lackey 2008, 45). The second part, which I call the ‘procedures-determining view’ says that pragmatic factors help determine which procedures one employs in arriving at a belief. They can, for example, help make it the case that a subject has ignored evidence they should have attended The resulting view has two crucial advantages over its competitors: (1) it allows for a classical function from epistemic factors to knowledge-level justification and (2) it admits of independent motivation from beyond the encroachment literature.
My talk on the function of functional division in the visual system (presented to the Antwerp Centre for Philosophical Psychology in 2021) was posted to the Brains Blog. You can watch it here.
"Responsibility and Perception" heavily references the famous "Near-Perfect Game". Here is the relevant play.