Papers

Here are my publications and some old manuscripts that tickle me. If you are interested in my current work or conference presentations, please email me.

Publications

Rethinking the Problem of Cognition. (2017, Online First). Synthese. DOI: 10.1007/s11229-017-1383-2. (free version; view only).

The present century has seen renewed interest in characterizing cognition, the object of inquiry of the cognitive sciences. In this paper, I describe the problem of cognition—the absence of a positive characterization of cognition despite a felt need for one. It is widely recognized that the problem is motivated by decades of controversy among cognitive scientists over foundational questions, such as whether non-neural parts of the body or environment can realize cognitive processes, or whether plants and microbes have cognitive processes. The dominant strategy for addressing the problem of cognition is to seek a dichotomous criterion that vindicates some set of controversial claims. However, I argue that the problem of cognition is also motivated by ongoing conceptual development in cognitive science, and I describe four benefits that a characterization of cognition could confer. Given these benefits, I recommend an alternative criterion of success, ecumenical extensional adequacy, on which the aim is to describe the variation in expert judgments rather than to correct this variation by taking sides in sectarian disputes. I argue that if we had an ecumenical solution to the problem of cognition, we would have achieved much of what we should want from a “mark of the cognitive.”

Cognition in Practice: Conceptual Development and Disagreement in Cognitive Science (PhD dissertation). 2016. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh.

Cognitive science has been beset for thirty years by foundational disputes about the nature and extension of cognition—e.g. whether cognitive processes extend outside the body, and whether plants have them. Previous work on this topic has aimed to settle these questions, but I ask instead how scientists could possibly disagree so much about such fundamental issues. I conclude that cognitive science is currently in a period of major conceptual change. I develop logical tools for characterizing concepts that, like cognition, are in transition, and argue for a novel view of cognitive science that has revisionary consequences for functionalism and our understanding of natural representation. While my dissertation focuses on issues in con­temporary cognitive science, the tools I develop have promising applications in other scientific and social contexts.

The Precision of Locomotor Odometry in Humans. With Frank H. Durgin (first author), Charles R. Gallistel and Woody Haiken. 2009. Experimental Brain Research 109: 42936.

Two experiments measured the human ability to reproduce locomotor distances of 4.6–100 m without visual feedback and compared distance production with time production. Subjects were not permitted to count steps. It was found that the precision of human odometry follows Weber’s law that variability is proportional to distance. The coefficients of variation for distance production were much lower than those measured for time production for similar durations. Gait parameters recorded during the task (average step length and step frequency) were found to be even less variable suggesting that step integration could be the basis for non-visual human odometry.

Accurate Perception of Visual Space from Live-Video in a Head-Mounted Display. With Frank H. Durgin. 2007. Presented at the 7th Annual Meeting of the Vision Sciences Society, Sarasota, FL. Abstract published in Journal of Vision, 7.9: 283, 283a.

Even when geometrically accurate displays are used in virtual reality (VR), most labs report that perception of distance is substantially compressed for participants wearing a head-mounted display (HMD). We compared locomotor estimates of visual distance across three conditions: normal vision, VR simulation of the environment, and live-video viewed via HMD. We found that participant performance relatively impaired in VR, but did not differ between the normal vision and live-video conditions. Our results suggest that distance compression in VR experiments is not caused by artifacts of the HMD. (Poster.)

Manuscripts

A New Approach to the Problem of Cognition. My academic writing sample. Revision of 21 October, 2015.

Cognitive science has been beset for thirty years by foundational disputes about the nature and extension of cognition—e.g. whether cognitive processes extend outside the body, and whether plants have them. Previous work on this topic has aimed to settle these questions, but I ask instead how scientists could possibly disagree so much about such fundamental issues. I conclude that cognitive science is currently in a period of major conceptual change. I argue that an adequate characterization of cognition should therefore be ecumenical, reflecting existing disagreements instead of taking sides. I develop a variation on standard conceptual analysis that can produce ecumenical characterizations, which I call the parameterization strategy. Finally, I describe the Sensitive Management View, an example of the parameterization strategy that accommodates the existing variation in judgments about cognition.

Functionalism and the Case for Modest Cognitive Extension. My MSc dissertation. Revision of 11 November, 2009.

In my MSc dissertation I attempt to disentangle certain prevalent confusions about the Hypothesis of Extended Cognition (HEC) famously defended by Andy Clark and David Chalmers. In particular, I distinguish HEC from a related claim called the Hypothesis of Extended Mentality (HEM), and I distinguish Clark and Chalmers' arguments for each. I then articulate a successor to the parity argument for a modest version of HEC, and defend it against recent criticisms by Mark Sprevak and others.

Sellars on Functionalism and Normativity. Revision of 31 December, 2009.

In this essay I describe Wilfrid Sellars' functionalism and its applications to the metaphysics of cognition. I am particularly concerned to defend the views of the late Sellars from criticism by left-Sellarsians who allege that the late Sellars has succumbed to the myth of the given. Though the connections may not be apparent to others, it was returning to this essay as well as the presuppositions of my MSc dissertation (above) that yielded my PhD prospectus.

Speaking Truth to Power: Two Conceptions of Power in Plato's Gorgias. Revision of 02 February, 2014.

An interpretive essay in which I argue that in Gorgias Plato poses a puzzle about how to conceive of power: real power is efficacy, or it is understanding, but in most circumstances a person cannot be both efficacious and understanding. I suggest that while the puzzle is not resolved in GorgiasRepublic may describe a resolution that pleases Plato, but few modern readers.

The Structure of Hegelian Self-Consciousness: A Guide for the Perplexed. Revision of 26 January, 2012.

An admittedly ambitious (and long) paper describing my heterodox reading of the first division of Chapter IV of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Along the way I attempt to render some of the relevant Hegelian vocabulary into the slightly less obscure register of Anglophone philosophy. This paper requires some significant revisions, but it's strange enough that I thought there was no harm in offering it up here.