Research

The sensitive management hypothesis.

The sensitive management hypothesis.

My research concerns human representational behavior, especially in cognitive science. I develop tools to model the ways that we use concepts, and the ways our concept-use varies according to differences in our aims or background commitments. In a slogan, I work to expand the conceptual analyst’s toolkit. I focus mainly on human representations in science (generally) and cognitive science (in particular), but my work draws from and impinges on topics in philosophy of mind and philosophy of language.

I am currently developing analytical techniques that provide means for modeling embattled concepts in an analytically rigorous way. Ecumenical explication uses non-classical extensions to model embattled terms (i.e. when people disagree about how to use a word or concept). Parameterization pro­vides a framework for reimagining conceptual analyses as a basis for negotiating meaning rather than attempting to settle verbal disputes outright. In coming years, I would like to extend my work on cognition to other scientific concepts like gene and natural selection, and to embattled social concepts like gender and disability.

The Nature of Cognition

There is fundamental disagreement among cognitive scientists about the nature and extension of cognition. I argue that cognition is the “sensitive management of organismal behavior.” This explication draws on the various analytical tools I have developed, and explains the pattern of contemporary disagree­ment among researchers. It therefore serves as a resource for appeal that is neutral between various com­peting research programs, and a better description than more partisan alternatives of the current state of cognitive science. I argue that it illuminates the present state of conceptual development in cognitive science, and that it is better poised than its rivals to contribute to other philo­sophical questions that turn on the conception of the mind that we receive from current science. I explore consequences of my view for philosophical debates concerning functionalism, extended cognition and natural representation. I have presented pieces of this work at various professional conferences, and have begun submitting papers based on these talks for peer review. I foresee that this work will form the basis of a monograph on disagreement and conceptual development in cog­nitive science.

“When Experts Disagree”

I am a Visiting Research Fellow with “When Experts Disagree” (WEXD), an interdisciplinary research project funded by the Irish Research Council and based at the University College Dublin School of Philosophy and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies School of Cosmic Physics. The project goal is to understand public perceptions of scientific disagreement, and how to communicate with the public and with policy-makers about controversial scientific topics.