Papers & Presentations

Strange Experience: Why Experience Without Access Makes No Sense

I introduce a challenge to the view that thinking about minds in a first-personal, how-it-feels way is cleanly separable from thinking about minds in a third-personal, how-it-works way. I focus on a set of thought experiments involving phenomenology without function, the ‘contrapositive’ of widely-discussed zombie cases.

The Mental Measurement Problem: The Frictionless Epistemology of Conceptual Dualism

I show how a conceptual gap between first-person data and third-person data leads to insurmountable methodological difficulties for a science of mind.

The Conceptual Interaction Problem: The Impossible Metaphysics of Conceptual Dualism

I show how a conceptual gap between the functional and the phenomenal makes any metaphysical link between the two unintelligible. In short, we run into a conceptual interaction problem that mirrors the old, familiar substance interaction problem.

Dissertation

How does our concept of conscious experience constrain attempts to understand the mind’s place in nature? Many think there’s an in-principle difficulty in moving between the first-personal concept of experience and the sorts of third-personal concepts that feature in scientific theorizing: we can’t read off any facts about objective functional structure from facts about subjective experience, and vice versa. But this has some under-appreciated costs: it undermines our justification for everyday judgments about experience, and it renders the metaphysics of mind unintelligible—or so I argue.

By reflecting on cases of functionally isolated experiences (which I take to be incoherent), we can see that our notion of experience must be a functional notion of some kind or other. Conceiving of a phenomenal mind already involves the conception of a certain kind of underlying functional structure in which various experiences are embedded and through which they bear relations to one another. And seeing this allows us to better understand why brains are the sorts of things that can be the seats of experience while jars of mayonnaise–which don’t have the right functional organization–can’t be.

Other Work

Cognitive Architecture and Computation

While I mostly focus on conceptual issues in my dissertation (where I argue that minds, in general, are integrated systems which unify disparate phenomenal states), my preferred conceptual conclusions naturally lead to future work that lies at the intersection of philosophy and science–work that goes about the task of constructing a model of the contingent architecture of human minds that conforms to the a priori constraints laid out in my dissertation. Here, I’m most interested in showing that we can’t specify a general ‘thinking module’ over and above the collection task-specific modules: ‘thinking’ is just the ebb and flow of outputs that are dumped into a single global workspace.

The Puzzling Anti-Realism of Contemporary Physics

A Reductionist Approach to Knowledge