I'm a philosopher and cognitive scientist at City University of New York (at the Graduate Center, and at Baruch College). I did my undergrad at Rutgers College (back when there was such a thing) at Rutgers University, and my graduate work at UNC Chapel Hill. After graduate school I took my first position at Oxford University (in a whole bunch of different places--St. Catherine's College, the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford Martin 21st Century School, the Faculty of Philosophy). After leaving Oxford I went to Yale University where I taught in the Departments of Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Continuing my trekking, my next job was at Harvard University as a member of the Mind/Brain/Behavior Program and the Department of Philosophy. Finally I returned to my ancestral NYC home.

My Research

I'm interested in a whole lot of things. Most of them could be summed up by saying that I'm interested in how the mind works. This interest manifests itself in the study of cognitive architecture. A cognitive architecture would offer a specification of a) what the different faculties of the mind are and how they operate, b) how the different faculties interact (or fail to interact), and c) a specification of the representational medium of thought. That's a lot to ask for, and no doubt pretty much every theory and model I'll offer will turn out to be wrong in some serious ways. But hopefully, they'll be wrong in interesting and illuminating ways. Alas, cognitive science is not for those who demand that the questions they pose get answered in their lifetime.

Of course, one cannot just study cognitive architecture in the abstract--it's best to have a nose to the ground approach. So as a means to studying the architecture of the mind, I have a few more catholic research interests. For a while, much of my energy was spent focusing on belief acquisition (“Thinking is Believing”). I still work on belief acquisition, but I've branched out to work on belief change (“Troubles with Bayesianism: An Introduction to the Psychological Immune System”), and belief storage (email me for a draft), building what one might call a 'Psychofunctional' theory of belief--detailing the empirical laws that govern belief acquisition, storage, and change. (I’m actually writing a book on the topic).

Cognitive architecture is a lot of fun. You get to work on topics such as: How can human beings, seemingly the smartest animals ever encountered, be so freaking dumb (which is the topic of a different in progress book I’m writing)? We seem to acquire beliefs with the ease with which we catch colds, yet we also seem to learn nothing. How this is possible is a fun topic to examine, and will ensure your swear jar is full. 

My other main related cognitive research interests pertain to how smart our unconscious can be. Specifically, much of my recent work has been on unconscious logic and inference. Related research topics include judgment and decision making (particularly anchoring and adjustment), and detailed examinations (and taxonomies) of associative processing. Many of these interests intersect in the study of implicit attitudes, and so I've spent a whole lot of time research the behavior of implicit attitudes, particularly in the context of implicit bias, unconscious reasoning, and associative models of thought (see, e.g., “Attitude, Inference, Association”). Although much of my cognitive work is negative it's unsporting not to put positive views forward. Accordingly, I've been cobbling together a model of unconscious mental logic, to at least offer up some reasonably justifiable hypotheses about the rules of unconscious thought. These rules comprise the foundation of thought, so the project is a pretty cool way to spend one's work life.

I also have a project on slurs and associationism that has turned into something of wider interest. I don't want to say too much, but the bigger question my collaborators (the wonderful Jennifer Ware and Steve Young) and I are looking at is whether language is, in a very real sense, onomatopoetic--whether the valence of referents is smuggled into the phonetics of words. We've some pretty exciting evidence about this...I've also been working for a while on fragmented models of central cognition. Joseph Bendana and I will hopefully share that publicly shortly (it’s under review so down from public consumption), but we’re happy to share it with interested readers).

I've also been working on a few ideas that are naturally outgrowths of the cognitive work, and sit at the intersection of cognition and epistemology. Specifically, I have some papers characterizing unconscious inference (“Inferential Transitions”, and “Non-Inferential Transitions”—the latter is coming out in an anthology; email me if you want a copy). I also have an essay on realism vs dispositionalism about belief (“Against Dispositionalism: Belief in Cognitive Science”). All of papers mentioned in this paragraph are written in collaboration with the amazing Jake Quilty-Dunn. I highly recommend reading any of his solo papers, as they all rock.

Outside of cognition, I have an active perceptual research program. Much of my philosophical work in perception has been on understanding information flow in perceptual processes. I've a new paper on using categorization to understand the perception/cognition border, which also argues that perception underwrites categorization of basic-level objects on its own, without the need for any help from cognition (“Seeing and Conceptualizing: Modularity and the Shallow Contents of Perception”). Other recent work has focused on conceptualizing modularity, particularly on whether there is an understanding of modularity that can be extended to modules in central cognition (e.g., “Numerical Modularity”). I've also done some work on automaticity of processing, mostly (but not wholly by any means) in perceptual processing (“The Automatic and the Ballistic”). On the empirical side, my collaborators and I are examining causal perception, and links between causal perception and concept activation. Additionally, we are investigating statistical summary representations of certain kinds (hopefully, the research will be available for others to see soon). 

In addition to using the relatively standard routes of perception and cognition for understanding cognitive architecture, I've intermittently used empirical investigations into moral cognition as a tool for understanding cognitive architecture (particularly, unconscious logic). But regardless of the architectural questions (e.g., how do emotion and cognition interact), the questions arising from moral cognition are fascinating in their own right. I've worked on issues of responsibility for the mentally ill, and models of responsibility judgments in general. Both projects attempt to reduce moral specific machinery (like a moral module) to more basic processes of change detection in violations of expectations. The new directions for this project look at how violations of expectations lead to agency detection and beliefs in the supernatural. 

Some newer projects I am currently embroiled in include focusing on functionalism as a guide to immortality, the structure/function divide in neuroscience, and Perceptual Overflow and the Biological Theory of consciousness. Alas, sooner or later every philosopher of mind must write something on consciousness, so I finally have. I also have some new work on why being mean is impractical, as well as a new paper on propaganda and why it’s worse now than ever before. Fun times.