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. I still work on belief acquisition, but I've branched out to work on belief change, and belief storage, building what one might call a 'Psychofunctional' theory of belief--detailing the empirical laws that govern belief acquisition, storage, and change. It's 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? 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. Although much of my cognitive work is negative (e.g., I'm currently working on a paper about how cognition doesn't appear to be Bayesian) 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 testable and 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.

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, and another arguing that perception underwrites categorization of basic-level objects on its own, without the need for any help from cognition. 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. I've also done some work on automaticity of processing, mostly (but not wholly by any means) in perceptual processing. 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. 

Along with the fantastic team of Yarrow Dunham, Katie McAuliffe, and Dave Rand, I've won a grant to study cross-cultural differences in cooperative and economic behavior. In essence our project is investigating how living in societies with weak institutions affect cooperative behavior. We are setting up research sites in Uganda, India, and the good ol' U.S. of A. 

In epistemology, I've been working on a few ideas that are naturally outgrowths of the cognitive work. Specifically, I have a new project characterizing unconscious inference (almost purely descriptively) and another on realism vs dispositionalism about belief (both done in collaboration with an super sharp graduate student Jake Quilty-Dunn). Just shoot me an email if you want a draft of either of those papers (or any of the others mentioned but not listed here).


Like everything else in the world, research is more fun when done in collaboration, and I'm extremely lucky to have a large number of super talented collaborators. My advice: find people smarter, funnier, and more likable than you and somehow convince them to collaborate with you. Anyway, here's a list of some recent collaborators.

Yarrow Dunham

Tatiana Emmanouil

Bryce Huebner

Neil Levy

Shaun Nichols

Mark Phelan

Jesse Prinz

Jake Quilty-Dunn

Dave Ripley

Jennifer Ware

Steven Young