Research

Research

Research is actively encouraged at all levels of the PNP program. The PNP program sponsors a wide range of research activity, including conferences, workshops, seminar series, and colloquia. The PNP program sometime hosts visiting faculty, including the Clark-Way-Harris Visiting Professors, and it supports two two-year James S. McDonnell postdoctoral fellows. The Olin library maintains a dedicated research page for the PNP program.

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the faculty bookshelf

Beyond Vision: Philosophical Essays
Self-Consciousness and 'Split' Brains
Sounds: A Philosophical Theory
Sounds & Perception
Philosophy: Traditional and Experimental Readings
The Construction of Human Kinds
Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior
In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries Across the Life Sciences
Thought Experiments
A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind
Blindspots
Pseudo-Problems: How Analytic Philosophy Gets Done
Vagueness and Contradiction
Seeing Dark Things: The Philosophy of Shadows
A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities
Layering and Directionality
Danto and His Critics
Mental Imagery: On the Limits of Cognitive Science
Talking to Our Selves: Reflection, Ignorance, and Agency
Explaining the Brain: Mechanisms and the Mosaic Unity of Neuroscience

Beyond Vision: Philosophical Essays

Beyond Vision brings together eight essays by Casey O'Callaghan. The works draw theoretical and philosophical lessons about perception, the nature of its objects, and sensory awareness through sustained attention to extra-visual and multisensory forms of perception and perceptual consciousness. O'Callaghan focuses on auditory perception, perception of spoken language, and multisensory perception. The first essays concern the nature of audition's objects, focusing on sounds, especially drawing attention to the ways in which they contrast with vision's objects. The middle essays explore forms of auditory perception that could not be explained without understanding audition's interactions with other senses. This bridges work on sound perception with work on multisensory perception, and it raises multisensory perception as an important topic for understanding perception even in a single modality. The last essays are devoted to multisensory perception and perceptual consciousness. They argue that no complete account of perception overall or of multisensory perceptual consciousness can be developed in modality-specific terms-perceiving amounts to more than just seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling at the same time. The final essay presents a new framework for understanding what it is to be modality-specific or to be multisensory.

Self-Consciousness and 'Split' Brains

Could a single human being ever have multiple conscious minds? Some human beings do. The corpus callosum is a large pathway connecting the two hemispheres of the brain. In the second half of the twentieth century a number of people had this pathway cut through as a treatment for epilepsy. They became colloquially known as split-brain subjects. After the two hemispheres of the brain are cortically separated in this way, they begin to operate unusually independently of each other in the realm of thought, action, and conscious experience, almost as if each hemisphere now had a mind of its own. 

Philosophical discussion of the split-brain cases has overwhelmingly focused on questions of psychological identity in split-brain subjects, questions like: How many subjects of experience is a split-brain subject? How many intentional agents? How many persons? On the one hand, under experimental conditions, split-brain subjects often act in ways difficult to understand except in terms of each of them having two distinct streams or centers of consciousness. Split-brain subjects thus evoke the duality intuition: that a single split-brain human being is somehow composed of two thinking, experiencing, and acting things. On the other hand, a split-brain subject nonetheless seems like one of us, at the end of the day, rather than like two people sharing one body. In other words, split-brain subjects also evoke the unity intuition: that a split-brain subject is one person.

Elizabeth Schechter argues that there are in fact two minds, subjects of experience, and intentional agents inside each split-brain human being: right and left. On the other hand, each split-brain subject is nonetheless one of us. The key to reconciling these two claims is to understand the ways in which each of us is transformed by self-consciousness.

Sounds: A Philosophical Theory

Vision dominates philosophical thinking about perception, and theorizing about experience in cognitive science traditionally has focused on a visual model. This book presents a systematic treatment of sounds and auditory experience. It demonstrates how thinking about audition and appreciating the relationships among multiple sense modalities enriches our understanding of perception. It articulates the central questions that comprise the philosophy of sound, and proposes a novel theory of sounds and their perception. Against the widely accepted philosophical view that sounds are among the secondary or sensible qualities, and against the scientific view that sounds are waves that propagate through a medium such as air or water, the book argues that sounds are events in which objects or interacting bodies disturb a surrounding medium. This does not imply that sounds propagate through a medium, such as air or water. Rather, sounds are events that take place in one's environment at or near their sources. This account captures the way in which sounds essentially are creatures of time and situates sounds in the world. Sounds are not ethereal, mysterious entities. It also provides a powerful account of echoes, interference, reverberation, Doppler effects, and perceptual constancies that surpasses the explanatory richness of alternative theories. Investigating sounds and audition demonstrates that considering other sense modalities teaches what we could not otherwise learn from thinking exclusively about the visual. This book concludes by arguing that a surprising class of cross-modal perceptual illusions demonstrates that the perceptual modalities cannot be completely understood in isolation, and that a visuocentric model for theorizing about perception — according to which perceptual modalities are discrete modes of experience and autonomous domains of philosophical and scientific inquiry — ought to be abandoned.

Sounds & Perception

This book comprises original chapters that address the central questions and issues that define the emerging philosophy of sounds and auditory perception. This work focuses upon two sets of interrelated concerns. The first is a constellation of debates concerning the ontology of sounds. What kinds of things are sounds, and what properties do sounds have? For instance, are sounds secondary qualities, physical properties, waves, or some type of event? The second is a set of questions about the contents of auditory experiences and of hearing. How are sounds experienced to be? What sorts of things and properties are experienced in auditory perception? For example, in what sense is auditory experience spatial; do we hear sources in addition to sounds; what is distinctive about musical listening; and what do we hear when we hear speech? An introductory chapter summarises many of the issues discussed, provides a summary of the contributions and shows how they are connected.

Philosophy: Traditional and Experimental Readings

Philosophy: Traditional and Experimental Readings, is an edited volume that integrates traditional historical and contemporary philosophical readings with recent work in experimental philosophy, a philosophical movement in which people collect empirical data to shed light on philosophical issues.  Each chapter contains an introduction to the issues, concepts, and readings within the chapter.  O

The Construction of Human Kinds

Ron Mallon explores how thinking and talking about kinds of person can bring those kinds into being. Social constructionist explanations of human kinds like race, gender, and homosexuality are commonplace in the social sciences and humanities, but what do they mean and what are their implications? 

This book synthesizes recent work in evolutionary, cognitive, and social psychology as well as social theory and the philosophy of science, in order to offer a naturalistic account of the social construction of human kinds. Mallon begins by qualifying social constructionist accounts of representations of human kinds by appealing to evidence suggesting canalized dispositions towards certain ways of representing human groups, using race as a case study. He then turns to interpret constructionist accounts of categories as attempts to explain causally powerful human kinds by appealling to our practices of representing them, and he articulates a view in which widespread representations produce entrenched social roles that could vindicate such attempts. 

Mallon goes on to explore constructionist concerns with the social consequences of our representations, focusing especially on the way human kind representations can alter our behaviour and undermine our self understandings and our agency. Mallon understands socially constructed kinds as the real, sometimes stable products of our cognitive and representational practices, and he suggests that reference to such kinds can figure in our everyday and scientific practices of representing the social world. The result is a realistic, naturalistic account of how human representations might contribute to making up the parts of the social world that they represent.

Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior

This book is a provocative contribution to contemporary ethics and moral psychology, challenging fundamental assumptions about character dating to Aristotle. John Doris draws on an array of social scientific research, especially experimental social psychology, to argue that people often grossly overestimate the behavioral impact of character and grossly underestimate the behaviorial impact of situations. Circumstance, Doris concludes, often has extraordinary influence on what people do, whatever sort of character they may appear to have. He then considers the implications of this observation for a range of issues in ethics, arguing that with more realistic picture effect, cognition, and motivation, moral psychology can support more compelling ethical theories and more humane ethical practices.

In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries Across the Life Sciences

Neuroscientists investigate the mechanisms of spatial memory. Molecular biologists study the mechanisms of protein synthesis and the myriad mechanisms of gene regulation. Ecologists study nutrient cycling mechanisms and their devastating imbalances in estuaries such as the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, much of biology and its history involves biologists constructing, evaluating, and revising their understanding of mechanisms.

           

With In Search of Mechanisms, Carl F. Craver and Lindley Darden offer both a descriptive and an instructional account of how biologists discover mechanisms. Drawing on examples from across the life sciences and through the centuries, Craver and Darden compile an impressive toolbox of strategies that biologists have used and will use again to reveal the mechanisms that produce, underlie, or maintain the phenomena characteristic of living things. They discuss the questions that figure in the search for mechanisms, characterizing the experimental, observational, and conceptual considerations used to answer them, all the while providing examples from the history of biology to highlight the kinds of evidence and reasoning strategies employed to assess mechanisms. At a deeper level, Craver and Darden pose a systematic view of what biology is, of how biology makes progress, of how biological discoveries are and might be made, and of why knowledge of biological mechanisms is important for the future of the human species.

Thought Experiments

Can merely thinking about an imaginary situation provide evidence for how the world actually is--or how it ought to be? In this lively book, Roy A. Sorensen addresses this question with an analysis of a wide variety of thought experiments ranging from aesthetics to zoology. Presenting the first general theory of thought experiment, he sets it within an evolutionary framework and integrates recent advances in experimental psychology and the history of science, with special emphasis on Ernst Mach and Thomas Kuhn.

Sorensen explores what thought experiments are, how they work, and what their virtues and vices are. In his view, philosophy differs from science in degree, but not in kind. For this reason, he claims, it is possible to understand philosophical thought experiments by concentrating on their resemblance to scientific relatives. Sorensen assesses the hazards of thought experiments and grants that there are interesting ways in which the method leads us astray, but attacks most scepticism about thought experiments as arbitrary. He maintains that they should be used--as they generally are--as part of a diversified portfolio of techniques, creating a network of cross-checks that make for impressive reliability.

A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind

Can God create a stone too heavy for him to lift? Can time have a beginning? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Riddles, paradoxes, conundrums--for millennia the human mind has found such knotty logical problems both perplexing and irresistible. 

Now Roy Sorensen offers the first narrative history of paradoxes, a fascinating and eye-opening account that extends from the ancient Greeks, through the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and into the twentieth century. When Augustine asked what God was doing before He made the world, he was told: "Preparing hell for people who ask questions like that." A Brief History of the Paradox takes a close look at "questions like that" and the philosophers who have asked them, beginning with the folk riddles that inspired Anaximander to erect the first metaphysical system and ending with such thinkers as Lewis Carroll, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and W.V. Quine. Organized chronologically, the book is divided into twenty-four chapters, each of which pairs a philosopher with a major paradox, allowing for extended consideration and putting a human face on the strategies that have been taken toward these puzzles. Readers get to follow the minds of Zeno, Socrates, Aquinas, Ockham, Pascal, Kant, Hegel, and many other major philosophers deep inside the tangles of paradox, looking for, and sometimes finding, a way out. 

Filled with illuminating anecdotes and vividly written, A Brief History of the Paradox will appeal to anyone who finds trying to answer unanswerable questions a paradoxically pleasant endeavor.

Blindspots

Sorensen here offers a unified solution to a large family of philosophical puzzles and paradoxes through a study of "blindspots": consistent propositions that cannot be rationally accepted by certain individuals even though they might by true.

Pseudo-Problems: How Analytic Philosophy Gets Done

Vagueness and Contradiction

Roy Sorenson offers a unique exploration of an ancient problem: vagueness. Did Buddha become a fat man in one second? Is there a tallest short giraffe? According to Sorenson's epistemicist approach, the answers are yes! Although vagueness abounds in the way the world is divided, Sorenson argues that the divisions are sharp; yet we often do not know where they are. Written in Sorenson's usual inventive and amusing style, this book offers original insight on language and logic, the way the world is, and our understanding of it.

Seeing Dark Things: The Philosophy of Shadows

If a spinning disk casts a round shadow does this shadow also spin? When you experience the total blackness of a cave, are you seeing in the dark? Or are you merely failing to see anything (just like your blind companion)?

Seeing Dark Things uses visual riddles to explore our ability to see shadows, silhouettes, and black birds--plus some things that are only metaphorically "dark" such as holes. These dark things are anomalies for the causal theory of perception which states that anything we see must be a cause of what we see. This orthodoxy successfully explains why you see the front of this page rather than its rear. However, the causal theory has trouble explaining how you manage to see the black letters on this page. The letters are made visible by the light they fail to reflect rather than the light they reflect.

Nevertheless, Roy Sorensen defends the causal theory of perception by treating absences as causes. His fourteen chapters draw heavily on common sense and psychology to vindicate the assumption that we directly perceive absences. 

Seeing Dark Things is philosophy for the eye. It contains fifty-nine figures designed to prompt visual judgment. Sorensen proceeds bottom-up from observation rather than top-down from theory. He regards detailed analysis of absences as premature; he hopes a future theory will refine the pictorial thinking stimulated by the book's riddles. Just as the biologist pursues genetics with fruit flies, the metaphysician can study absences by means of shadows.

Shadows are metaphysical amphibians with one foot on the terra firma of common sense and the other in the murky waters of non-being. Sorensen portrays the causal theory of perception's confrontation with the shadows as a triumph against alien attack--a victory that deepens a theory that resonates so strongly with common sense and science. In sum, Seeing Dark Things is an unorthodox defense of an orthodox theory.

A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities

If you want to learn how to conform to confound, raze hopes, succeed your successor, order absence in the absence of order, win by losing and think contrapositively, look no further. Here you can unlock the secrets of Plato's void, Wittgenstein's investigations, Schopenhauer's intelligence test, Voltaire's big bet, Russell's slip of the pen and lobster logic. Among your discoveries will be why the egg came before the chicken, what the dishwasher missed and just what it was that made Descartes disappear.

Experience the unbearable lightness of logical conclusions in Professor Sorensen's intriguing cabinet of riddles, problems, paradoxes, puzzles and the anomalies of human utterance. As you accompany him on investigations into the mysteries of truth, falsehood, reason and delusion, prepare to be surprised, enlightened, mystified and, above all, entertained.

Layering and Directionality

The metrical grid, the prosodic hierarchy, and the devices that establish directional parsing effects are closely intertwined in metrical stress theory. The metrical grid is the structure that represents stress patterns. The locations of stressed positions on the grid are constrained by the positions of categories in the prosodic hierarchy. Both the metrical grid and the prosodic hierarchy are manipulated by constraints, such as alignment constraints, that establish directional orientations within these structures. Assumptions about the representations affect the behavior of the constraints, and the particular formulation of the constraints influences the ultimate configuration of the representations. 

Layering and Directionality is unique in the OT literature in that it examines both halves of the equation. It addresses the formulation of constraints that produce directional parsing effects, but it also addresses assumptions concerning prosodic and metrical structure. The book presents and defends three central proposals: the Weak Bracketing approach to layering relationships between prosodic categories, the Optimal Mapping approach to the relationship between prosodic categories and the metrical grid, and the Relation-Specific Alignment approach to parsing directionality. The book is also unique in its coverage of OT accounts, comparing the proposed approach to approaches that range from Generalized Alignment in standard OT to the more recent Iterative Foot Optimization couched within the framework of Harmonic Serialism. The book draws extensively on the typological literature to evaluate the predictions of the accounts examined.

Danto and His Critics

One of philosophy's most creative thinkers, Arthur Danto has produced a body of work that includes epistemology, action theory, the philosophy of history, the history of philosophy, aesthetics, and art criticism. An abiding concern in this work has been the attribution of content to various expressions of ideas, thoughts, or beliefs: in knowledge claims, actions, and artworks. Accounting for the difference between apparently indistinguishable objects and events in these categories has been a methodological thread.

Mental Imagery: On the Limits of Cognitive Science

How images occur in the brain and are used in cognition is a subject much debated by psychologists. . . . In this book, a philosopher of science shows that there are no logical or methodological reasons why the brain cannot store information in pictures, and he proposes an original theory explaining how images function as representations. The first philosophical study to develop a systematic analysis of recent research on mental images, the book focuses on the imagery debate in order to provide an assessment of cognitive science in general. 

Talking to Our Selves: Reflection, Ignorance, and Agency

The unconscious, according to contemporary psychology, determines much of our lives: very often, we don't know why we do what we do, or even exactly what we are doing. This realization undermines the philosophical-and common sense-picture of human beings as rational, responsible, agents whose behavior is ordered by their deliberations and decisions. Drawing on the latest scientific psychology and philosophical ethics, Talking to Our Selves develops a philosophically viable theory of agency and moral responsibility that fully accounts for the unsettling challenges posed by the sciences of mind.

Explaining the Brain: Mechanisms and the Mosaic Unity of Neuroscience

What distinguishes good explanations in neuroscience from bad? Carl F. Craver constructs and defends standards for evaluating neuroscientific explanations that are grounded in a systematic view of what neuroscientific explanations are: descriptions of multilevel mechanisms. In developing this approach, he draws on a wide range of examples in the history of neuroscience (e.g. Hodgkin and Huxleys model of the action potential and LTP as a putative explanation for different kinds of memory), as well as recent philosophical work on the nature of scientific explanation. Readers in neuroscience, psychology, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of science will find much to provoke and stimulate them in this book.