• (2014) Representations Gone Mental, Synthese, 191(2): 213-244 [ pdf ] [ doi ] Abstract
    Many philosophers and psychologists have attempted to elucidate the nature of mental representation by appealing to notions like isomorphism or abstract structural resemblance. The ‘structural representations’ that these theorists champion are said to count as representations by virtue of functioning as internal models of distal systems. In his 2007 book, Representation Reconsidered, William Ramsey endorses the structural conception of mental representation, but uses it to develop a novel argument against representationalism, the widespread view that cognition essentially involves the manipulation of mental representations. Ramsey argues that although theories within the ‘classical’ tradition of cognitive science once posited structural representations, these theories are being superseded by newer theories, within the tradition of connectionism and cognitive neuroscience, which rarely if ever appeal to structural representations. Instead, these theories seem to be explaining cognition by invoking so-called ‘receptor representations’, which, Ramsey claims, aren’t genuine representations at all — despite being called representations, these mechanisms function more as triggers or causal relays than as genuine stand-ins for distal systems. I argue that when the notions of structural and receptor representation are properly explicated, there turns out to be no distinction between them. There only appears to be a distinction between receptor and structural representations because the latter are tacitly conflated with the ‘mental models’ ostensibly involved in offline cognitive processes such as episodic memory and mental imagery. While structural representations might count as genuine representations, they aren’t distinctively mental representations, for they can be found in all sorts of non-intentional systems such as plants. Thus to explain the kinds of offline cognitive capacities that have motivated talk of mental models, we must develop richer conceptions of mental representation than those provided by the notions of structural and receptor representation.


  • (2014) On the Matter of Memory: Neural Computation and the Mechanisms of Intentional Agency, Rutgers University [ pdf ] [ abstract ]

Dissertation Committee:

Frances Egan (co-chair)
Robert Matthews (co-chair)
Charles Randy Gallistel
Gualtiero Piccinini (external)

Research Projects

Sensory Attenuation and Agency Attribution in Voluntary vs. Involuntary Actions
A two year-interdisciplinary project, funded by the Center for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN), led by principal investigators Hong Yu Wong and Axel Lindner, heads of the Philosophy of Neuroscience Group at the CIN, and the Neurobiology of Decision Making Group at the Hertie Institute, respectively. The purpose of the project is to investigate whether there are differences in the ‘sense of agency’ that subjects experience when they perform voluntary versus involuntary actions, what the neural basis of that difference might be, and how this might inform philosophical theories of action.