My research lies at the intersection of three key areas within philosophy of mind:
Concepts are the structured building blocks of systematically and productively structured thought: systematic in that they can be applied in more or less the same fashion across unboundedly many contexts and productive in that a finite quantity of them can be combined and recombined to form unboundedly many complex concepts and, at least in the case of certain conceptual agents, propositional thoughts. Though they appear ultra-stable and some concepts (often mathematical ones) may even be taken to be static, beyond capacity for change, nevertheless concepts (at the level of individual, group, society or species) are in a state of constant if generally incremental motion, perturbed by every experience of our individual and collective lives. Borrowing a line of thought from Peter Gärdenfors, concepts can most usefully be described in terms borrowed from geometry, as (generally speaking) convex areas of conceptual spaces defined by their integral dimensions. Certain, very basic protoconceptual entities are, one way or another, hardwired into our nature, so that we are predisposed to carve up the world we encounter into things (concrete and abstract objects), happenings (temporal objects), and properties (of things, of happenings, of other properties) -- such that we literally cannot imagine carving up the world any other way.
My predominant interest in consciousness studies lies with what I see as the extremely close relationship between conceptual agency – the capacity to think in a systematically and productively structured fashion – and consciousness: two sides of a single coin. We are inclined to attribute conceptual agency where we attribute consciousness and consciousness where we attribute conceptual agency. Both may be seen as lying along a spectrum in a wide range of species: those that are capable of a certain flexibility of behaviour. I am a strong advocate of non-reductive theories of consciousness that do not see consciousness or other high-level cognitive functions as reducible even in principle to the level of neural anatomy, even as cognitive neuroscience can and must inform understanding of those phenomena. The relationship between brain and mind is too complex; a full understanding of their interrelation would require our ability to step outside of our own nature, to view ourselves and our nature “objectively” without penalty of descending into self-referential paradox. Human cognition has knowable boundaries that one is wise to respect. Reductive approaches in cognitive neuroscience run the serious risk of oversimplifying the complexity of human cognition. The cognitive science of consciousness calls for a certain modesty.
As Humberto Maturana has noted, everything we observe about the world we observe from a perspective that is, by the nature of perspective, limited. There is no priveleged perspective on the world; and, for nearly any phenomenon of sufficient complexity, more than one valid yet seemingly mutually exclusive explanation may be seen to present itself. The so-called mind-body problem arises precisely because of a mistaken expectation that there is one single correct perspective on our nature and our world. Rather it is the case that we toggle continuously and, for the most part, unselfconsciously between two perspectives on that world: one in which the observer is front and center, the other in which the observer has been pushed into the background or seemingly removed altogether. I call this idea perspectival dualism. Mind and matter reflect not two ontologically distinct substances (Cartesian dualism) nor two ontologically distinct sets of properties of a common substance (property dualism) but rather two competing, complementary, yet ultimately irreconcilable perspectives, both of which are necessary to arrive at any useful picture of the world. To borrow a thought from the latter Edmund Husserl, subjective experience and objective reality are inextricably intertwined. Their separability is a highly useful fiction, but it is just that, and should be recognized as such.[A project proposal]