I work on topics in the philosophy of cognitive science, mind, and related areas, including ones such as memory, perception, emotions, delusions, and the self. Below are some of my current research projects.

On Unifying Declarative Memory

The distinction between episodic and semantic declarative memory systems, as introduced by Tulving (1972, updated in 1984, 1991), was a revolutionary approach to human memory. While the distinction is now widely endorsed in the study of memory, there are debates about what constitutes each system’s domain, how each system is used, how each system functions, and the phenomenal experiences associated with the functioning of each system. On the basis of clinical studies and insights from conditions affecting memory, this paper argues that the episodic/semantic distinction can be reframed as a result of a unified declarative memory system. In this view, experiences are encoded into memory traces, and retrieval of memories is dependent on the cues specific to each particular instance of remembering. The upshot of this proposal, called unified memory functionalism, is that the phenomenal differences of remembering can be understood in terms of the differential salience of cues without defaulting to the view that there exist multiple declarative memory systems.

Against Mental Time Travel: What Aphantasia Tells Us About Remembering

In contemporary memory-related debates, episodic memory is often characterized as mental time travel (MTT), in which you remember past events by mentally traveling back in time to when the event occurred. I will show that this view doesn't hold under scrutiny from two angles. First, I show that not all typical episodic remembering comes by way of mental time travel. Second, I offer aphantasia, or the inability to voluntarily visualize mental imagery, as a way to prove MTT is an imaginative capacity and not a function of episodic retrieval. By removing MTT from this debate, I reframe the declarative memory system as one based on the salience of cues specific to the memory trace and not contingent upon differences in the phenomenal experience of remembering.

Toward a Default Emotion

The number of discrete emotions humans have is an ongoing debate, but consensus tends to put the number of basic emotions – the ones which are most elemental – at six: enjoyment, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. These are, according to Levenson (2011), the six basic emotions which meet three desiderata that distinguishes the basic emotions from the others: distinctness, hard-wiredness, and functionality. Absent from this discussion, I argue, is another basic emotion, one that has thus far been hidden from explication but is phenomenally familiar to each of us as humans: calmness. In this paper I suggest calmness not only meets the desiderata for basic emotions, but is also our default emotion, often the one from which we deviate when the others activate, and the one we return to when the others subside.

Toward a Three-factor Approach to Monothematic Delusion

The two-factor approach proposed by Coltheart and colleagues is a novel attempt to understand the causes of delusion. The approach involves asking two questions: (1) “what brought the delusional idea to mind in the first place?” and (2) “why is this idea accepted as true and adopted as a belief when it is typically bizarre, and when so much evidence against its plausibility is available to the patient?” (Coltheart et al. 2011b). In what follows, I’ll agree that these are the right questions to ask. However, I’ll disagree that the answer to the second question is as simple as Coltheart and his colleagues have supposed. In particular I will argue that the adoption of delusional thoughts as beliefs involves two separate processes: not just the evaluation of beliefs, but also the patient’s subsequent metacognitive judgment of that evaluation. This three-factor approach leads to a clearer understanding of the genesis and maintenance of delusional thoughts, and of the beliefs and actions based on them.

Systems of Memory and the Self

A pluralistic account of the Self typically suggests the existence of several simultaneously available mental states; that is, the Self, used as a plurality, “are the experiences and mental states we have and that’s it: no additional substances, and no bundles” (Benovsky 2014). I will show, however, that there are not only several modes of the Self that are indeed normatively bundled, namely a noetic Self and a narrative Self, but that in addition these modes correlate to two specific systems of memory: semantic and episodic, respectively. I then go on to discuss evidence of these correlations informed by amnesia and other clinical case studies. The upshot of this proposal is a better understanding of the relationship between the Self and memory.