published papers

Perception and cognition 

Noise, uncertainty, and interest: Predictive coding and cognitive penetration (2017a) with Dustin Stokes. Consciousness & Cognition.

This paper addresses how current predictive processing theorists conceptualize and explain possible instances of cognitive penetration. Section 1 offers brief clarification of the predictive coding framework and of cognitive penetration. Section 2 develops more precise ways that the predictive coding framework can explain genuine top-down causal effects on perceptual experience. Section 3 develops these insights further with an eye towards tracking one extant criterion for cognitive penetration, namely, that the relevant cognitive effects on perception must be sufficiently direct. In Section 4, we analyze and criticize a claim made by some theorists of predictive coding, namely, that (interesting) instances of cognitive penetration tend to occur in perceptual circumstances involving substantial noise or uncertainty. We argue that, when applied, the claim fails to explain (or perhaps even be consistent with) a large range of important and uncontroversially interesting possible cases of cognitive penetration. We conclude with general speculation about how the recent work on the predictive mind may influence the current dialectic concerning top-down effects on perception.

Cognitive penetration and the tribunal of experience (2015a) Review of Philosophy and Psychology

 

This paper uses a Bayesian framework for perceptual processing and offers two arguments for the following conclusion: influence by cognitive states on perceptual processing does not always undermine the roles of perception, even when the influence is via cognitive penetration. First, since perception has to rely on stored information to generate perceptual experiences anyway, it does not matter whether that information is stored in a cognitive format or not. Second, perception need not serve as an independent tribunal against which we check our beliefs to provide us with knowledge.

Emotion and perception

Phenomenal commitments: A puzzle for experiential theories of emotion. (2018a) in H. Naar & F. Teroni (Eds.). The Ontology of Emotions. Cambridge University Press

This paper raises and responds to a puzzle for experiential theories of emotion. Experiential theories entail that some emotions just are experiences. The puzzle is to explain how subjects could be rationally evaluable in virtue of their emotional experiences, as experiential theories entail in conjunction with the desideratum that subjects are rationally evaluable in virtue of their emotions. Component theories entail that no emotions just are experiences. On some component theories, the experience component of emotion is distinct from the rationally evaluable component. These theories do not face the puzzle. As a result, these component theories have a potential advantage over experiential theories. In response to the puzzle, I defend experiential theories of emotion. Like many others, I argue that the rational evaluability of subjects in virtue of their emotions requires rationally evaluable subjective commitments. Unlike many others, I argue that the commitments need not be even partly constitutive of emotions. Instead, I suggest that emotional experiences are rationally evaluable because of their relation to other commitments the subject makes and the norms that govern those commitments. 

Emotion and the new epistemic challenge from cognitive penetrability (2014) Philosophical Studies

 

This paper highlights features shared by emotional and perceptual experiences. I argue that emotional experiences' power to justify beliefs can be undermined by defective causal histories. On the strength of the shared features of emotional and perceptual experiences and their causal histories, I conclude the perceptual experiences' power to justify beliefs can also be undermined by defective causal histories.

Predictive processing 

Action prevents error: Predictive processing without active inference. (2017b) In T. Metzinger & W. Wiese (Eds.) Philosophy and Predictive Processing. Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group.

According to predictive processing, prediction error minimization explains everything the mind does, from perception to cognition to action. Here I focus on action. ‘Active inference’ is the standard approach to action in predictive processing. According to active inference, as it has been developed by Friston and collaborators, action ensues when proprioceptive predictions generate prediction error at the motor periphery, and classical reflex arcs engage to quash the error. In this paper, I raise a series of problems for active inference. I then offer an alternative approach on which action prevents error, rather than quash it. I argue that the action prevents error approach solves all the problems raised for active inference. In addition, I show how the alternative approach can be independently motivated by further commitments of predictive processing and that it is compatible with other prominent approaches to sensorimotor psychology, such as optimal feedback control.

 

Review of Jakob Hohwy's The predictive mind. (2015b) Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

This review gives an overview of the predictive mind hypothesis, according to which all mental processes are arranged in a Bayesian hierarchy, aim at prediction error minimization, and employ a single prediction error mechanism. The review raises questions about how the levels of the hierarchy are ordered, whether a single mechanism can account for perception and action, and whether the account's application to psychological disorders is explanatory.

Self 

Commentary: The myth of cognitive agency. (2018b) Frontiers in Psychology. 

This commentary discusses how narrative conceptions of the self can be developed within Thomas Metzinger's Self Model Theory of self-representation. Against many narrative conceptions of the self, I argue that a substantial proportion of narrative self-representations occur without words, during nocturnal rapid eye movement (REM) dreaming and other subpersonal processes. I also discuss how to situate self-narratives in the overall architecture the Self Model Theory. 

Electronic versions are provided as a professional courtesy to ensure timely dissemination of academic work for individual, noncommercial purposes. Copyright (and all rights therein) resides with the respective copyright holders, as stated within each paper. These files may not be reposted without permission.

papers in progress
(Available upon request)
Predictive processing and persistent illusions
 
In the 1980s, Jerry Fodor used persistent perceptual illusions (such as the Muller-Lyer and the Ebbinghaus illusions) to challenge views on which cognition frequently and directly influences perception via what is now usually called 'cognitive penetration'. Taking as his targets New Look psychologists, scientific relativists, and connectionists, Fodor developed his challenge in a way that was suggestive, but informal and inconclusive. Since the 1980s, hierarchical, probabilistic (especially Bayesian) approaches to modeling mental processing have replaced New Look psychology and the older forms of connectionism Fodor targeted. Predictive processing is among the most prominent and complete developments of such an approach. Many advocates of predictive processing hold that cognitive penetration of perceptual processing frequently occurs via a continuous message-passing hierarchy linking perception and cognition. The present paper describes key mathematical details of predictive processing's proposed message-passing hierarchy, and it uses the details to present a new and improved version of the challenge from persistent illusions. The paper shows that recent responses to the challenge by Andy Clark, Gary Lupyan, and Jakob Hohwy face serious difficulties in light of the new and improved formulation. The paper concludes with upshots for recent debates about cognitive influence on perception. 
Precision and perceptual clarity
Perceptual experiences often have high perceptual clarity. You visually inspect a book at close range under good lighting; you see its color and texture in sharp detail. Other times, perceptual clarity is low, as when your experience is fuzzy, blurry, or hazy. Drawing on successful models in perception science, this paper defends an account of perceptual clarity in terms of the statistical property of precision. The paper also criticizes a rival account of perceptual clarity: John Morrison’s (2016) distributed “perceptual confidence” view. Morrison’s account entails that experiences lack accuracy conditions, and it has trouble accounting for binocular rivalry. The Precision account is compatible with experiences having accuracy conditions and nicely handles binocular rivalry. The Precision account characterizes perceptual experience as resulting from a kind of “decision” made my perceptual systems to narrow the range of options for subjects, while making room for experiences to convey the underlying uncertainty in perceptual computation.
Vague perception
Linguistic vagueness has received extensive philosophical discussion. Perceptual vagueness has not. This paper argues that some perceptual experiences are vague; that is, they involve borderline elements. For example, you experience a dot blurrily. For some locations, you experience the dot as clearly present there. For other locations, you experience the dot as clearly not present there. But for some locations--near the dot's edges--your experience is unclear as to whether the dot is present there or not. Some perceptual vagueness is boundaryless. That is, it's vague where the borderline elements begin and end. Vague perception has similarities with linguistic vagueness, but also some differences. Sorites reasoning is plausible, hence paradoxical, when applied to linguistic vagueness. However, sorities reasoning initially does not plausible in perceptual cases, because we expect to find sharp cutoffs in low-level perceptual representations (e.g. between where the dot is experienced as present and not). However, the paper argues that sorites is plausible for vague perception when applied correctly. The paper concludes by discussing ways in which vague perception poses a challenge to some prominent theories of perceptual content. And it suggests that the statistical property of precision is important in accounting for the vagueness in perception.