About me

I’m an academic philosopher who works on perception. My research focuses on our perceptual experience of the world (phenomenal consciousness) and how it relates to the neural activity in our heads. I draw on work from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and philosophy to investigate the nature of our experience, how it reveals the world to us, and its relation to sensory neural activity.

Currently I’m a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Network for Sensory Research in the Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto Mississauga. In that position I work with Mohan Matthen. I completed my Ph.D. in philosophy at Rice University in 2015, working under Casey O’Callaghan. I grew up in a small town in southeast Pennsylvania, about an hour northwest of Philadelphia, before moving to Houston for my Ph.D. I currently live in Mississauga, Ontario.

My Research

Today neuroscientists can manipulate what an animal sees by intervening on its visual neurons and can decode what people see from fMRI scans of their brains. These advances add to existing work on how our brains encode and process sensory signals to suggest that our perceptual experience of the world is just a neural reconstruction in the head. My research questions this idea. I develop the view that some of our experiences go beyond neural representations in sensory cortex. These experiences emerge out of our interaction with distal stimuli and explain how perception connects us to the world.

As you interact with the environment through your sensory organs, information from distal stimuli is encoded in neural activity. At the same time, there is something it’s like for you: you enjoy perceptual experiences of those distal stimuli. According to the mainstream view these experiences are representations in that neural activity. This neural representationalism (as we might call it) implies that perception is mediated by the neural representations enabling it: we perceive the world only by representing it. If so, experience doesn’t reveal the world to us, but instead is merely our brains’ interpretation of sensory stimulation. My research challenges neural representationalism both by looking for direct evidence that we experience things not represented in sensory neural activity and by exploring the role perception plays in connecting us to the world.

In the end, I take a hybrid approach on which perceptual experience has both relational and representational components. Neural activity in the brain does process sensory input to build a perceptual representation of the distal environment, and this representation becomes part of our perceptual experience, but it does not exhaust our experience. Our sensory systems are also engaged in other activities besides representation, such as tracking distal stimuli in space and guiding our movement. These activities involve interactions with distal stimuli which we thereby perceive. Our overall perceptual experience is constituted both by representational content encoded in sensory neural activity and by the distal objects with which we interact through our sensory systems. This view accommodates the empirical evidence for neural representationalism while also explaining how we could consciously perceive things not explicitly represented by the brain and capturing the kind of connection perception in fact provides to the world.

Teaching

  • Lebanon Valley College (2018)
    • Phl 110: The Examined Life (w/ online component)
  • Kutztown University of Pennsylvania (2016-17)
    • Phi 280: American Philosophy: Pragmatism
    • Phi 235: Topics in Moral Theory: Virtue Ethics
    • Phi 030: Introduction to Philosophy
  • Lone Star College, University Park & Tomball (2016)
    • Phil 1301: Introduction to Philosophy (online and traditional classroom)
  • Rice University (2014-15)
    • Fwis 129: Objectivity in Perception (first-year writing-intensive seminar)
    • Phil 106: Logic
  • Lone Star College, North Harris (2011-12)
    • Phil 1301: Introduction to Philosophy
    • Phil 2306: Introduction to Ethics
  • Houston Community College, Katy (2011)
    • Phil 2303: Symbolic Logic
    • Phil 1301: Introduction to Philosophy