As you interact with the environment (including your own body) you come to experience the stuff stimulating your sensory receptors. The stimuli show up in your phenomenal consciousness. I’m interested in fundamental questions about this experience: What is its nature? Do we experience the physical world itself, or merely inner mental “images” or sensations? To what extent do we experience the world as it really is? Is our experience a representation of the world, or a way of being related to it? How does our experience relate to the neural activity in our brains? How does it enable us to think about, and come to know about, the external world?
My work can be divided into five projects:
Neural Representation: To experience an object with which you’re interacting through your sensory systems, is it necessary that the neural responses to that object form a representation of it? It’s widely assumed the answer is “yes”, but I think there are cases in which you experience objects not represented by the underlying sensory neural activity. (See here for preliminary work.)
Dream Phenomenology: Was Descartes right that you could be dreaming right now? Could what it’s like for you to perceptually experience your environment really be duplicated in a dream? Drawing on ideas from sensorimotor enactivists, I argue “no”. (See here and here.) I’ve expand these ideas to investigate the extent to which dreams replicate the “sense of presence” (as Mohan Matthen puts it) normally found in our perceptual experiences. This new work has implications for how to measure the feeling of presence in virtual reality environments.
The Objects of Hallucination: If I visually hallucinate my mother, what exactly is it that I experience? A popular answer is that I’m experiencing a mental image of my mother, although today most philosophers prefer to say that I’m experiencing nothing. I argue that what I’m experiencing is some past-perceived instance of my mother. I am, in some loose sense, literally seeing back in time. In a related project I’ve done with Melanie Rosen, we argue memory experiences involve genuine awareness of the past.
Demonstrative Thought: The things you experience are available as targets of thought in ways that things you aren’t presently experiencing are not. An influential tradition in philosophy holds that perceptual experience affords this kind of thought by providing an information channel that feeds mental files. I’ve argued that this tradition is wrong. I’ve also done some work on how attention and phenomenal consciousness (experience) interact to enable this thought. (See here for an overview.)
Bodily Awareness in Sport Movements: While expert athletes and performance artists are able to perform their movements (e.g., throwing a football, pedalling a bicycle, pirouette) effortlessly, the process of learning new movements requires deliberate compensatory adjustments. These adjustments in turn require bodily awareness, and many individuals lack this necessary bodily awareness. I’m interested in combining phenomenological (introspective) reflection on what it’s like to experience one’s own body with neurobiological work on proprioception to find ways to help athletes and performance artists improve their bodily awareness. I’m also interested in the use of sonification (proprioceptive-to-auditory sensory substitution) to improve bodily awareness. (For more, see here, here, and these slides.)