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Projects

Intelligence

Cognitive and computer sciences share a common subject of investigation: intelligence. My research agenda includes studying the foundations of organic and artificial intelligence, and expressing a philosophy of intelligence that translates across these disciplines.

My current work explores central aspects of general intelligence in humans, including fluid intelligence and cognitive flexibility. Additionally, I am working to develop predictors for general intelligence in humans that are based on functional neural imaging. Findings from resting-state fMRI and psychometric testing reveal persistent patterns in neural activity that contribute explanatory power to individual differences in intellectual ability.

Studies of organic and artificial intelligence are increasingly informing one another. Machine learning and deep learning applied to neural systems are revealing how biological intelligence is organized; these revelations subsequently have strong potential to inform the trajectory for conceptualizing and engineering synthetic cognitive systems.

Religiosity

Why are some individuals intrinsically oriented to participate in religious systems, whereas others experience disinterest or aversion to religious thought and activity? What are the relationships between psychology and belief, and how are these relationships mediated in the brain?

My recent work explores the role of the reward system in Latter-day Saint (Mormon) religious experiences. Our first report on the religious brain illuminates a system of neural regions incorporated to support a religious phenomenon within Mormon culture referred to as “feeling the Spirit.”

Current work comparatively investigates how beliefs in hell are represented in a U.S. and an Iranian sample, and the ways that beliefs about damnation interact with a diverse set of psychological markers.

A personal long-term goal is to create an open access database for the neuroscientific and psychological study of religion and spirituality. The movement toward open access data in science is a universal win: it enables researchers at all career and ability levels to ask questions from datasets that would otherwise be financially or pragmatically prohibitive to independently collect. Further, open science and data sharing enable more discovery, more efficiently.

I am optimistic that such a resource would illuminate profound mysteries about the interactions of culture and brain, including ways in which language primes the mind for phenomenal content, and the socialization of values, dispositions, and beliefs. These topics are central in mapping the nature of group dynamics in humans.

The Moral Self

“We are all different people.” -Axiom 1, Epistemology of the Closet

I conceptualize "the self" as a psychic waveform supervening on biological substrate.

The body is a multilayer set of organic processes whose structure gives rise to dissociable physical functions at macroscopic, microscopic, and nanoscopic scales.

The composite identity of a person--the dynamic story of the self about itself--is a multilayer set of mental processes whose structure gives rise to to dissociable spiritual functions at macroscopic, microscopic, and nanoscopic scales. By "spiritual functions," I mean those processes that are generative of meaning and attachment to meaning. In other words, "spiritual functions" are the mental and behavioral processes which bestow an Aristotelean quality of essence upon people, objects, and ideas.

Identity, to extend the comparison with body, is a sort of abstract meta-body, that is stable but not static, and that is highly structured with nested cognitive functions in dynamic relationships with one another. Plasticity of identity derives from the one-to-many possible relationships between body and identity, wherein one physical body can be the substrate for many possible stable identity functions, or meta-bodies.

Recent work in moral philosophy and identity psychology has demonstrated that changes in moral values typically result in an individual being perceived as an essentially different, or transformed, person by others. As such, the stability of moral values over time is a critical aspect of identity permanence.

Cultural context and individual discovery are formative elements in the emergence of moral value sets. I am deeply interested in ways that cultural values are developmentally "embrained" in the cognitive organ, and the interactions of psychological and neural plasticity to modify and re-code an individual's intuitive senses of rightness and wrongness in response to new life experiences.

I am currently working with a team of three other neuroscientist-philosophers to study the psychological and neural foundations of concepts about selfhood. Robustly understanding the scientific and philosophical basis of moral development across the lifespan will be increasingly important for successfully navigating very difficult global questions about universal morality versus cultural sovereignty. Ideally, these scientific and philosophical paradigms will also enhance our agentic ability as individuals for self-awareness and self-determination in the trajectory of our own moral being.

Gender & Sexual Minorities

Here is the syllabus for the course I am teaching on Gender and Sexual Minorities through the Department of Human Development at Cornell University. PDFs for supporting educational material will be made available throughout the Fall 2016 semester.

Syllabus HD3840 FALL 2016

PREAMBLE: Neurophilosophy

Lecture 1: Cognition of Categorization

“To understand the mind, we must understand the brain.”
-Patricia Churchland

In this lecture, we seek to appreciate the cognitive and neural processes for perceptual categorization. The systems supporting perceptual categorization of visual input are particularly sophisticated for human bodies and faces.

The inescapable categorization machine in your head is dynamically responsive to socially normative conditions during development. In fewer places does this become clearer than the comparative criteria for gender and sexuality across time and culture, as we shall see throughout the semester.

Readings:

Thorpe, S. J., & Fabre-Thorpe, M. (2001). Seeking categories in the brain. Science, 291(5502), 260-263.

Seeking_Categories_Figure_1.medium
‍Figure 1 (High resolution file)

Logothetis, N. K., & Sheinberg, D. L. (1996). Visual object recognition. Annual review of neuroscience, 19(1), 577-621.

SECTION 1: Fundamentals of Gender and Sex

Lecture 2: Biology of Gender and Sex

This lecture will lay an empirical, biological foundation for our future theoretical conversations about gender and sex.

Chapter 3 Of Molecules and SexFausto-Sterling, A. (2012). Sex/gender: Biology in a social world. Routledge.
Chapter 4 Of Hormones and BrainsFausto-Sterling, A. (2012). Sex/gender: Biology in a social world. Routledge.

Lecture 3: Sexed Behavior and Gender Performance

We will critically explore human and non-human animal research on sexed behavior during early childhood play. From here, we will begin to examine the rich sociological work on the phenomenology and performance of gender.

Hassett, J. M., Siebert, E. R., & Wallen, K. (2008). Sex differences in rhesus monkey toy preferences parallel those of children. Hormones and behavior, 54(3), 359-364.

Berenbaum, S. A., & Hines, M. (1992). Early androgens are related to childhood sex-typed toy preferences. Psychological Science, 3(3), 203-206. Butler, J. (2003).

Performative acts and gender constitution. Performance. Ed. Philip Auslander, 4, 97-110.

Human Sexual Development

Content in editing at the moment

fMRI Methods

Content in editing at the moment