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Research

My current research focuses on philosophy of perception, particularly visual perception and pain. My approach is empirically guided: instead of leading with intuitions, conceptual analysis, and other a priori methods, I ask what ecology, psychophysics, and neuroscience can tell us about the fundamental "goal(s)" of perceptual systems. 

When it comes to color vision, I suggest that the conception that best accommodates and explains the available empirical data is the idea that the goal of color visual systems is to help animals better perceive their environments and satisfy their ecological needs rather than to track and represent some stable, mind-independent properties of distal objects and scenes. I further propose that color vision plays an enhancement role with respect to certain important (species-specific) perceptual competences, i.e., that it is competence-embedded. The notion of competence-embeddedness helps make sense of a wide variety of color perceptual phenomena, including many problem cases. For example, we can understand some textbook color illusions as special cases where the relevant perceptual competences place divergent demands on the color visual system and where the color visual system is forced to "choose" between those demands. 

The notions of perceptual competence and competence-embeddedness can be used to reconceptualize the early modern distinction between primary and secondary qualities. I suggest that we understand primary qualities as the kinds of properties that we can competently perceive and secondary qualities as the kind of properties that are involved in the competent perception of primary qualities. 

I also use the notion of competence-embeddedness to approach pain. I argue that whereas the competences that embed color vision are perceptual competences (in most animals), the competences that embed pain are behavioral or cognitive ones. Pain is not a bodily disturbance detector but a sophisticated context-dependent security system. This also plausibly explains why pain processing is so susceptible to cognitive penetration. 

 

Finally, I have ongoing interest in the phenomenon of chronic maladaptive pain and the testimonial exchanges involving chronic pain patients. Why is it so difficult for us to accept another person's pain testimony when their pain presents without observable tissue damage? I suspect that these credibility deficits stem, in part, from the outdated understanding of the pain system as a bodily disturbance detector. 

Peer-Reviewed Publications​ 

 

JOURNAL ARTICLES

SEEING WITH COLOR: PSYCHOPHYSICS AND THE FUNCTION OF COLOR VISION. Synthese 202, 20 (2023).

 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-023-04226-y Use this link for view-only, full-text access: https://rdcu.be/dgk7j

BOOK CHAPTERS

THE PAIN SYSTEM IS NOT A BODILY DISTURBANCE DETECTOR. In: Cuevas-Badallo, A., Martín-Villuendas, M., Gefaell, J. (eds) Life and Mind: Theoretical and Applied Issues in Contemporary Philosophy of Biology and Cognitive Sciences. Springer, Cham (forthcoming).

COLOR AND COMPETENCE: A NEW VIEW OF COLOR PERCEPTIONIn: Viejo, J.M., Sanjuán, M. (eds) Life and Mind. Interdisciplinary Evolution Research, vol 8. Springer, Cham. (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-30304-3_5  Use this link for view-only, full-text access: https://rdcu.be/df3Zl

PUBLIC / ACCESSIBLE PHILOSOPHY

PHILOSOPHY OF COLOR1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology (2023).

https://1000wordphilosophy.com/2023/10/26/philosophy-of-color/

Works in Progress

[*] "Perceptual Competences and the Primary/Secondary Quality Distinction." ABSTRACT

[*] "Philosophy of Color: A Novel Typology." ABSTRACT 

[*] "Pain and Color Perception: A Unified, Agent-centered Account." ABSTRACT

[*]  “Credibility Deficits in Testimonial Exchanges Surrounding Medically Unexplained Chronic Pain”

 

[*]  “Pain and Cognitive Penetration: Insights from Neuroscience”  

[*] "What Perceptual Agreement Does and Doesn't Show"

Recent and Upcoming Presentations (Selected)

"Pain and Color Perception: A Unified, Agent-centered Account"

 Canadian Philosophical Association (ACPA) Annual Conference, Montréal, Canada. 2024.

TBA

 phiVis: Philosophy of Vision Science Workshop, Annual Meeting of the Vision Sciences Society (VSS), St. Pete's Beach, FL, USA. 2024.

"Pain and Color Perception: A Unified, Agent-centered Account"

 Midsouth Philosophy Conference, Memphis, TS, USA. 2024.

"Perceptual Competences and the Primary/Secondary Quality Distinction"

 Kinds of Concsciousness Webconference, University of Connecticut, USA. 2024. 

"Perceptual Competences and the Primary/Secondary Quality Distinction"

 International Society for the Philosophy of the Sciences of the Mind (ISPSM) Webconference. 2023. 

"Pain, Its Function, and Why it Matters"

 Dartmouth Cognitive Science Program Weekly Speaker Series, Hanover, NH, USA. 2023. 

"Perceptual Competences and the Primary/Secondary Quality Distinction"

— Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) Annual Conference, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. 2023. 

"Pain is not a Bodily Disturbance Detector"

— Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SSPP) Annual Conference, Louisville, KY, USA. 2023.

"Pain is not a Bodily Disturbance Detector"

— Philosophy of Biology and Cognitive Sciences (PBCS) XI, University of Salamanca-ECyT, Spain. 2022.

“Seeing with Color: Insights from Psychophysics”

— The 3rd Context, Cognition and Communication Conference: Varieties of Meaning and Content, University of Warsaw, Poland. 2022.

“Seeing with Color: Insights from Psychophysics” 

— The 3rd Joint Conference of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) and the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology (ESPP), University of Milan, Italy. 2022.

 

“Seeing with Color: Insights from Psychophysics” 

— Language, Culture and Mind 9: Sensory Experience and Communication, University of Almería, Spain. 2022

Comments on Christopher Masciari's "Contingent Perceptual Experience"

Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SSPP) Annual Conference, Mobile, AL, USA. 2022.

"What (on Earth) Are Color Visual Systems Doing?"

— Virtual Vision Futures, York University, Canada. 2021 (delivered virtually).

"Color Illusions and the "Competence-Embeddedness" of Color Perception"

— Philosophy of Biology and Cognitive Sciences (PBCS) X, Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain. 2021 (delivered virtually).

“Philosophy of Color: Lessons from Neuroscience?”

— 6th Annual Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) Retreat, University of Pennsylvania, USA. 2020.

Dissertation Summary

The mainstream view in contemporary analytic philosophy is that perception is primarily in the business of representing the mind-independent world as it is. My dissertation explores an alternative conception: that the goal of perception is to guide successful action and that perceptions do not need to track mind-independent properties to play this action-guiding role. I focus on two types of perception: color perception and pain perception. I start with the former and advocate a pragmatist, empirically-guided approach which begins by inquiring into the function of color vision. After arguing that none of the extant philosophical views of color are satisfactory, I answer the function question by focusing on systematic color perceptual phenomena investigated by psychophysicists. I argue that the human color visual system is an enhancement system: that is, its job is to help us better discriminate, track, and recognize meaningful objects, properties, and relations. I then build on this idea using the notion of ‘competence-embeddedness.’ I propose that color vision is embedded in a network of competences: the aim of color vision is to help organisms manifest these competences, and color experiences are correct when they result from competence-enhancing processing. The framework is explanatorily robust. For example, it allows me to conceptualize many textbook color illusions as special cases of successful color perception where the demands of the relevant competences clash. Finally, I use the notion of ‘competence-embeddedness’ to develop a new account of pain. I argue that the pain system is not a bodily disturbance detector, but a sophisticated, context-responsive security system whose primary goal is to help organisms manifest important behavioral and cognitive competences. 

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