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Cognitive Science & Ethical Implications
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image generated using DALL-E 2, 'mind as a computer' 
DALL·E 2022-10-29 01.43.02 - odilon redon style painting of the power of storytelling.png
image generated using DALL-E 2, 'power of narrative'
  • "A Defense of Cognitive Penetration & the Face-Race Lightness Illusion" Philosophical Psychology (2022) - full article

Cognitive Penetration holds that cognitive states and processes, specifically propositional attitudes (e.g., beliefs), sometimes directly impact features of perceptual experiences (e.g., the coloring of an object). In contrast, more traditional views hold that propositional attitudes do not directly impact perceptual experiences, but rather are only involved in interpreting or judging these experiences. Understandably, Cognitive Penetration is controversial and has been criticized on both theoretical and empirical grounds. I focus on defending it from the latter kind of objection and in doing so, highlight important features of Cognitive Penetration mechanisms and effects. I first sketch promising criteria for Cognitive Penetration and then address widespread Replication and Demonstration worries about purported instances of it. Next, I present one of the most compelling Cognitive Penetration studies and address specific objections against it and others. I demonstrate that each of these objections misunderstands important features of either Cognitive Penetration mechanisms or the specific studies to which they are applied. Ultimately, I conclude that multiple key studies are not undermined by these objections and continue to provide support for Cognitive Penetration. Correcting these misunderstandings bolsters empirical support for Cognitive Penetration and contributes to a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in perceptual processing.

  • "Embodied Cognition & the Grip of Computationalism" (under review, revise & resubmit) - [abstract & draft removed]
  • "Embodied Cognition & Intellectual Disability" (under review) - [abstract & draft removed]
  • Grant, PI, Duke University ($28,203) | "Group Membership Modulation of Memory and Judgments for Morally Ambiguous Actions" 2022-2023 with Ryan Daley, Cecilia Forcato, Lauren Kaczer, Marina Trakas, Laura Soter

It is unknown how group membership biases memory and subsequent third-person judgments of agents’ morally ambiguous actions: when it is unclear whether agents have moral and/or immoral motivations for acting. Biased memories and subsequent moral evaluation of others’ actions can lead to practical and epistemic harms (mnemonic injustice). This phenomenon will be investigated in the current study, testing group membership manipulation on participants’ memory for agents’ motivations and subsequent moral judgements.

  • Grant, co-PI, Duke University ($26,684)"Prosocial & Emotional Effects of Narratives: The Role of Perspective-taking Brain Networks" 2022-2023 with Fernanda Pérez Gay Juarez, Samantha Fede, Rodrigo Diaz, and Laura Matthews

This project will study the effects of engaging with narratives on different measures which track increases in empathy and decreases in stigma. First, we will test the effect of non-fictional texts, non-fictional first-person narratives, and literary fiction narratives about experiences of psychotic disorders on the aforementioned measures. Afterward, to test the neurocognitive mechanisms behind these effects, we will run a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation experiment where we will inhibit the right Temporoparietal Junction, a cardinal region in perspective-taking processes, while subjects engage with the texts, and assess the effects of this intervention on these measures.

Mental Disorder & Interactions with Religion
  • "Mental Disorder, Meaning-making, & Religious Engagement" TheoLogica (2022) - full article

Meaning-making plays a central role in how we deal with experiences of suffering, including those due to mental disorder. And for many, religious beliefs, experiences, and practices (hereafter, religious engagement) play a central role in informing this meaning-making. However, a crucial facet of the relationship between experiences of mental disorder and religious engagement remains underexplored—namely the potentially positive effects of mental disorder on religious engagement (e.g. experiences of bipolar disorder increasing sense of God’s presence). In what follows, I will present empirical findings from two recent studies of mine which shed light on the extent to which participants experienced these positive effects, specific components of these effects, and how they fit into their understanding of their mental disorder and its relationship to their religious identity. In doing so, I will draw on and expand Tasia Scrutton’s Potentially Transformative view (2015a, 2015b, 2020) according to which mental disorders may provide opportunities for spiritual growth. My empirical results align with and help deepen an account according to which mental disorders are potentially spiritually transformative by providing further insight into such instances: specifically, which symptoms and internal and external factors are often involved, as well as which religious beliefs, experiences, and/or practices are often affected. After presenting these results and articulating their relevance for a potentially transformative view of mental disorder, I will then address some potential objections to the theoretical account as well as some limitations of the empirical work, before sketching possible promising directions for future research.

  • "Narrative Engagement & Religious Meaning-making in Mental Disorder" (under review) - [abstract & draft removed]
  • "An Improved Account of Thought Insertion" (under review) - [abstract & draft removed]
  • "The Conflation of Spiritual Etiologies & Meaning-making in Mental Disorder" (in prep) - draft available on request!
  • Grant, PI, New Visions in Theological Anthropology, University of St. Andrews ($26,209) | "Emotional Stability & Religious Engagement" 2022-2023

  • Grant, PI, Global Health Program, Hope College ($14,600) | "Narratives of Mental Disorders in Religious Communities" 2022 with Stephanie Pangborn and student research collaborators Brooke Bennett and Emily Davidson

  • Grant, PI, Calvin University ($17,896) | "Mental Disorder & Psychological Stability in Christianity" 2022

  • Grant, PI, Blueprint 1543 ($14,644) | "Transformative Narratives of Mental Disorder & Religion" 2021

  • Grant, Towsley research scholars grant, Hope College ($58,000) | "Explorations of Neurodiversity, Embodiment, and Religious Engagement" 2022-2025 

  • Grant, Nyenhuis student-faculty collaborative research grants (x3), Hope College ($22,064) | 2022 - with Christina Chiazza, 2021 - with Megan Jacobs, 2020 - with Emma Passaglia 

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image generated using DALL-E 2, 'mental disorder & religion'
DALL·E 2022-10-29 01.26.14 - odille redon style painting of the problem of divine hiddenne
image generated using DALL-E 2, 'the problem of divine hiddenness'
Other Applied Ethics
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image generated using DALL-E 2, 'bias & machine learning'
  • "The Ethical and Social Dimensions of Computing in Engineering." In Bias & Machine Learning. McGraw-Hill. (forthcoming, under contract) with Brooke, O., Longfield, V., & Serrao, R.
  • "Adoption, Abortion, & Integrity: the Demands of Integrity for Opponents of Abortion." in Pregnancy and Persons. Routledge (2022) - full article

Charges of inconsistency are frequently made against opponents of abortion for failing to ‘live out’ their beliefs. One such popular charge is that opponents of abortion are inconsistent for failing to ‘adopt the babies they don’t want aborted’—in this chapter, I will focus on a slightly broader version of this charge. I will understand adoption* broadly to include adopting and/or fostering children, as well as concretely supporting the systems involved in facilitating adoption and foster care through financial means, volunteering, and/or advocacy. I will argue that opponents of abortion do not have special obligations to adopt* for the reasons often presumed; however, they still have compelling reasons to do so in order to oppose abortion with integrity.

  • "A Module on Ethics and Social Implications of Computing for Introductory Engineering Computing Courses." American Society for Engineering Education (2022) with Brooke, O, & Longfield, V. - full article

As society advances, intersections between engineering, computing, and technology continue to emerge, making it increasingly important for engineering students to develop computing skills. These exciting technological advances also introduce new ethical concerns. For example, recent work on algorithmic bias reveals ethical issues resulting from the interaction of algorithms and groups of people differing in race, gender, ability, and/or socioeconomic status. Some programs have emerged to address these issues, such as The Cultural Competence in Computing Fellows Program at Duke in which fellows (computing faculty, researchers, and industry professionals) learn about issues like systematic racism, bias, and intersectionality and then apply this knowledge to improve the cultural climate at their institutions and make curricula changes. Additionally, some Computer Science departments have developed new courses or new modules and assignments for existing courses to address some of these emerging ethical issues. However, there is still a need for more evidence-based pedagogy addressing ethical issues of computing in engineering. Here, we expand upon our previous paper, in which we presented a preliminary lesson plan for integrating ethics in an introductory engineering computing course, to include work in progress on how we have further addressed ethical thinking and contemporary social issues in computing.

Other Philosophy of Cognitive Science & Philosophy of Religion
  • "Narrative, Theology, and Philosophy of Religion." Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Religion. Wiley-Blackwell (2021) with Seachris, J. - full article

In this entry, we survey key discussions on the role of narrative in theology and philosophy of religion. We begin with epistemological questions about whether and how narrative offers genuine understanding of reality. We explore how narrative intersects with the problems of evil and divine hiddenness. We discuss narrative's role in theological reflection and practice in general, and in black and feminist theologies specifically. We close by briefly exploring the role of narrative in theorization about life's meaning.

  • "Philosophy of Mind." T&T Clark Encyclopedia of Christian Theology. T&T Clark / Bloomsbury (2021)
  • "Petitionary Prayer: A Philosophical Investigation, by Scott Davison." Faith and Philosophy (2019) - full article
  • "Ritualized Faith: Essays on the Philosophy of Liturgy, by Terence Cuneo." Religious Studies Review (2019) - full article
  • "Perception, Cognition, and Prediction" University of Notre Dame (2018) Dissertation

I address theories in cognitive science which have recently challenged traditional understandings of our perceptual and cognitive systems. In my first chapter, I address Cognitive Penetration, which challenges traditional understandings of perception. It holds that mental states (such as beliefs, goals or concepts) may sometimes penetrate, and directly influence perceptions, often affecting their phenomenal features. In my second chapter, I address Embodied Cognition, which challenges traditional understandings of cognition. It maintains that bodily states and processes (like those involved in perceptions, motor feedback, and simulations of these experiences), sometimes directly, or constitutively participate in carrying out various cognitive functions (such as reasoning, decision-making, and concept construction and application). In my third chapter, I address Predictive Processing, which challenges traditional understandings of our overall cognitive-perceptual architecture according to which our perceptual and cognitive systems operate largely independently and sequentially, and give us a largely passive, receptive, and reconstructive relationship to the world. In contrast, Predictive Processing holds that our perceptual and cognitive systems are much more integrated, often operate simultaneously, and give us a primarily predictive, active, and generative relationship to the world. In my fourth chapter, I sketch a system which locates Cognitive Penetration and Embodied Cognition mechanisms within the ‘framework’ provided by Predictive Processing. We can better understand all three component theories by viewing them as a part of this system, and gain a more unified picture of our perceptual and cognitive systems, and how they affect our engagement with the world.

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