Ideas, academic embroideries & such...

Maria Brincker, Ph.D.  
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, UMass Boston
Email: maria.brincker (at)

Research interests

I am interested in developing better theoretical frameworks for empirical psychologists and neuroscientists to work with. More specifically, I hope my work can help researchers see the empirical invalidity of many mechanistic and disembodied assumptions inherent in current cognitive models. I am generally sympathetic to enactive and embodied approaches to cognition and to ambitions of looking at cognitive processes as temporal and as physically, socially, historically and contextually situated, and of grounding higher cognition in more basic sensorimotor and somatic functions. However, so far many such theoretical ambitions have fallen short of specific and applicable positive theories, and many 'embodied' theories suffer from too much abstraction themselves. Ideas thus need to be better rooted in biological and behavioral detail to more directly provide new paradigms for scientific research. My current main neuroscience collaboration is with Elizabeth Torres at Rutgers (see articles & press coverage).

Within philosophy my work will normally be categorized as pertaining to philosophy of neuroscience, mind and cognitive science, but often it also touches on issues of scientific methodology, epistemology, metaphysics, language, ethics, aesthetics and education. Omnipresent in my work is the oddly appendixed field of history of philosophy and I can proudly label most of my ideas as having a high percentage of recycled material. 

Then there is my feminism, which on the one hand is a personal response to current gender politics but on the other hand an integral piece of my contextual cognitive projects. The glue between my practical and theoretical philosophical interests is thus the idea that normativity, historicity and sociality are core features of the dynamic human mind and engagements - from the political to the perceptual. Here a couple of recent short pieces: 1) on the biological incoherence of neo-liberalism and the "pro-life" stance 'Pregnancy - a paradox for ultra-individualism', 2) on the dangers of baby face masks in the public image called 'Botoxing Female Authority' and 3) on the value of women flirting with women entitled 'Beyond Bitches and Caregivers'. And here some ponderings regarding women and the societies that harbor them. 

A further practical and political project intimately linked to my empirical analyses of relational aspects of the mind - is that I here see a vindication of the humanities. The wide spread science-envy and the so-called 'crisis of the humanities' must be reconsidered when what we find in the heart of the natural sciences is a deeply contextual, cultural, historical and social mind. Please stop de-funding the backbones of civilization - and let the hard sciences advance by understanding their own theories and creative processes of fact discovery.     

Research Projects - Philosophy of Psychology & Neuroscience:   

  • Mirror neurons, social cognition and the broader role of sensorimotor integration in mental representation, intentional action choice & understanding, social perception and interaction. I have proposed a social affordance model to understand these fronto-parietal cognitive processes (see "Beyond sensorimotor segregation"(forthcoming), PhD Thesis and "If the motor system is no mirror".)
  • Sensorimotor dynamics in typical and abnormal development, with a particular focus on Autism (research article and opinion article).
  • Mental navigation & social cognition: the nature of 'time-travel' abilities in cognition and conscious processes, and the role of embodied probabilistic sensorimotor priors in mental navigation in general. (Article on mental navigation & false belief tests)
  • The large-scale dynamics between the medial 'default system', frontal executive system, sub-cortical reward systems and the fronto-parietal sensorimotor circuits - and how these dynamics reflects the specifics of the involvement with and disengagement from the current environment, with particular focus on visual aesthetic involvement (e.g. The Aesthetic Stance - on the conditions & consequences of becoming a beholder
  • Affordances - an attempt to reinterpret the concept in a way the capture the concept's relational, temporal and normative core. (paper in progress)
  • Action-perception and organism-environment dynamics in across biological, psychological and sociological levels of description. (Chapter on von Uexküll's Umwelt notion in Danish and work in progress)
  • Free will - analyzing typical determinist metaphysical assumptions of a fundamental layer of reality which are associated with the claim that time and action possibilities are illlusionary. (Kane-Dennett Prize recipient, Evolution beyond determinism: On Dennett's compatibilism and the too timeless free will debate (forthcoming)).

Interests under more classic philosophical headings: 

Philosophy of Mind:

  • Social cognition: getting beyond 3rd person mind-reading. 
  • Action Theory: Understanding intention and agency beyond the ‘classical sandwich’. Hereunder interest in ideomotor theories, and dynamics of sensorimotor learning 
  • Tacit assumptions of mind and knowledge underlying the mind/body problem and the problem of other minds and the traditional free will/determinism dichotomy.
  • Mental representation: Reinterpreting the concept as an active embodied achievement of only relative stability. As such the notion can help bridge mind-body dualism and inner-outer dichotomies while avoid the pitfalls of behaviorism.

Philosophy of Science & Epistemology:

  • Methodological and epistemological issues of how our favorite rational and not so rational ways of thinking often gets projected on objects of inquiry - be it of physical, biological or psychological order. Understanding the assumptions of mechanistic determinism and physicalism - and their psychological foundation and functionality, but also the epistemological difficulty of understanding and modeling a complex, temporal and dynamical world in flux.
  • Philosophy of biology: the neglected role of the cell membrane and other larger 'membranes' as the basis of self-organization. 
  • Embodied/enactive approaches to cognition & problems of traditional assumptions of computational cognitive science.

Ethics, Aesthetics & Feminist Philosophy:

  • Aesthetics: The "aesthetic stance" as a framework for analyzing artistic framings and how these along with inner dynamics shape aesthetic embodied engagements.
  • Ethics: Ethical theories as representing different levels of action choice and affordances
  • Neurofeminism: The multi-frame logic minority perspectives & psychological underpinnings of stereotype perception/judgments.
  • Fact-value dichotomy
History of Philosophy:
Ignoring the massive blind heritage, here are some of thinkers who opened my mind:
  • Bergson - My main man. I read Matiere et Memoire with both arms over my head, albeit sometimes with an additional grimace of 'why on earth would he contrary to his own wonderful insights jump right in to that very categorical thinking he criticizes!'.
  • Merleau-Ponty - a student of Bergson, but without the religion and with the social and cultural dimension. Does not get much better than that.
  • Nietzsche - so there is no doubt which dead philosopher I would prefer to dine with - of course Wittgenstein wouldn't be a bad candidate either...
  • Kant. Well, he set the whole thing up.  
  • James - shares the zeitgeist and so many bergsonian ideas. Wrote The Principles, need one say more. 
  • Langer for thinking across categories and reminding us of the centrality of the conative element of the mind. 
  • Cartwright because the world is dabbled and she invited philosophers of science out of their dream bubbles to see for themselves.
  • Plus psychologists like Vygotski and Laplanche who helped me attempt to understand the social in the subject, and biologists like von Uexkull who brought context into mind.
  • ...

The list only very arbitrarily ends here. A somewhat more coherent story of my main ideas, inspirations and favorite enemies, to come...