Ideas, academic embroideries & such...

Maria Brincker, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, UMass Boston
Associate Editor, Phenomenology & The Cognitive Sciences

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).

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, education, privacy and technology. 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.

Ongoing Projects & Research:

  • Perceptible agency, here I am interested in both face-to-face and technology mediated and Human-Robot Interactions. (Paper forthcoming & conference proceedings). 
  • Privacy & embodied agency: Recently I have become very interested in the relationship between our autonomy and our ability to control what we reveal. (Paper in progress)
  • 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", PhD Thesis and "If the motor system is no mirror").
  • Sensorimotor dynamics in typical (paper in progress) 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)
  • Affordances - an attempt to reinterpret the concept in a way the capture the concept's relational, temporal and normative core. (In progress)
  • Aesthetic affordances and large-scale brain 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 ( The Aesthetic Stance - on the conditions & consequences of becoming a beholder).
  • 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)

See here for more classic philosophy sub-field labels for these projects

Philosophical Activism & the Contextual Mind:

My concerns about race, gender and privacy issues are on the one hand a personal response to current 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
perceptual to the political.

are a couple of more isolated short feminist 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 on 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 defunding the backbones of civilization - and let the hard sciences advance by understanding their own theories and creative value laden processes of fact discovery.

Maria Brincker,
Aug 20, 2015, 7:17 AM