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).

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. (see article links and attempt at thematic subdivision below)

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. But here are a couple of more isolated 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 defunding 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:   

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.

Value theory, 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.
  • Neurofeminism: The multi-frame logic minority perspectives & psychological underpinnings of stereotype perception/judgments.
  • Fact-value dichotomy issues.
  • Privacy: Issues of how current technological and cultural contexts transform our actions, intersubjectivity and autonomy.
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 & cultural dimension and some late Husserl. 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. 
  • Cartwright, and other members of the so-called Stanford school, because the world is dabbled and theories limiting.
  • 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 extremely arbitrarily ends here. A somewhat more coherent story of my main ideas, inspirations and favorite enemies, to come...

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