Papers

Here are some of my papers. If you'd like to see a draft that's not here, let me know!

Peer Reviewed Publications

"Association and Mechanisms of Priming" Forthcoming in Journal of Cognitive Science

Abstract: In psychology, increasing interest in priming has brought with it a revival of associationist views. Association seems a natural explanation for priming: simple associative links carry subcritical levels of activation from representations of the prime stimulus to representations of the target stimulus. This then facilitates use of the representation of the target. I argue that the processes responsible for priming are not associative; they are more complex. Even so, associative models do get something right about how these processes behave. As a result, I argue, we should reconsider how we interpret associative models, taking them to identify regularities in the sequence of representational states in any kind of process, rather than as denoting a particular kind of process.

Manuscript PDF

"Simplicity and the Meaning of Mental Association." Forthcoming in Erkenntnis

Abstract: Some thoughts just come to mind together. This is usually thought to happen because they are connected by associations, which the mind follows. Such an explanation assumes that there is a particular kind of simple psychological process responsible. This view has encountered criticism recently. In response, this paper aims to characterize a general understanding of associative simplicity, which might support the distinction between associative processing and alternatives. I argue that there are two kinds of simplicity that are treated as characteristic of association, and as a result three possible versions of associative processing. This provides a framework that informs our understanding of association as a current and historical concept, including how various specific versions in different parts of psychology relate to one another. This framework can also guide debates over normative evaluations of actions produced by processes thought to be associative.

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"The Paper Topic Machine: Creativity, Credit, and the Unconscious." (2018) Analysis, 78, 4: 614–622.

Abstract: It is commonly thought that unconscious processes cannot produce actions deserving praise or blame. I present a thought experiment designed to generate a contradicting intuition: at least in this case, we do give credit for the product of an unconscious process. The target is creativity. Many instances of creative thought begin with a step that unconsciously generates a new idea by combining existing ideas. The resulting ideas are selected and developed by later processing. This first step could be replaced with a simple machine that randomly pairs concepts. Now, imagine a philosopher, Liberty, who gets all of his paper ideas from this machine. Compare him to another philosopher, Libertad, who comes up with all the same papers using her own mind. If you share the intuition that Liberty’s work deserves less credit for creativity, you are giving credit for the product of an unconscious process.

I made a mock-up of the paper topic machine

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"Anthropomorphism as Cognitive Bias." (2017) Philosophy of Science, 84, no. 4, 1152-1164.

Abstract: Philosophers and psychologists have long worried that a human tendency to anthropomorphize leads us to err in our understanding of nonhuman minds. This tendency, which I call intuitive anthropomorphism, is a heuristic used by our unconscious folk psychology to understand the behavior of nonhuman animals. I argue that the dominant understanding of intuitive anthropomorphism underestimates its complexity. It does often lead us to err, but not always. And the errors it produces are not all overestimations of nonhuman intelligence. If we want to understand and control intuitive anthropomorphism, we must treat is as a cognitive bias, and look to the empirical evidence. The literature on controlling implicit social biases is particularly helpful. That literature suggests that the most common control for intuitive anthropomorphism, Morgan’s Canon, should be rejected, while others are incomplete. It also suggests new approaches.

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"The Varieties of Parsimony in Psychology." (2016), Mind & Language, 31: 414–437.

Abstract: Philosophers and psychologists make many different, seemingly incompatible parsimony claims in support of competing models of cognition in nonhuman animals. This variety of parsimony claims is problematic. Firstly, it is difficult to justify each specific variety. This problem is especially salient for Morgan’s Canon, perhaps the most important variety of parsimony claimed. Secondly, there is no systematic way of adjudicating between particular claims when they conflict. I argue for a view of parsimony in comparative psychology that solves these problems, based on Sober’s (1994) view that parsimony claims are claims that one model is more plausible given background theory.

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"Rethinking Associations in Psychology" (2016). Synthese. 1-24

Abstract: I challenge the dominant understanding of what it means to say two thoughts are associated. The two views that dominate the current literature treat association as a kind of mechanism that drives sequences of thought (often implicitly treating them so). The first, which I call reductive associationism, treats association as a kind of neural mechanism. The second treats association as a feature of the kind of psychological mechanism associative processing. Both of these views are inadequate. I argue that association should instead be seen as a highly abstract filler term, standing in for causal relations between representational states in a system. Associations, so viewed, could be implemented by many different mechanisms. I outline the role that this view gives associative models as part of a top-down characterization of psychological processes of any kind and of any complexity.

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"Associationism without associative links: Thomas Brown and the Associationist Project" (2015). Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 54, pp. 31-40.

Abstract: There are two roles that association played in 18th–19th century associationism. The first dominates modern understanding of the history of the concept: association is a causal link posited to explain why ideas come in the sequence they do. The second has been ignored: association is merely regularity in the trains of thought, and the target of explanation. The view of association as regularity arose in several forms throughout the tradition, but Thomas Brown (1778–1820) makes the distinction explicit. He argues that there is no associative link, and association is mere sequence. I trace this view of association through the tradition, and consider its implications: Brown's views, in particular, motivate a rethinking of the associationist tradition in psychology. Associationism was a project united by a shared explanandum phenomenon, rather than a theory united by a shared theoretical posit.

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Invited Publications

"Parsimony." (2018) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, Zeigler-Hill, Virgil, Shackelford, Todd K. (Eds.).

A review of different interpretations and justifications of parsimony, with an emphasis on how they might apply in personality psychology.

Encyclopedia

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"A New View of Association and Associative Models." (2017) in The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Animal Minds. K. Andrews & J. Beck (Eds.).

In this chapter, I describe my view of association, discussing its historical precursors and its benefits over existing views.

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"Reference" (2016) in A Companion to Experimental Philosophy. J. Sytsma & W. Buckwalter (Eds.). Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell. Dacey & Mallon

An opinionated review of experimental philosophical work on reference, including work on the reference of both names of individuals and of kinds.

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Works in Progress

"Evidence in Default"

Abstract: Experiments in comparative (animal) psychology typically aim to test a default model against an alternative. For instance, Morgan’s Canon dictates that researchers prefer models that posit the simplest processes. This is often interpreted by analogy to null hypothesis statistical testing (NHST), the dominant statistical method in psychology: the “simpler” model should be the default. Morgan’s Canon has faced considerable criticism lately, and the two proposed replacements in the literature set up the central tension of this paper. One replacement, contextual null choice (Mikhalevich 2015, Mikhalevich, Powell, & Logan 2017), accepts the general default model framing while choosing nulls/defaults case by case. The other, evidentialism (Sober 2005, Fitzpatrick 2008, 2017), rejects defaults altogether in favor of a more holistic inference to the best explanation. I argue for a version of evidentialism over the default model framing (even if one wishes to retain Morgan’s Canon in a weaker form). We should never treat one model as the null or default. First, I attack the analogy that supports the default model framing: The analogy between default models and NHST fails to respect the difference between statistical hypotheses and substantive hypotheses. Statistical hypotheses specify a distribution of a certain feature (the thing to be measured); substantive hypotheses are models of the target system that motivate the statistical hypotheses and, potentially, explain them. The inferential gap between statistical and substantive hypotheses looms large in comparative psychology, because in comparative work any model can be consistent with many possible specific experimental outcomes. In such cases, the failure of any statistical hypothesis does not entail the failure of any substantive hypothesis. This argument undermines motivation for the default model framing. I then attack the default model framing directly, by arguing that it distorts the weighting of evidence, and systematically biases experimental practices

Ongoing Empirical Research with Jen Coane and the Memory and Language Lab at Colby College:

We have been developing a paradigm intended to study the human tendency to anthropomorphize without assuming that anthropomorphism is always an error of inflating perceived intelligence of animals (inspired by ideas in my paper "Anthropomorphism as Cognitive Bias"). We are using an affective priming task to see if people automatically attribute mental states like happiness to animals that look like they are smiling, even those that do not signal happiness by smiling. Our preliminary work has been presented at the 2018 Cognitive Aging Conference in Atlanta Georgia, and the 2018 Varieties of Mind Conference at Cambridge University.

"Parsimony Arguments in the Chimpanzee Mindreading Debate"

The debate over whether chimpanzees can represent the mental states of others has stalled, the common thinking goes, because of the logical problem. The logical problem is the fact that no single experiment can decisively tell for one or the other hypothesis. As a result of this, much of the debate that has occurred has centered on parsimony claims. This means that another, less discussed, problem stands in the way as well: there is no meaningful way of adjudicating between these competing, different, parsimony claims. In "The Varieties of Parsimony in Psychology," I called this problem clashing parsimony, and argued that we could get around it by adopting a view of parsimony I call empirical parsimony. I treat the competing parsimony claims made on each side of the mindreading debate as claims of empirical parsimony, examining whether they empirical claims included in each parsimony claim are legitimate, and if so, assessing how strongly they apply in support of the relevant side. The weight of the evidence suggests that chimpanzees do not, in fact, represent the mental states of others.

"Troubling Norms: Dual-process theories and moral judgment" with Ron Mallon

Much work in the psychology of moral judgment is predicated on a dual-process distinction between two kinds of processing usually defined by a suite of characteristic features: fast, unconscious, automatic Type 1 processing, and slow, conscious, deliberative Type 2 processing. In particular, we identify two popular views that both assume the distinction, though the use it in different ways: Social Intuitionism and Norm-Governed Reasoning. In this paper, we challenge the dual process distinction by discussing the role that norms play in moral judgment. Norms don’t neatly fit in either of the two types of processing. In fact, reflection on the role norms can play in moral judgment demonstrates that the features commonly associated with each side of the dual process distinction come apart. As a result, thinking in dual process terms leads us to err in thinking about the topics that matter most here: agency, responsibility, self-determination, and self-betterment. Instead, we should treat these features individually. This substantially changes the foundation on which these two views of moral judgment are built, but also opens the door for an ecumenical view that takes what is best from both.