Selected Publications

Agentive Phenomenology

  • “The Experience of Agency” (with Joshua Shepherd) for Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Consciousness, ed. Uriah Kriegel, Oxford University Press, 2020
    • Abstract: In this chapter we reflect on questions about the nature and sources of agentive phenomenology – that is, the set of those experience-types associated with exercises of agency, and paradigmatically with intentional actions. Our discussion begins with pioneering work in psychology and neuroscience that dates to the early 80s (section 1). As we will see, much of the current work on agentive phenomenology in both psychology and philosophy draws motivation from this work, and the questions it raises.1 After discussing empirical work relevant to agentive phenomenology, we turn to consideration of its nature. We cover questions about the scope of agentive phenomenology, about its relationship to other types of experiences (section 2.1), about the best way to characterize aspects of agentive phenomenology, and about the function of various types of agentive experience (section 2.2).
  • “A Cognitive Account of Agentive Awareness” Mind & Language, 32(5), 545-563, 2017.
    • Abstract: Agentive awareness is one’s awareness of oneself as presently acting. Dominant accounts in cognitive science take agentive awareness to be grounded in the states and processes underlying sensorimotor control. In this paper, I air concerns for this approach and develop an alternative. Broadly, on the approach I defend one is agentively aware in virtue of intending to act. I further argue that agentive awareness is not constituted by intentions themselves, but rather first-personal thoughts that are formed on the basis of them. I develop this proposal, highlight some of its theoretical advantages, and show how it successfully meets various challenges.
  • “Agentive Awareness Is Not Sensory Awareness” Philosophical Studies,172(3), 761-780, 2015.
    • Abstract: In this paper, I argue that the conscious awareness one has of oneself as acting, i.e., agentive awareness, is not a type of sensory awareness. After providing some set up in Sect. 1, I move on in Sect. 2 to sketch a profile of sensory agentive experiences (SAEs) as representational states with sensory qualities by which we come to be aware of ourselves as performing actions. In Sect. 3, I critique two leading arguments in favor of positing such sensory experiences: the argument from pathology and the argument from cognitive impenetrability. Since neither of these arguments succeeds, the case for positing SAEs is dealt a significant blow. I proceed in Sect. 4 to advance my positive argument against SAEs. The argument runs as follows: If SAEs exist, then they must exist in some sensory modality or set of sensory modalities. Either the relevant sensory modalities are ones that we already recognize, or they are novel sensory modalities. I will argue that neither of these options is workable, and so we have nowhere to locate SAEs. Agentive awareness is not sensory awareness.

Skill

  • “Editorial: Skilled Action Control” (with Elisabeth Pacherie), Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 12, 469-480.
  • “Beyond Automaticity: The Psychological Complexity of Skill” (with Elisabeth Pacherie), Topoi 40,649–662, 2021.
    • Abstract: The objective of this paper is to characterize the rich interplay between automatic and cognitive control processes that we propose is the hallmark of skill, in contrast to habit, and what accounts for its flexibility. We argue that this interplay isn’t entirely hierarchical and static, but rather heterarchical and dynamic. We further argue that it crucially depends on the acquisition of detailed and well-structured action representations and internal models, as well as the concomitant development of metacontrol processes that can be used to shape and balance it.
  • “The Intelligence of Motor Control” in Routledge Handbook of Skill and Expertise eds. Ellen Fridland and Carlotta Pavese, London: Routledge Press, 2020.
    • Abstract: The puzzle of skilled action is that of explaining how it is that it displays robust intelligence despite being largely governed by motor control processes that are often characterized as brute, reflex-like, and paradigmatically unintelligent. In this chapter, I argue that a solution to this puzzle takes the form of an extension to existing hybrid views of skilled action, according to which its intelligence is to be accounted for in terms of the combined contributions of intentions and other propositional attitude states, as well as the representations and processes involved in motor control (see, e.g., Fridland 2014, 2017; Christensen et al. 2016; Levy 2017; Shepherd 2017). I further argue that, though such views are on the right track, they sometimes take an overly narrow view of the motor system’s intelligence, such that it must be derived from intention, rather than inherent in its own operations. I make the case that in order to properly understand the intelligence of the motor system, we must recognize the complexity of the representational structures it utilizes in the control of skilled behaviour, and that this complexity forms the basis for the difference in intelligence between expert and novice performance, and points us towards a solution to the puzzle of skilled action.

Cognition-Action Interface

  • “The Modularity of the Motor System” Philosophical Explorations, 24, 376-393, 2021.
    • Abstract: In this paper, I make a case for the modularity of the motor system. I start where many do in discussions of modularity, by considering the extent to which the motor system is cognitively penetrable, i.e., the extent to which its processing and outputs are causally influenced, in a semantically coherent way, by states of central cognition. I present some empirical findings from a range of sensorimotor adaptation studies that strongly suggest that there are limits to such influence under certain conditions. These results cry out for an explanation. In the remainder of the paper, I provide one: The motor system is cognitively penetrable, but nonetheless modular along broadly Fodorian lines, insofar as it is informationally encapsulated. This means that its access is limited to its own proprietary database in computing its function from input to output, which does not include the information stored in central cognition. I then offer a model of action control, from distal intention to action outcomes, that further helps to illustrate this picture and can accommodate the target empirical findings.
  • “Oops! I Did It Again: The Psychology of Everyday Action Slips” Topoi, Online First, 2021.
    • Abstract: We have all had the experience of everyday mistakes like distractedly pouring orange juice into our cereal bowl rather than the milk, or inadvertently continuing on our regular route home rather than stopping at the store as we’d planned. These so-called “action slips” (Reason 1984a) are characterized as failures to execute one’s intention arising in habitual or highly-learned action sequences. This paper argues that a proper understanding of slips, and thus action more generally, requires an understanding of the control structure that implements an agent’s guiding intentions. Central to this structure are motor representations that are active downstream of intention and attentional processes that ensure that they reliably implement the intentions they serve.
  • “Intentions and Motor Representations: the Interface Challenge” (with Elisabeth Pacherie) Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 8(2), 317-336, 2017.
    • Abstract: A full account of intentional action must appeal not only to propositional attitude states like beliefs, desires, and intentions, but also to motor representations, i.e., non-propositional states that are thought to represent, among other things, action outcomes as well as detailed kinematic features of bodily movements. This raises the puzzle of how it is that these two distinct types of state successfully coordinate, exhibiting as they do different representational formats. We examine this so-called “Interface Problem”. First, we clarify and expand on the nature and role of motor representations in explaining intentional action. Next, we characterize the respective functions of intentions and motor representations, the differences in representational format and content that these imply, and the interface challenge these differences in turn raise.  We then evaluate Butterfill & Sinigaglia’s (2014) recent answer to this interface challenge, according to which intentions refer to action outcomes by way of demonstrative deference to motor representations. We present some worries for this proposal, arguing that, among other things, it implicitly presupposes a solution to the problem, and so cannot help to resolve it. Finally, we suggest that we may make some progress on this puzzle by positing a “content-preserving causal process” taking place between intentions and motor representations, and we offer a proposal for how this might work.  

Un/Consciousness

  • “Unconscious Perception and Central Coordinating Agency” (with Joshua Shepherd) Philosophical Studies, 178, 3869-3893, 2021.
    • Abstract: One necessary condition on any adequate account of perception is clarity regarding whether unconscious perception exists. The issue is complicated, and the debate is growing in both philosophy and science. In this paper we consider the case for unconscious perception, offering three primary achievements. First, we offer a discussion of the underspecified notion of central coordinating agency, a notion that is critical for arguments that purportedly perceptual states are not attributable to the individual, and thus not genuinely perceptual. We develop an explication of what it is for a representational state to be available to central coordinating agency for guidance of behavior. Second, drawing on this explication, we place a more careful understanding of the attributability of a state to the individual in the context of a range of empirical work on vision-for-action, saccades, and skilled typing. The results place pressure on the skeptic about unconscious perception. Third, reflecting upon broader philosophical themes running through debates about unconscious perception, we highlight how our discussion places pressure on the view that perception is a manifest kind, rather than a natural kind. In doing so, we resist the tempting complaint that the debate about unconscious perception is merely verbal.
  • “Default Hypotheses in the Study of Perception: A Reply to Phillips” (with Jacob Berger), Journal of Consciousness Studies, 28(3-4), 206-219, 2021.
    • Abstract: Some theorists have recently raised doubts about much of the experimental evidence purporting to demonstrate the existence of unconscious perception. In our 2019 article in this journal, we argued some of these considerations are not decisive. Phillips (2021) replies thoughtfully to our paper, concluding that he is unconvinced by our arguments. Phillips maintains that the view that perception is invariably conscious remains, as he puts it, the ‘default’ hypothesis both within the folk understanding and experimental study of perception. There is much to agree with in Phillips’ peice, but there remain some substantive points of disagreement, which we outline here.
  • “On Skepticism About Unconscious Perception” (with Jacob Berger), Journal of Consciousness Studies, 26(11-12), 8-32, 2019.
    • Abstract: While there seems to be much evidence that perceptual states can occur without being conscious, some theorists recently express skepticism about unconscious perception. We explore here two kinds of such skepticism: Megan Peters and Hakwan Lau’s experimental work regarding the well- known problem of the criterion—which seems to show that many purported instances of unconscious perception go unreported but are weakly conscious—and Ian Phillips’ theoretical consideration, which he calls the ‘problem of attribution’—the worry that many purported examples of unconscious perception are not perceptual, but rather merely informational and subpersonal. We argue that these concerns do not undermine the evidence for unconscious perception and that this skeptical approach results in a dilemma for the skeptic, who must either deny that there is unconscious mentality generally or explain why perceptual states are unique in the mind such that they cannot occur unconsciously. Both options, we argue, are problematic.