The School of Liberal Arts is home to a thriving group of research students, working on doctoral projects in philosophy, literature, and classics.
Title: Expertise and the 4E Cognition Paradigm
I started my PhD Studies in 2022, after graduating in 2020 from UniSR (Milan, Italy) with a thesis on the social epistemology of expertise, namely on the novice/expert problem. While I was writing my thesis, I took a course in philosophy of the cognitive sciences, which paired wonderfully with the psychology classes I took both as a bachelor’s and a master’s student: that journey led me to focus on embodied cognition and its relationship with skills and expertise.
My thesis project aims to develop a multidimensional, enactivist account of skilled action and expertise, with the twofold objective.
First, it will outline the reasons for unsatisfaction with other, current accounts of skilled action and expertise aiming at developing “ecological” models or explanations of skilled action and expertise, and why those accounts fail to deliver the purported goods: in turn, that will allow me to articulate a multidimensional, more ecological account that meets explanatory and implementation challenges that confront other views.
Second, it articulates and defends an enactivist account, showing why enactivism would be the best framework in the scope of embodied cognition for a thoroughly multidimensional, ecological account of expertise and skilled action.
Title: The Diachronic Mind Institutionalized.
Abstract: The thesis explores neurodevelopmental disorders from a diachronic account of the mind. With a specific focus on attention deficit/hyper-activity disorder (ADHD), the thesis will argue that neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD are relationally constituted across brains, bodies, and environments both physical and sociocultural. Through an interdisciplinary approach combining resources from enactive, ecological, and predictive frameworks for cognition, the thesis will advance an understanding of ADHD as a multiscale phenomenon. That is, it will seek to analyze the multifaceted manifestations of ADHD across several spatiotemporal scales, including neural executive function, environmental niches, and sociocultural interactions. This account of developmental disorder will be used as a prism through which to understand the developmental character of minds in general. This will provide a basis for mutual illumination of neurodevelopmental disorders and minds in general.
Title:The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave: The relationship between nature and bodies in Milton's Paradise Lost (1674)
The thesis explores the complicated relationship between bodies and the natural environment as presented by Milton in Paradise Lost. Drawing on contemporary discourses of ecofeminist studies, queer theory and philosophical understandings of the relationship between the individual and their surrounding environment, an original interpretation of the text can be yielded: blurring the distinct boundaries of body and nature. Milton's tendency to blur distinctions can be extended to the gender binaries of masculine and feminine. Milton produces a text where seemingly oppositional distinct categories of masculinity and femininity, nature and culture, are actually considered simultaneously resembling the more modern understandings of the individual's place amongst these categories. The thesis investigates how masculinity and femininity of the body are explored by the dual-gendered representative symbol of the serpent, the masculine-centred enclosed Garden of Eden, the feminised grotesque spaces beyond the boundaries of Eden, including Chaos and Hell, and the feminine presentation of Mother Nature as well as exploring how these relate to Adam and Eve, the characterisation of a patriarchal God, Satan and his inverted trinity of Sin and Death. Milton explores unsettled boundaries throughout his text primarily between the relationship of nature and the body and calls into question preconceived notions about gender through his queering of Eve and the environment. The thesis will consider the influence of contemporary scientific discourse on Milton’s text, while also arguing that retrospective understandings of Paradise Lost through modern literary and philosophical theorising can reveal nuances of Milton’s understanding of this relationship.
I am interested in foundational questions in cognitive science. My PhD work concerns the status of information processing. It is widely supposed that cognition is based on information processing. This is a foundational assumption in the mainstream cognitive sciences and philosophy of mind. Several theories and frameworks take it as a ground-floor commitment that information is processed. Cognition is described in terms of processes that transform, organize, encode, and retrieve information. This talk of information processing needs closer inspection. In my research I propose to investigate how we should understand this foundational commitment in cognitive science. I ask precisely how seriously do, or should, cognitive scientists take such talk? Is there or can we expect a full explication of what information is and an explanation of how it is processed? If not, then what is meant by information processing? Or is this notion of information processing just a useful fiction – a metaphor or artefact that can be used to help scientists build theories and models even if it supposes that no information is, really, ever processed in cognitive systems? Or is it a potentially misleading metaphor, one that we need to leave behind if we are to properly characterise and understand cognition?
Title: A biological account of information and representation: From adaptivity mechanisms to mental content.
Abstract: My research revolves around the following guiding question: How can living systems adapt to and interact with features in their respective (changing) environments? A core assumption in cognitive science is that biological systems interact with their external world by using internal representations. Based on this hypothesis, organisms process information and thereby control their more or less complex (cognitive) behavioural output based on their respective cognitive architecture. Against this background I aim to better understand how biological organisms exploit environmental variables in order to acquire, maintain, and improve their adaptive behavioural repertoire. I approach these issues from various perspectives, including 4E approaches to cognition, the predictive processing framework, information theoretic approaches to biological signalling, and other relevant approaches. A thorough exploration of the relationships between self-organizational, thermodynamic, evolutionary, and semiotic processes in living systems is my starting point for developing an empirically informed and theoretically sustainable notion of biological information. Such a framework will ideally enhance our understanding of the cognitive capacities and environmental interactions of biological systems.
Title: Categorization and Stigma of Mental Health Patients
My main research interests start from the role of labels and classifications in the mental health field. Maintaining the focus on the large amount of suffering caused not only by a situation of mental distress, but also by the weight of the stigma that comes together with a diagnosis of a certain mental condition, my project aims at exploring what tools and possibilities are available for the individual who suffers from a psychiatric disorder to live and express their experiences of distress, and what possible alternative paths can be explored in order to preserve the idea of the psychiatric patient first and foremost as a person, and of their symptoms as something affecting their quality of life before their physical and cerebral dynamics.
Please consider that the title of the thesis and its content are still provisional and in progress, and are therefore open to changes and reorientations over time.