Structuring Mind: The Nature of Attention and How it Shapes Consciousness
2017, Oxford University Press


  • Self-Control is not Special

    Forthcoming in: Mental Action and the Consious Mind, ed. Michael Brent, Routledge, expected 2020

    It has been argued that the explanation of self-control requires positing special motivational powers. Some think that we need will-power as an irreducible mental faculty; others that we need to think of the active self as a dedicated and depletable pool of psychic energy or – in today more respectable terminology – mental resources; finally, there is the idea that self-control requires postulating a deep division between reason and passion – a deliberative and an emotional motivational system. This essay argues that no such special motivational powers are necessary. Yet, at the same time, self-control does powerfully illustrate the importance of a feature of the mind. What it illustrates, I argue, is the importance of the mental activity of attention in the control of all action. It is by appeal to this mental activity that we can dispense with special motivational powers. If we think of Humeanism as the view that there is fundamentally only one kind of motivational system and that all action is based in that system, then this essay contributes to a defense of Humeanism. On the other hand, the essay also shows that any model of agency in terms of only beliefs and desires, motivational and representational states, or preferences and credences is incomplete. A different conception of Humeanism as the view that every mental state is either motivational, representational, or a combination of them, is false. [Draft]
  • Culture or Biology? If this sounds interesting, you might be confused.

    Forthcoming in: Social Philosophy of Science for the Social Sciences, ed. Jaan Valsiner, Springer, expected October 2019

    Culture or Biology? The question can seem deep and important. Yet, I argue in this essay, if you are enthralled by questions about our biological differences, then you are probably confused. My goal is to diagnose the confusion. In debates about the role of biology in the social world it is easy to ask the wrong questions, and it is easy to misinterpret the scientific research. We are intuitively attracted to what is called psychological essentialism, and therefore interpret what is biological as what can be traced to “essences”. On this interpretation, it would be deep and important to know what about, say, the differences between the genders is biological: it would correspond to what is essential to being a man or being a woman, and be opposed to what is a mere accidental feature that some women or some men have. Yet, the psychological essentialist understanding of ‘biological differences’ is deeply mistaken about biology. It has the wrong conception of biological kinds, of biological heritability, and of how genes and hormones work. Those who argue for an important role of ‘biology’ in the explanation of human differences often see ‘the science’ on their side. But this is false – on the interpretation of ‘biological differences’ that is most intuitive and that makes the question appear to be most interesting. Defenders of ‘biology’ have the science against them. What is often called ‘biology’ is a myth: a myth created by an intuitive tendency that grotesquely distorts real biological research. [Draft]
  • Can Representationism Explain how Attention Affects Appearances?

    2019. In: Blockheads! Essays on Ned Block's Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness , eds. A. Pautz and D. Stoljar, The MIT Press

    Recent psychological research shows that attention affects appearances. An “attended item looks bigger, faster, earlier, more saturated, stripier.” (Block 2010, p. 41). What is the significance of these findings? Ned Block has argued that they undermine representationism, roughly the view that the phenomenal character of perception is determined by its representational content. My first goal in this paper is to show that Block’s argument has the structure of a Problem of Arbitrary Phenomenal Variation and that it improves on other instances of arguments of the same form along several dimensions (most prominently, these are arguments based on the possibility of spectral inversion). My second goal is to consider responses to Block’s version of the arbitrariness problem. I will show that most of them have serious drawbacks. Overall, the best view is to accept that attention may distort perception, sacrificing veridicality for usability. I end my discussion by showing how to develop that view. [Draft] [BOOK]

    Note that this paper has also been cited as "Can Intentionalism Explain how Attention Affects Appearances. This is the same paper, except for the title.
  • Consciousness and No Self?

    2018: Ratio, 31(4), 363-375 (Special Issue: Mind and Language: Cross‐Cultural Perspectives)

    Phenomenal consciousness, what it is like for each particular subject, seems to be at the heart of subjectivity and the primary home of the self. But is there in fact a role for the self in phenomenal consciousness? According to the phenomenal no-self challenge, reflection on the character of phenomenal consciousness reveals no self and no subjectivity. I articulate an argument for this challenge based on the transparency of conscious experience. I then respond to this argument and show that there is an aspect of phenomenal consciousness that the challengers miss. This aspect is active attention. In active attention, in particular in the ability to actively resist distractions, consciousness reveals an agential self: the experiencer is phenomenally manifest as an active power. I further show that the subject’s active role in experience is plausibly present in every form of experience.
    [Draft] [Online]
  • Is Attention a Non-Propositional Attitude?

    2018, in: Non-Propositional Intentionality, eds. M. Montague and A. Grzankowski, Oxford University Press

    I argue first that attention is a (maybe the) paradigmatic case of an object-directed, non-propositional intentional mental episode. In addition attention cannot be reduced to any other (propositional or non-propositional) mental episodes. Yet, second, attention is not a non-propositional mental attitude. It might appear puzzling how one could hold both of these claims. I show how to combine them, and how that combination shows how propositionality and non-propositionality can co-exist in a mental life. The crucial move is one away from an atomistic, building block picture to a more holistic, structural picture.
  • How does information flow between perception and cognition?

    2017, Filosofisk Supplement, 3, 46-53

    In this invited contribution to the column "Fra Forskningsfronten", I provide an overview of the debate about whether cognition or desire sometimes influences perception, that is: the debate about the cognitive penetrability of perception. The article puts specific emphasis on the relevance of how to draw the perception-cognition distinction in the first place, and the role of attention in the cognitive penetrability debate.
    [Final Version]
  • Perceptual Guidance

    2014, Ratio, 27(4): 369–505

    Proponents of an intentional theory of perceptual experience have taken for granted that perceptual experience is an informing form of intentionality. Hence they often speak of the way an experience represents the environment to be, or what there is. In this respect perceptual experience is thus assumed to resemble a speech act like assertion or a mental state like belief. There is another important form of intentionality though that concerns not what there is, but what to do. I call this a guiding form of intentionality. In speech, there are – for example – imperatives and among intentional mental states there are desires and intentions. In this paper I argue that perceptual experience is at least sometimes characterized by such a guiding form of intentionality. Perception does not just inform, it is sometimes intrinsically action-guiding. I call this the perceptual guidance claim. I distinguish the perceptual guidance claim from related, but importantly distinct claims (such as claims concerning the perception of affordances or concerning whether perception is normative), and argue that perceptual action guidance occurs not just in an unconscious vision-for-action system, but also within conscious perceptual experience.
    [Online] [Draft]
  • Attentional Organization and the Unity of Consciousness
    2014, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 21(7-8): 56-87
    Could the organization of consciousness be the key to understanding its unity? This paper considers how the attentional organization of consciousness into centre and periphery bears on the phenomenal unity of consciousness. Two ideas are discussed: according to the first, the attentional organization of consciousness shows that phenomenal holism is true. I argue that the argument from attentional organization to phenomenal holism remains inconclusive. According to the second idea, attentional organization provides a principle of unity for conscious experience, i.e. it is a relationship between the phenomenal parts that occurs in the real definition or essence of consciousness. Conscious experience provides subjects with a subjective perspective, or point of view, because its various parts are structured by attention into what is more central and what is more peripheral.
    [Online][Final Draft]

  • Silencing the Experience of Change
    2013. Philosophical Studies 165(3): 1009-1032
    Perceptual illusions have often served as an important tool in the study of perceptual experience. In this paper I argue that a recently discovered set of visual illusions sheds new light on the nature of time consciousness. I suggest the study of these silencing illusions as a tool kit for any philosopher interested in the experience of time and show how to better understand time consciousness by combining detailed empirical investigations with a detailed philosophical analysis. In addition, I argue specifically against an initially plausible range of views that assume a close match between the temporal content of visual experience and the temporal layout of experience itself. Against such a widely held structural matching thesis I argue that which temporal changes we are experiencing bears no close relation to how our experience itself is changing over time. Explanations of the silencing illusions that are compatible with the structural matching thesis fail.

    For an in-depth (critical) discussion of this paper and a defense of the structural matching thesis see Ian Phillips (forthcoming) "Breaking the silence: motion silencing and experience of change"

  • The Philosophical Significance of Attention
    2011. Philosophy Compass, 6(11): 722–733
    What is the philosophical significance of attention? The present article provides an overview of recent debates surrounding the connections between attention and other topics of philosophical interest. In particular it discusses the interplay between attention and consciousness, attention and agency, and the role attention might play for the theory of reference and in epistemology. The article provides an overview of the logical landscape: it clearly distinguishes the various questions concerning – among others – how attention shapes the phenomenal character of experience, whether it is necessary or sufficient for consciousness, or whether it plays a special role in the best philosophical theory of action or conceptual reference. The article points out various interdependencies between particular answers to these questions, as well as how these answers might depend on the metaphysics of attention (like whether attention may come in degrees, or whether it is fundamentally a personal level or sub-personal phenomenon). Together with its companion piece (“The Nature of Attention”) this article, thus, may serve as an introduction to the philosophy of attention.

  • The Nature of Attention
    2011. Philosophy Compass, 6(11): 842–853
    What is attention? Attention is often seen as a subject matter for the hard sciences of cognitive and brain processes, and is understood in terms of sub-personal mechanisms and processes. Correspondingly, there still is a stark contrast between the central role attention plays for the empirical investigation of the mind in psychology and the neurosciences, and its relative neglect in philosophy. Yet, over the past years, several philosophers have challenged the standard conception. A number of interesting philosophical questions concerning the nature of attention arise. This article provides an introduction to contemporary debates concerning these questions. In particular, it discusses the question of how the pre-theoretic conception of attention might be reconciled with a scientific conception, arguments that provide support for an anti-reductivist theory of attention, and sketches several recent anti-reductivist theories and their inter-relations.

  • Attention as Structuring of the Stream of Consciousness

    2011. In: Attention: Philosophical and Psychological Essays , eds. Mole C., Smithies D. and Wu W., Oxford University Press

    This paper defends and develops the structuring account of conscious attention: attention is the conscious mental process of structuring one’s stream of consciousness so that some parts of it are more central than others. In the first part of the paper, I motivate the structuring account. Drawing on a variety of resources I argue that the phenomenology of attention cannot be fully captured in terms of how the world appears to the subject, as well as against an atomistic conception of attention. In the second part of the paper, I show how the structuring account can be made precise: attention causes and causally sustains phenomenal relations to hold between the parts of the stream of consciousness; most importantly the relation of one part being peripheral to another. I end by pointing out consequences for both the scientific study of attention as well as for several areas of central philosophical interest.
    [Semi-final draft] [the book]
  • Spike-Timing Precision Underlies the Coding Efficiency of Auditory Receptor Neurons

    2006. Journal of Neurophysiology, 95: 2541-2552
    Authors: Rokem A., Watzl, S. Gollisch T., Stemmler M., Herz A.V.M., and Samengo I.

    Sensory systems must translate incoming signals quickly and reliably so that an animal can act successfully in its environment. Even at the level of receptor neurons, however, functional aspects of the sensory encoding process are not yet fully understood. Specifically, this concerns the question how stimulus features and neural response characteristics lead to an efficient transmission of sensory information. To address this issue, we have recorded and analyzed spike trains from grasshopper auditory receptors, while systematically varying the stimulus statistics. The stimulus variations profoundly influenced the efficiency of neural encoding. This influence was largely attributable to the presence of specific stimulus features that triggered remarkably precise spikes whose trial-to-trial timing variability was as low as 0.15 ms— one order of magnitude shorter than typical stimulus time scales. Precise spikes decreased the noise entropy of the spike trains, thereby increasing the rate of information transmission. In contrast, the total spike train entropy, which quantifies the variety of different spike train patterns, hardly changed when stimulus conditions were altered, as long as the neural firing rate remained the same. This finding shows that stimulus distributions that were transmitted with high information rates did not invoke additional response patterns, but instead displayed exceptional temporal precision in their neural representation. The acoustic stimuli that led to the highest information rates and smallest spike-time jitter feature pronounced sound-pressure deflections lasting for 2–3 ms. These upstrokes are reminiscent of salient structures found in natural grasshopper communication signals, suggesting that precise spikes selectively encode particularly important aspects of the natural stimulus environment.

Book Reviews

  • “Attention, Not Self” (J. Ganeri)
    2018. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

  • “Joint Attention” (ed. A. Seemann)
    2012. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
    Review of a new collection on Joint Attention.

  • “Perplexities of Consciousness” (E. Schwitzgebel)

    2012. Mind ,Volume 121, Issue 482, pp. 524-529
    Co-author: Wayne Wu

    In this review of Eric Schwitzgebel's "Perplexities of Consciousness", we discuss the book's arguments in light of the role of attention in introspection.
    [Official Version][Final Draft]
  • “Attention is Cognitive Unison” (C. Mole)
    2011. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
    A relatively detailed review (~ 4000 words) of Christopher Mole's (2010) book "Attention is Cognitive Unison". I suggest that Mole makes a good case against many types of reductivist accounts of attention, using the right kind of methodology. Yet, I argue that his adverbialist theory is not the best articulation of the crucial anti-reductivist insight. The distinction between adverbial and process-first phenomena he draws remains unclear, anti-reductivist process theories can escapte his arguments, and finally I provide an argument for why no personal level adverbialism can provide a complete and unified theory of attention. Despite my disagreements, I have learned a lot from engaging with Mole's book. It's a central contribution to the new philosophical literature on attention.



  • The Significance of Attention
    2010. PhD Dissertation, Columbia University
    This dissertation investigates the nature, the phenomenal character and the philosophical significance of attention. According to its central thesis, attention is the ongoing mental activity of structuring the stream of consciousness or phenomenal field. The dissertation connects the scientific study of attention in psychology and the neurosciences with central discussions in the philosophy of mind. Once we get clear on the nature and the phenomenal character of attention, we can make progress toward understanding foundational issues concerning the nature and the structure of conscious mentality itself. We understand better how consciousness is connected to self-awareness and to agency, and we get a better grip on the nature of perceptual experience, the unity of consciousness, and its subjective character. The dissertation also aims at showing that the current empirical investigation of attention should be complemented with work at the level of generality that a philosophical analysis can provide; it shows how such an analysis is relevant for the scientific study of attention by providing a new conceptual framework and suggesting several new areas of research.
    [official online PDF version]

Work in Progress

  • Mind Perception
    first author: Jola Feix, in preparation
    How do we know about the mental life of others? It seems natural to say that we sometimes see another’s anger in her face, hear her joy in her laughter, or see her attention in her look. Mind Perception is the view that we indeed perceive some of another’s mental states directly, i.e. without recourse to further cognitive resources like inference or inner simulation. In this paper we provide an argument for mind perception, give an account of how mind perception is possible, and show that there are no convincing objections to mind perception. The common explicit or implicit denial of mind perception is thus without good grounds.
  • Can Intentionalism Explain How Attention Structures Consciousness?
    now part of a longer paper currently under review
    According to intentionalism the phenomenal character of consciousness is determined by the bearing of intentional attitudes toward contents. Can intentionalism account for the phenomenal contribution of perceptual attention? Intentionalism has two components. The content component, and the attitude component. Intentionalists thus can locate the phenomenal contribution of attention either in the content or in the attitude (or in both). After briefly reviewing arguments against the content strategy developed by myself and others elsewhere, I here argue against the attitude strategy (Pautz 2010, Speaks 2010, Wu 2010). I will argue that even if a version of the attitude strategy can explain that perceptual attention operates within and not on top of perceptual experience (a problem pointed out also by James Stazicker), it has no account of the distribution of attention across the field of consciousness and of variations in the objects of attention (which range from objects, to properties and states of affairs). The attitude strategy cannot explain how attention structures consciousness.
  • Attention and the Subjective Point of View
    under review
    Suppose that in the garden of appearances (see Chalmers 2006) everything is as it appears to you in conscious experience. The garden reveals its nature in consciousness. Yet, there is a price: you don’t get the capacity of attention, and thus you cannot focus attention on anything nor is your attention ever drawn to anything. In this paper I argue that in this garden an important element of subjectivity would be absent: you would be no more than a bundle of appearances. The paper has two goals: first, I show that something is missing in the garden of appearances by appeal to an argument I call “the counterpart argument”. Second, I provide an account of what is missing. Besides phenomenal qualities, there is phenomenal structure that gives shape to our experiences. This structure, I argue, is central to a subject’s point of view on the appearances.
  • Phenomenal Qualities are Relations to Particulars
    In preparation
    Does having a perceptual experience as of a particular object or event, like a tomato or an explosion, imply that there is some particular object or event of which you have an experience or of which you are aware? A negative answer to this question is almost universally accepted. Defenders of that view appeal to the possibility of hallucination and argue that these are the cases where someone might have a perceptual experience as of some particular object or event, without being related to a particular object or event, because there is no such object or event to be aware of or be related to. Against this consensus, this paper presents an extended argument for the positive view and shows how the view might be correct. The upshot of my argument is that there is no convincing reason not to think of all hallucinations as extreme cases of illusion. On the view I will suggest each simple perceptual experience (a phenomenal quality) can be analyzed as a three-place relation between a subject, a particular object or event, and a way that object or event appears to the subject
  • Perceptual Guidance
    No longer in preparation: became part of "Attention and the Structures of Consciousness"
    Perceptual experience seems to present us with a certain environment. Our experience tells us what there is. In this respect experience is like belief. In this paper, I argue that perceptual experience also tells us what to do. It doesn’t merely inform us, but also guides us. In this respect experience is like desire or intention. I rest my argument on the case of perceptual saliency. Some experiences are more salient than others and guide our attention to the salient object or event. Perception tell us what to focus on. In this paper I develop an account of experiential saliency, and discuss how the guiding function of experience can be integrated with its informing function. I end with some suggestions for how the guiding function performed by experiential salience may ground the notion saliency that figures in theories of bounded rationality, communication, and linguistic development.
  • Mind-wandering: Vice, Virtue, or Both?
    With Adrienne Prettyman, in preparation
    Our mind tends to wander. Given the prevalence of mind-wandering shown in much recent research a variety of questions arise. On the one hand, there is the psychology and neuroscience of mind-wandering: what are the neuronal underpinnings of mind-wandering and what causes specific episodes of mind-wandering? More and more progress is made on both of these questions. On the other hand, there are questions about the significance of mind-wandering. These are our focus here. Does mind-wandering serve any purpose in our mental economy or is it, by contrast, the use-less side-product of other processes with negative effects at best? While recent empirical studies claim to find negative emotional effects of mind-wandering we argue that these effects are probably restricted to specific forms of mind-wandering. Other forms of mind-wandering, we argue, should be viewed in a more favorable light. They contribute to creativity and problem solving, and are closely tied to an important intellectual virtue: open-mindedness.

Other Research Projects

  • Organizing Mind. From Experience to Action and Belief
    A project on executive attention and executive control, extending my work on the role of attention to cover cross-temporal organization
    You are an organizer of your own mental life. You structure your experience into foreground and background; you select among the various options that present themselves; and you stick to goals and plans in the face of distraction. This research project deals with the question of how the mind is organized (over time), with the question of whether having a mind in part consists in having a certain organization, and with the question of how we ought to organize our minds.

    The project lies at the interface of philosophy of mind, theory of action and epistemology, and draws on empirical research in psychology and the neurosciences. Its goal is to articulate and defend, on the one hand, a thesis about the metaphysical structure of the mind that starts with organization and the agent qua organizer. The project will investigate the organization of agency by looking into the way executive attention structures our activities. On the other hand, the project aims at integrating an epistemological framework with that metaphysics. As a central case study the project will consider the role of belief within how agents organize their minds. I suggest that epistemic norms, i.e. the norms for belief, centrally are instances of norms for organizing the mind, and should be discussed in that context.


Most of my research is in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. From there it reaches into ethics and epistemology, general philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, as well as metaphysics. While it engages central philosophical topics, my approach often involves close dialogue with empirical research in psychology, the neurosciences, and the life sciences more generally. [Research Desription (PDF)]

Thought and Sense

This project investigates the differences, similarities, interactions, and connections between perception and cognition. Local Team: Anders Nes (Researcher), Kristoffer Sundberg (PhD Candidate), and myself. We organize workshops and conferences, and work with a wide network of national and international collaborators. The project is funded through a FRIPRO grant by the Research Council of Norway (around 8 Mill NOK).

Centre for Philosophy and the Sciences

I am coordinating a new priority area at the faculity of humanities at the University of Oslo. The Centre for Philosophy and the Sciences project will be an interdisciplinary hub between the humanities and the sciences. To this end it takes new approaches in teaching and research at the intersection of philosophy and other humanities, linguistics, psychology, biology and the life sciences, physics, computer science, and mathematics. The official starting date of the project is in Fall 2019. You can find out more about the project here.


  • Science and Democracy (Vitenskap og Demokrati)
    Fall 2019, BA Level
    Should we replace democracy, which sometimes leads to bad outcomes, with the rule of scientific experts, which has the promise to bring skill and knowledge to policy-making? Or how else should we use science to make policy? Can scientific research ever be free from political or moral values? Should science be more inclusive or democratic? Why is there so much opposition to science? These are some of the questions this course addresses. The course explores philosophical theories that will help you to think critically and responsibly about science and democracy. [course description in Norwegian, course taught in Norwegian]
  • Philosophy of Biology: Sex, Death, Cooperation, Cancer, and Morality
    Spring 2017, BA/MA Level
    In this course, we consider what biology, and especially the theory of evolution, teaches us about some of life’s biggest questions. We are especially focused on - arguably surprising - interrelations of the topics mentioned in the title: sex, death, cooperation, cancer, and morality. While pursuing these questions, we also - on a more theoretical side - consider the structure of evolutionary explanations, their application to human psychology and sociology, the notion of a biological individual, and the nature of species. [course description]
  • Epistemic Injustice
    Fall 2015, co-organized with Tove Pettersen and Ingvild Torsen, PhD Level
    This is a reading group that doubles as a PhD course. We will read Miranda Fricker's book "Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing" [more information]
  • Natural (and other Significant) Kinds
    Fall 2015, MA Level (Metaphysics and Philosophy of Mind: FIL 4100)
    In this course we will discuss the metaphysics of so-called natural kinds. We often – in everyday life as well as in science – classify objects and people into kinds: kinds of objects and kinds of people. Some classifications sound natural. What makes some of these classifications better than others? Are some of them natural? Do natural kinds have essences? Does it all depend on our interests? What is the ideology of ‘naturalness’? We will discuss the issues that arise with respect to the kinds discussed in physics, biology, and the social sciences. ‘Molecules’, ‘Species’, ‘Races’ and ‘Genders’ will be among our topics. [more information]
  • PhD Thesis Seminar
    Every Semester, PhD Level
    The PhD Thesis Seminar - where PhD candidates discuss their work in progress - meets every other week. All PhD candidates are welcome and encouraged to come. Visiting PhD students are welcome as well. Please contact me, if you have any further questions about the PhD program in philosophy at UiO.
  • Philosophy of Psychology
    Every Semester, PhD Level
    Introductory lecture for PhD students in the social sciences. The lecture focuses on the relationship between neuroscientific, psychological and social science research, especially with regard to issues of gender.
  • EXPHIL (English Option)
    Fall 2014, Beginners
  • Consciousness
    Fall 2014, MA Level (Metaphysics and Philosophy of Mind: FIL 4100)
    In this course, we have discussed four inter-related topics of current controversy within the philosophy of mind. They are: (a) What is the significance of consciousness: does consciousness matter for decision-making, ethics and belief formation? Is it important at all? (b) What is the place of consciousness in nature: is consciousness physical or non-physical? What would it mean to hold that it is “physical”? Might everything be conscious? (c) What is the structure of consciousness: are all conscious phenomena intentional or representational phenomena? Is it essential to conscious phenomena that subjects are aware of enjoying them? What are center and periphery within subjective perspectives? (d) Is cognition dependent upon consciousness: can cognition be explained as a biological function? Is intentionality dependent on consciousness?
    [more information]
  • The Meta-Ethics "Research Group"
    Spring 2014 - Spring 2015
    I am currently supervising five MA-students on a number of topics in metaethics. We get together about once/week to discuss background literature, work in progress, etc.
  • The Social Animal: Evolution, Sociality, and Cognition
    Fall 2013, co-taught with Katharine Browne, MA Level
    In this course we have considered three different, but closely interconnected, angles on the connection between the human mind, evolution and the social world. First, we looked at issues surrounding the evolution of human sociality. We addressed the following questions: How can we explain the evolution of our social capacities? How do we differ in these respects from other animals? Can evolutionary models (and particularly, evolutionary game theoretic models) help us to better understand the structure and origins of human morality? Second, we considered the significance of evolutionary considerations for the objectivity and normative status of claims about morality, rationality and in epistemology: do facts about human evolution confirm or undermine the objectivity of values, morality or knowledge? What is the function of normative language and how is that function connected to our social lives? Third, we asked about the relevance of social forces for the evolution of cognition. Has intelligence evolved to deal with the complexities of the social world? What is unique about human cognitive capacities and to what extent have they been shaped by cooperative social interaction?

Workshops and Conferences

  • The Thought and Sense Conference
    November 2017, CSMN
    Co-organizers: Anders Nes and Kristoffer Sundberg
    Details tba
  • Attention and Agency
    August 2017, Symposium at ECAP9, Munic
    Participants: Denis Buehler, Kevin Connolly, Carolyn Dicy-Jennings, Adrienne Prettyman, Sebastian Watzl
    Details tba
  • CSMN Closing Conference
    May 2017, CSMN
    Organized by CSMN
    Details tba
  • Temporal Awareness in Thought and Perception
    October 2016, CSMN
    Co-organizers: Anders Nes and Kristoffer Sundberg
    what differences, if any, are there between how time is presented, or represented, in perception and in thought? See here for more
  • First Thought and Sense Miniworkshop
    June 9 (2016), CSMN
    Co-organizers: Anders Nes and Kristoffer Sundberg
    Can we literally perceive the wrongness of an insult, the anger of another, or her sociability? Or are our quick responses about morality, other minds, and personality traits intuitive forms of cognition? How do we decide this question? Is the phenomenology of perception, for example, more immediate and puts us in touch with the world in a way that no form of cognition could? What difference does the answer to those questions make to the basis of moral and social knowledge? This mini-workshop will address such questions concerning the boundary between thinking and sensing. See here for more
  • Third Meeting of Normind
    January 14 (2016), CSMN
    Normind, the Nordic network for philosophy of mind and cognitive science, is holding its third workshop at CSMN at the University of Oslo. Everyone is welcome, especially early career students and scholars. We hope that these meetings can generate a friendly, low-pressure, and inclusive platform for the exchange of ideas. To register, email me, Sebastian Watzl, with the subject line “Normind registration”. Please indicate if you intend to join us for dinner. For more information click here.
  • The Thought and Sense Kickoff Workshop
    January 12-13 (2016), CSMN
    Co-organizers: Anders Nes and Kristoffer Sundberg
    The Thought and Sense Project kicks off its activities with a workshop that brings together a variety of perspectives on the interrelations between perception and cognition. For more information click here.
  • The Social Mind: Origins of Collective Reasoning
    August 29-30 (2014), CSMN
    Co-organizers: Katharine Browne and Jola Feix
    Standard decision theory predicts that individuals will (and ought to) defect in Prisoner's Dilemma situations. Yet, individuals often cooperate in such cases, and it sometimes appears rational for them to do so. Recently, a new approach has emerged that attempts to explain these results within a decision theoretic framework. According to proponents of the team reasoning approach, groups of individuals may count as agents. On this view, instead of maximizing their own preferences, individuals will maximize the preferences of a group with which they identify. This raises a number of questions: What is the cognitive machinery that allows for such team reasoning? Does it require meta-representational capacities that go beyond the capacities implicated in individual decision-making? What makes individuals take the perspective of the group?

    Recent work on social perspective taking in developmental psychology, and philosophy of mind and cognitive science appears relevant to these questions. Such work has called into question the assumption that we are individuals first and only secondarily members of groups or teams. On an interpretation that is rapidly gaining popularity certain findings from childhood development suggest that at least our explicit sense of self co-develops with our sense of others and the "we" of the group of which we are a part. This raises further questions: Does such work show that the cooperative tendencies modeled by the team reasoning framework are a fairly primitive part of human psychology? Do individuals ever face a *decision* to think as a group? Is team reasoning cognitively "light", at least as light as individual reasoning? Can empirical work on the development of the sense of self and others shed light on the conditions in which we think as a team?

    In order to make progress on the questions sketched above, this workshop attempts to bring into contact researchers interested in team reasoning approaches to human decision making with researchers interested in the development of group identification, social perspective taking, and the sense of self and other.

    See here for more
  • Mind and Attention in Indian and Contemporary Western Philosophy
    September 21-22 (2013), Harvard
    Co-organizers: Susanna Siegel and Parimal Patil (Harvard)
    The goal of the workshop is to bring into focus philosophical work in Indian traditions that address the role of attention of all kinds in mental life. The workshop will address some of following questions in the context of Indian philosophy: What factors determine how the stream of consciousness unfolds? By what processes do we bring a subject-matter (an external item, or an idea) into focus? What factors can determine what the mind is focused on? What kinds of things can be attended to? What is the role of attention in mediating between sensation and cognition? How are capacities for attention related to other capacities such as perception or skills? What is the role of considerations about attention or the directing or redirection of the mind in arguments for or against the permanence of inanimate objects? What kinds of methods can be used to redirect attention or mental focus? What are the practical, epistemic, and ethical benefits or drawbacks of redirecting attention? What is the role of attention in mediating between sensation and cognition? Can attention or focusing capacities be trained? If so, how? What are the upshots and the significance of such training? Are subjects necessarily aware of how their attention is directed? Can they become aware of it? If so, what is the nature of this form of awareness? What role does it play in redirecting attention or the development of the capacity for attention?
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  • Imperative Aspects of Perceptual Experience
    August 28-29 (2013), CSMN
    Co-organizer: Susanna Siegel (Harvard)
    Are there imperatival aspects to perceptual experience? Do any experiences have intrinsic motivational powers? If so, is this at odds with their being correct or incorrect? If not, what are they correct or incorrect about? One way to approach them is by comparing perceptual experiences to speech acts. If perceptual experiences were modeled by speech acts, would the best models be assertions, imperatives, or neither? If in some ways, or on some occasions, experiences are more like imperatives than assertions are these imperatival aspects of experience reflected in any way in their accuracy conditions? Are they at odds with their having accuracy conditions at all? Are they at odds with representationalism? In this workshop we explore these and related questions.

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Recent and Upcoming Presentations

  • Title Tba
    Colloquium of the Institute of Philosophy, Bochum, date tbd, invited
  • Title Tba
    Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Munich, date tbd, invited
  • The Rationality of Salience
    LMU Muenchen (Germany), January 2019
  • Attention Rights
    Langara College, Vancouver (Canada), November 2018
  • Attention: Nature and Normativity
    Keynote address at graduate conference on Philosophy of Mind, Language, and Cognition, Western Ontario, Canada, June 2018
  • The Desire-Perception Distinction
    Institut Jean Nicod, Paris (France), May 2018
  • The Rational Role of Salience
    Workshop on themes from my work, Institute of Philosophy, Tübingen, May 2018
  • The Ethics of Attention
    Colloquium of the Institute of Philosophy, Tübingen, May 2018
  • The Desire-Perception Distinction
    Graduate Seminar in Philosophy of Psychology, Florida State University, March 2018
  • Attention Norms: A Classification
    Workshop on Cross-cultural Perspectives on “Virtues of Attention”, NYU Abu Dabi, December 2017
  • One-day Workshop on my book “Structuring Mind”
    University of Fribourg, Switzerland, November 2017
  • Attention and Self-Control
    Workshop on Mental Action, Institute of Philosophy, London, November 2017
  • The Philosophy of Mind-wandering
    Kick-off Workshop for Project “Two-Thousand Years of Mind-Wandering” (September), Oslo (Norway), September 2017
  • Attention Norms
    Rutgers-Columbia Philosophy of Mind Workshop, New York, August 2017
  • Attention and Self-Control
    ECAP9, Meeting of the European Society for Analytic Philosophy, Munich, August 2017
  • Consciousness and No Self?
    Workshop on cross-cultural philosophy, University of Reading, April 2017
  • Attention and Acquaintance
    Workshop on Acquaintance, Umeå University, Feburary 2017
  • Self and Brain: What matters for Education?
    Educating Humanity: Rethinking ethical-political education, the Nordic Education Network, Oslo, February 2017
  • Priority Norms
    CCLAM Seminar, Stockholm University, September 2016
  • Commentary on Denis Buehler’s “Guidance of Visual Attention”
    Minds Online Workshop, September 2016
  • Salience Norms
    (based on work with Susanna Siegel), Interdisciplinary Workshop on Cognition and Experience, Umeå University, May 2015