Before Antwerp, I was a Juan de la Cierva research fellow at the Department of Philosophy of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Before that, I was a Beatriu de Pinós research fellow at the philosophy program of The Graduate Center, CUNY.
I work primarily in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of biology. Most of what I do is related in some way with the question of what makes certain entities be about, mean, or represent others.
If you ask me, philosophical research in the areas I am interested in cannot proceed without very substantial input from the relevant sciences—neuroscience, psychology, behavioral ecology, among others, as the case may be. I also believe that a good way of making progress in philosophy (not the only one, though!) is to construct formal models where insights and problems can be explored with the help of computational tools.
The Naturalization of Intentionality
I defend a version of teleosemantics: intentional content depends on the teleological function of representations, or other relevantly related states.
I am currently interested in the construction of computational models which are expressive enough to pose some of the questions that teleosemantics aims at solving, and which the recently very influential sender-receiver program, pursued by by Brain Skyrms and others, has so far neglected.
The phenomenal character of experiences with an affective component (pains most centrally, but also, e.g., the olfaction of disgusting odors, and perhaps the visual experiences associated with disturbing scenes) depends on imperative intentional content.
Substantiating this view involves, first, providing clear conditions for a representation to count as imperative; and, second, showing how the neurophysiological basis of affective phenomenology meets those conditions.
The Metaphysics of Natural Kinds
Natural kinds are individuated by sets of properties informationally connected to one another. Information-theoretic tools can be used to measure the naturalness of a kind.
I've also done work on modal epistemology (how come that we know of some things that they are possible, likely, impossible, or necessary?), and the philosophy of time.
Forthcoming in Synthese | Abstract According to the homeostatic property cluster family of accounts, one of the main conditions for groups of properties to count as natural is that these properties be frequently co-instantiated. I argue that this condition is, in fact, not necessary for natural-kindness. Furthermore, even when it is present, the focus on co-occurrence istorts the role natural kinds play in science.
Co-occurrence corresponds to what information theorists call redundancy: observing the presence of some of the properties in a frequently co-occurrent cluster makes observations of other members of the cluster comparatively uninformative. Yet, scientific practice often, and increasingly often, singles out as natural groups of properties that are not redundant, but synergic: instantiations of properties in synergic clusters are not necessarily informative about instantiations of other properties in the cluster; rather, it is their joint instantiation that plays the explanatory role for which the natural kind is recruited.
Imperativism and Pain Intensity (with Colin
Forthcoming in The Nature of Pain (eds. D. Bain, M. Brady and J. Corns) | Abstract Several authors have suggested that degrees of pain are problematic for imperativists about pain. We present a satisfying and well-motivated model of imperative urgency that also applies to pains, and which sheds light on some curious phenomena of pain perception.
Signals are Predominantly Imperative (with Colin Klein)
Biology & Philosophy (2016) 31(2);283-298 | Abstract Recent work on signaling has mostly focused on communication between organisms. The Lewis–Skyrms framework should be equally applicable to intra-organismic signaling. We present a Lewis–Skyrms signaling-game model of painful signaling, and use it to argue that the content of pain is predominantly imperative. We address several objections to the account, concluding that our model gives a productive framework within which to consider internal signaling.
Common Interest and Signaling Games: A Dynamic
Analysis (with Peter Godfrey-Smith)
Philosophy of Science (2016) 83;371-392 | Abstract We present a dynamic model of the evolution of communication in a Lewis signaling game while systematically varying the degree of common interest between sender and receiver. We show that the level of common interest between sender and receiver is strongly predictive of the amount of information transferred between them. We also discuss a set of rare but interesting cases in which common interest is almost entirely absent, yet substantial information transfer persists in a cheap talk regime, and offer a diagnosis of how this may arise. | Source code
The Organizational Account of Function is an Etiological
Account of Function (with Marc Artiga)
Acta Biotheoretica (2016) 64(2);105-117 | Abstract The debate on the notion of function has been historically dominated by dispositional and etiological accounts, but recently a third contender has gained prominence: the organizational account. This original theory of function is intended to offer an alternative account based on the notion of self-maintaining system. However, there is a set of cases where organizational accounts seem to generate counterintuitive results. These cases involve cross-generational traits, that is, traits that do not contribute in any relevant way to the self-maintenance of the organism carrying them, but instead have very important effects on organisms that belong to the next generation. We argue that any plausible solution to the problem of cross-generational traits shows that the organizational account just is a version of the etiological theory and, furthermore, that it does not provide any substantive advantage over standard etiological theories of function.
Journal of Philosophy (2015) 112(12);658-670 | Abstract It is widely held that it is unhelpful to model our epistemic access to modal facts on the basis of perception, and postulate the existence of a bodily mechanism attuned to modal features of the world.
In this paper I defend modalizing mechanisms. I present and discuss a decision-theoretic model in which agents with severely limited cognitive abilities, at the end of an evolutionary process, have states which encode substantial information about the probabilities with which the outcomes of a certain Bernoulli process occur. Thus, in the model, a process driven by very simple, thoroughly naturalistic mechanisms eventuates in modal sensitivity. | Source code
Pains as Reasons
Philosophical Studies (2015) 172(9):2261-2274 | Abstract Imperativism is the view that the phenomenal character of the affective component of pains, orgasms, and pleasant or unpleasant sensory experience depends on their imperative intentional content. In this paper I canvass an imperativist treatment of pains as reason-conferring states.
Disgusting Smells and Imperativism
Journal of Consciousness Studies (2015) 22(5-6):191-200 | Abstract I sketch and defend an imperativist treatment of the phenomenology associated with disgusting smells. This treatment, I argue, allows us to make better sense than other intentionalist alternatives both of the neuroanatomy of olfaction, and of a natural pretheoretical stance regarding the sense of smell.
Deception in Sender-Receiver Games
Erkenntnis (2015) 80:215-227 | Abstract Godfrey-Smith (2011) advocates linking deception in sender-receiver games to the existence of undermining signals. I present games in which deceptive signals can be arbitrarily frequent, without this undermining information transfer between sender and receiver.
Informationally-Connected Property Clusters, and Polymorphism
Biology and Philosophy (2015) 30:99-117 | Abstract I present and defend a novel version of the homeostatic property cluster [HPC] account of natural kinds. The core of the proposal is a develop- ment of the notion of co-occurrence, central to the HPC account, along information-theoretic lines. The resulting theory retains all the appeal- ing features of the original formulation, while increasing its explanatory power, and formal perspicuity. I showcase the theory by applying it to the (hitherto unsatisfactorily resolved) problem of reconciling the thesis that biological species are natural kinds with the fact that many such species are polymorphic.
Teleosemantics and Indeterminacy
Dialectica (2013) 67(4):427-453 | Abstract In the first part of the paper, I present a framework for the description and evaluation of teleosemantic theories of intentionality, and use it to argue that several different objections to these theories (the various indeterminacy and adequacy problems) are, in a certain precise sense, manifestations of the same underlying issue. I then use the framework to show that Millikan’s biosemantics, her own recent declarations to the contrary notwithtanding, presents indeterminacy.
In the second part, I develop a novel teleosemantic proposal which makes progress in the treatment of this family of problems. I describe a procedure to derive a (unique) homeostatic property cluster [HPC] from facts having to do with the properties that a certain indicator relied on, in the events leading to its fixation in a certain population. This HPC is the one that should figure in the content attribution to the indicator in question.
and Common Interest (with Peter Godfrey-Smith)
PLOS Computational Biology (2013) 9(11):e1003282 | Abstract Explaining the maintenance of communicative behavior in the face of incentives to deceive, conceal information, or exaggerate is an important problem in behavioral biology. When the interests of agents diverge, some form of signal cost is often seen as essential to maintaining honesty. Here, novel computational methods are used to investigate the role of common interest between the sender and receiver of messages in maintaining cost-free informative signaling in a signaling game. Two measures of common interest are defined. These quantify the divergence between sender and receiver in their preference orderings over acts the receiver might perform in each state of the world. Sampling from a large space of signaling games finds that informative signaling is possible at equilibrium with zero common interest in both senses. Games of this kind are rare, however, and the proportion of games that include at least one equilibrium in which informative signals are used increases monotonically with common interest. Common interest as a predictor of informative signaling also interacts with the extent to which agents’ preferences vary with the state of the world. Our findings provide a quantitative description of the relation between common interest and informative signaling, employing exact measures of common interest, information use, and contingency of payoff under environmental variation that may be applied to a wide range of models and empirical systems.
Philosophical Psychology (2013) 26(1):47-68 | Abstract There has been much discussion of so-called teleosemantic approaches to the naturalisation of content. Such discussion, though, has been largely confined to simple, innate mental states with contents such as There is a fly here. Even assuming we can solve the issues that crop up at this stage, an account of the content of human mental states will not get too far without an account of productivity: the ability to entertain indefinitely many thoughts.
The best-known teleosemantic theory, Millikan’s biosemantics, offers an account of productivity in thought. This paper raises a basic worry about this account: that the use of mapping functions in the theory is unacceptable from a naturalistic point of view.
Negative Conceivability and the Halting Problem
Erkenntnis (2013) 78:979-990 | Abstract Our limited a priori-reasoning skills open a gap between our finding a proposition conceivable and its metaphysical possibility. A prominent strategy for closing this gap is the postulation of ideal conceivers, who suffer from no such limitations. In this paper I argue that, under many, maybe all, plausible unpackings of the notion of ideal conceiver, it is false that ideal negative conceivability entails possiblity.
Imperative Content and the Painfulness of Pain
Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences (2011) 10:67-90 | Abstract Representationalist theories of phenomenal consciousness have problems in accounting for pain, for at least two reasons. First of all, the negative affective phenomenology of pain (its painfulness) does not seem to be representational at all. Secondly, pain experiences are not transparent to introspection in the way perceptions are. This is reflected, e.g., in the fact that we do not acknowledge pain hallucinations. In this paper I defend that representationalism has the potential to overcome these objections. Defenders of representationalism have tried to analyse every kind of phenomenal character in terms of indicative contents. But there is another possibility: affective phenomenology, in fact, depends on imperative representational content. This provides a satisfactory solution to the aforementioned difficulties.
Travelling in Branching Time
Disputatio (2011) 4(31):271-287 | Abstract Miller (2005) and Miller (2008) argue that the branching picture of time is incompatible with the possibility of backwards time travel. In this paper I show that Miller's conclusion is based on a hidden assumption which, while generally plausible, is unwarranted if time travel is possible. Branching time is, after all, compatible with time travel as Miller characterises it.