Selected Publications

Information is widely perceived as essential to the study of communication and representation; still, theorists working on these topics often take themselves not to be centrally concerned with ‘Shannon information’, as it is often put, but with some other, sometimes called ‘semantic’ or ‘nonnatural’, kind of information. This perception is wrong. Shannon’s theory of information is the only one we need. I intend to make good on this last assertion by canvassing a fully (Shannon) informational answer to the metasemantic question of what makes something a representation, for a certain important family of cases. This answer and the accompanying theory, which represents a significant departure from the broadly Dretskean philosophical mainstream, will show how a number of threads in the literature on naturalistic metasemantics, aimed at describing the purportedly non-informational ingredients in representation, actually belong in the same coherent, purely information-theoretic picture.
Forthcoming in the PSA 2018 proceedings issue of Philosophy of Science, 2018

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 distorts 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.
Synthese, 2017

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.
Journal of Philosophy, 112 (12):658-670, 2015

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
Dialectica, 67 (4):427-453, 2013

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.
PLOS Computational Biology, 9 (11):e1003282, 2013

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.
Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 10 (1):67-90, 2011

Recent Publications

More Publications

. Imperativism and Pain Intensity. Forthcoming in The Nature of Pain (eds. D. Bain, M. Brady and J. Corns), 2018.

Preprint

. Representations are Rate-Distortion Sweet Spots. Forthcoming in the PSA 2018 proceedings issue of Philosophy of Science, 2018.

Preprint Poster

. Synergic Kinds. Synthese, 2017.

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. The Organizational Account of Function is an Etiological Account of Function. Acta Biotheoretica, 64 (2):105-117, 2016.

Preprint PDF

. Pain Signals are Predominantly Imperative. Biology & Philosophy, 31 (2):283-298, 2016.

Preprint PDF

. Modalizing Mechanisms. Journal of Philosophy, 112 (12):658-670, 2015.

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. Pains As Reasons. Philosophical Studies, 172 (9):2261-2274, 2015.

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. Disgusting Smells and Imperativism. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 22 (5-6):191-200, 2015.

Preprint

. Deception in Sender-Receiver Games. Erkenntnis, 80:215-227, 2015.

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. Informationally-Connected Property Clusters, and Polymorphism. Biology & Philosophy, 30 (1):99-117, 2015.

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