About Nick

SUMMARY

I am currently a grad student. I study philosophy and cognitive science. I am usually thinking about reasoning, action, and wellbeing. I approach these topics as a philosopher of science, philosopher of mind, or a wannabe social/cognitive psychologist — a.k.a., an experimental philosopher. But these interests are broad, so my research has also connected me with research in epistemology, ethics, social science, biology, computer science, medicine, and psychiatry.

MY GOALS

I look forward to completing a PhD and broadening my academic horizons. In the meantime, I enjoy teaching, researching, collaborating, trying to demonstrate the value of philosophy, trying to improve the ethos of academia, and trying to reimagine higher education.

MY OTHER LIFE

When I am not working towards my academic goals, I am probably enjoying a bit of exercise, a hike, a casual game of soccer or frisbee, a book, a documentary, a stand up comedy routine, a cup of tea, an adventure, a woodworking project, a date with my wife (pictured above), or some combination of the above.

MY INTERESTS

Reasoning. I am interested in the empirical and philosophical work on reasoning, broadly construed. Particular areas that have piqued my interest are learning (associative learning, learning modalities, etc.); philosophical reasoning (e.g., moral, metaphysical, logical, reasoning under conditions of uncertainty, intuitive/automatic inference, analytic/reflective reasoning styles, etc.), alleged distinctions between reasoning styles (e.g., dual-process theories), alleged distinctions between novice and expert reasoning (e.g., physicists vs. undergraduate physics majors, philosophical expertise, etc.); alleged distinctions between human reasoning and predictive modeling (e.g., doctors’ diagnoses vs. model-based diagnoses), and alleged distinctions between reasoning domains (e.g., logical/mechanical reasoning vs. social reasoning). I find that both empirical and philosophical work on reasoning can (a) reveal opportunities to improve our reasoning and (b) make sense of our otherwise puzzling judgments and behaviors.

Well-being. I am interested in both armchair and experimental approaches to well-being. It’s increasingly common to hear that the experimental approach has an important role in ethics, but it’d be intellectually dishonest — and foolish — to forget about the role philosophy. After all, good science requires good philosophy, even when we’re talking about well-being.

Metaphilosophy. I sometimes watch philosophers the way an anthropologist might watch an undiscovered tribe. It’s a lot of fun actually. Maybe you do it too. Right away you notice traditions, rituals, and orthodoxies. There are canonical texts, sacred ideas, and a semi-uniform historical narrative, the details of which vary from philosopher to philosopher. Then there’s the power dynamics, the politics, the incentive structures, etc. Oh, and there are these mysterious things called “intuitions” that seem to bear special authority. Fascinating, right?!

But seriously, one of the reasons I care about cognitive science, psychology, and experimental philosophy is that it offers a helpful way to understand what we’re doing when we do philosophy — even outside of academia. Many philosophers seem to have a folk theory about how we arrive at our philosophical judgments, but cognitive science, psychology, and their ilk can test these folk theories and analyze data in ways that suggest new, perhaps better, theories. So if the old exhortation to “know thyself” has any wisdom in it, it might be wise for philosophers to learn about themselves by studying (or even contributing to) cognitive science.

Policy. I take it that good policy is empirically informed and intellectually sensible. Philosophy is well-suited to promote intellectual sensibility and various strains of science are well-suited to offer empirical insight to policy-makers. So given my interests in both philosophy and science, I am interested in how these fields might contribute, individually and jointly, to improve policy.

Education. When I am teaching, talking to a student, grading a student’s work or doing some other university duty, I try to remain cognizant of a few things. One of these things is that fact that my students can vote, serve as jurors, and make decisions that can have tremendous and lasting consequences for themselves as well as others. So, one of the goals of my teaching is to introduce students to resources and methods that can prepare them to make the kind of decisions the lead to good outcomes. Since philosophy and science offer the best methods for making careful and informed judgments — on the one hand — and understanding human judgment itself —on the other hand — I often present students with the methods and resources of philosophy and science.

MY WORK

Philosophy. I am currently writing about ill-being, will-power, and implicit bias. I have also written about other topics: cosmopolitan egalitarianism, racial integration, unconscious cognition, free will, belief, personal identity, the non-identity problem, posthumous harm, cognitive therapy, depression, and philosophical reasoning.

Empirical Stuff. I also do empirical work. I’ve conducted studies to discern correlations between cognitive style, personality, philosophical training/selection, philosophical judgment, and various demographic variables. I have also created a 7.5 million word philosophy text corpus, the analysis of which will help answer a variety of questions about philosophy — e.g., do philosophers appeal to intuition? And I am interested in replicating a variety of results in psychology (e.g., the findings that implicit attitudes are sensitive to reasons and arguments).

Philosophy for everyone. When I am not working on these projects, I am interested in finding ways to engage the public in philosophy and critical thinking in general. Before starting grad school, I was working on a Western philosophy anthology eBook for middle school and high school students. Now that I am in grad school, I have little time for this project. However, I am still on the lookout for opportunities to demonstrate the value of philosophy outside of the walls of academia. This is partly why I try to have a social media presence and maintain a blog. But I am still interested in additional opportunities for outreach. It seems that video and animation can be outstandingly viral and compelling, so I am often thinking about ways to present the value philosophy in these forms. One idea is for philosophy outreach to assume a SciShow or Crash Course model where brief, fast-paced, and entertaining videos are vehicles for philosophical content and discussion. School of Life is almost there, but their style is not yet exciting or captivating enough. I’d be thrilled to have a hand in a project like this.