Nick Byrd studies cognitive science, philosophy and related stuff.

About Nick Byrd

Hi! I’m Nick Byrd. I am a PhD student of cognitive science and philosophy. I teach philosophy and I work in the Social and Moral Processing Lab at Florida State University. I also co-organize the open access Minds Online conference in association with The Brains Blog. I am a philosopher of mind, philosopher of science, and a wannabe cognitive scientist — a.k.a., an “experimental philosopher.”

In my free time I like to spend time with my partner, exercise [Strava profile], hike in conservation parks, travel, watch stand-up comedy, make stuff, go to bed early, or some combination of the above. For more about me check out the blog or jump to my…

 

Bio  |  Interests  |  Research  |  Teaching  |  Outreach

BIO

My mother was an accountant, a jewelry business owner, and a social worker. My father was a restaurant owner and restaurant product salesman. I lived in the Berkshires of Massachusetts in my childhood and then south Florida in my adolescence. I spent a lot of time building (and rebuilding) stuff; I started with Lego and K’nex and eventually graduated to wood, metal, motors/engines, etc. When I was old enough to get a job, I built and remodeled homes with local contractors. As a student, I was — at best — alright. My favorite classes were the ones that involved making stuff, using computers, arguing, or some combination thereof. When I wasn’t at school or at work, I was doing track, soccer, football, band, church, theatre, and volunteer stuff. [Jump To Top]

Academic stuff. In the past decade or so, my life has become more and more about academic stuff. I did undergraduate work at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach; I started working in religion and engineering and ended up working in philosophy. I did graduate work in cognitive science and philosophy at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I am continuing graduate work at Florida State University in Tallahassee. [Jump To Top]

INTERESTS

I am usually thinking about reasoning, willpower, and wellbeing. I approach these topics from the perspective of cognitive science and philosophy of science. And I often find helpful perspectives from biology, medicine, psychiatry, computer science, social science, epistemology, and ethics. [Jump To Top]

Reasoning

I sometimes watch philosophers like an anthropologist might. It’s a lot of fun, actually. Right away you notice interesting traditions, rituals, and protocols. And as you encounter more philosophers, you’ll discern each tradition’s canonical texts, sacred ideas, and taboos. Spend a little more time with philosophers and you’ll find out about the origin stories of each tradition and the history of conflict between traditions. Then take a step back and look at the institution of academic philosophy and you will find power dynamics, incentive structures, political movements, etc. …Oh! I almost forgot! There are these mystical things, intuitions.

Philosophical reasoning. Seriously though, cognitive science can help us understand how philosophers and other people reason. So far it has illuminated some of our common sense theories about reasoning. But it has also challenged many of our intuitions about reasoning.

Etc. Why else do I study reasoning? Reasoning research (a) explains how to improve our reasoning and (b) makes sense of our otherwise non-sensical reasoning. [Jump To Top]

Willpower

We are all familiar with weakness of will, or willpower. I am particularly interested in understanding what willpower is and how it works. The more we understand willpower, the more we can improve it.

You want more willpower. But how? Imagine that there is a “willpower pill” that improves our willpower and thereby allows us to resist certain temptations, endure difficult tasks, and overcome other weaknesses of will. We don’t have such a pill, but have an alternative. A survey of the scientific research in multiple domains suggests that simple tweaks to our habits can increase the chances of overcoming temptation, make demanding tasks easier, improving productivity, etc. In other words, we can improve our willpower by changing our habits. So if you think that we should take the willpower pill, then you should change your habits. [Jump To Top]

Willpower inequality. Some of the stuff that influences willpower is not within our control. For example, some people are born into circumstances that allow them to have better or worse willpower. As a result, these people are systematically more or less self-controlled, patient, and productive than people with less access to the same lifestyle. So, contrary to some of our intuitions, there might be situations in which no one can take the credit (or the blame) for being more or less self-controlled, patient, and productive. [Jump To Top]

Well-being

Science reveals that many different things can have substantial effects on our wellbeing. In some cases, we can have control over these things, but we often cannot. This means that while some of our wellbeing is up to us, much of it is not. Interestingly, science suggests that other people — e.g., neighbors, friends, and family — can influence some of these things. So other people can influence our wellbeing in ways that we cannot! Moreover, certain institutions can influence certain things that neither we nor our neighbors, friends, or family members can. So institutions can influence our wellbeing in ways that no one else can! So we might wonder how wellbeing ought to be influenced by other people and by institutions. Do other people have certain obligations concerning our wellbeing? Do institutions? [Jump To Top]

RESEARCH

I am interested in both theoretical and experimental approaches to problems. So, sometimes I think about problems from my armchair desk chair sit-stand desk, but sometimes I take a more empirical approach. I have written about reasoning, implicit bias, willpower, depression, scientific realism, cognitive therapy, cosmopolitan egalitarianism, racial integration, unconscious intentions, free will, belief, personal identity, the non-identity problem, and posthumous harm. [Jump To Top]

Cognitive Science, Philosophy

I have studied the relationships between philosophical training/selection, cognitive style, personality, and philosophical judgment. Also, I am making a 7.5 million word philosophy text corpus from various papers and books in philosophy. When the corpus is ready, it can be used to answer a variety of questions about philosophy — e.g., do philosophers appeal to intuition? In addition to this, I am interested in replicating various cognitive science experiments — e.g., the effects of reasoning on implicit attitudes. [Jump To Top]

TEACHING

Students can make decisions that have tremendous and lasting consequences. They can vote. They can serve on juries. They can create other humans. You get the idea. Since students can make such momentous decisions, I try to introduce them to resources and methods that can help make better decisions. I do this by revealing our bad reasoning habits, challenging unreflective views, and offering tools for reasoning. [Jump To Top]

Science

Science has become something of a fad. Lots of people are interested in it. Oddly, some of these people say things about science that are just false. For example, people often say that science “proves” or “disproves” things. If you take a careful look at science, however, you find that this just isn’t true. Further, even scientists seem to misunderstand science. They will say things like, “we don’t need philosophy.” However, this claim is obviously self-refuting. The view that we do not need philosophy is, itself, a philosophy. And it requires a philosophical defense. People also say that science describes reality, that science is objective, that there is a single scientific method, etc. These claims sound right at first, but they are difficult to defend. [Jump To Top]

So what should we say about science? To borrow a refrain from Carol Cleland, one thing is abundantly clear: science works. Exactly how and why science works, however, is not so clear. [Jump To Top]

OUTREACH

Cognitive science, philosophy, and their ilk are valuable beyond the university. So I try to share my research with those who cannot access universities. This is partly why I post to social media, write blog posts, and co-organize an open access conference.

Videos, Podcasting

I’m also interested in making or contributing to videos and podcasts. In the meantime, I have posted a list of my favorite podcasts and videos. [Jump To Top]

 

And yes: I have been told that I look like Neil Patrick Harris.