Research projects

I am currently involved in the following grant-funded research projects:

Does presentation of visual properties entail representational content?

Many philosophers take visual perceptual experience, whatever else it might involve, to be representational. That is, to experience the world as appearing or looking some way is to represent it as being some particular way. Such ‘ways of being’ may be captured in terms of the set of conditions that describes what it would be for the relevant experience to be accurate, or veridical; i.e. its content. According to Siegel (2010), proponents of both representational and relational views of experience are committed to the existence of such content in visual experience on the basis of visual phenomenology alone.

In this paper, I argue that Siegel’s ‘Argument from Appearing’ relies upon an equivocation between the presentation of property-types in experience and the presentation of property-instances. Consequently, it is either invalid, or begs the question against the very view of experience it is designed to engage—namely, the relational view—and so should be rejected.

I presented a version of this paper at a workshop in Tübingen on Perception and Reasoning.

The auditory field

Philosophers and scientists commonly talk of the ‘visual field’, but many of the same theorists reject the analogous notion of an ‘auditory field’ on the grounds that the phenomenology or metaphysics of audition lack the necessary spatial structure. In this paper, I argue that the common reasons for rejecting the existence of an auditory field are misguided and that, contrary to a philosophical tradition of scepticism about the spatiality of auditory experience, it is as richly spatial, and in some ways even more so, than visual experience.

By considering the boundedness and spatiality of audition, along with how sounds or their sources are presented as occurring within a surrounding acoustic environment, we can gain a better understanding both of the auditory experience of space, and of the conditions for the existence of spatial fields in general.

Synchronising the senses

Perceptual experience, unlike remembering or imagining, characteristically concerns how things seem ‘now’, in the present. Every sensory modality, however, take differing lengths of time to detect and process stimuli. To create a unified experience of the perceptual present, then, the brain must bind together stimuli processed via distinct senses as occurring ‘at the same time’—the so-called temporal binding problem.

One mechanism that has been proposed for this claims that perceptual processing forms a series of discrete ‘temporal windows’ of 30 to 60ms duration out of which longer experiences are composed. The existence of minimal units of experience, however, is controversial and appears to be in tension with certain views of temporal experience (e.g. Dainton 2000; Soteriou 2013; Phillips 2014). In this paper, I evaluate the empirical evidence for the temporal windows hypothesis and its upshot for the metaphysics of perceptual experience more generally.

I presented a version of this paper at the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology (ESPP) in Rijeka.

Individuating the sense(s) of ‘smell’ (forthcoming)

The dual role of olfaction in both smelling, via orthonasal olfaction, and tasting, or flavour perception, via retronasal olfaction makes it an interesting test case for philosophical theories of sensory individuation.

Indeed, Rozin’s (1982) claim that olfaction is a “dual sense” has led some scientists and philosophers to suggest that we have not one, but two distinct senses of smell. In this paper I consider how best to understand Rozin’s claim, and upon what grounds one might judge there to be one or two olfactory modalities. I conclude that while Rozin may be right that humans have two token olfactory ‘senses’, the concept of a sense-modality, and hence the ‘sense’ of smell, is ambiguous between two distinct notions: a physiological sensory channel and an experiential modality, along the lines suggested by Gibson (1966).

Furthermore, recognising that these are not competing, but complementary conceptions of a sense-modality enables the formulation of a powerful ‘dual-concept’ framework for posing and addressing questions about the complex nature of multisensory experience.

This paper is forthcoming in Synthese. I presented an earlier version at the University of Edinburgh's PPIG seminar (below) as part of the Rethinking the Senses project.