My Science and Philosophy
It started with a somewhat naive aspiration to uncover the fundamental laws of nature, the universe and everything (this may be “42” as far as we learned from the Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy). Today my aspirations are more modest, e.g., using my creative powers to understand some of the deep riddles, associated with consciousness, cognition and agency. I am skeptic about the ability of the scientific enterprise to come up with an answer to the Hard-problem of Conscioussness, but there are lots fascinating questions about the functional organization of the cognitive system on which progress is possible. In terms of approach, I prefer theoretical driven investigations, which rely on a neurocomputational theory that makes behavioral predictions and are followed up by experimental tests. I do also enjoy philosophy of mind discussions, which I believe, can be productive in clarifying concepts such as causation, responsibility, free-will and agency, and various distinctions related to conscious experience and personal identity. I elaborate below with two examples, one from the field of Cognition and the other from Philosophy on Mind (for more details and additional articles, please see Publications on our lab website).
Philosophy of Mind: Agency, Free-will and Consciousness
A note of caution. We tend to identify too much with our proposed models and theories, and we tend to fight for proving them correct. This is natural, but ultimately, most models and theories are just approximations (thus likely to be proved wrong at some stage), and at least in cognitive science, there may be multiple explanations that complement each other. Also, something that appears appealing at some stage may be less so, later on (and viceversa), but unfortunately, we tend to get stuck on our initial story. Finally, I believe that the value of a work is not only based on objective properties like “goodness of fit to data”, but also on esthetic properties (a nicely written paper or a beautiful theory have value in themselves, even if later proven incorrect). So perhaps just doing the best we can, when developing our ideas and writing our papers, is what we should do, and then take a step back and let the things evolve and be evaluated by the rest of the community (including ourselves).
I will end with quoting Carlos Castaneda, an author that fascinated me when I was younger (thanks to Ori for the reminder):
“don Juan made me understand what was meant by impeccability. He and I were hiking one day through a very steep ravine when a huge boulder got loose from its matrix on the rock wall and came down with a formidable force and landed on the floor of the canyon, twenty or thirty yards from where we were standing. The size of the boulder made its fall a very impressive event. Don Juan seized the opportunity to create a dramatic lesson. He said that the force that rules our destinies is outside of ourselves and has nothing to do with our acts or volition. Sometimes that force would make us stop walking on our way and bend over to tie our shoelaces, as I had just done. And by making us stop, that force makes us gain a precious moment. If we had kept on walking, that enormous boulder would have most certainly crushed us to death. Some other day, however, in another ravine the same outside deciding force would make us stop again to bend over and tie our shoelaces while another boulder would get loose precisely above where we are standing. By making us stop, that force would have made us lose a precious moment. That time if we had kept on walking, we would have saved ourselves. Don Juan said that in view of my total lack of control over the forces which decide my destiny, my only possible freedom in that ravine consisted in my tying my shoelaces impeccably” (Carlos Castaneda, The second ring of power).