In this Wireless Philosophy video, we examine what goes on in our brains when we experience fear. What does it mean when scientists say that the amygdala is “the hub of fear,” and is that accurate? Is there a distinction between the changes our bodies undergo when exposed to threatening stimuli and the processes behind the “phenomenal character” of fear?
The Basis of Fear
I am a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Manchester and an Associate Editor for the Australasian Journal of Philosophy. I was previously a Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, and before that a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. I have also worked as a lecturer at the Open University, Lehigh University, the University of Otago and the University of New South Wales. My Ph.D, obtained in 2012, is from the University of Sydney.
My research, broadly speaking, lies at the intersection of philosophy of mind and cognitive science. I am especially interested in the ways developmental psychology and biology might inform the cognitive science of emotion. As things stand, such a science is plagued by various controversies. For instance, are our emotions the products of emotion-specific systems in the brain, i.e., “modules”, or are they the products of domain-general “core” systems? And what roles do social and cultural features actually play in shaping emotion? Are they additional inputs to an innate emotional system or do emotions, at least in humans, require socially-situated concepts? I am also interested in the practical ramifications of such questions. For example, can emotions help explain social phenomena such as racial bias? Can learnt fear responses, say, help explain why police officers are more likely to shoot some racial groups over others? My aim is to determine what taking a developmental approach to emotion might tell us about how to answer such questions. Aside from my work on emotion, I am also interested in other areas of philosophy of mind that intersect with psychology. For instance, what is the nature of the unconscious mind? Are there top-down effects of cognition on perceptual experience? Do we perceive high-level properties?
I cut my philosophical teeth in Australia, as a graduate student at the University of Sydney and as a visiting scholar at the Australian National University, where I worked on issues in metaphysics and philosophy of language, as well as philosophy of mind. My doctoral dissertation, completed whilst visiting New York University, was on the “hard” problem of consciousness: the problem of explaining how and why physical processing gives rise to experiences with a phenomenal character. During this time, my interests lay in the philosophical methodology employed to investigate the mind, e.g., the Canberra Plan and Two-Dimensional Semantics, as well as the topic of phenomenal consciousness itself. My early articles defend a physicalist conception of the mind, and critique the conceptual and linguistic frameworks employed to argue against physicalism.