Research

I currently have three major research projects. Below is a description of each in non-technical terms (in fact, using only the 1000 commonest words in English), plus links to websites with further details.

I think about things that stand for other things. That’s stuff like words, pictures, thoughts. I want to know how this “standing-for” happens in the first place. And how we know about it. And how and why it matters for what we do (for talking, or acting, maybe).

[Link: The nature of representation.]

I think about the word “if” a lot. You might think that’s a funny thing to do, but it is important. It matters since it tells us how thoughts change when we learn things, or what to imagine when we pretend. And using “if” we say how things move when we push them. All that helps us decide how to act.

[Link: Conditional thinking]

Finally, I think about questions that don’t have yes-or-no answers. Some say that every thought is either true or not true. But is a five foot ten person tall? Saying yes, or saying no, seems wrong. They’re in the middle. Does this matter? Well, things we learn, and things that we need to know, may be said using different words. Suppose you are told that your long-lost brother is tall. How does that change your thinking about whether that five-foot-ten person in the corner is your brother? If a five-foot-ten person is tall, then he might be. If a five foot-ten person isn’t tall, then he isn’t your brother. But the answer is in the middle, so it’s not clear what you should think. So I think about how learning, thinking and acting works when we have questions that don’t have answers.

[Link: Life in a nonclassical world]

(For other academics’ attempts to present their research under the same constraints, see The Ten Hundred Words of Science].

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