Introducing individual sentience profiles in nonhuman primate neuroscience research. Current Research in Neurobiology. 2023. [conditional acceptance]
The Animal Research Declaration aims to reach unified and stringent ethical standards of regulations in order to guarantee the welfare of nonhuman primates (NHPs) involved in neuroscience research (Petkov et al., 2022 this issue). To support this mission, neuroscientists are in continuous and growing exchange with philosophers and policymakers, on a variety of subject matters concerning animal welfare. One key principle, not yet included in the Animal Research Declaration is how to measure animal sentience: the capacity that animals have for various kinds of subjective experience. The possibility to include animal sentience as a key aspect to be evaluated for establishing common ethical standards is especially relevant when we analyse this concept in its narrow sense as the recognized capacity that animals have for ascribing a positive or negative valence to their subjective experiences (Browning and Birch, 2022). Accordingly, NHP neuroscience researchers should consider measuring what we can call individual sentience profiles: the specific way in which a specific individual experiences a specific event or environment.
Measuring meta-awareness during mind blanking experiences [with Sara Parmigiani, Toshikazu Kawagoe et al.] European Journal of Neuroscience. 2023. [conditional acceptance]
Mind blanking is a mental state during which attention calls no perceptual input into conscious awareness. Because it is still largely unexplored, we suggest that a broader understanding of mind blanking can only be obtained as a result of a combination of the use of self-assessment methods alongside neuroimaging and neuromodulation. Accordingly, we explain how to combine EEG and TMS to measure whether mind-blanking equates to a lack of mental content or to a lack of linguistically or conceptually determinable mental content; we question when mind blanking occurs spontaneously as opposed to intentionally, and whether these two are instantiated by the same or by different neural correlates.
Animal Thought Exceeds Language of Thought [with Albert Newen] Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 2023. [in press]
Quilty-Dunn, Porot, & Mandelbaum claim that all complex infant and animal reasoning implicate LOTH-like structures. We agree with the authors that the mental life of animals can be explained in representationalist terms, but we disagree with their idea that the complexity of mental representations is best explained by appealing to abstract concepts, and instead, we explain that it doesn’t need to.
Phenomenological qualitative methods applied to the analysis of cross-cultural experience in novel educational social contexts [with Ahmed A. Alhazmi] Frontiers in Psychology. 2022. [Published]
The qualitative method of phenomenology provides a theoretical tool for educational research as it allows researchers to engage in flexible activities that can describe and help to understand complex phenomena, such as various aspects of human social experience. This article explains how to apply the framework of phenomenological qualitative analysis to educational research. The discussion within this article is relevant to those researchers interested in doing cross-cultural qualitative research and in adapting phenomenological investigations to understand students' cross-cultural lived experiences in different social educational contexts.
Experience-specific dimensions of consciousness (observable in flexible and spontaneous action planning among animals)
Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. 2021. [Published]
The multidimensional framework to the study of consciousness, which comes as an alternative to a single sliding scale model, offers a set of experimental paradigms for investigating dimensions of animal consciousness, beautifully acknowledging the urge for a novel approach. One of these dimensions investigates whether nonhuman animals can flexibly and spontaneously plan for a future event, and for future desires, without relying on reinforcement learning. This is a critical question since different intentional structures for action in non-human animals are described as served by different neural mechanisms underpinning the capacity to represent temporal properties. And a lack of appreciation of this variety of intentional structures and neural correlates has led many experts to doubt that animals have access to temporal reasoning and to not recognize temporality as a mark of consciousness, and as a psychological resource for their life. With respect to this, there is a significant body of ethological evidence for planning abilities in nonhuman animals, too often overlooked, and that instead should be taken into serious account. This could contribute to assigning consciousness profiles, across and within species, that should be tailored according to an implemented and expansive use of the multidimensional framework. This cannot be fully operational in the absence of an additional tag to its dimensions of variations: the experience-specificity of consciousness.
Is that all there is? Or is chimpanzees group hunt “fair” enough? Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 2020. [Published]
Tomasello claims that we lack convincing evidence that nonhuman animals manifest a sense of moral obligation (i.e., the concept of fairness) in their group activities. The philosophical analysis of distinctive evidence from ethology, namely group hunting practices among chimpanzees, can help the author appreciate the distinctive character of this behaviour as a display of fairness put in practice.
Temporal representation and reasoning in non-human animals. [with Arnon Cahen]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 2019. [Published]
Hoerl and McCormack argue that comparative and developmental psychology teaches us that neither animals nor infants can think and reason about time. We argue that the authors neglect to take into account pivotal evidence from ethology that suggests that non-human animals do possess a capacity to represent and reason about time, namely, work done on Sumatran orangutans’ long travel calls.
Joint distal intentions: Who shares what? Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of the Social Mind. 2017. [Published]
The ability to think for cooperating is called Shared Intentionality (Tomasello, 2014, p. 125). The advocates of the Shared Intentionality Hypothesis maintain that this is a distinctively human skill, for humans possess a foundational ability to ascribe distal intentions to conspecifics, and to share distal intentions courtesy of this capacity. Accordingly, humans appear to be provided with a specific capacity to coordinate joint actions and plans over time. I investigate to what extent such capacity can be observed to emerge in non-human animals as well.
Collective Intentionality: a human - not a monkey - business. Phenomenology and Mind. 2016 [Published]
In Making the Social World, Searle makes the same claim he made in 1995: that “Human beings along with a lot of other social animals, have the capacity for collective intentionality” (Searle, 2010, p. 43). In this paper, I aim to show that Searle's overattribution' of collective intentionality to non-human animals is unjustified. Firstly, I briefly reconstruct and augment Tomasello & Rakoczy's (2007) criticism that Searle overemphasises the primitiveness of the notion of collective intentionality. Secondly, I will outline a cross-species analysis for the emergence of cooperative behaviour. Such an approach suggests that we resist Searle'soverattribution. Thirdly, I argue that Searle's six conditions of adequacy for any account of collective intentionality are incompatible with his attribution of collective intentionality to non-human animals. Finally, I conclude by noting that Searle's overattribution has important consequences for his system, as it implicates that human uniqueness begins with institutional reality rather than with collective intentionality and social ontology.
Animal mental action: planning among chimpanzees. Review of Philosophy and Psychology. 2015. [Published]
I offer an argument for what mental action may be like in nonhuman animals. Action planning is a type of mental action that involves a type of intention. Some intentions are the causal mental antecedents of proximal mental actions, and some intentions are the causal mental antecedents of distal mental actions. The distinction between these two types of “plan-states” is often spelled out in terms of mental content. The prominent view is that while proximal mental actions are caused by mental states with nonconceptual content, distal mental actions are caused by mental states with conceptual content. I argue that, when we are investigating animal cognition, we need a nonconceptual account for the content of intentions involved in mental actions such as action planning: non-immediate intentions. This in order to defend the claim that creatures that lack conceptual capacities are capable of entertaining plan-states, and thus of exercising mental agency in the form of action planning.
Animal Intention. Universiteit Antwerpen. 2015. [Published]
There are actions that we could not perform without intending them. Some intentions are the causal components of action plans, and the function of action plans is that of guiding one or many agent’s behaviour towards the successful accomplishment of distal goals. The capacity to form and ascribe these mental states is also fundational to social cognition. This thesis investigates distal intentions in nonhuman animals. These are mental states that figure as the necessary causal mental antecedents of action planning and that represent plans to which individual or joint actions can be directed. Tracking the roots of the capacity for action planning and for social cognition led to ask the following questions: Do nonhuman animals have and ascribe distal intentions? Chapter 1 is introductory to the issue of animal intention; Chapter 2 defines the notion of distal intention at play in my work; Chapter 3 analyses individual distal intention; Chapter 4 analyses joint distal intentions; Chapter 5 investigates the neural correlates of individual and joint distal intentions; Chapter 6 hypothesis which role distal intentions plays in the creation of social entities.
Pointing and Representing – Three Options. [with Nick Young and Bence Nanay]. HUMANA.MENTE Journal of Philosophical Studies. 2013. [Published]
The aim of this paper is to explore the minimal representational requirements for pointing. One-year-old children are capable of pointing: what does this tell us about their representational capacities? We analysed three options: (a) Pointing presupposes non-perceptual representations. (b) Pointing does not presuppose any representation at all. (c) Pointing presupposes perceptual representations. Rather than fully endorsing any of these three options. The aim of the paper is to explore the advantages and disadvantages of each.