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Professor Sussana Schellenberg
Professor Sussana Schellenberg

My work focuses on a range of topics in philosophy of mind, epistemology, AI, and neuroscience, including perception, mental representation, consciousness, evidence, knowledge, capacities, imagination, and biased algorithms.

Currently my research is focused on issues at the intersection of AI, neuroscience, and philosophy funded by a Guggenheim Award, a Mellon New Directions Fellowship, and NEH Grant. I am working on a series of papers on biased algorithms in AI as well as a book on the neural basis of perception.

The two projects intersect and build on my previous work in perception. In my book The Unity of Perception: Content, Consciousness, Evidence (OUP 2018), I develop an integrated account of the phenomenological and epistemological role of perceptual experience that is sensitive to evidence from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and psychophysics. Perceptual content, consciousness, and evidence—three key features of perception—are each analyzed in terms of one fundamental property: the employment of perceptual capacities. Indeed, a two-word summary of the book is: capacities first. In grounding consciousness, evidence, and content in the physical world, I show how these features of the mind are no less amenable to scientific investigation than any other features of the world. This physicalist view explains how perception is our key to the world while situating perception within that world in all its beauty and complexity.

In philosophy of mind, I have developed mental activism, the view that consciousness is constituted by a mental activity, namely the activity of employing mental capacities (see my 2019 paper in Noûs and my 2011 paper in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research). I have defended the idea that experience is representational and developed a detailed account of the nature of perceptual content that advances a new way of understanding singular modes of presentations. I argue that experience is fundamentally both relational and representational (see my 2010 paper in Philosophical Studies and my 2011 paper in Noûs). This view of content has interesting implications for the sensory character of experience. It provides for a way of understanding perceptual consciousness in terms of a mental activity, more specifically, in terms of employing perceptual capacities .  The idea is that in hallucination, we employ the very same perceptual capacities that in a subjectively indistinguishable perceptual experience are employed as a consequence of being related to external, mind-independent objects or property-instances. Employing perceptual capacities yields a mental state with content. This representational account of perceptual consciousness breaks with a 2000 year tradition on which perceptual consciousness  is analyzed in terms of awareness relations to strange particulars (such as sense data, qualia, or intentional objects) or abstract entities, (such as properties or propositions). By arguing that we employ the very same perceptual capacities in subjectively indistinguishable perceptions, hallucinations, and illusions, I provide a substantive way of understanding the common factor between these experiences.

Another focus of my research in philosophy of mind has been the subjective perspective, de se content, space perception and the situation-dependency of perception (see my 2007 paper in Mind and my 2008 paper in Journal of Philosophy), as well as the nature of imagination (see my 2013 paper in Journal of Philosophy).

In epistemology, I have developed a new account of the epistemic force of experience. I argue that sensory states provide perceptual evidence due to their metaphysical structure: Sensory states are yielded by employing perceptual capacities that function to single out particulars in our environment. So there is primacy of the employment of perceptual capacities in perception over their employment in hallucination and illusion. Due to this primacy, sensory states provide us with evidence. This view of evidence is externalist while avoiding the pitfalls of reliabilist accounts. Moreover, it provides for an evidential answer to how and why we are in a better epistemic position when we perceive than when we hallucinate (see my 2013 paper in Mind and my 2014 and 2015 papers in Philosophical Studies).

Selected Publications