Neurophilosophy Forum

The Neurophilosophy Forum is an interdisciplinary series of talks for faculty & students interested in issues and debates at the intersection of philosophy, neuroscience, & psychology.  All are welcome!

All talks occur in the Department of Philosophy on the 16th floor of 25 Park Place.



Friday, September 23 at 3pm
Fiery Cushman (Harvard University)
Title: Why learning matters for morality

Abstract: Humans use punishment and reward to modify each others’ behavior, and we also learn from others’ rewards and punishments.  This simple dynamic animates much of our moral psychology, and I explore two of its consequences in detail.  First, human punishment should be adapted to the contours and constraints of human learning.  This can explain a peculiar feature of our moral judgments that philosophers call “moral luck”: The fact that accidental outcomes play a large roll in determining punishment.  Second, the architecture of human learning should dictate when and how we choose to harm others. I borrow from current neurobiological models of reinforcement learning to understand why we deem some harmful actions impermissible and others permissible.  These case studies illustrate the role that learning systems play as a basic organizing principle in the moral domain.

For more information about Professor Cushman, visit his website here.


Friday, November 11 at 3pm
Kevin LaBar (Duke University)
Title: Neural Decoding of Emotional States

Abstract: An unresolved debate in affective neuroscience centers on how discrete emotions emerge from nervous system activity. I will describe recent evidence showing that multivariate pattern classifiers can reliably predict subjective feeling states during inductions of specific emotions from readouts of functional neuroimaging (fMRI) and psychophysiological data. Machine learning models were constructed to identify patterns of data from these measures that differentiate feelings of amusement, contentment, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, and neutral states in response to music and film clips. Classification performance was significantly above chance in predicting the target emotions. Errors in psychophysiological classification tracked the distance between emotions according to a categorical but not a dimensional model of emotion. The fMRI results revealed spatially-distinct and distributed voxel patterning that differentiated emotions from one another, and error analyses again favored predictions from categorical models. Finally, we found that the emotion-specific patterns emerged spontaneously during resting-state fMRI, and their frequency of occurrence predicted individual differences in anxiety, depression, and angry hostility. These findings highlight the utility of multivariate statistical methods in characterizing the nature of affect in the brain and autonomic nervous system.

For more information about Professor LaBar, visit his website here.

  • Friday, October 23 at 3pm
    Tania Lombrozo (UC Berkeley, Psychology, Philosophy, Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences)

Explanation: The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful
Abstract: Like scientists, children and adults are often motivated to explain the world around them, including why people behave in particular ways, why objects have some properties rather than others, and why events unfold as they do. Moreover, people have strong and systematic intuitions about what makes something a good (or beautiful) explanation. Why are we so driven to explain? And what accounts for our explanatory preferences? In this talk I’ll present evidence that both children and adults prefer explanations that are simple and have broad scope, consistent with many accounts of explanation from philosophy of science, and with ties to ideas about inference to the best explanation in epistemology. The good news is that a preference for simple and broad explanations can sometimes improve learning and support effective inferences. The bad news is that under some conditions, these preferences can systematically lead children and adults astray.

For more information about Professor Lombrozo, visit her website:

  • Friday, September 25, 2015
    Joshua Knobe (Yale University, Philosophy & Cognitive Science)

The Ordinary Notion of a “True Self”
Abstract: People’s ordinary understanding of the mind appears to be shaped in part by the notion of a ‘true self.’ A question then arises as to how people ordinarily make sense of this notion. Which aspects of your mind will people regard as belonging to your true self? Across a series of studies, we find that people’s true self attributions are impacted in a surprising way by their value judgments. (People tend to pick out whichever part of you they regard as most valuable and see that part as your true self.) Subsequent studies then show that this fact about people’s true self attributions then explains a number of otherwise puzzling aspects of people’s cognition.
For more information about Professor Knobe, visit his website:

  • Tuesday, April 14, 2015
    Patricia Churchland (Philosophy, UC San Diego):

The Brains Behind Morality
For further information about Professor Churchland, visit her website:

  • Friday, February 6, 2015
    Chandra Sripada (Psychiatry & Philosophy, University of Michigan): 

Addiction, Fallibility, and Responsibility
Abstract: The debate about whether or not addicts have control over their drug-directed desires has reached a standoff, with substantial—even overwhelming—quantities of evidence marshaled by each side. My aim in this talk is to suggest a new direction for resolving this standoff. The current impasse arises because participants in the debate think about addiction using a resistibility framework; they focus on the question of whether desires to use drugs are too powerful to be contained. Drawing on a number of recent developments in the cognitive neuroscience of self-control, I instead propose a new model that emphasizes not resistibility, but rather fallibility. The key idea is that on every occasion of use, self-control processes exhibit a low but non-zero rate of stochastic failure. When these processes confront highly recurrent drug-directed desires, the cumulative probability of a self-control lapse rises inexorably towards certainty. In the final part of the talk, I take up the question of moral responsibility. The Fallibility Model presents problems for standard control-based accounts of moral responsibility and suggests the need to look for alternatives.
For more information about Professor Sripada, visit his website: