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Ian Phillips

Philosophy and Brain Sciences

William H. Miller III Department of Philosophy and the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Ian Phillips explores the points at which the philosophy of mind and cognitive science intersect, using the strengths of each to inform his work in the other. Studying the relationship between the two, he examines questions of the nature of perception, the scientific study of consciousness, and temporal experience.

In high school, his quest for answers led him down two different paths—first, he turned to physics for scientific explanations of the universe; then he studied poetry, looking for answers science couldn’t provide.

As a student at Oxford, his pursuit evolved, transitioning away from physics and poetry to psychology and philosophy, the combination of disciplines he continues to study today. Though his methodology has changed over the years, his question remains the same: What makes a mind a mind?

Many of the great philosophers of the past were also pioneering scientists. During the 20th century both disciplines erected disciplinary boundaries attempting to sharply separate out philosophical and scientific questions and methods. However, the last couple of decades have seen a renewed recognition of the need to combine forces to tackle some of the hardest questions about the mind.

Phillips was Chair in Philosophy of Psychology at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., and for two years was a Visiting Research Fellow in Cognitive Science at Princeton University. Previously, he was a Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University, and before that a Lecturer at University College London.

Questions Phillips is grappling with include:

  • What is it to perceive something?
  • What do perceptual illusions tell us about the nature of perception?
  • Can we perceive more than we can report or remember?
  • Is conscious experience inextricably linked with short-term memory?
  • How must experience be structured for us to perceive change or motion?
  • What explains why time seems to slow down during extreme events?

Phillips is currently working on a book analyzing the relationship between perception and consciousness. The book confronts the accepted wisdom of the existence of unconscious perception, tackling questions of consciousness in subjects where perception can be hard to measure or quantify, including in infants, animals, and people who have experienced brain damage.

In addition to his teaching work, Phillips is also editor of The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Temporal Experience. He has served as editor of the interdisciplinary academic journal Mind & Language and consulting editor of Timing & Time Perception. For several years he was also programme chair of the European Society for Philosophy & Psychology. Phillips has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Philip Leverhulme Prize and the ASSC William James Prize for Contributions to the Scientific Study of Consciousness. A paper of his on afterimagery was selected as one of the top ten papers of 2013 by The Philosopher’s Annual.



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