About MIRA

MIRA (Mind-like Intelligence, Research, and Analysis) Group, is an integrated research and training group that incorporates aspects of a typical philosophy dissertation workshop group with those of a scientific lab group. Our focus is on embodied, non-reductive approaches to the study of the mind, with special interest in artificial intelligence. Topics of interest range across issues in philosophy of mind and language, cognitive science, and epistemology. We also study epistemic and normative issues concerning these topics, especially as they relate to diversity, wellness, and social justice.

MIRA provides weekly training, mentorship, and peer support for advanced undergraduates and graduate students working on these topics. Together, we collaborate on projects, workshop individual members’ papers, and acquire the philosophical and interdisciplinary skills that are important to our work. All students are encouraged to pursue their own ideas and projects, even when they explicitly disagree with or criticize the PI’s work. MIRA’s inherent breadth helps students develop competence in areas outside of their thesis topics. 

MIRA additionally has both a practical focus on diversity, wellness, and social justice. We work to create a holistically supportive academic environment, and to develop tools and resources for other academic groups to support all students and faculty. 

 

MIRA OPEN MEETINGS

MIRA works to foster intellectual community across Penn and surrounding philosophical, cognitive science, and robotics communities by hosting visiting speakers and reading groups open to the Penn and Philadelphia academic communities.

MIRA-Open meetings promote community and creative thinking centered around issues in philosophy of mind, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, epistemology, and related normative issues. The MIRA-Open program is designed to cultivate diverse perspectives and openness of thought, while stimulating fruitful discussions and collaborations among researchers at every stage of their careers, within Penn, Philadelphia, and academia more generally.

Accordingly, our guest lecture series features a diverse list of researchers in every respect: ranging from world-renowned scholars to Ph.D. candidates, women, LGBTQ, and POC scholars, roboticists, experimental philosophers, and ethicists. MIRA-Open seeks to create a supportive environment for all thinkers to pursue questions and discover connections among the diverse topics that MIRA Group studies.

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 If you're interested in joining MIRA for our Open meetings, you can subscribe here.

These meetings are supported by MindCORE

UPCOMING SPEAKERS

Fall 2018

October 29, 2018, 5-6:30 pm: Prof. Shaun Nichols, Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona. “Unspoken Rules: Resolving underdetermination with closure principles”. Claudia Cohen Hall, Room 237.

Abstract: The evidence moral learners receive is consistent with a wide range of moral systems. One particularly stark such problem of underdetermination arises from the fact that the number of action types is enormous, and yet a full conception of right action should be complete – it should speak to all issues of moral concern (Rawls 1999, 299). “Closure rules” provide an efficient way for moral theorists to articulate a complete moral system (Mikhail 2011). One kind of rule is a principle of Liberty, saying that everything not expressly prohibited is permitted. An alternative closure rule dictates that everything that isn’t expressly permitted is prohibited – a principle of Residual Prohibition.  Closure rules are an expedience for moral theorists. But they expose a problem for ordinary people. The number of action types far exceeds the number of rules that can be explicitly provided. Do people use closure rules to determine whether those unmentioned actions are allowed or forbidden? Can they do so flexibly? Is the process rational?  Our learning studies indicate that the answer is Yes to all of these questions. In addition, we find a pronounced bias in favor of Liberty. 

November 1, 2018, 4-5:30 pm: Matthew Rachar, Ph.D. Candidate, CUNY. “How We Act Together.” Claudia Cohen Hall, Philosophy Department Library.

Abstract: Previous empirical research (Gomez-Lavin & Rachar 2018) suggests that common intuitions about acting together in a strong sense involve three judgments: (i) exiting a collective action involves an obligation to make that exit public, (ii) this obligation is present in “morally wrong” cases of collective action, and (iii) there is no obligation to seek the permission of the other participants in order to leave a collective action. This presentation sketches a theory of collective intention and action that accounts for these intuitions.

Building from Velleman’s view of intention as a representation with a particular content and causal role (1997), I claim that a collective intention is a public representation that commits participants to a course of action. This claim rests on two key ideas. First, a non-mental representation that plays the appropriate role and has the right content is an intention and, second, an expression of a conditional intention by each participant can combine into a single, categorical intention. After filling out these claims by clarifying the idea of a public representation, specifying how public representations relate to the idea of collective commitment, and spelling out how these representations fulfil the action-guiding roles of intentions, I show how this account incorporates and explains the three guiding judgments. First, leaving a collective commitment is more difficult than rescinding an individual commitment because it also involves a representational act that indicates that the condition on the other participants’ conditional intentions is not satisfied, which explains (i). Second, the utterance of a conditional commitment in the presence of other conditional commitments creates an obligation to fulfill or rescind the commitment, regardless of the act in question, which explains (ii). Finally, once the obligation to notify the other participants has been fulfilled, the collective intention is dissolved, and so there is no longer any source for an obligation to seek permission, which explains (iii).

 

November 5, 2018, 5-6:30 pm: Prof. Rebecca Kukla, Professor of Philosophy, Georgetown. "I really didn’t say everything I said: The Linguistic Pragmatics of Retraction.” Claudia Cohen Hall, Room 237.

Abstract: This paper explores the pragmatics and the ethics of retraction, especially in the age of social media and the #metoo movement, which has brought about a large upswing in public retractions and apologies. I argue that retraction is an interesting and understudied speech act in its own right. I consider, for instance, the distinctions between retractions, apologies, and updates of one’s views, from the point of view of speech act theory. I explore how social media has made retractions more complicated and important. The internet can amplify our missteps almost instantly, making the need for retraction more pressing; and it also leaves traces of whatever we say, regardless of whether we retract. Finally, I look at the common hooking of retractions onto, characterological claims - that is, typically, cases in which someone tries to retract by claiming that what they did or said is "not really me" or "doesn't represent my true values." I argue that this is a hopelessly misguided retraction strategy. (Based on part of a larger work in progress co-authored with Dan Steinberg, MITRE Corporation)

December 10, 2018, 5-6:30pm: Dr. Derek Anderson, Lecturer, Boston University Philosophy Department. “Can we always choose which concepts to deploy in thought and language?” Claudia Cohen Hall, Room 237.

Abstract: Many analytic philosophers following Carnap conceive of the contents of thought and language as something we are able to control through decision making. On an individual level, we are free to choose our own conceptual and linguistic frameworks, either through acts of will or by adopting certain practices. Through social organizing we can coordinate groups of people to employ one set of concepts rather than another. Computers, and someday perhaps AIs, can be programmed to use concepts of our choosing.

I argue that this perspective is wrong. My target is Carnap’s principle of tolerance, which states that each person is free to build up their own language however they wish. I show that there are ethical, epistemological, and logical reasons to restrict the principle of tolerance for politically significant representations. My focus is the concept of racism and expressions of that concept in natural and artificial languages. My arguments draw on work in the fields of epistemic oppression and active ignorance, as well as the history of analytic philosophy. My conclusion has consequences for the field of conceptual engineering, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of cognitive science, and the philosophy of language.

Spring 2019

TBD: Dr. Adriana Renero, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at NYU. Title and location TBD.

UPCOMING READING GROUP MEETINGS

Stay tuned...

PAST SPEAKERS

January 29, 2018: Daniel E. Koditschek, Alfred Fitler Moore Professor, Electrical and Systems Engineering, University of Pennsylvania.

December 14, 2017: Justin D'Ambrosio, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australia National University.  "A New Perceptual Adverbialism"

July 19, 2017: Paul Reverdy, Postdoctoral Fellow at Kod*Lab, GRASP, University of Pennsylvania. 

October 9, 2017: Melissa Jacquart, Postdoctoral Fellow with Michael Weisberg, University of Pennsylvania. "Observing the Invisible: The Hunt for Dark Matter with Computer Simulations."

PAST READING GROUP MEETINGS

February 26, 2018: Reading: John Symons (2008) "Computational Models of Emergent Properties," Minds and Machines 18 (4):475-491.

March 26, 2018: Reading: Yoshua Bengio and Yann LeCun (2007) Scaling Learning Algorithms towards AI

April 23, 2018: Reading: Guttenberg, Biehl, Kanai (2017) Learning Body Affordances to Simplify Action Spaces, Guttenberg, Yu, and Kanai (2017) Counterfactual Control for free from Generative Models.

October 30, 2017: The Embodied Mind, Chs 1-2 (The Departing Ground). 

November 20, 2017: The Embodied Mind, Chs 3-4 (Varieties of Cognitivism). 

November 27, 2017: The Embodied Mind, Chs 5-6 (Varieties of Emergence).

 

 

MIRA MEMBERS

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Dr. Lisa Miracchi

Lisa Miracchi is the leader and organizer of MIRA. She is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research is mainly in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and philosophy of cognitive science. She is currently working on a project on the foundations of Artificial Intelligence that combines her achievement-first, competence-based approach to mental states with dynamical and embodied approaches. 

 

 
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Ben Baker

Ben is a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and received a JD from Yale University and a bachelors degree in philosophy and economics from Brown University. He is mainly interested in philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and neuroscience. He is working on a dissertation about dynamical approaches to cognition, especially on the role that learning plays in shaping one's cognitive abilities. 

 
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Shereen Chang

Shereen Chang is a PhD candidate in Philosophy investigating how we reason about cognition and what we can learn about cognition from studying animals with brains that are quite different from ours. Shereen’s research emphasizes avian cognition, especially parrots, who share many social and behavioural traits with humans and other primates.  One of her current research projects investigates how to justify analogical inferences about the cognitive capacities of nonhuman animals who exhibit complex behaviours similar to that of humans.

 
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Dr. Javier Gomez-Lavin

Javier is a Provost Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Philosophy working with Professor Miracchi and the MIRA group. He received his PhD from The Graduate Center, CUNY in 2018. Javier's dissertation, The Fragmented Mind: Working memory cannot implement consciousness, rejects the standard, homuncular, model of central cognition and instead argues, using recent findings in neuroscience, for a more distributed model of  cognition and its core functions, with a focus on first-order theories of consciousness. At Penn, Javier is detailing a non-homuncular architecture of cognition and its related functions. His work also overlaps with issues in social ontology, experimental philosophy, and aesthetics. (Website)

 
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Max Lewis

Max is a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to Penn, he received an M.A. in philosophy from Brandeis University and an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School. His main philosophical interests are in metaethics, epistemology, and philosophy of action—as well as their intersection. He has secondary interests in bioethics and philosophy of religion. His current research concerns the epistemic and moral dimensions of moral testimony.

 
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Artemis Panagopoulou 

Artemis is a student in the Dual Degree Program in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a candidate for a B.A.S. and M.S.E. in Computer and Information Science, and a B.A. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science. She is mainly interested in computational linguistics, philosophy of mind, ethics of artificial intelligence, and cognitive neuroscience.

 
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Sonia Roberts

I am a Electrical and Systems Engineering PhD student in Kod*lab, which is part of the GRASP lab at the University of Pennsylvania. I am studying legged locomotion in fragile environments such as sand, rubble piles, or dense vegetation.

I graduated from Vassar College in 2010 with a B.A. in Cognitive Science where I worked under Prof. John Long building and experimenting with biologically inspired robots to test hypotheses about biomechanics and evolutionary biology.

Prior to coming to UPenn, I worked as a research technician on the Fly Olympiad Project at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus attempting to create a functional map of the Drosophila melanogaster brain.

https://kodlab.seas.upenn.edu/research/lldr/locomotiononcompliantsurfaces/

 
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Tiina Rosenqvist

Tiina is a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to Penn, she received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Finland, and studied Tibetan language in India. Her primary interests are in philosophy of mind, psychology and cognitive science. Her secondary interests relate to cross-cultural approaches to metaphysics and epistemology. 

 
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Dr. Katia Schwerzmann

Katia completed her Ph.D. in philosophy in 2016 with a joint degree between the Freie Universität of Berlin and the Université de Lausanne. She is currently a visiting postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania, working on the way in which technological mediation affects the relation between bodies, and how it shapes the community and the political. In the context of the MIRA research group, she is interested in the use of algorithms for decision-making processes in the U.S. justice system.

 
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Dr. Jordan Taylor

Jordan is a lecturer in Penn's Critical Writing Program. He earned a PhD from the Department of Philosophy at Penn and a Master of Philosophy from the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University. His main interests are the philosophy and psychology of perception and emotion, and the philosophy of cognitive science more broadly.

 
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Eugene Vaynberg

Eugene Vaynberg is a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and received bachelor's degrees in physics and mathematics from the University of Rochester. He is primarily interested in questions typically rooted in philosophy of mind and philosophy of science.

 

Yosef Washington

Yosef is a PhD student in the Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests concern the intersection between Metaphysics and Epistemology and how concepts within these respective philosophical disciplines contribute to knowledge production, both at the individual and social level.  

 
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Steph Wesson

Steph is a PhD student in philosophy at Penn. Her primary interests are in normative issues in epistemology and philosophy of language, and in political philosophy and its history. Uniting these areas is an interest in how we think and talk about possible beliefs, the ethics of education, and the mind’s ability to change. 

 
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Mingjun Zhang

Mingjun is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to arriving at Penn, he received an M.A. degree in philosophy and a B.S. degree in chemistry from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. He is mainly interested in the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of ecology, and public understanding of evolution. He also eagers to develop his competence in the philosophy of mind.

 

MIRA Alums

Sonia Pearson, BA University of Pennsylvania (in progress)

Ramathi Bandarayake, BA University of Pennsylvania 2018

Isabel Gwara, Ramathi Bandarayake, BA University of Pennsylvania 2018