I am an assistant professor of neuroscience at Muhlenberg College, a small liberal arts college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in the Northeastern United States.
Most generally speaking, I ask questions about the role of the nervous system (at the level of neural circuits and systems) in the production of cognition and behavior in human beings. In doing so, I take an ‘ecological approach’. This means that I start from the basic assumptions that (1) brains originally evolved to support action, and that (2) perception, cognition, and action are deeply intertwined, rather than distinct, serial processes. It also means that (3) I treat brains as organs that are embedded in bodies with specific abilities, which are in turn situated in specific environments that are richly structured, and meaningful. The brain’s primary job description within this perspective is to aid in the perception and utilization of ‘affordances’, that is, opportunities for action, during ongoing interactions with the environment. Thus, research in my lab asks not only how perception of the environment influences action, but also how action influences perception, and how these processes in turn influence cognition—and vice versa.
The perspective I take also has implications for how to think about structure-function relationships. Rather than viewing the brain as a collection of ‘modules’ that each serve a specific behavioral or cognitive task (as has traditionally been the case) I consider the brain – together with the body and the environment! – as a collection of resources that can be flexibly employed to serve various tasks, potentially performing a different function in each case. This is referred to in the literature as ‘pluripotentiality’ or neural reuse and ‘degeneracy’. To test these hypotheses, my lab employs behavioral (e.g., dual task interference and affordance perception paradigms) and neuroscientific methodologies (e.g., tDCS and, possibly, fNIRS).
In addition to empirical work I also take a deep interest in, and write about theoretical underpinnings of cognitive neuroscience such as philosophy of perception, philosophy of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and phenomenology.
Before coming to Muhlenberg I was a post-doc in translational neuroscience and neurorehabilitation for three years at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute with Laurel Buxbaum and Branch Coslett, whose main affiliation is with the University of Pennsylvania. I used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), lesion-symptom mapping, and multilevel modeling to study neural contributions to motor cognition and perception in left-hemisphere stroke patients as well as neurologically-intact individuals. Before that I was a PhD student in experimental psychology with Rich Masters and John van der Kamp at the University of Hong Kong. I used behavioral methods such as visual masking and 3D motion capture to address the heavily-contested functional interpretation of the ‘dorsal and ventral visual systems’ of the primate brain. My dissertation was awarded the Li Ka Shing Prize, which goes annually to the top four dissertations produced across all departments, institutes and schools of the University of Hong Kong. Before THAT I completed a drs. (equivalent to M.S.) in psychology at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.