This information was originally published in a Northeastern Global News article by Tanner Stening.
When the layperson tries to imagine what a professional philosopher does, they might picture someone smoking a pipe or stroking a considerably unkempt beard while sitting in an office surrounded by dusty tomes filled with inscrutable language.
Such a portrait may well befit descriptions of 19th and 20th century philosophical thought à la Bertrand Russell and Karl Marx; but it is less evocative of how academic philosophers in this day and age carry on with the business of asking fundamental questions about human existence.
Enter Jorge Morales, an assistant professor of psychology and philosophy at Northeastern, whose background is in the “philosophy of mind”—a subset of philosophical inquiry that focuses on, among other things, phenomenology, consciousness and subjectivity.
“My main philosophical influences come from analytic philosophy and the British Empiricists, but early in my career I was trained in the history of philosophy from which I still draw inspiration,” Morales says.
Morales’ philosophical work has been psychologists and neuroscientists, and his empirical work has been useful to philosophers. Indeed, to think about problems associated with the mind and consciousness in 21st century terms is really to be concerned with questions across a range of disciplines, including psychology and neuroscience, Morales says.
Not all theoretical philosophical concerns neatly map on to an affiliated scientific field, but almost all, he says, intersect with the hard sciences, which provide philosophically-minded academics with new tools they can use to address age-old questions.
“One goal of my research is to offer empirical answers to questions philosophers have been asking for centuries,” Morales, who runs the interdisciplinary Subjectivity Lab at Northeastern, says.
“My work lies at the intersection of psychology, neuroscience and philosophy, and it aims to understand conscious experiences,” Morales adds. “Some of the questions that we ask include: How do we become aware of our surroundings? What functions does consciousness serve—couldn’t we do things unconsciously just fine? How do we know our own minds? How does our brain experience the world and itself? How can we tell if a patient with disorders of consciousness, for example, in a vegetative state, is conscious or not?”
Asking these sorts of questions has earned him a special recognition in the form of an Association for Psychological Science Rising Star award. The award is meant to recognize “researchers whose innovative work has already advanced the field and signals great potential for their continued contributions.” The association announced the recipients of this year’s awards in February.