Robin L. Zebrowski
Office: Science Center 232
I am currently the chair of the program in Cognitive Science. I am an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science, and I am affiliated with the Philosophy, Psychology, and Computer Science Departments.
As someone who does interdisciplinary work, my research is quite varied, but tends to focus on a number of themes around human bodies in relation to cognition.
I work on artificial intelligence, often arguing (from embodiment theories like conceptual metaphor) that certain kinds of bodies are necessary for certain kinds of minds, and that for AI to succeed we need embodied robots that share enough physical structure with humans that we can share a communication system.
I also work more broadly in embodied cognitive science, exploring both the conceptual structure of “embodiment” and how it gets used in our theories. I argue there is no such thing as a standard or universal human body, with evidence from evolutionary biology and neuroscience as well as cultural theories and phenomenologies, and that all of our philosophical and psychological theories that start with embodiment have an underdeveloped notion of the concept. I’m concerned with the direction of these theories and push for a larger discussion in cognitive science about the very notion of embodiment. Out of some of these concerns, I see obvious ethical ramifications, increasing the need for this conversation to happen sooner rather than later.
In addition to AI, I work on other emerging technologies as they overlap with embodiment theories. I often take the idea of the cyborg as a starting point from which we can examine potential future bodies and what different technologies might do for the sorts of bodies we have that create the sorts of minds we have. How does having a different phenomenal experience arising from different bodily capacities alter our cognitive capabilities, content, and/or structure? I believe various disability theories are relevant to this discussion in that there are current real bodies that challenge what we think we know about bodies and minds already.
Asking questions about bodies, minds, and environments leads me to work on extended mind theory. This overlaps with my questions about standard or universal bodies (or the lack thereof) as well as cyborgs and emerging wearable tech. If the boundaries of our bodies are already negotiable, extended mind hypothesis offers us an interesting way to reconcile this.
I think an active Deweyan-esque inquiry is the optimal approach to education, and therefore use a number of hands-on approaches in my classrooms.
I think the Philosophy for Children program is the next most important thing philosophy can offer the contemporary world, and with my colleague Heath Massey, I have co-piloted a version of the program here at Beloit, along with the second-graders at Todd Elementary school. We modeled the course after Thomas Wartenberg’s version, teaching philosophy through children’s books.
I created and team-teach a course with Steve Huss-Lederman in the computer science program called Cognitive Robotics, where we learn the principles of embodied cognition (from both a cognitive psychological and a phenomenological philosophical viewpoint) and use LEGO Mindstorms robots to test and demonstrate those principles.
I think science fiction is the most accessible philosophical teaching tool, given that the genre is simply thought experiments writ large, and I think there’s no better way to teach ethics than through using comic books. I have been (slowly) working on a book that hopes to couple issues of popular comic books alongside traditional philosophical readings in ethics.
BA in Psychology and English from Rutgers University
MA in Philosophy, Computers, and Cognitive Science from Binghamton University
MA and PhD in Philosophy from the University of Oregon