Luis (“Louie”) H. Favela is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Central Florida. He earned graduate degrees in Philosophy and the Life Sciences and Experimental Psychology at the University of Cincinnati. His philosophical work is in the areas of cognitive science, mind, and science. His empirical work is on affordance perception, decision-making, and neural dynamics.
What excites you about philosophy?
I find a particular philosophical attitude to be exciting, namely, the “I could always be wrong” attitude. In my experience, this attitude manifests most often in the classroom. It is that moment when a student realizes what they thought was so clearly the case is far from certain: “Hold on, Professor! You mean there might not be an external world, god might not exist, non-human animals might have rights, etc.?” It is that “mind blown” look on the face of students that excites me because it means that a student has been intellectually humbled. I wonder what the profession would be like if more minds were “blown” even after Ph.D.’s were earned…
What are you working on right now?
I am juggling… I mean working on a number of projects now. I am currently guest editing an issue of Cognitive Systems Research on “Innovative Dynamical Approaches to Cognitive Systems”. I received some very cool submissions and am looking forward to the issue coming out later this year.
I have a number of publications in progress on topics such as the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness and complexity science (for a special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies), interspecies distributed cognition (with collaborators including my former undergraduate student Zachariah Neemeh), a critique of predictive processing approaches to perception (coauthored with Mary Jean Amon), and explanatory pluralism (coauthored with Tony Chemero), among others.
Along with collaborators at my institution and others, I am developing a National Science Foundation grant proposal to fund my continued empirical work on affordance perception, and sensory-substitution and augmentation. I like this project a lot because not only is it interesting just as an experimental project, but it also has ramifications for debates about embodied and extended cognition—at least some of my collaborators (e.g., Tony Chemero) and I think so.
Finally, I am working on a book proposal that attempts to bring together my philosophical and empirical work from the past few years. The goal is to unite that work into a coherent picture about the nature of cognition and the appropriate theories and methods for investigating cognition as non-brain-centric phenomena. Spoilers: Cognition is treated as systems-phenomena that span brain-body-environment (including tools and other cognitive systems), and complexity science and dynamical systems theory provide the theories and methods to best investigate and understand it.
What would your childhood self say if someone told you that you would grow up to be a philosopher?
What happened to becoming a pediatrician?!
What time of day are you most productive and creative?
I do not have a speck of lark DNA in me. I am an owl through and through.
If you could have a one-hour conversation with any philosopher or historical figure from any time, who would you pick and what topic would you choose?
I would have a conversation with Rene Descartes. I would ask him two questions:
First, you are a super smart guy, but the pineal gland, really?
Second, do you really believe in dualism, or are you just trying to save your neck?!
What’s your favorite quote?
I have heard it in various forms attributed to various folks, but my favorite quote is:
Smart people learn from their mistakes; but wise people learn from the mistakes of others.
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The first sentence from the author resonated here…
“I find a particular philosophical attitude to be exciting, namely, the “I could always be wrong” attitude.”
To take this another step, it seems even more interesting when the group consensus assumes without questioning that X is true, even though a compelling case can be made that X is false. Such cases can often shine a light on the boundaries of the influence of reason and more accurately reveal our relationship with authority. That is, I find it interesting when the group consensus assumes it couldn’t possibly be wrong, even in the face of evidence which strongly suggests that it is.
Our unquestioning attachment to the “more is better” relationship with knowledge which defines modern civilization seems to be such a case. An apparent assumption by academic philosophers that nuclear weapons are a topic just barely worth their time seems another. In cases such as this compelling arguments can be made which undermine the logic of the group consensus, but such arguments carry no weight, have little influence, are dismissed with a yawn if they are attended to at all.
What interests me about such cases is that…
1) They allow me to further inflate my pathetically large ego by jamming my finger in the eye of the group consensus, and…
2) They help us journey towards the boundaries of philosophy, to those parts of the human experience that are beyond the reach of reason.
The author ponders…
” I wonder what the profession would be like if more minds were “blown” even after Ph.D.’s were earned…”
Two things may be confused here, philosophy, and the philosophy business. These are two different enterprises each with their own agendas and rules.
In the privacy of their own minds a philosophy PhD can theoretically still have their minds blown, still encounter the experience of having once been totally wrong.
In the public arena, in the philosophy business, such mind blowing would seem to be far more challenging. Professional philosophers produce no tangible product, and thus their status in society and employment depends to a great deal on the creation of authority.
We can see the authority creation process in the degrees philosophers attach to their names, their position on the academic pecking order totem pole, their use of specialized terminology which typically only philosophers understand, and their focus on obscure arcane topics. All these techniques are used, consciously or not, to persuade the public who funds philosophy that academic philosophers are high value experts doing important work which is beyond the reach of the man in the street. The legal profession does much the same thing by inventing obscure language and concepts that only lawyers will understand, thus making themselves the necessary bridge between the citizen and the law.
All of the above strategies are smart from a business point of view, but my guess is they tend to wreak havoc on the philosophy side of a philosopher’s life. If I am a chairman of a department, and I have a big mortgage and two kids in college, how do I announce at the faculty meeting that, wow, I was totally wrong about some claim I’ve been making for years?
If you want to see this phenomena play out in real life, watch the excellent Netflix video called Come Sunday. The movie is a dramatization of a real life event, when a religious philosopher had a break through in his inquiries, and decided to share his new insights with the group consensus.
The group consensus, both within and without the philosophy business, is not interested in inquiry, but in stability.