Monday, September 17, 2012

Student Spotlight: Carolyn Dicey Jennings

Welcome to the Student Spotlight interviews! This is a new recurring feature that will be hosted on the ASSC Students Forum to highlight students and recent graduates, and to hear about what they are up to. ASSC is a very special scientific community and we wish to maintain a community feel here, with freewheeling, casual, and lighthearted dispatches from our student members on work, life, ideas, interests, dreams, secrets, ....? In the weeks and months to come we'll have more of these students-interviewing-students. Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below!

This inaugural spotlight features Carolyn Dicey Jennings, and was conducted by the ASSC Director of Communications Lynn Chien-Hui Chiu.

Lynn Chien-Hui Chiu: Hello Carolyn : ) Thank you for accepting our interview! We would like to learn more about you and your research interests. I also heard you recently graduated! Could you give us a quick introduction about yourself?

Carolyn Dicey Jennings: As you say, I am a recent (May 2012) graduate of the PhD program in philosophy and the MA program in psychology at Boston University. I am a philosopher of physics turned philosopher of mind, largely thanks to the ASSC community--it was when I went to my first ASSC meeting in Taiwan that I decided to start working at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, and I haven't turned back! It is an exciting field full of dedicated and friendly researchers who make interdisciplinarity a real possibility.

Chiu: What recent articles are you reading now? What do you think is new and exciting about them?

Jennings: I chose three articles that have impressed me of late, from old to new:

1. Nir Y, Tononi G. Dreaming and the brain: from phenomenology to neurophysiology. Trends Cogn Sci. 2010 Feb;14(2):88-100. (Pubmed full-text link; Journal link)

This paper synthesizes recent research on dreaming, which is one of the least understood, but arguably purest, forms of conscious experience. I would like to see more work of this calibre on other altered states of consciousness.

2. Boly M, Garrido MI, Gosseries O, Bruno MA, Boveroux P, Schnakers C, Massimini M, Litvak V, Laureys S, Friston K. Preserved feedforward but impaired top-down processes in the vegetative state. Science. 2011 May 13;332(6031):858-62. (Journal link)

This paper uses EEG, instead of fMRI, to identify differences between clinically-defined conscious states (the vegetative and minimally conscious states). Beyond the research implications of this work, it has the potential to greatly increase the cost efficiency of medical diagnosis, which is impressive in its own right.

3. Siegel S. Precis of The Contents of Visual Experience. Philosophical Studies. 2012. (Author's website; Journal link)

This is a precis of a monograph, and so only a sketch of the full view, but nicely lays out Siegel's Phenomenal Contrast Strategy, which is a method for determining the phenomenal content of a given experience. Taxonimizing the contents of consciousness is essential, I think, for developing a science of consciousness.

Chiu: I know you founded Neuphi and it recently went virtual. Could you tell us a little bit about how you came up with the idea?

Jennings: Although I christened it, Neuphi wasn't my idea. A good friend, Emi Iwatani, and a professor, Tian Yu Cao, approached me with the idea and asked if I would like to take part. It was based on an earlier group run by John Symons at Boston University. As I said above, I was then a philosopher of physics, but had taken a philosophy of mind course that got me interested in more empirically-informed approaches to the old problems. So I agreed to help out. As it happens, Emi was more comfortable doing the behind-the-scenes work for Neuphi and left Boston University for Pittsburgh after about a year, such that I got most of the credit for the group. In any case, my increasing interest for this area meant that I kept the group going after Emi left.

Chiu: Tell us about the new Neuphi online! How could we participate?

Jennings: I organize two activities that may be of interest to the ASSC community. Already mentioned is my ongoing work for Neuphi, a monthly workshop on the intersection of philosophy and neuroscience. For the past five years it has been exclusively located in the Boston area. This year I am exploring a virtual format for the workshop, where speakers upload their talks to Vimeo and Neuphi members comment on the talk or ask the speaker questions from within Neuphi's private Vimeo group. Anyone who wants to join that group can go to

I also founded an interdisciplinary graduate conference on consciousness in 2009, which is based on the ASSC model (but at the level of junior scholars and graduate students). Since 2011, the conference has mainly depended on the organizational work of Colin Cmiel at Boston University, although I still help out from time to time. Anyone interested in continuing (or funding!) that project should contact Colin Cmiel (

Chiu: What do you like to do in your free time?

Jennings: I am a natural explorer. I am currently living in Antwerp, Belgium for a postdoctoral research position and love learning about the Belgian culture. I hope that it is the first of many opportunities to understand and explore a new place. If I could do more sailing, I would, since I love pretty much all water sports. I love hiking and checking out places that are known for their natural beauty. I am an imperfect vegetarian and yogi, and occasionally like to fuss around with the visual arts. Of course, I always enjoy hanging up my work shoes and spending time with friends.

Jennings adds: "I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp in Bence Nanay's Between Perception and Action project. My website is here:"

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