I'm Dillon Plunkett, a cognitive neuroscientist studying complex thought.
Abraham Lincoln is juggling blue apples under the Eiffel Tower.
The human mind can understand and generate an effectively infinite number of different ideas. Even though you've never seen Abraham Lincoln juggling, you immediately understand the specific, improbable idea expressed by the sentence above. And you can do all kinds of things with this new idea, like reason about it (Would this draw a crowd?) or form a mental image of it (Are you imagining Lincoln with or without the top hat?). How do our brains accomplish this?
A compelling possibility is that our brains combine familiar, simple concepts—like "Abraham Lincoln", "juggling", and "apple"—into novel, complex ideas using a so-called Language of Thought. In my PhD research in Joshua Greene's lab at Harvard, I'm using neuroimaging, computational modeling, and behavioral experiments to investigate whether and how the human brain implements such a Language of Thought.
Previously, I did research in experimental epistemology, causal inference, and metareasoning with Tania Lombrozo and Tom Griffiths while working in the Concepts and Cognition and Computational Cognitive Science labs at UC Berkeley.
As an undergraduate, I studied philosophy and psychology at Harvard. My thesis work focused on another topic I find fascinating: the rational and moral significance of personal identity. Precisely what makes some future person me and why should I care more about that person than other people?
- Plunkett, D., Frankland, S. M., & Greene, J. D. (in prep). Neural Representation of Composite Ideas with Spatial Structure.
- Plunkett, D. & Greene, J. D. (2019). Overlooked evidence and a misunderstanding of what trolley dilemmas do best: Commentary on Bostyn, Sevenhant, & Roets (2018). Psychological Science, 30, 1389-1391. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797619827914
- Plunkett, D., Lombrozo, T., & Buchak, L. (2019). When and why people think beliefs are “debunked” by scientific explanations of their origins. Mind & Language, 35, 3-28. https://doi.org/10.1111/mila.12238
- Wilkenfeld, D. A., Plunkett, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Folk attributions of understanding: Is there a role for epistemic luck? Episteme, 15, 24-49. https://doi.org/10.1017/epi.2016.38
- Wilkenfeld, D. A., Plunkett, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2016). Depth and deference: When and why we attribute understanding. Philosophical Studies, 173, 373-393. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-015-0497-y
- Buchsbaum, D., Griffiths, T. L., Plunkett, D., Gopnik, A., & Baldwin, D. (2015). Inferring action structure and causal relationships in continuous sequences of human action. Cognitive Psychology, 76, 30-77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogpsych.2014.10.001
- Lieder, F., Plunkett, D., Hamrick, J. B., Russell, S. J., Hay, N. J., & Griffiths, T. L. (2014). Algorithm selection by rational metareasoning as a model of human strategy selection. In Z. Ghahramani, M. Welling, C. Cortes, N. Lawrence, & K. Weinberger (Eds.), Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 27 (pp. 2870-2878). Red Hook, NY: Curran Associates, Inc.