I'm Dillon Plunkett, a cognitive neuroscience Ph.D. candidate at Harvard working with Joshua Greene.


I research high-level and conscious cognition using neuroimaging, computational modeling, and behavioral methods.

Picture a purple Styrofoam ambulance falling into a swimming pool. We can easily imagine this scenario even though we have never previously encountered it. We can do this because we can flexibly and precisely combine different familiar concepts—like swimming pools, Styrofoam, and ambulances—according to a specified structure, producing a thought that is completely novel. Further, we can use this original thought in a great variety of different ways. Instead of deciding whether the ambulance would float, we could imagine the sound of it hitting the water, adopt the bodily stance that we would employ in attempting to lift it out of the pool, or determine whether a painting faithfully depicts this scene. How does the brain implement our amazingly flexible ability to represent novel situations and to use these representations as the inputs to processes as diverse as intuitive physics and language production? Does this flexibility rely on a Language of Thought or conscious awareness?

In my current work, I am investigating these questions primarily by using functional magnetic resonance imaging to study how the brain enables us to construct and manipulate novel, complex mental images.

Previously, I did research in experimental epistemology, causal inference, and metareasoning with Tania Lombrozo and Tom Griffiths while I was manager of 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 relations. Precisely what makes some future person me and why ought I care more about that person than other people?


Full CV (pdf)