I'm a Provost's Postdoctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins University. I carry out research in philosophy and philosophy-inspired cognitive science in Chaz Firestone's Lab in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Before coming to Hopkins, I did a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Columbia University. Before that, I got a B.A. and an M.A. in Mexico City, where I was born and raised.
I study the subjective character of the mind with an interdisciplinary approach. I use tools from philosophy, psychology and neuroscience to further our understanding of conscious experiences: what they are, what they are about, and how we know them.
When not doing philosophy or science, I enjoy spending time with my wife and daughter, and also walking around with my camera.
The goal of my research program is to understand the subjective character of the mind and to improve how we study it scientifically. To this end, I have three complementary lines of research in which I integrate different topics—consciousness, perception, and introspection—using different methodological approaches—philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience.
(1) I study the fundamental nature and neural basis of conscious experiences. I study foundational philosophical questions about the metaphysics and functions of consciousness and how it interacts with other mental phenomena. In tandem, my research develops tools for a successful science of subjectivity that can discover the neural underpinnings of subjective confidence and conscious awareness.
(2) I study the contents of what we experience. To do this, I use vision science as a tool to make progress in questions that have proved resistant to philosophical analysis. My work on the philosophy of perception and vision science focuses on the subjective features that imbue our perceptual states—let these be themselves perceptual (e.g. perspective and attention), cognitive (e.g. Bayesian updating), or social (e.g. stereotypes).
(3) I study the mechanisms that govern what we take ourselves to be experiencing. Thus, I study the epistemic, psychological, computational and neural features of introspective mechanisms. For example, I focus on calibrating introspection's reliability and how to model the decision-making and neural processes that support metacognition.
Asking fundamental questions about the subjective character of the mind invites me, and in fact forces me, to branch out into other areas within science (e.g., memory, decision-making, emotions, pain, developmental and social psychology) and within philosophy (e.g., general philosophy of science, epistemology, and moral and social philosophy, broadly construed: from the neural basis of voluntary action and ethical challenges posed by novel neuroimaging technologies to how social stereotypes affect how we perceive—and potentially treat—others).
- Maniscalco, B., Graham Castaneda, O., Odegaard, B., Morales, J., Rajananda, S. & Peters, M. (2020) The Metaperceptual Function: Exploring Dissociations Between Confidence and Task Performance with Type 2 Psychometric Curves. PsyArXiv. doi:10.31234/osf.io/5qrjn
- Morales, J., Odegaard, B. & Maniscalco, B. (2019) The Neural Substrates of Conscious Perception without Performance Confound. PsyArXiv. doi:10.31234/osf.io/8zhy3
- Forthcoming as a book chapter in Anthology in Neuroscience and Philosophy (Eds. Felipe De Brigard & Walter Sinnott-Armstrong), MIT Press.
- Morales, J. (Forthcoming) Introspection Is Signal Detection. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
- Morales, J., Bax, A., & Firestone, C. (2020). Sustained Representation of Perspectival Shape. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117 (26): 14873-14882. pdf • data • demos
- I discuss these results—and the general approach of asking philosophical questions in the laboratory—in this blog post at The Brains Blog (with comments by Jonathan Cohen).
- Phillips, I. & Morales, J. (2020) The Fundamental Problem with No-Cognition Paradigms. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 24 (3): 165-167.
- This is a response to a paper by Ned Block. You can find Ned's original article here and his response to us, "Finessing the bored monkey problem," here.
- Michel, M. & Morales, J. (2020). Minority Reports: Consciousness and the Prefrontal Cortex. Mind & Language 35: 493-513.
- This paper was featured in the Brains Blog's Mind & Language Symposium on December 2019 with commentaries by Professors Liz Irvine, Benji Kozuch, and Michael Pitts & Kevin Ortego, and our response.
- Morales, J., Lau, H., & Fleming, S. (2018) Domain-general and Domain-specific Patterns of Activity Support Metacognition in Human Prefrontal Cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience, 38 (14): 3534-3546.
- Morales, J., Mouradi Y., Sergent C., Block N., Taschereau-Dumouchel, V., Rosenthal,D., Grimaldi, P. & Lau, H. (2017) Measuring Away an Attentional Confound? Neuroscience of Consciousness, 3 (1): 1-3.
- Morales, J., Chiang, J., & Lau, H. (2015) Controlling for Performance Capacity Confounds in Neuroimaging Studies of Conscious Awareness. Neuroscience of Consciousness, 1 (1): 1-11.
- Morales, J., Solovey, G., Maniscalco, B., Rahnev, D., de Lange, F. P., & Lau, H. (2015) Low Attention Impairs Optimal Incorporation of Prior Knowledge in Perceptual Decisions. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, 77 (6): 2021–2036.
- Morales, J. (2011). Animal Reasoning: Negation and Representations of Absence. Revista Argentina de Ciencias del Comportamiento, 3(1): 20–33.
- Morales, J. & Lau, H. (Forthcoming) Confidence Tracks Consciousness. In Qualitative Consciousness: Themes from the Philosophy of David Rosenthal (Ed. J. Weisberg), Cambridge University Press.
- Morales, J. & Lau, H. (2020). The Neural Correlates of Consciousness. In Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Consciousness (Ed. U. Kriegel), Oxford University Press, 233-260.
work in progress
- Mental Strength: The Degrees of Conscious Experience *under review
- Social Stereotypes Impair Recognition of Incidental Visual Features (with Austin Baker & Chaz Firestone) *under review
- Altering the Mind: Philosophical Challenges for Decoded Neurofeedback
- Seeing What’s Not There: The Perception of Absences
- When the Brain Goes Haywire: Anti-Bayesian Updating in Perception (with Steven Gross and Chaz Firestone), in Expected Experiences: The Predictive Mind in an Uncertain World, Tony Cheng and Jakob Howhy (Eds.). (commissioned)
- Confidence & Action Initiation: An fMRI project (with Brian Maniscalco, Olenka Castaneda Graham, Brian Odegaard & Megan Peters)
art & media
“Embedding the experimental materials in glass embodies the notion that the brain’s machinery for self-reflection provides us with a distant, sometimes opaque view of ourselves.”
Selection of some magazines, newspapers, news websites, blogs and podcasts where my research has been recently featured:
psychological and brain sciences
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