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Fall 2004


Research Fellow Richard Griffin and Tufts University Professor Dan Dennett.
Photo by Rose Lincoln

The Dennett Draw
Since its inception in 1986, the Center for Cognitive Studies has attracted scholars from around the world, all drawn by the chance to work closely with University Professor Daniel Dennett.
Two research professors also associated with the Center—provost and senior vice president and professor of psychology Jamshed Bharucha and professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research Marcel Kinsbourne—also contribute their intellectual presence to this small “think tank” within Tufts’ Department of Philosophy.

“Dan Dennett is one of the most influential and creative thinkers of our time,” says Bharucha. “His presence on the Tufts faculty and at the Center for Cognitive Studies gives Tufts a huge profile in a variety of fields relating to the study of cognition, including psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, linguistics, computer science, and, of course, philosophy. He is one of the most widely knowledgeable people I know; if there was ever an example of one individual synthesizing complex, technical, and nuanced ideas from diverse disciplines, it would be Dan. His work encompasses the most fundamental, enduring questions—nothing less than an understanding of what we are as human beings, what we believe about what we are, and how we and our beliefs evolved.”

Dennett annually reviews applications for visiting fellowships; he has no need to advertise and anticipated that if he did, “I would spend all my time vetting applicants. Look, Tufts is an attractive place. Boston is heaven for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in research.”

Richard Griffin, who recently completed a Ph.D. at Cambridge University in psychology, is this year’s research fellow. An expert on child development and autism, he is helping Dennett with research on religious convictions that will figure in Dennett’s new book on religion, while completing studies of his own on autism.

“Rick is a psychologist with a good ear—and mind—for philosophical subtleties,” says Dennett. “He can see immediately what I’m trying to tease apart experimentally, and helps me design the right instrument to do that.”

Says Griffin: “The Center for Cognitive Studies is a wonderful place to be. There is no better ‘coach’ than Professor Dennett, who is as tough as he is supportive and kind. It is a haven of sorts, both for empirical research and for grappling with some of the more difficult issues in cognitive science. I feel fortunate to be here. It’s a first-class learning environment and a happy home.”

The fellowship can be highly valuable by offering a welcome chance to explore and develop new ideas, often with impact well beyond Miner Hall. When Dennett collaborated with noted psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, a visiting fellow in 1987, the partnership included a field-study of the sociology and symptomatology of multiple personality disorder. Their preliminary conclusions were published in an essay, “Speaking for Our Selves.” Humphrey now divides his time between the London School of Economics and the New School and continues to try to apply evolutionary understanding to philosophical, social, and political issues.

Humphrey is just one of the highly respected “alumni” listed on the Center’s website. “Just look at the list,” says Dennett. “These are my intellectual brainchildren—not disciples—I hate that. But I am very proud to have worked with them, and helped them, at an important time in their careers.”

Dennett adds that the Center sometimes appoints Visiting Fellows without stipends who want to work with Dennett at Tufts while they are on sabbatical or have a research travel grant. “For them,” he says, “this can be a temporary academic home and a place where they can hang out, talk, and share ideas.”