This book has been a labor of love for, directly or indirectly, well over a decade. It brings together a number of my long-standing interests in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the mind and behaviour.
These were particularly shaped during my undergraduate years at Tulane University. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Radu Bogdan, who created an interdisciplinary cognitive studies program and taught several courses in the philosophy of cognitive science. Through this program and his courses, I acquired the formal skills and multidisciplinary background to approach “the mind” from multiple levels of analysis. This is particularly reflected in Chapter 2 of this text, which demonstrates how a computational approach bridges an otherwise significant chasm between neurophysiological and functional systems approaches to understanding the brain. I am also deeply indebted to Michael Zimmerman, who taught a course on Buddhist philosophy. Though I thought the course would be interesting, I also took it for the very student-y reason that it fulfilled multiple requirements of the general education and philosophy programs. Seemingly paradoxically, his philosophy course contained a laboratory component. There I learned about meditation, which has had a significant influence on both my personal and professional life. That course planted the seeds for the material in Chapter 6 of this text. I would also like to thank Joseph Dien, who mentored me in my first neuroscience research projects, examining the neural correlates of psycholinguistic processes. His lab has proven formative for me.
This undergraduate work set the stage for further interdisciplinary explorations as a graduate student at the University of California – Davis. There I had the great pleasure of modeling animal behavior by programming tailor-made robots and agent-based computer simulations. I am grateful for the collaboration forged by my mentors in psychobiology and engineering, Jeff Schank and Sanjay Joshi. Jeff’s mentorship as my Ph.D. supervisor was particularly invaluable. We enjoyed both friendship and many great conversations about how unexpectedly simple dynamics can give rise to apparently complex behavior. This dovetailed with work on embodied, embedded, and extended cognition, briefly touched on in the Preface. Our collaboration further reinforced and catalyzed interests in what might be called transdisciplinary areas, such as complexity theory, dynamical systems theory, and network science. These are featured in Chapters 1 and 5. And our discussions and writings on the pragmatics and philosophy of models have of course greatly shaped my thinking in Chapter 7.
I am also grateful for the teaching and research environments provided by both my former employer, Carroll University, and my current employer, University College Groningen. Both share my passion for the value of a liberal arts education and interdisciplinarity. At Carroll I began my research program on the cognitive, affective, and social effects of meditation, some of which is highlighted in Chapter 6. I also had the great pleasure of collaborating with historian Scott Hendrix in writing multiple book chapters on “neurohistory” and pulling together an edited volume of multidisciplinary approaches to unique religious experiences. At the University College Groningen, I’ve enjoyed collaborating with philosopher Ryan Wittingslow in thinking about the experiential effects of education. This work is featured toward the end of Chapter 3. And at both institutions, I’ve had the tremendous pleasure and honor of teaching many, many cohorts of students who were enthusiastic to learn about the mind and brain from all possible perspectives. I developed all of the activities in this book for them. They have imbued my professional life with a great sense of meaning.
I would also like to thank the University of Groningen Press. Through their initiative, this book is formatted and released as an open access textbook. It is the perfect format for this kind of book, which is meant to be of service to and readily accessible for students and instructors. The electronic format also allowed me to link to a large number of additional resources to facilitate continued explorations beyond this book. I would not want to have published it in any other way.
I would like to thank the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR), which hosted me in their beautiful building during the writing of much of this book. Its completion would not have been possible without extended time to think and work.
Finally, I would like to thank my partner, Hannah Malone, whose own research brought me to the KNIR and whose support and listening ear has made the process of writing this book many times more enjoyable and rewarding!