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Zachary Irving, a philosopher of mind and neuroscience, joins the department in January 2018 as Assistant Professor.

Irving's research focuses on the phenomenon of mind-wandering. Although mind-wandering occupies up to half our waking thoughts, traditionally it has been neglected by philosophers and cognitive scientists. Zachary Irving’s research develops a theory of mindwandering, defined as unguided attention that is philosophically precise, empirically measurable and grounded in the brain.

Roughly speaking, attention is guided when you would feel pulled back from distractions. Because mind-wandering is unguided, your attention drifts from topic to topic unchecked. Irving’s empirical
collaborations hypothesize that guidance arises due to the interactions of large-scale brain networks, and therefore that the mind wanders when these interactions subside. This research has been published in leading journals, including Philosophical Studies and Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

Irving completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Toronto. As a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California - Berkeley, he collaborated with developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik and neuroscientist Kalina Christoff. In Spring 2018, Irving will teach an undergraduate course entitled Minds, Machines, and Persons, and a graduate seminar entitled Mind Wandering and Attention.

His philosophical research next year will explore the significance of mind-wandering for action theory, and his empirical collaborations will examine how ordinary people understand mind-wandering and explore its relationship to creativity and mental illness.