Research Chair in Philosophy earns fellowship from National Endowment for the Humanities

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Jacob Beck, associate professor and York Research Chair in Philosophy, won a US$60,000 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in recognition of the novel research carried out in his project “Minds without Language,” which closely examines the process of human thought.

As stated in its press release on Jan. 10, the NEH launched the $28.1 million fund, aiding more than 200 humanities scholars across the globe, in order to support “humanities research at college campuses, conservation research, innovative digital resources, and infrastructure projects at cultural institutions.”

Jacob Beck close-up portrait
Jacob Beck

Beck’s fellowship will provide him with time to research and write a book about pre-linguistic forms of perception and thought. The book will be informed by vision science, neuroscience and other cognitive sciences and help to counter the linguistic model of the mind that has dominated philosophical theorizing about human and animal minds for the past century. Beck’s fellowship proposal was one of 70 of its kind funded out of 1,029 applications.

“Talking to my colleagues in the Centre for Vision Research, and other cognitive scientists, I came to realize that philosophical models of the mind are out of touch with what scientists have learned,” Beck said. “My project draws on the science to update those models to give us a clearer picture of what human minds are like and how they differ from the minds of nonhuman animals.

“This fellowship will give me the opportunity to take a step back from the targeted articles I’ve been writing and weave my various lines of thought together into a book. I’m really excited,” he added.

Beck is one of two researchers at Canadian institutions, and among only four researchers based outside of the U.S., to have received the NEH funding.

About Jacob Beck

Aside from his positions as York Research Chair and associate professor in the Department of Philosophy, Beck is also a member of York’s Cognitive Science program, which he directed from 2018-22; the Centre for Vision Research; and the Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program. Beck’s research makes progress on longstanding philosophical puzzles about the mind by reconceptualizing them in light of contemporary cognitive science. He has a special interest in pre-linguistic forms of mental representation, such as perception and the number sense.