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PhD Candidate
Department of Philosophy
Neurobiology of Language & Cognitive Science Programs
University of Connecticut

Aliyar Ozercan



(I plan to defend my dissertation this summer, and I am on the job market! Send me an email if you'd like to meet and talk about my research)

I am a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Connecticut, specializing in cognitive neurodevelopmental psychology, the Research Group Manager of Expression, Communication, and Origins of Meaning (ECOM), a trainee in Neurobiology of Language, a graduate fellow of The Connecticut Institute for the Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and most importantly the dad of Sofia. 

My dissertation, aptly titled "What do you mean?", delves into the cognitive mechanisms behind our ability to infer others' intended meanings. I propose a modular framework named Sub-Theories of Mind (Sub-ToM) rather than a singular, monolithic Theory of Mind. I also present an evolutionary perspective by differentiating prepositional and propositional attitudes. My dissertation advisor is the great King Lear, Emeritus Professor William Lycan.

In pursuit of a comprehensive theory, my specialization has extended to Neuroimaging, with a particular emphasis on fMRI data analysis. This expertise was honed during my tenure as a Research Assistant in Neuroimaging at both the Connecticut Institute for the Brain and Cognitive Sciences (IBACS) and the Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC). Additionally, my academic repertoire includes the Neurobiology of Language, Semantics, Philosophy of Language and Mind, culminating in my evolution into the realm of Cognitive Science.

Before transferring to UConn, I was a PhD student at Bogazici University (Turkey). I got my MA and BA from Middle East Technical University (Turkey) in philosophy. I published a book titled Symbolic Logic Manual (2014). I was also the co-editor of another one titled Language, Logic, and Empirical Knowledge, Collected Papers (1965-2005) of Teo Grunberg (2017).

Current Research

Sub-Theories of Mind

(About to be submitted)
Cognitive Neuropsychology, Philosophy of Mind

Sub-Theories of Mind constitute the central concept of my dissertation. This concept reimagines the understanding of others' mental states not as a singular, abrupt transition but as a series of modular advancements, encompassing: Theory of Animacy, Theory of Emotion, Theory of Intention/Desire, Theory of Attention, Theory of Knowledge, and Theory of Belief. Each module within this framework represents a distinct aspect of cognitive understanding and cumulatively builds towards a comprehensive comprehension of others' mental landscapes.

In the latter part of the paper, I bolster my argument by presenting neurobiological and ontogenetic evidence in support of the Sub-Theories of Mind. Additionally, I draw comparative analyses with established frameworks by Baron-Cohen, Leslie, and Wellman & Liu, thereby situating my research within the broader context of contemporary cognitive science.

Prepositional Attitudes

Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Mind, Semantics

Suppose my dog is aware that a squirrel is under the table, but he is incapable of forming metarepresentations like "I know that the squirrel is under the tree." This inability does not hinder him from representing this information and acting upon it. I term such representations 'prepositional attitudes.' These represent a prepositional relationship, such as 'x is under the table,' in contrast to propositional attitudes, which represent 'that p' statements. 

Animal Sub-Theories of Mind


Philosophy of Mind, Animal Cognition, Philosophy of Language

This theory's applicability extends to animal cognition, especially in species that demonstrate an understanding of various aspects of others' mental states. For example, consider the case of certain primates like chimpanzees. Despite their inability to navigate complex false-belief tasks, these primates exhibit the capacity to understand basic elements of knowledge and intention in others. This observation underscores a critical aspect of Sub-Theories of Mind (Sub-ToM): its ability to explain cognitive phenomena across a spectrum of sophistication, something that traditional Theory of Mind (ToM) models struggle to address comprehensively.

In the latter part of the paper, I contend that the hierarchy within Sub-ToM could be interpreted as a transition from prepositional attitudes to propositional attitudes. For instance, the recognition that 'mom is angry at dad' exemplifies a prepositional attitude. In contrast, a more advanced cognitive representation, such as 'dad knows that mom is angry at him,' constitutes a propositional attitude.


Evidentiality and its Challenge to the Propositional Theories

Semantics, Philosophy of Language

Evidentiality is a linguistic element, either grammatical or lexical, which allows speakers to distinguish the source of information. In languages with lexical evidentiality, e.g., English, evidentials are not obligatory. In languages with grammatical evidentiality, however, an information about the source latches onto the propositional content. Since we cannot strip away the source of information in these languages, there are cases where we cannot get the ‘bare’ propositional content as we do in English. Speakers indicate their varying degrees of commitment to the statement by using evidentials. Therefore, evidentials force us to either abandon the propositional theories we have in the philosophy of language or, more plausibly, modify them. The proposed modification in this paper is to allow ‘weak forces.’

Curiosity: Descriptions, Representations, and Prepositional Attitudes in Animals

Philosophy of Language, Epistemology, 

The paper's primary objective is to dissect the nature of curiosity and its fulfillment. Curiosity, typically characterized as exploratory behavior, intertwines with motivation, novelty seeking, and attention. The quest to satisfy curiosity necessitates representing the unknown, as we cannot be curious about what we already know, and creating a basic description of this unknown to guide our inquiry. This exploration leads to the paper's central theme: assessing the capacity of curious animals to represent the unknown—a fundamental element of curiosity. The study hypothesizes that animals demonstrating curiosity (and avoidance) can form indefinite descriptions of previously unencountered objects and situations. This capability allows them to mentally conceptualize the unknown, laying a foundation for new experiences and information seeking. To support this, the paper reviews various experiments and observations showing curiosity-driven behaviors in diverse animal species.  


Additionally, the paper differentiates between two types of curiosity: Object curiosity, concerning a property of an object, and Network curiosity, focusing on the object itself. Object curiosity is described as prepositional, while Network curiosity is seen as potentially propositional. For instance, animals exhibiting object curiosity demonstrate prepositional attitudes, enabling them to understand objects and their properties. This indicates their ability for prepositional thought. On the contrary, Network curiosity, which involves learning multiple aspects of an object, might be propositional. While evidence suggests animals may not exhibit Network curiosity, the presence of object curiosity in some species indicates an innate capacity for prepositional thought.

Relating Child Language Development to Neurodevelopment

(Result analysis stage - Collaborative)
Syntax, Neuroimaging, Developmental Neuroscience

In an upcoming collaborated research, the question we raise is whether syntactic structures that are mastered at substantially different ages by children, are associated with distinct patterns of brain activity. A natural domain for addressing this question is the English passive voice. Different types of passive construction in English are similar in their effects on the information-structure of a sentence, but they have substantially different syntactic analyses, and are mastered at substantially different ages. These age differences appear to follow in some way from the time course of neurodevelopment. The proposed project uses fMRI to test whether three different passive constructions in English, mastered at three different ages (separated by at least one year), activate distinct neural "circuits" during on-line processing of English sentences. 

Effects of Reward in Alzheimer's

(2nd batch of participant data is analyzed, waiting for funding for the final batch - Collaborative)
Cognitive Neuropsychology, Neuroimaging

This fMRI study investigates how reward mechanisms affect brain activity in Alzheimer's patients. By examining neural responses to reward stimuli, the research aims to understand alterations in the reward system due to Alzheimer's and potentially uncover new therapeutic approaches.

Speaker's Reference vs Audience Reference

Outlining the argument

Will be updated.

From the last conference I organized, Millikanfest

(left to right) Dennett, Bill (my advisor) and me


As the recipient of the University of Connecticut's Provost's Teaching Excellence Award in 2019, my 11-year teaching journey has been rich and diverse, spanning three universities across seven campuses, along with several summer sessions at Phillips Academy Andover. I bring a unique passion to teaching a variety of subjects, including Problems of Philosophy, Philosophy and Social Ethics, Logic, Neuropsychology, and Social Psychology. This breadth of expertise is reflected in my course evaluations, which consistently surpass the average by 0.5 points, reaching an impressive 4.53 overall. At Andover, my average is even higher at 4.82. With a commitment to continuous improvement and a goal to be among the world’s best instructors, I embrace every opportunity to enhance my teaching skills and knowledge.


Upcoming Session at Phillips Academy Andover (Summer School)

Previously taught 3 sections

This enthralling course delves into the complexities of the human brain and its connection to behavior and cognitive functions. Students embark on an intellectual journey exploring the neural mechanisms underlying emotions, memory, language, and perception. The curriculum integrates theoretical knowledge with practical insights, offering a comprehensive understanding of brain-behavior relationships. This course is a gateway to understanding the marvels of the human mind and its intricate workings.

Social Psychology

Upcoming Session at Phillips Academy Andover (Summer School)

Previously taught 1 session

A captivating exploration of how individuals' thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the presence of others. This course offers a deep dive into concepts like social perception, group dynamics, conformity, persuasion, and interpersonal relationships. Students will engage with real-world examples, understanding how social psychology applies to everyday life and societal issues. It's a thrilling opportunity to uncover the mysteries of human social interactions and their impact on the broader social fabric.

Philosophy and Logic

Upcoming Session at University of Connecticut (Stamford)

Also TAed 2 sessions

This course is an intellectually stimulating exploration of the principles of logical reasoning within the context of philosophical thought. It trains students to construct and analyze arguments, fostering critical thinking and rational debate. The journey through various logical frameworks and philosophical perspectives enhances students’ ability to reason abstractly and argue effectively. This course is not just an academic endeavor but a tool for honing the mind to navigate complex ideas and theories.

Philosophy and Social Ethics

Current Session at University of Connecticut (Waterbury)

Also taught 5 more sessions

A dynamic course that examines the ethical dimensions of social issues through the lens of philosophical thought. Students engage with moral theories and apply them to contemporary social challenges, such as justice, AI related issues human rights, environmental ethics, and global inequality. This course encourages deep reflection on personal values and societal norms, empowering students to become ethically aware and socially responsible individuals. It's a profound exploration of the intersection between philosophy and the moral fabric of society.

Problems of Philosophy

Various Sessions at University of Connecticut (Waterbury, Hartford, Storrs)

Taught 5 sessions

This stimulating course takes students through a journey of philosophical inquiry, exploring pivotal problems that have intrigued thinkers like Berkeley, Kant, Marx, Socrates, and Plato. It delves into the nature of reality and perception, challenges the boundaries of human knowledge, and examines the foundations of ethical reasoning and social justice. Students will engage with the quest for truth and the complexities of moral and aesthetic judgments. This course is an intellectual adventure, prompting deep reflection on existence, knowledge, and the human condition.

History of Science

Taught 1 session at Bartin University

History of Science covers key scientific revolutions, the evolution of scientific theories, and the interplay between science and society. Students will explore the lives and works of groundbreaking scientists and how their discoveries reshaped our understanding of the world. The course also critically examines the cultural, philosophical, and political contexts that influenced scientific progress. It's a captivating exploration of how science has shaped, and been shaped by, the world around it.

Modern Logic I and II

TAed 2 sessions at Middle East Technical University

This course presents an in-depth and highly technical examination of advanced logic. While it begins with foundational aspects of propositional and predicate logic, the focus quickly shifts to more complex versions of these topics. Students will explore intricate structures and theorems within these logical systems, delving into advanced concepts like quantifiers, logical connectives, and modal operators. The course also covers formal proof techniques, set theory, and the study of consistency and completeness in logical systems. By mastering these advanced elements of modern logic, students gain a deep and nuanced understanding of formal reasoning, enhancing their capability to engage with complex logical problems.

Latest News

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Upcoming Organized Conference: Oct 3-5

ELM2 will be held between Oct 3-5, 2024. One of the best keynote line ups on Expression, Language and Music!

DALL·E 2024-04-02 22.32.51 - A serene, inspiring image of a scholar's workspace at dawn, f

Expected Defense: June

I expect to defend my dissertation in early June!


Recent Invited Talk: December 29

"Sub-Theories of Mind" @ METU Cognitive Science Department


Recent Talk: Nov 9

"Representations, Descriptions and Prepositional Attitudes in Animals" @ 12th Research Workshop on Philosophy of Biology and Cognitive Sciences


Summer Session at Andover

This summer, I will be teaching Introduction to Philosophy, and Neuropsychology at Phillips Academy

Brain Sketch

Organized Conference:

Feb 10

My 11th conference: Kinds of Consciousness (Feb 10, 2024)!

Jonathan Birch (LSE), Elizabeth Schechter (Indiana)


Recent Invited Talk: December 15

"Sub-Theories of Mind" @ Bilkent University, Psychology Department (BilgeLab)


Recent Talk: November 1

I presented the core part of my presentation, Sub-Theories of Mind at University of Connecticut


Upcoming Presentation at SPP: June 19-23


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Recent Talk: March 28

"Prepositional Attitudes" @ ECOM Spotlight Series

Brain Illustration

Recent Talk: December 2

"Representations, Descriptions and Prepositional Attitudes in Animals" @ International Society for the Philosophy of the Sciences of the Mind (ISPSM)

Millikan Fest Poster.jpg

Organized Conference: Oct 5-6

We honored Ruth Millikan with a massive conference. Speakers included: Recanati, Bar-On, Dennett, Papineau, Robyn Carston, Josh Armstrong

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