My doctoral work is on transformative experience, specifically transformative experiences that we do not choose to undergo, such as grief and illness. Unchosen transformative experiences highlight a distinct problem for agency not addressed by the extant literature on transformative experience: they alter your agency and sense of self by disrupting the projects and activities that are significant to you and through which you experience your surroundings as meaningful. I give a descriptive phenomenological account of grief and other unchosen transformative experiences as involving a disruption to and reorganization of organized systems of practical meaning.
I also work on the philosophy and psychology of attention, specifically, affect-biased attention. I have published work on the neural bases of affect-biased attention, the role of affect-biased attention in spontaneous thought, and the significance of affect-biased attention for predictive coding theories of the mind.
Transformative grief (2023)
European Journal of Philosophy
Abstract: This paper argues that grieving a profound loss is a transformative experience, specifically an unchosen transformative experience, understood as an event-based transformation not chosen by the agent. Grief transforms the self (i) cognitively, by forcing the agent to alter a large set of beliefs and desires, (ii) phenomenologically, by altering their experience in a diffuse or global manner, (iii) normatively, by requiring the agent to revise their practical identity, and (iv) existentially, by confronting the agent with a structuring condition of their life. Grief is a disruption to one's identity that an agent addresses by making sense of the world after the loss, remaking the practical significance of various situations in their lives through their activity. Transformative grief is both an “activity” and a “revelation” (Callard, 2020): Some parts of the grieving process are active (the agent must actively work to become a new kind of person), while others are irreducibly passive (the agent passively undergoes them).
Unchosen transformative experiences and the experience of agency (2021)
Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Abstract: Unchosen transformative experiences—transformative experiences that are imposed upon an agent by external circumstances—present a fundamental problem for agency: how does one act intentionally in circumstances that transform oneself as an agent, and that disrupt one’s core projects, cares, or goals? Drawing from William James’s analysis of conversion (1917) and Matthew Ratcliffe’s account of grief (2018), I give a phenomenological analysis of transformative experiences as involving the restructuring of systems of practical meaning. On this analysis, an agent’s experience of the world is structured by practically significant possibilities that form organized systems on the basis of the agent’s projects and relationships. Transformative experiences involve shifts to systems of possibility, that is, changes to habitual meanings and to how an agent’s projects are situated in relation to one another. I employ the enactivist notion of sense-making to analyze how an agent rebuilds the meaning structures disrupted by a transformative experience. In an unchosen transformative experience, an agent adjusts to a significant disruption through a process of sense-making in precarious conditions. By establishing new patterns of bodily and social interaction with the world, one alters the practical meanings of one’s surroundings, and thereby reconstitutes oneself as an intentional agent.
Affect-Biased Attention and Predictive Processing (2020)
Ransom, M., Fazelpour, S., Markovic, J., Kryklywy, J. H., Thompson, E., & Todd, R.
Abstract: In this paper we argue that predictive processing (PP) theory cannot account for the phenomenon of affect-biased attention – prioritized attention to stimuli that are affectively salient because of their associations with reward or punishment. Specifically, the PP hypothesis that selective attention can be analyzed in terms of the optimization of precision expectations cannot accommodate affect-biased attention; affectively salient stimuli can capture our attention even when precision expectations are low. We review the prospects of three recent attempts to accommodate affect with tools internal to PP theory: Miller and Clark's (2018) embodied inference; Seth's (2013) interoceptive inference; and Joffily and Coricelli's (2013) rate of change of free energy. In each case we argue that the account does not resolve the challenge from affect-biased attention. For this reason, we conclude that prediction error minimization is not sufficient to explain all mental phenomena, contrary to the claim that the PP framework provides a unified theory of all mental phenomena or the brain's cognitive functioning. Nevertheless, we suggest that empirical investigation of the interaction between affective salience and precision expectations should prove helpful in understanding the limits of PP theory, and may provide new directions for the application of a Bayesian perspective to perception.
Affective neuroscience of self-generated thought (2018)
Fox, K.C.R., Andrews-Hanna, J.R., Mills, C., Dixon, M.L., Markovic, J., Thompson, E., Christoff, K.
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Abstract: Despite increasing scientific interest in self-generated thought—mental content largely independent of the immediate environment—there has yet to be any comprehensive synthesis of the subjective experience and neural correlates of affect in these forms of thinking. Here, we aim to develop an integrated affective neuroscience encompassing many forms of self-generated thought—normal and pathological, moderate and excessive, in waking and in sleep. In synthesizing existing literature on this topic, we reveal consistent findings pertaining to the prevalence, valence, and variability of emotion in self-generated thought, and highlight how these factors might interact with self-generated thought to influence general well-being. We integrate these psychological findings with recent neuroimaging research, bringing attention to the neural correlates of affect in self-generated thought. We show that affect in self-generated thought is prevalent, positively biased, highly variable (both within and across individuals), and consistently recruits many brain areas implicated in emotional processing, including the orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and medial prefrontal cortex. Many factors modulate these typical psychological and neural patterns, however; emerging affective neuroscience of self-generated thought must endeavor to link brain function and subjective experience in both everyday self-generated thought as well as its dysfunctions in mental illness.
Hypnosis and Meditation: a neurophenomenological comparison (2017)
Markovic, J., Thompson, E.
Hypnosis and Meditation: Towards an Integrative Science of Conscious Planes, A. Raz and M. Lifshitz (Eds.)
Abstract: A necessary first step in collaboration between hypnosis research and meditation research is clarification of key concepts. The authors propose that such clarification is best advanced by neurophenomenological investigations that integrate neuroscience methods with phenomenological models based on first-person reports of hypnotic versus meditative experiences. Focusing on absorption, the authors argue that previous treatments of hypnosis and meditation as equivalent are incorrect, but that they can be fruitfully compared when characteristic features of the states described by these concepts are examined. To this end, the authors use the “phenomenological and neurocognitive matrix of mindfulness” (PNM), a multidimensional model recently proposed by Lutz and colleagues. The authors compare focused attention meditation and open monitoring meditation with hypnosis across the dimensions of the PNM, using it to interpret empirical research on hypnosis, and to shed light on debates about the role of meta-awareness in hypnosis and the role of suggestion in meditation.
Tuning to the significant: neural and genetic processes underlying affective enhancement of visual perception and memory (2014)
Markovic, J., Anderson, A. K., & Todd, R. M.
Behavioural brain research
Abstract: Emotionally arousing events reach awareness more easily and evoke greater visual cortex activation than more mundane events. Recent studies have shown that they are also perceived more vividly and that emotionally enhanced perceptual vividness predicts memory vividness. We propose that affect-biased attention (ABA) – selective attention to emotionally salient events – is an endogenous attentional system tuned by an individual’s history of reward and punishment. We present the Biased Attention via Norepinephrine (BANE) model, which unifies genetic, neuromodulatory, neural and behavioural evidence to account for ABA. We review evidence supporting BANE’s proposal that a key mechanism of ABA is locus coeruleus–norepinephrine (LC–NE) activity, which interacts with activity in hubs of affective salience net- works to modulate visual cortex activation and heighten the subjective vividness of emotionally salient stimuli. We further review literature on biased competition and look at initial evidence for its potential as a neural mechanism behind ABA. We also review evidence supporting the role of the LC–NE system as a driving force of ABA. Finally, we review individual differences in ABA and memory including differ- ences in sensitivity to stimulus category and valence. We focus on differences arising from a variant of the ADRA2b gene, which codes for the alpha2b adrenoreceptor as a way of investigating influences of NE availability on ABA in humans.