Erich Riesen
Phd Student

Erich Riesen has an M.A. in philosophy from Northern Illinois University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Erich works in philosophy of biology and philosophy of cognitive science. His dissertation is on the relationship between living individuals and cognitive systems. In the dissertation, Erich argues for a metabolic theory of life and a computational-representational theory of mind. He contends that if this pairing of theories is correct, then nonliving cognitive systems are nomologically possible and being alive is not a necessary condition for having a mind.

Erich's first project with CSO (Spring 2020) concerns the N=1 problem in biology. All of life on Earth stems from a last universal common ancestor (LUCA). This creates a problem for the project of universal biology, for many worry that biological generalizations holding on Earth will not extend to other planets with different physical conditions and histories. Erich argues that N=1 concerns are largely overblown due to the fact that inductions involving natural kinds (e.g. life) do not gain strength via the number of examples observed, but instead via the reliable operation of causes and mechanisms. His second CSO project (Fall 2020) focuses on the origin(s) of mind or cognition. Where on the phylogenetic tree do we find psychology? Did it emerge only once, or multiple times? What exactly is mind/cognition? Erich plans on investigating what current evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience have to say about the origin and nature of cognitive phenomena. 

Erich is also interested in the ethics of artificial intelligence, especially the ethics of autonomous weapon systems and other autonomous technologies.