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James T. Townsend

Rudy Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington

Interesting advances always bring critics.  Be resilient and don’t give up.

Professor Townsend is a distinguished professor at Indiana University. He has a Ph.D. from Stanford University (1966) and is known for his insights on mathematical psychology. His research spans development of general mathematical approaches to human information processing in cognitive and clinical psychology including: identification of cognitive systems, configural perception, inter-modality interactions, visual and memory scanning, decision theory, attentional capacity, applications to schizophrenia and autism. Professor Townsend has worked for many years within the broad information processing approach. Within that domain, he has carried out theoretical and experimental research on the parallel vs serial processing issue and on letter and elementary pattern perception.

Q) Please discuss on of the most interesting findings/ideas from your research.

Dr. Townsend>

1.     That even the most elemental opposed concepts, and even when put in rigorous mathematical form, can mimic one another (indeed, be completely equivalent mathematically).

2.     That concerted theoretical and experimental effort can nonetheless, discover deep theory-driven methodologies which can identify many fundamental properties of the human perceptual, cognitive and action black box.  Such theories, I call metatheories.

Q) What do you think are important issues in Cognition and related areas? 

Dr. Townsend>

1.     Continued development of metatheory.

2.     Deployment of what I call the sieve method to go from the broadest model classes to more computationally detailed models.

3.     Formulating more adequate and rigorous definitions of such concepts as features,holism and configurality.

4.     Development and testing of rigorous models of face perception and configural perception in general and particularly in relation to features, holism and configurality.

5.     Applications to multi-modal perception and such important societal issues as our aging population, autism, psychosis, dyslexia, and so on.

Q) How did you get interested in the research you love doing?

Dr. Townsend>  I didn’t call it, it called me.  Like a gigantic, but benign, black hole, it sucked me in forever after—I love it!

Q) What would be your message to invite the younger minds ?

Dr. Townsend>

1.     Study all the math and science you can but also study literature, art and music. 

2.     Do lots of research in grad school but never forget that this is where you accouter yourself with the tools that will last you the rest of your life and career—i.e., continue your learning of math and science; even beyond your schooling.

3.     Learn about the brain.

4.     Learn how to think out of the box. 

5.     Interesting advances always bring critics.  Be resilient and don’t give up.

6.     Help your students to be fine scientists but also to always be ethical and good human beings.

(As Sent to Sumitava Mukherjee, Sep 2014)