Research Projects

Rotman Research Projects

Institute faculty have led efforts to coordinate and integrate research efforts across diverse fields, and to develop new ways to put reliable information into the hands of decision makers, community leaders, and the general public.

beige liquid illustration

Eclectic Mind Research Group (EMRG) Lab

lichen on a branch depicting biological entanglement

Historical Contingency & Biological Entanglement

Blue starry sky with orange and light blue clouds

New Directions in Philosophy of Cosmology

embroidered brain hoop art

The Philosophy of Neuroscience in Practice

macro dandelion seed head - Acquired Language of Thought research project

Acquired Language of Thought

randomized controlled trials project

A Framework for the Ethical Design & Conduct of Pragmatic RCTs

Current Research Domains

Frontier scientific research often encounters deep problems that cannot be solved by continuing to apply familiar concepts & methods, and a number of Rotman research projects explore philosophical assumptions that arise in the foundations of physics.

  • Chris Smeenk’s work assesses the philosophy underlying contemporary cosmology, provoking foundational debates among cosmologists
  • Francesca Vidotto’s research in quantum gravity requires rethinking the basic concepts of space and time, in order to develop concrete models of the early universe and black holes and evaluate their further implications
  • Rob Corless developed an area of applied mathematics called backwards error analysis–assessing the strengths and limitations of what numerical methods and simulations can contribute to scientific practice

Decades of work in neuroimaging have led to a series of anomalous findings, indicating potentially significant problems with the foundational assumptions of cognitive neuroscience

  • Michael Anderson has been developing new theoretical frameworks for understanding the nature and functional architecture of the brain, & new uses for existing technologies (including EEG and Virtual Reality)
  • Jacqueline Sullivan aims to understand challenges associated with developing integrative explanations of cognitive and psychopathological phenomena & the impact that open science knowledge and data-sharing practices have on accelerating discovery 
  • Chris Viger is developing what he calls the “acquired language of thought hypothesis,” correcting an influential philosophical account of the nature of language based on insights from neuroscience
Wicked problems are often mistakenly treated as one-dimensional and philosophers are particularly aware of the pitfalls of oversimplification and failing to integrate different perspectives 

  • Eric Desjardins’ work explores the implications of social-biological entanglement and historical contingency for problems such as biological conservation, climate change mitigation, and sustainability

Addressing wicked problems at the intersection of health policy and medical research has been one of the Institute’s strengths since its founding. One of the signature achievements of the Institute’s first decade was the formulation of the world’s first ethical guidelines for conducting cluster randomized trials, which randomize and assess interventions over intact social units rather than individuals.

  • Charles Weijer currently co-leads a team focusing on formulating ethical guidelines for conducting pragmatic clinical trials, designed to yield more reliable evidence regarding safety, effectiveness, and cost of treatments in real-world settings
  • Anthony Skelton seeks to clarify how medical interventions impact values and concepts, including achievement, consent and decision-making capacity. He is part of an interdisciplinary team investigating the nature of children’s consent in ethics and the law
  • Max Smith and Jacob Shelley are co-directors of the Health Ethics, Law, and Policy (HELP) Lab in the School of Health Studies, an interdisciplinary research lab addressing pressing challenges in health ethics, health law, and health policy
  • Sarah Gallagher is a co-PI on the CoVivre Initiative (funded by the Trottier Foundation), which aims to reduce socio-economic and health disparities caused by the pandemic, focusing on Montréal

Scientific innovations and new technologies can trigger changes that call for philosophical reflection and analysis. The new capacities for action that technology creates may generate entirely new ethical issues, or require rethinking basic concepts and assumptions.

  • Eric Desjardins collaborates with the synthetic biology group at Western to consider the broader ramifications for health and environmental issues resulting from the developing technical capacity to engineer, design, and build biological systems
  • A team of Rotman faculty & postdocs, with Luke Stark as PI, have successfully launched an Interdisciplinary Development Initiative, Real-World Social Impacts of AI Governance in Canada and Around the World
  • Sarah Gallagher and Mark Daley were co-founders (along with two others) of CanCOVID, a country-wide rapid-response network to facilitate coronavirus research, collaboration, and communication

Previous Research Projects

ethics neuroimaging project

Ethics of Neuroimaging After Serious Brain Injury

doctor in hospital room

Ethical and Policy Issues in Cluster Randomized Trials

emergent objective reality project

Emergent Objective Reality: From Observers to Physics

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