My dissertation concerned the nature of understanding, and how conscious experiences that often accompany it manage to fulfill the epistemic norms typical of what it is to understand.
Part of this project was in the metaphysics of mind. What is it for us to be in a higher-level cognitive state such as one of understanding? Do we need to be able to reflect upon what we understand? Must we be not just competent, but masters of the concepts we use in understanding something? What kinds of conscious episodes manifest or exhibit understanding? Intuitions, insights, experiences of fluency? How do we sort out conscious experiences without which we couldn’t understand from those that only happen to accompany understanding?
Another part of the project concerned theories of explanation. Can we understand what we can’t explain? Do only explanations of special kinds qualify as making us understand (e.g., ones that are especially coherent, or that solve problems on our agenda, or where we could actively intervene)? Does genuine understanding of something come with special justification (in terms of our epistemic character, or first-personal cognitive agency, or immunity to peer disagreement), or is it constituted by a special (“reflective”) kind of knowledge?
And yet another important part of the project was in virtue epistemology. How do novices and experts differ in understanding the same situation (e.g., the position on a chessboard)? Can we genuinely understand something without displaying intellectual virtues or skills – conscientiousness, intellectual courage, imaginativeness, open-mindedness, etc.? And are there things we can only seem to understand once we arrived at some level of expertise (or have, on the contrary, kept just enough of our naivete)?
My subsequent postdoctoral projects have pursued some of the many questions opened by the dissertation; and it is an ongoing work that captivates me.