Linda Palmer

Research Scientist Faculty

Department of Philosophy
135 Baker Hall



Linda Palmer received her Ph.D. from the University of California at Irvine, and has been a department member since 2004. She is a member of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition , a joint project of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University; her CNBC faculty page may be seen here.

Research Interests

My research focuses on the problem of human judgment, or, as Immanuel Kant put it, our “ability to think the particular as contained under the universal”. While quite literally the most familiar of abilities - something we do all the time, in our thought and in our perception of objects in the world - this is still not fully understood. My work is unusual in pursuing both top-down and bottom-up approaches to this question, both philosophical and experimental.


The philosophical side of my project centers on Immanuel Kant’s theory of empirical cognition, particularly as further developed in his third and final Critique, the Critique of Judgment. This work contains remarkable developments of his theory of how human beings use and create systems of knowledge. Much of my work is addressed to this account, its relationship to the problem of induction in the context of his discussions of empirical natural science, and his discussions of the relationship between cognitive and aesthetic judgment. While Kant's Critique of Pure Reason had famously proposed the existence of “a priori conditions” of human cognition (attempting to address such questions as the applicability of mathematics to the natural world and the justification of the concept of “cause” in the face of Hume’s skepticism about induction), in the Critique of Judgment Kant addresses the a posteriori, empirical side of cognition: where do empirical concepts and natural laws come from, and what justifies our use of them? He proposes an entirely novel approach to these question with his "principle of reflective judgment".

The human ability to create and use general concepts rests, I take it, on a more fundamental ability: to detect and encode regularities in the environment. This requires determining which regularities to encode, of all the many possibilities offered by the environment, and this can be a delicate problem. In so-called supervised learning paradigms a training signal - reward or punishment for “correct” responses - is provided, while unsupervised learning involves no explicit training. My current experiments investigate the neuronal substrates of animal learning, using an unsupervised paradigm: spontaneous exploration of a novel environment, a behavior typical of mammalian species from rodents to human beings. If detection and encoding of regularities is both an evolutionary precursor of, and a prerequisite for, the higher-level conceptual subsumption that is characteristic of human cognition, then investigating its neuronal bases - along with other interdisciplinary work at both philosophical and empirical levels - can contribute to a better understanding of human cognition and its conditions.

Curriculum Vitae

Selected Publications

All PDFs are intended for personal academic use only.

  • Simmons D.A., Rex C.S., Palmer L.C., Pandyarajam V., Fedulov, V., Gall C.M., Lynch G. “Up-Regulating BDNF with Ampakines Rescues Synaptic Plasticity and Memory in a Mouse Model of Huntington’s Disease”. In press in the /Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences/, 2009.

    Using the newly developed unsupervised learning paradigm, this paper reports that chronic treatment with ampakine drugs up-regulates brain-derived neurotrophic protein (BDNF) and restores memory in mice transfected with the Huntington’s disease gene.

  • Palmer, L.C. (2008). “A Universality Not Based on Concepts: Kant’s Key to the Critique of Taste”, Kantian Review 13(1). [PDF]

    A long (50 page) paper addressing several related topics, including a new analysis of Kant’s notorious argument in §9 as relying on a set of “twin presumptions” laid out in prior sections; a defense of the unity of aesthetic judgment as synthetic, like cognitive judgment; and a discussion of the judgment of ugliness.

  • Palmer, L.C. (2008). “Kant and the Brain: A New Empirical Hypothesis”,  General Review of Psychology, Vol 12(2):105-117. [PDF (extended version)]

    Written for a general audience, this paper gives an overview of Kant’s theory of cognition and its further development in the Critique of Judgment, describes a possible empirical hypothesis deriving from it, and describes first experimental attempts at testing that hypothesis.

  • Fedulov, V, Rex C.S., Simmons D.A., Palmer L.C., Gall C.M., Lynch G. (2007). “Evidence that long-term potentiation occurs within individual hippocampal synapses during learning”, Journal of Neuroscience 27(30): 8031-9. [PDF]

    Using the newly developed unsupervised learning paradigm, this paper gives the first application in a behaving animal of a newly developed marker for changes at individual synapses. This paper was selected for special mention in Nature “News” (Nature 448, July 26, 2007, p. 397).

  • Lynch G., Colgin L, and Palmer, L.C. (2003). “Spandrels of the night?” In: Sleep and Dreaming: Scientific Advances and Reconsiderations, eds. E.F. Pace-Schott, M. Solms, M. Blagrove and S. Harnad. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 178.

    Argues that the phenomenon of dreaming (REM sleep) need not have been specifically selected for in evolution, but rather as a side-effect of the need for rhythmic activity to prevent theta burst neurons from desensitizing; notes that the phenomenon once existing could be incorporated to serve further biological or psychological purposes.

  • Palmer L.C. (2001). “The Epistemological Norm in Taste: The Need for a New Principle”,  Kant und die Berliner Aufklärung: Akten des IX. Internationalen Kant-Kongresses vol 3, Berlin, pp. 434-442.

    Argues that Kant’s new principle of judgment given in the Critique of Judgment represents a significant change in his theory of cognition from the account found in the first Critique, and that in particular the new principle is needed in order to address a skeptical threat left open by that account.

  • Palmer L.C., Hess U.S., Larson J., Rogers G.A., Gall C.M, Lynch G. (1997). “Comparison of the effects of an ampakine with those of methamphetamine on aggregate neuronal activity in cortex vs. striatum”, Molecular Brain Research 46, 127-135.

    Schizophrenia has been hypothesized to involve an imbalance of dopamine-dependent striatal activity over the related neocortical areas. This study tested the hypothesis that an ampakine drug may help restore neocortical control over lower brain systems in the face of methamphetamine-induced excess dopaminergic activity.

  • Palmer, L.C. (1994). “Beauty and the Possibility of Coherent Experience”,  Conceptus vol. 70, 97-148.

    Argues that Kant’s analysis of aesthetic judgment in his Critique of Judgment (contrary to some commentators’ views but in accordance with the apparent structure of the text) plays an essential role in his account of empirical cognition; Kant claims that through this analysis the philosopher discovers “a new property of our cognitive power” which otherwise would have remained unknown.

Manuscripts in Progress

  • “Purposiveness and Projectibility: An old approach to a new riddle”, Linda Palmer. In preparation.

    Nelson Goodman suggested that Hume and his successors failed to recognize and deal with what he calls the “new” riddle of induction; by contrast I argue that Kant recognized the heart of this problem. However, Kant’s solution is not what inductive logicians might like to have, namely, criteria for determining projectibility: he proposes a merely subjective principle.

  • “On the Necessity of Beauty”, Linda Palmer. Submitted to Kant-Studien Oct 2008.

    Argues that Kant’s skeptical argument in §21 turns on the threat of a regress for judgment, gives a new interpretation of the “attunement” (Stimmung) of the cognitive powers, defends Kant’s proposal of a single “common inner sense” underlying both cognition and judgments of beauty, and shows how no “everything is beautiful” problem results.

  • “Changes in c-fos mRNA expression in hippocampal fields CA1 and CA3 in an unsupervised learning task”, Palmer, L.C., Jarrett, K., Gall, C.M., Lynch G.L.. In preparation.

    Using the newly developed unsupervised learning paradigm, this paper reports that the pattern of changes in activity in hippocampal subfields CA1 and CA3 corresponds to that seen in supervised learning experiments (in particular, that the pattern of neuronal activity occurring during a newly observed “observation post behavior” corresponds to the “initial learning” stage in the supervised experiments).


  • Commentary on Lara Ostaric’s “Reflective Judgment's Principle of Nature's Purposiveness and Its 'Subjective' and 'Merely Subjective' Applications”. American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division Meeting, Pasadena, CA, March 22, 2008.

  • “Differential activation of hippocampal subfields in an unsupervised learning task.” Palmer, L.C., Jarrett, K., Gall, C.M., Lynch G.L. Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA, November 2007. [PDF]

  • “Aesthetics and Cognition: Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment and the Brain.” Conference title: From the Brain to Human Culture: Intersections between the Humanities and Neuroscience, Bucknell University, Lewisburg PA, April 20-21, 2007.

  • “An Additional Condition of Cognition.” Invited talk, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana PA, Feb 9 2007.

  • “Kantian ‘Common Sense’: A Testable Hypothesis?” Northwest Philosophy Conference, University of Portland, Portland, Oregon, November 4-5, 2006.

  • “Common and differential effects of acute antidepressants on regional patterns of neuronal activity.” Hess U.S., Palmer L.C., Nichols J., Staubli U., Lynch G. Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, Washington D.C., November 2003.

  • Commentary on Michelle Grier’s “Kant and the Aesthetics of the Sublime”. American Society for Aesthetics, Pacific Division Meeting, Asilomar, CA, March 28, 2002.

  • “3-D representation of spatio-temporal patterns of rhythmic activity.” Palmer L.C., Cotman C.A, Brucher F.A, Staubli U., Lynch G., Colgin L.L. Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA, November 2001.

  • “Superordinate States of the Cortical Telencephalon.” Palmer, L.C. and Lynch, G. Conference on Decentralization, Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences, University of California, Irvine, February 1999.

  • “Positive modulators of AMPA receptors increase neuronal activity in neocortex relative to striatum: an adjunct treatment for schizophrenia?” Palmer L.C., Hess U.S, Larson J., Gall C.M., Lynch G. Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, November 1996. [PDF]


G. Lynch, R. Granger, C. Gall, L. Palmer. Assays for Determination of Neuronal Activity in Brain Tissue. U.S. Patent No. 5,998,139; issued: December 17, 1999.


Courses recently taught at Carnegie Mellon University include:

80-115: Freshman Seminar on Consciousness
80-251: Modern Philosophy
80-252: Kant
80-258: Leibniz, Locke, and Hume

80-256: Seminar on Kant's Critique of Judgment

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