Tyler Marghetis. Photo by Doug Merriam.

Human beings have a high capacity for abstract thought. We speak and write using metaphors, conceive of untouchable objects like the number five and the future, and create musical improvisation. This cognition occurs in a variety of nested complex systems — our own brains, through our bodies interacting in space, and across the sociotechnical systems we inhabit. And it sometimes undergoes radical revolutions: An individual might have a religious conversion or mathematical insight, or an entire culture can shift how it uses language over time. Cognitive scientist Tyler Marghetis researches how human imagination and abstract thought emerges, what triggers regime shifts, and why it settles into new stable regimes. “What I’m doing now and am excited to do in the future is to articulate a complex systems science of certainty and conviction, of insight and loss of faith, of mathematical discovery and artistic improvisation to get a traction on the regimes and revolutions of abstract thought,” he says. Marghetis holds a Ph.D. in cognitive science from the University of California San Diego and is currently a postdoctoral research scientist at Indiana University, Bloomington. He plans to join SFI in September 2019 as an Omidyar Fellow.