Tyler Marghetis

Complexity Postdoctoral Fellow

Omidyar Fellow


Humans have a singular capacity to make sense of the invisible, imagined, and intractably complex: the structure of time, the theorems of mathematics, the horrors of climate change. This abstract cognition has two features that at first glance might appear contradictory. On one hand, it exhibits considerable diversity, varying across cultures (often radically) and time (sometimes suddenly). On the other hand, it is highly disciplined: individual thought can be stable, to the point of unshakeable conviction; communities’ shared systems of meaning can persist over millennia. How can we make sense of these regimes and revolutions of abstract thought? 

Tyler Marghetis’s research explores how both the diversity and the discipline of abstract thought emerge naturally from the nested complex systems in which cognition occurs— the ‘ecologies of cognition’ — from solitary brains, to interacting bodies, to sociotechnical systems. Drawing on data both ‘big’ (large corpora of cognitive activity) and ‘bespoke’ (evidence from cross-cultural fieldwork), he focuses on cognitive domains that often settle into person- or community-specific ways of talking and thinking, before shifting abruptly to new regimes (e.g., mathematical reasoning,musical improvisation). This moves us closer to understanding, in general, when and why our abstract thought settles into stable regimes — and sometimes undergoes radical revolutions, from sudden religious conversion or mathematical insight, to language change over historical time. 

Tyler Marghetis is Assistant Professor of Cognitive and Information Sciences at the University of California, Merced. A native of Montreal, Canada, he completed an Honors B.Sc. in Mathematics, minoring in Philosophy, and a Masters in the Teaching of Mathematics, both at Concordia University (Montreal). He then moved to the farthest corner of the United States to complete his Ph.D. in Cognitive Science at the University of California, San Diego, with a brief stint as a visiting student at the University of California, Berkeley. He then completed postdoctoral training at Indiana University, Bloomington. Before embarking on his journey to become a card-carrying scientist, he competed around the world on Canada’s national wrestling team and was the alternate for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Before that, he was a professional magician. And before even that, he was a nonverbal, uncoordinated bundle of muscle and brain cells that somehow self-organized into a multilingual, bicycle-loving adult.