Skip to main content
Indiana University Bloomington

Michael Trestman


Michael TrestmanMichael Trestman received his PhD (2010) in philosophy from University of California, Davis. He is currently a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow.

The questions of what consciousness is, who has it, when and how it evolved are tightly linked. Trestman’s approach to the topic embraces the interdisciplinary nature of consciousness as a research object, combining an empiricism grounded in history and philosophy of science and the contemporary mind sciences with insights drawn from the analytic and phenomenological traditions in philosophy of mind.

Trestman is developing, through recent journal publications and an ongoing book project, a ‘temporalization’ theory of consciousness, wherein the capacity for subjective experience is rooted in the need for embodied cognitive systems (animals) to integrate perceptual content across time in order to control action based on projected outcomes. This theory of the underlying cognitive structure of consciousness amounts to a kind of non-reductive functionalism, and can be fruitfully brought to bear on the comparative and evolutionary issues (which species of animal have consciousness; what structural dimensions and ‘levels of complexity’ are useful for comparing the minds of different animals?)

He has also recently published on the topic of the evolutionary origins of human language and culture. In a recent paper, he argues that careful attention to work on exceptional learning in nonhuman animals reared with extensive human interaction problematizes the strong nativism assumed by many philosophers and psychologists working on these aspects of ‘human nature’, and motivates a perspective focusing on the social scaffolding of cognitive development.

Other recent publications concern the origins of behavioral autonomy, spatial cognition, and embodiment deep in animal evolution.

Papers available at:

Research Interests:

  • The cognitive, biological and developmental foundations of consciousness
  • Consciousness in non-human animals, and the evolutionary origins of consciousness
  • Time-perception
  • Spatial cognition as it relates to embodiment
  • Emotions, empathy and intersubjectivity
  • The evolutionary origins and cognitive foundations of human language and culture
  • The origins of multicellularity and eusociality in animal evolution