Thursday, 11 February 2016

Philosophy of Psychiatry Today: Interview with Dominic Murphy

In this post, Reinier Schuur, PhD student at the University of Birmingham, interviews Dominic Murphy (pictured below), Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, on current debates in the philosophy of psychiatry.

RS: Many people have said that over the last 20 years, philosophy of psychiatry has grown, as has the interaction between philosophers and psychiatrists. Do you agree? Do you think this interaction will increase, and what should the role of philosophers be in psychiatry, and vice versa?

DM: I suppose it has grown. When I started thinking about psychiatry in the mid-90’s (I started my PhD in 1994), back then there very few philosophers of psychiatry. Reznek had just written his book , Jennifer Radden and Stephen Braude had written, and Ian Hacking was about to start his writing. The field was very small and it has certainly grown. I think probably psychiatrists are interacting with philosophy. There has always been conceptual literature in psychiatry and there have always been some psychiatrists that have been interested in these sorts of issues.

So yes, I guess it’s been growing. I think it will probably continue, I think in some sense philosophy of psychiatry has started to become entrenched a little bit more now. I don’t think it really counts as a specialisation exactly, but I guess that more and more people are thinking of it as one of the things that they are interested in, and who knows maybe it will be like philosophy of biology in the 70’s and it will really take hold. I suppose the interaction will continue, I mean at the recent Copenhagen conference there were psychiatrists that had never been to a philosophy conference before. And it was very interesting and I hope more and more psychiatrists will get into it, though I don’t suppose it will be more than a very minor interest in psychiatry.

As far as the role of philosophy is psychiatry, I’m not sure. The way that I got into it was as a philosopher of mind and a philosopher of psychology. I was interested in psychiatry because people were talking about mental illness as evidence for certain hypotheses in the philosophy of mind. So people looked at Autism, or the contrast between Autism and Williams Syndrome, and they wondered if that meant that the theory of mind was modular in some way. Dennett and Humphrey found support for Dennett’s view of the self in the multiple personality literature. So I think there is always going to be an interest in looking at psychiatric diagnoses in the light of concerns that philosophers of psychology have, and there is always going to be an interest looking at philosophy of psychology in the light of some of the mental illnesses. Then I guess, you can also see a sort of philosophy of science wing in philosophy of psychiatry interested in much of the things philosophers of science have always cared about in explanation and so on and reduction. And I think as there’s been more nuanced philosophy of neuroscience the last 10 to 15 years, I think some of that has been lining up with the philosophy of psychiatry, such as the people looking at explanation and reduction. So I guess there will be these two sorts of tracks.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Epistemic Benefits of Delusions (1)

This is the first in a series of two posts by Phil Corlett (pictured above) and Sarah Fineberg (pictured below). Phil and Sarah are both based in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University. In this post and the next they discuss the adaptive value of delusional beliefs via their predictive coding model of the mind, and the potential delusions have for epistemic benefits. Phil presented a version of the arguments below at the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Annual Meeting in Birmingham in 2015, as part of a session on delusions sponsored by project PERFECT.

The predictive coding model of mind and brain function and dysfunction seems to be committed to veracity; at its heart is an error correcting, plastic, learning mechanism that ought to maximize future rewards, and minimize future punishments like the agents of traditional microeconomics—so called econs (Padoa-Schioppa forthcoming). This seems at odds with predictive coding models of psychopathology and in particular psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusions (Corlett et al. 2010). Put simply, if delusions result from a noisy maladaptive learning mechanism, why do individuals learn anything at all—let alone the complex and strongly held beliefs that characterize psychotic illness? We know from behavioural economists like Kahneman, Tversky, and, Thaler that humans can depart from econ-like responding. Can predictive coding depart likewise? And does it depart in interesting ways that are relevant to delusions?

We think so. Bayesian models of cognition and behaviour need not necessarily optimize expected value. For example, Bayesian models of message passing in crowds can recapitulate the rumors and panic that characterize communication after a salient world event (Butts 1998). With regards to delusions, we would like to re-consider Daniel Dennett and Ryan McKay’s assessment of adaptive mis-beliefs (McKay and Dennett 2009). McKay and Dennett explored the existence of misbeliefs—incorrect beliefs that, despite being wrong, nevertheless confer some advantage on the adherent. They argued that only positive illusions—beliefs that one is more competent, more attractive, less biased than in reality, etc.—were evolved, adaptive, misbeliefs (McKay and Dennett 2009). We (and others) think delusions might confer such a function (Hagen 2008).

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Workshop on Belief and Emotion

On Friday 27th November, project PERFECT (Department of Philosophy), together with the Aberrant Experience and Belief research theme (School of Psychology), held a mini-workshop on the topic of Belief and Emotion. In this post I summarise the three talks given by Allan Hazlett, Neil Levy, and Carolyn Price.

Allan Hazlett opened the workshop with his paper ‘On the Special Insult of Refusing Testimony’. He argued that refusing someone’s testimony (i.e. not believing what someone tells you) is insulting, and to express such refusal amounts to a special kind of insult. Understanding telling as an attempt to engage in information sharing, Hazlett suggested that in telling someone that p, I am asking that person to believe that p because I believe it. Refusing my testimony would be to insult me because it constitutes the person's not trusting me. Hazlett concluded by asking why it is that not trusting would be insulting? He canvassed four ideas to answer this question, lack of trust (1) undermines intimacy, (2) undermines solidarity, (3) implies non-competence, and (4) constitutes non-acceptance. Elaborating on (3) Hazlett argued that trusting requires an attitude about someone’s competence, specifically about their reliability (tendency to believe truths), and their sincerity (tendency to honesty).

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Cognitive Bias, Philosophy and Public Policy

This post is by Sophie Stammers (pictured above), PhD student in Philosophy at King’s College London. Here she writes about two policy papers, Unintentional Bias in Court and Unintentional Bias in Forensic Investigation, written as part of a recent research fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) provides accessible overviews of research from the sciences, prepared for general parliamentary use, many of which are also freely available. My papers are part of a recent research stream exploring how advances in science and technology interact with issues in crime and justice: it would seem that if there is one place where unbiased reasoning and fair judgement really matter, then it is in the justice system.

My research focuses on implicit cognition, and in particular, implicit social bias. I am interested in the extent to which implicit biases differ from other cognitions—whether implicit biases are a unified, novel class, or whether they may be accounted for by the cognitive categories to which we are already committed. So I was keen to get a flavour of how the general topic might be applied in a public policy environment, working under the guidance of POST’s seasoned science advisors.