Thursday, 31 July 2014

Workshop on Implicit Cognitions

Sophie Stammers
On Tuesday 15th July the University of Nottingham held a workshop on Implicit Cognitions, organised by network member Jules Holroyd. The workshop was part of the Leverhulme funded research project on Bias and Blame.

Sophie Stammers (KCL) started the afternoon with her paper ‘Not Conscious, Not Responsible?’. Stammers critically examined the account of bias and responsibility given in Neil Levy’s book (which he has presented on this blog). Stammers put pressure on three claims of Levy’s:

1) Agents are not conscious of the morally relevant facts regarding attitudes which generate implicitly biased actions.

2) Implicitly biased actions are generated by attitudes which are inconsistent with the agent’s endorsed values.

3) Implicitly biased actions are generated by attitudes which are not responsive to reasons at the personal-level.

With respect to 1), Stammers discussed the specificity of the morally relevant facts, and depending on this, whether agents might after all be aware of such facts. With respect to 2), she discussed what is meant by an agent’s endorsed values. And with respect to 3) she gave two interpretations of the claim by distinguishing two ways of interpreting what it means for actions to not be responsive to reasons. Stammers concluded with the claims that agents might be conscious of some morally relevant facts, that some aspects of their actions are assessable, and that implicit biases might be no less responsive to reasons than some explicit attitudes (the latter of which we are morally responsible for).

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Questions and Reasoning in Schizophrenia and Delusion

Matthew Parrott
Schizophrenia and delusion are typically described as involving some kind of impairment in a subject's ability to reason (e.g., Coltheart et. al., 2011; Coltheart, 2007; Davies and Egan 2013; Garety and Freeman, 1999). Yet, although there is evidence indicating that subjects diagnosed with these psychiatric conditions reason in anomalous ways, in many cases the pattern of reasoning they exhibit looks to be more optimal than the one exhibited by non-psychiatric controls. Most famously, we have known for a number of years that both schizophrenic and delusional subjects 'jump to conclusions' on probabilistic reasoning tasks (Fine, et. al., 2007) but their performance on these tasks is very close to a Bayesian model of ideal rationality. Secondly, there is some recent evidence that suggests schizophrenic subjects may be better at reasoning with conditionals. According to one study, they seem to be less susceptible to believability biases (Owen, et. al., 2007) and according to another they seem to be better at falsifying conditionals with negated antecedents (Mellet, et. al., 2006).

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Workshop on The Challenges of Mental Health for Social Science and Policy

King's College London, Waterloo Campus
On 19th June 2014, a workshop on “The Challenges of Mental Health for Social Science and Policy” was held at the King’s College London, Waterloo Campus. Supported by the King’s Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Centre’s Science & Society initiative and organized by the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine, the workshop hosted a number of distinguished speakers and experts on mental health and involved postgraduate and early career researchers. The workshop consisted of three sections, psychiatry, social policy and social science.

The workshop opened with a psychiatry session. Prof. Derek Bolton observed that psychiatry is to a large extent concerned with psychosocial phenomena. However, current efforts to reconceptualise “mental disorders as brain circuits” create privilegization of “brain circuitry” in causation of mental illness, leaving psychosocial factors out and thus presenting well-known reductionist epistemological pitfalls. Nevertheless, the Research Domain Criteria project (RDoC), despite creating tensions, also holds the possibility of developing new diagnostic tools. Bolton suggested that genetics and social determinants of health, for instance, as interconnected fields of mental health research, hold the promise of inclusive scope for mental health research and treatment strategies.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Sense of Agency in Hypnosis and Beyond

Vince Polito
I’m Vince Polito, a postdoctoral researcher at Macquarie University, Sydney Australia. My area of research is sense of agency, that is the sense of control that each of us feels over our own self-generated actions. This is normally an unremarkable sense – right now I am intending to type this post and so my fingers move to press each key in turn and I have a sense of agency for the movements.

There are situations, however, where our normal sense of agency is disrupted. Perhaps the most striking example is alien control delusions. Patients with these delusions report that particular body movements are controlled by some external entity (Spence, 2001). A reduced sense of agency is also a defining characteristic of hypnotic responding. Individuals who are highly hypnotisable will often report that actions they make in response to hypnotic suggestions occur without their conscious intention. Hypnosis provides a marvellous opportunity to study sense of agency alteration. Whereas patients with alien control delusions are relatively rare and often unwilling or impractical research participants, hypnosis can be used in experimental designs with members of the general public to create safe, fully reversible instances of agency change in the lab (Oakley& Halligan, 2013).

Thursday, 17 July 2014


Attention by Wayne Wu
I am currently Associate Professor in, and Associate Director of, the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.

Consider some mundane situations: (a) you've lost your keys and look around searching for them; (b) you watch picnickers throw a frisbee when suddenly, it flies towards you and you reach to catch it; (c) you memorize the first 30 digits of pi and then later, recall them; (d) you drink some wine and figure out what flavors it exemplifies; (e) you ponder various reasons for making a significant decision or for justifying a specific claim; (f) while onlookers are oblivious, a child's straying too close to a busy road captures your attention.

These mundane situations reflect instances of bodily and mental agency, of conscious awareness, of directed thought, and of epistemic and practical reflection. They are tied together by the subject's selective attunement to various facets of a situation. That is, they exemplify the deployment of attention (or so I would argue). Attention insinuates itself into many matters of philosophical significance.

In Attention, part of Routledge's New Problems in Philosophy series, I argue for the philosophical importance of attention. My aim is to provide an overview of empirical work on attention, investigate what attention is, and use that understanding to examine different philosophical issues infiltrated by attention.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Epistemic Innocence of (Some) Psychedelic States

Chris Letheby
Greetings! I'm a Ph.D. student at the University of Adelaide, Australia, writing a thesis on philosophical issues concerning scientific research into psychedelic drugs. This research raises questions in bioethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychiatry, philosophy of self, naturalised epistemology, and philosophy of cognitive science. In this post I propose that some psychedelic states are epistemically innocent imperfect cognitions. I have omitted citations for stylistic reasons but will gladly supply them on request.

Psychedelic (or 'hallucinogenic') drugs are once again being studied as psychotherapeutic and transformative agents, and results thus far are intriguing. There is evidence that a single administration of a psychedelic can yield durable improvement in symptoms of such conditions as obsessive compulsive disorder, treatment-resistant depression, addiction, and anxiety associated with terminal illness. Moreover, psychedelic experiences have been shown to cause lasting personality change in healthy adults.