Tuesday, 13 October 2015

PERFECT Year Two: Ema

In this post I give an overview of what I did as a Research Fellow in the first year of project PERFECT, as well as my plans for the coming year. 

My research for the duration of my time working on PERFECT will focus on belief. Last year, Lisa and I worked together on three papers. The first, together with Matthew Broome and Matteo Mameli, was on the moral and legal implications of the continuity between delusional and non-delusional beliefs. The second, together with Rachel Gunn, was on what makes a belief a delusional belief. The third paper was on the status of beliefs from fiction and the teleological account of belief.

My main focus this year though was on defending the one-factor account of monothematic delusion formation. According to this view, the only abnormality we need to appeal to in order to explain why a subject comes to hold a delusional belief, is the anomalous experience she has. We do not need to appeal to any abnormal deficit or bias in the subject’s mechanisms of belief production or belief evaluation, since the psychology involved in these processes is within the normal range. I have worked on defending this view via an investigation into alien abduction belief. My view is that the delusion formation debate can be informed by this phenomenon. Last October we published my interview with Max Coltheart on this topic, split into two parts: the first on delusion formation, and the second on alien abduction belief

Also this year, Lisa and I organized an event at the Arts and Science Festival in Birmingham on Sight, Sound, and Mental Health. Here I gave a short talk entitled 'A Strange Encounter: Explaining Alien Abduction Belief'. Project PERFECT also sponsored the Philosophy of Psychology strand at the mentoring and networking workshop for women in philosophy which I co-organised (reports from the workshop were published on the blog here and here). This strand featured Imperfect Cognitions network members Hanna Pickard (mentor) and Anna Ichino (mentee) discussing Anna’s paper which argued for a non-doxastic account of religious attitudes (a topic Anna has written on in a post for Imperfect Cognitions).

Saturday, 10 October 2015

World Mental Health Day 2015

In this post we shall report on some of the initiatives promoted by mental health charities to celebrate this year's World Mental Health Day and we will point to some resources from the blog that could be of interest. One of the objectives of project PERFECT is to undermine the theoretical foundations for the current stigma associated with mental illness and argue for the continuity between so-called 'normal' and 'abnormal' cognition, so we feel we are making a small contribution to progress in this area.

The Mind Charity has announced that on Mental Health Day the Duke and Duchess of Kent will participate in a special event, meeting young people who have faced mental health issues and now volunteer for Mind.

The Mental Health Foundation focuses this year on children's mental health issues, and raising the problem that children may find it particularly difficult to gather information or ask for help due to stigma. See the campaign poster below:

Thursday, 8 October 2015

A Luxury of the Understanding

In this post, Allan Hazlett, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Mexico, presents his book, A Luxury of the Understanding (Oxford University Press, 2013). Allan (in the picture above) works on the value of accurate representation, deference and disagreement, and political epistemology.

Philosophers have for some time acknowledged the possibility of irrational and false beliefs that are nonetheless beneficial to the believer. A familiar case is that of the over-confident athlete: it is easy to imagine that Karen is better off over-estimating her tennis abilities, than she would be were her evaluation of her abilities accurate, given the boost to her confidence that this over-estimation provides. However, it is standard for philosophers to argue that, since Karen’s belief is irrational and false, although it may be all-things-considered best for her, it is nevertheless “epistemically” bad.

In A Luxury of the Understanding (cover pictured below), I appeal to cases like the case of the over-confident athlete to motivate an argument that true belief is at most sometimes, and not always or even generally, good for the believer. The basic idea is that there are systematic patterns of cases in which false belief is better for the believer than true belief – in particular, I focus on the phenomenon of self-enhancement bias, studied by social psychologists (Chapter 2).

I argue that many people’s tendency for unrealistic optimism, for example, is best for them, despite the fact that this tendency is manifested in false beliefs. The reason, I propose, is that true belief is at most of the things that matters when it comes to most people’s well-being: other things that matter include subjective satisfaction, motivation, and the ability to cope with negative events. These benefits, it seems to me, often outweigh the “epistemic” costs of unrealistic optimism.

However, some philosophers have suggested that self-enhancement bias is beneficial for a person only on a mistaken hedonistic or subjectivist view of well-being. For this reason, I also argue that biased belief is sometimes valuable both from the perspective of friendship and from the perspective of morality (Chapter 3) – which, in philosophy, are relatively uncontroversial contributors to well-being. The idea is that friendship and morality sometimes require us to have overly positive views of other people. The upshot of all this, again, is that true belief is only sometimes good for the believer.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

PERFECT Year Two: Lisa

The second year of ERC-funded project PERFECT (logo above) has just started and it is time to look back at what we have done so far and make plans for the future.

What we have done so far

Ema, Magdalena, Michael and I have had a very busy time, delivering talks, writing papers, and sponsoring a series of really interesting, interdisciplinary events, including a public engagement event on Sight, Sound and Mental Health for the Arts and Science Festival 2015, a Delusion lunchtime seminar with experts on delusion formation, and a session on the Function of Delusions as part of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Annual Congress.

We had three papers published open access: a review paper on costs and benefits of realism and optimism in Current Opinion in Psychiatry, a paper on the ethics of delusional belief in Erkenntnis, and a review paper on the nature and development of delusions in Philosophy Compass. Many more are in progress!

We continued to disseminate our work on the blog, and also created an Imperfect Cognitions playlist on YouTube highlighting our network members' work, and an app for iOS and Android, called PERFECT, free to download, with information about events, links to relevant sites, videos, blog posts, links to papers, and some interactive features (e.g., "Ask PERFECT"!)

What I plan to do next

Ema, Magdalena, and Michael will tell you about their own plans in the next few Tuesday blog posts, and I will say something about mine here. 

I am increasingly interested in what irrational cognitions mean for agency. Overly optimistic beliefs ("I am a talented football player" when I am just a mediocre one) and explanations that are not grounded on evidence ("I offered the job to Jim and not to Julie because he was better prepared" when my selection was based on implicit biases due to gender stereotypes) are good examples of cognitions that do not seem to get us any closer to the truth but play some role in helping us achieve other goals, some of which turn out to be epistemically worthwhile.