Thursday, 19 October 2017

Interview with Matthew Broome on the new Institute for Mental Health

In today's post Kathy Puddifoot interviews Matthew Broome, Professor of Psychiatry and Youth Mental Health, on the new Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham that he directs. 

KP: Can you tell me about the make-up of the Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham?

MB: The Institute for Mental Health (IMH) is a cross-college Institute at the University of Birmingham. It is housed within the School of Psychology and the College Life and Environmental Sciences, but the Institute will also include colleagues from the College of Social Sciences, of Arts and Law, and Medical and Dental Sciences. We are hoping that staff at the IMH will have affiliations with each of these groups and represent a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. In terms of appointments, we will have colleagues appointed at different grades, from professor to lecturer, as joint appointment with the Colleges linked to the IMH. Appointments will be made between the Institute and Schools across the University. We will also have some clinical academic staff joining us, as well as core IMH appointments.  

KP: What are the main goals of the IMH?

MB: The main focus is to address issues concerning youth mental health with the recognition that to solve these complex problems will need interdisciplinary work. The focus will be to improve the care of young people with mental health problems and to improve services for those people.  We think that Birmingham has something distinctive to offer here. We can draw together expertise across the different disciplines but also build on the very strong areas we have across the university, such as cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and ethics, and social policy.

KP: Why do think it is important to focus on young people in particular?

MB: The first answer to that question comes from the epidemiology of mental health issues. Most disorders tend to begin in young people. The vast majority of adult mental disorders begin before the age of 25. Focusing on youth allows you to focus on how disorders develop, to detect mental health issues, and intervene early.  The second answer is connected. Mental disorders that begin in young people last a long time so the benefits of intervening in youth will be greater to society. If you help young people to navigate a tricky period of their life then you will see the benefit for them and for society for many years to come.  Also, Birmingham is the youngest and most diverse city in Europe, in terms of population demographics, so our research focus reflects that .

KP: What is the connection between the IMH and the Mental Health Policy Commission?

MB: The connection is that some members of the Institute are leading on the commission. In particular Professor Paul Burstow ,  Dr Karen Newbigging and Professor Jerry Tew. The commission predates the Institute and is doing work around social policy on mental health provision in the West Midlands, in particular examining the gap in care for young people between those who need help for mental health problems, and those that receive it. The commission is a project that the Institute will be connected with and some of its members will be a key part of.

KP: The IMH aims to contribute to the development of interventions based on academic research to improve practice in mental health care. To succeed in this task, you will work with non-academic partners. Can you tell us something about the partners that you intend to work with?

MB: At the moment the key partners are NHS service providers. There are two mental health trusts in Birmingham that we are working with. One is the Forward Thinking Birmingham Trust, which delivers youth mental health care between 0 and 25 years of age, and also the Early Intervention Psychosis services. The other mental health trust is the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust. They are our two main non-academic partners. There is also an organization called Birmingham Health Partners, which is a strategic partnership between the University of Birmingham and some of the acute hospitals. These are strong partners for us. I am hoping to expand our partnerships further to include work with charities, the voluntary sector, and involvement with education and social services. That is a step for me to develop over the next couple of months.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

PERFECT Year 4: Kathy

Today's post is by Project PERFECT Research Fellow Katherine Puddifoot.  

I am entering my third year as a Research Fellow on Project PERFECT.

During my time on the project so far I have had the opportunity to develop my views on memory and stereotyping. 

In the past year I have been developing my account of stereotyping, the multifactorial account. This account identifies multiple features of any act of stereotyping that can determine whether or not it will lead to the misperception of the people who are stereotyped. Two papers developing this view have been published (open access) in Philosophical Explorations and Philosophical Topics.

I have been working with the Principle Investigator on Project PERFECT, Lisa Bortolotti, to develop our view of memory errors. We argue that there is an important feature of distorted memories that has previously not been recognised: they are produced by cognitive mechanisms that bring epistemic benefits. It has previously been widely recognised within cognitive psychology and neuroscience that the cognitive mechanisms are adaptive, but we emphasise how they increase the chance of people obtaining epistemic goods like knowledge, true beliefs and understanding.
In the past year, I have also organised the PERFECT 2017 Memory workshop at the University of Cambridge, featuring talks from Dorothea Debus, Jordi Fernandez, Kourken Michaelian, John Sutton and myself.

I have also formed an exciting new collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation. In June we held a workshop with colleagues from the charity and people with lived experience of mental health issues. The workshop featured presentations on my work on stereotyping; Lisa's work highlighting the continuity between beliefs in the clinical and non-clinical population; and the work of the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland and with people with learning disabilities. I am extremely excited about this collaboration. We will be working closely together in the future to design practical applications of our research and pursue future research projects together.

In my final phase on the project I aim to produce a series of papers that apply the insights that I have gained about memory to specific concrete cases. I will draw out the implications for how education and the criminal trial should be conducted.

In addition to this, I plan to expand my work on stereotyping, highlighting further philosophical implications of my position that there are multiple features that can determine whether people make errors due to stereotyping.

Combining my interests in stereotyping and memory, my final research goal is to publish work examining how stereotyping can influence how we remember. There are important implications of the observation that memory can be biased by stereotyping, for both theories about the nature of memory and theories about the nature of justification (including for memory). These implications will be explored in the research I conduct in this final period of my Research Fellowship.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Interview with Louise Moody and Tom Stoneham

In this post, I interview Louise Moody, Associate Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of York, and Tom Stoneham, Professor of Philosophy & Dean of the Graduate Research School, also at the University of York. Tom and Louise are presently researching dreaming: specifically, they are investigating an alternative model of dreaming (one that holds dreams are confabulations on waking rather than experiences of some type that are remembered and reported as dreams) and whether this model might be beneficial for those experiencing parasomnias.

SS: Why is the topic of dreaming of interest to philosophers and what contributions have philosophers made so far?

LM & TS: The first thing to say is that dreaming takes up a surprisingly large amount of our mental lives with most of us apparently dreaming 4-6 times a night – indeed, awakenings from all sleep-phases (i.e. both r.e.m and non-r.e.m sleep) elicit dream reports between 50-90% of the time (e.g. Dement & Kleitman 1957; Nielson 2000). Yet dreaming receives relatively little attention from philosophers: whilst the possibility that we are now dreaming is often used to prop up sceptical arguments, the nature of dreaming is rarely directly examined - notable exceptions include Malcolm (1959) who thought the notion of any mental activity during sleep self-contradictory, Dennett (1972) who proposed that dreams might be non-consciously composed ‘cassettes’ that are inserted into memory for ‘playback’ on waking, and more recently, Ichikawa (2009) who treats dreams as sensory imaginings.

Almost everyone who has had a dream takes their experience to support the ‘Standard Model’ of dreaming: dreaming is a conscious experience of some type which happens during sleep, is encoded in memory, recalled – often partially – upon waking, and sometimes shared with others. That is just what it feels like. But as the great Islamic Philosopher Al-Ghazali pointed out in 1105, this model is likely to strike someone who has had no personal experience of dreaming as very puzzling. People are reporting having perceptions at times when they are clearly not having perceptions, precisely because they are asleep and not in the presence of those things they report perceiving. The very familiarity of dreaming has stopped philosophers (with very few notable exceptions) from seeing just how theoretically puzzling this idea of ‘offline’ perception really is.
SS: I understand you’re developing an alternative model to that outlined above, one that centrally involves imperfect cognitions? Tell us more!

LM & TS: Despite seeming incredibly obvious, the Standard Model is surprisingly hard to prove or disprove, precisely because it postulates a realm of private experiences that cannot be directly reported upon (note: LaBerge (1981) purportedly found that lucid dreamers can ‘signal’ that they are dreaming by performing a series of pre-arranged eye movements, but we take this finding to be methodologically controversial). Other well-known problems with the Standard Model, as Freud originally noted (1900: Ch.1), include pre-cognitive ‘alarm clock’ dreams (suppose you dream of an explosion and wake up to find this sound merging smoothly with the buzzing of your alarm clock; then you must have somehow predicted that your alarm clock was about to buzz, which is wildly implausible) and time-compression (experiences that would take a long time in waking life are often temporally compressed in dreams, and no-one has yet explained why such experiences are special cases). 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

PERFECT Year 4: Sophie

I joined project PERFECT in October 2016 as a postdoctoral researcher. In this post, I summarise what I’ve been up to in my first year on the project what I have planned for the year ahead.


Over the past year, I’ve continued looking into the nature of the distinction between implicit and explicit attitudes. The main output of this aspect of my research this year is a paper on content-responsiveness as a means of distinguishing implicit attitudes from explicit attitudes – I’m skeptical that this characteristic alone will do the required work! I also have a paper in preparation addressing whether awareness might do the required work.

I was fortunate to have been invited to share some aspects of this project on a BBC Analysis special about implicit bias, as well as in a BBC News article. Recent controversy surrounding one of the popular methods for testing aspects of implicit cognition demonstrates why the metaphysical project – clarity on the precise nature of these attitudes – is so important. Lived experience, testimony, and myriad results gleaned via alternative methods show us that bias in society is alive and well. Attention to the metaphysics will help us pick apart what is implicit, what is explicit, and ultimately what we should do about it to improve the situation.

My new research focus this year has been an investigation into the phenomenon of confabulation, and its potential psychological, social and epistemic benefits. Whilst exploration of the former two benefits are out there, the latter is largely underexplored beyond PERFECT. I’ve found that looking at the social context of confabulation has been crucial to beginning to understand some of its potential epistemic benefits. I have a paper in preparation on how existing empirical work on collective cognition illuminates why confabulation may deliver epistemic benefits (succinctly, we rely on other people for much of our knowledge, and so some level of confabulation helps us preserve those fruitful epistemic partnerships).

This year, I’m turning my attention to whether confabulation originates from a more general faculty for organizing information into a narrative, and being a good story-teller. I think there could be interesting insights from empirical literature on narrative skill in general that could be illuminating for our philosophical analysis of confabulation.

On this note, I’m excited to be organizing PERFECT 2018, our confabulation workshop, taking place on 23rd May 2018 in Oxford. We have a great programme of current research on the philosophical aspects of confabulation, find out more and register here.  

Other work I’ve done this year includes a paper on whether we can – and should – use technological enhancement to get rid of our cognitive biases, and a joint paper on doxastic irrationality with colleagues Andrea Polonioli and Lisa Bortolotti. I look forward to how my projects will develop over the year to come!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Interview with Beatrice de Gelder on Emotion Science

In this post I am pleased to interview Beatrice de Gelder (pictured above), Professor of Social and Affective Neuroscience at Maastricht University in The Netherlands. Her main areas of expertise are visual and audio-visual affective processes related to the perception of faces and bodies as well as auditory affective signals. She has extensive experience in designing and executing behavioral, functional and anatomical imaging studies, both in healthy and diseased populations, and has participated in funded research involving populations from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Her current research focuses on face and body recognition and, recently, the neuroscience of art. She is currently serving as Editor in Chief of Frontiers in Emotion Science and Associate Editor for Frontiers in Psychopathology. In 2012, she was awarded an advanced European Research Council (ERC) scientific grant for the study of cultural differences in emotional body expression. In addition to Maastricht University, she holds appointments at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and University College London (UCL). Her book on “Emotions and the Body” has recently been published by Oxford University Press.

AP:  What scientific concept used in Emotion Science do you think ought to be more widely known? Which one do you think is instead ready for retirement?

BDG: Emotion science is a peculiar field. On the one hand, the research methodology has dramatically changed over the last 50 years, many would say even over the last 10 years, because of most impressive technological developments and revolutionary methods they sustain. On the other hand, one does get he impression that decade after decade, again and again the same questions are raised and the same answers are debated in very much the same way. Somehow researchers cannot let go of the classical framework in which questions about emotions are raised. And this is very much a standard mentalist framework in which emotions are defined by the intersection between subjective experience, introspection, action, intention, belief, consciousness, agency, free will.

 What keeps this mixture together is of course language. Language is the most potent of all illusionists, forever reinforcing the notion that what we can talk about exists out there. This is what perpetuates the debate on basic emotions. Emotion science does not manage to put this illusion aside and forever goes on a treasure hunt searching with every new technology that comes around, for the objective markers of emotions in the brain. So, it is not just one concept that is ready for retirement, or one that we need more or less of, it is a whole vista.

People who reject the notion of basic emotions just as those constructing a more complex (multistage, multilevel) link between brain reality of motivational-affective states of the organism and common sense/everyday basic emotion language still continue to define their position by reference to that framework. And as a consequence many philosophers work on solutions that would somehow provide a bridge between the scientific findings (no evidence for basic emotions vs. evidence for basic emotions) and phenomenal reality. That leads us to the schizophrenic picture of on the one hand traditional behaviorism (human and animal) and on the other, a traditional picture of human mental live, with not much else that a big question mark linking the two. And right into the kind of compromise solution offered by higher order theories.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

PERFECT Year 4: Lisa

In this post, I offer my take on what the project has achieved in the last year and tell you about my plans for the next twelve months. On the next four Tuesdays the rest of the team will do the same.

The team

PERFECT has been incredibly active and at the top of its capacity in the past year, with three post-docs and two PhD students all working full time. Andrea Polonioli (picture below), who is leaving the project, continued Ema Sullivan-Bissett's work on belief, and focused on biased cognition and confabulation, examining also some interesting methodological issues that apply to philosophical investigation. He also worked really hard on improving the blog and our social media presence.

Magdalena Antrobus (picture below), who is also leaving the project, completed her PhD dissertation on the psychological and epistemic benefits of depression. As well as preparing several articles for publication on her own research, she co-authored with me a paper on depressive delusions.


We are extremely grateful to Andrea and Magdalena for their work on the project and hope they will continue to be involved in our activities as much as their new busy schedules will allow them to do. A special thanks goes to Magdalena for designing our beautiful project logo:

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Sense of Self Conference in Oxford

This post is by Raphaël Millière (University of Oxford), reporting from the interdisciplinary conference The Sense of Self  hosted by the Ertegun Scholarship Programme and held from 29th-31st of May at the University of Oxford. 

The idea that a sense of self pervades ordinary conscious experience appears to have at least an intuitive appeal for a number of authors in philosophy, psychology and cognitive neuroscience. The aim of this conference was to investigate the very notion of sense of self, which is notoriously elusive and polysemous.  In order to bring some clarity to these discussions and to bridge the gap between conceptual and experimental approaches to the notion, philosophers and scientists were invited to present their work and participate in this interdisciplinary exchange over the course of three days.

The first morning was dedicated to conceptual issues regarding the sense of self. The philosopher Marie Guillot (University of Essex, UK) and the neuroscientist and meditation researcher Aviva Berkovich-Ohana (University of Haifa, Israel) discussed important distinctions between several notions of the sense of self. Guillot stressed the conceptual difference between being aware of oneself and being aware of one’s conscious mental states as one’s own (“mineness”).

Meanwhile, Berkovich-Ohana’s research on various styles of meditation illustrates another distinction between the “narrative self” (the network of autobiographic memories and beliefs that constitute personal identity) and the “minimal self” (the low-level experience of being a self, rooted in sensorimotor processes). Guillot and Berkovich-Ohana agreed that there is no obvious overlap between these two distinctions, although the “minimal self” might be conceived as form of awareness of oneself.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

How Different are Implicit Attitudes?

In this post, Sophie Stammers, Research Fellow on Project PERFECT at the University of Birmingham, introduces her article, “A Patchier Picture Still: Biases, Beliefs and Overlap on the Inferential Continuum” recently published Open Access at Philosophia.

‘Implicit’ is a designation that does a lot of work in the philosophy and cognitive science of thoughts. This follows many decades of research which demonstrates that human minds don’t always behave in ways that many of have expected them to. For instance, people (a) sometimes appear to be unaware of factors which influence their decisions; or (b) they often think or do things in spite of evidence to the contrary, or fail to think or do things in spite of evidence in favour; or (c) people think or do things automatically, without having deliberated first; or (d) they think or do things in spite of sincerely disavowing the thinking or doing of these things – or, all of (a)-(d) at once.

Many theorists have made sense of these results by proposing that the human mind is comprised of two systems: the explicit system handles the conscious, rational, deliberate and avowed processes that we expect to be engaged in, whilst the implicit system is behind the above findings (Kahneman 2011).

The success of our explanations and predictions of cognition depend on whether we’re right to posit a second system with distinctive characteristics. So too do our conceptions of what it is to be a person, and how we should think about interpersonal interactions involving these supposedly distinct systems. For instance, if the implicit system produces cognitions or behaviours that aren’t identified with the agent, then we shouldn’t judge interactions driven by it as agential. But if that’s not the case, then maybe those judgements are back on the table.

Characteristics (a)-(d) each deserve attention, but for now, let’s look just at (b). Some psychologists (e.g. Gawronski and Bodenhausen 2014) have explained evidence for (b) by proposing that attitudes are differently structured: explicit attitudes are structured propositions, processed in accordance with their semantic content, whilst implicit attitudes are mere associations between concepts and are processed regardless of information about their constituent concepts. These latter attitudes don’t respond to evidence.

Contra this view, Eric Mandelbaum (2016) summarizes a range of findings purporting to show that implicit attitudes are in fact sensitive to content, proposing they are structured propositions after all. But can this explain findings that many other implicit attitudes fail to respond appropriately to content?

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Sixth Biennial Conference of EPSA

The conference featured many contributed papers and symposia covering all subfields of the philosophy of science and brought together philosophers of science from Europe and overseas. The line-up of speakers was stellar indeed. Just to name a few, Sonja Amadae, Philip Kitcher, and Margaret Morrison gave keynote talks, and Helen Beebee offered a Women’s Caucus Lecture.

Project PERFECT also attended the meeting. Andrea Polonioli talked about cognitive biases in the search and assessment of scholarly literature and the possible value of using systematic reviews to limit the impact of such biases.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Epistemic Value of Emotions in Politics

Benedetta Romano is a doctoral candidate in the department of neurophilosophy and ethics of neuroscience at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich. Her research centers on the philosophy of emotions, focusing on various topics, such as the epistemic relevance of political emotions, the capacity of emotions to establish a narrative connection, and their function in analogical reasoning. Moreover, she is interested in the emotional dimension of different issues in applied ethics, such as torture and immigration.

Do the emotions that we experience towards political issues, characters and events, provide us with any valuable knowledge about them? My answer is a resounding yes, and in in my paper, I articulate it as follows. First, I address the epistemic part of the question. I argue that emotions can provide some knowledge about their objects, including political ones, by generating and modifying beliefs about them, and that such knowledge is evaluative in character. But is this knowledge epistemically reliable?

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Philosophy of Psychiatry WIP day at Lancaster University

This post is by Moujan Mirdamadi (Lancaster University), reporting from this year's annual Philosophy of Psychiatry Work in Progress day held at Lancaster University.

My name is Moujan Mirdamadi and I am a PhD student at Lancaster University. My research is on the phenomenology of depression and how experiences of depression vary cross culturally. In particular, I look at the similarities and differences in experiences of depression in Iran and the UK, and the significance of these variations.

Lancaster University hosts an annual Work in Progress conference in Philosophy of Psychiatry. The conference, rather than being concerned with presenting finished papers, aims to open a discussion in which peers and colleagues share their thoughts on an ongoing project or question to be answered. This year, I co-organised the event with Dr Rachel Cooper. The conference was held on June 2nd and covered a wide range of different topics in Philosophy of Psychiatry, with speakers from different institutions across the UK.

The issues we talked about included the way in which psychiatrists in the US perceive and respond to their critics, how metaphors can inform the understanding of psychoses, the distinction between mental and brain disorders, the line between personal autonomy and serious psychopathology, and the theoretical and philosophical problems RDoC (Research Domain Criteria) faces in finding new ways of studying mental disorders.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Can Anosognosia for Hemiplegia be Explained as Motivated Self-Deception?

My name is Andrew Sims. Right now I’m working as a post-doctoral researcher at the Université Catholique de Louvain, in an Action de Recherche Concertée (ARC) project on action theory and neuroscience. Before this, though, I wrote my PhD dissertation in the philosophy department at Deakin University and while visiting at the Department of Clinical, Health and Educational Psychology at University College London. My dissertation focused upon the psychodynamic explanation of anosognosia for hemiplegia (AHP)—denial of paralysis—and its relationship to cognitive deficit models of the condition. I’ve recently had an article published in the Review of Philosophy and Psychology that draws upon some of this work (Sims 2017). Thanks very much to Andrea Polonioli for inviting me to introduce it on the Imperfect Cognitions blog.

AHP occurs after brain damage and involves a paralysis on one side along with various attitudinal distortions toward that paralysis. At a minimum, this is an inability to recognize the deficit which ranges from a mild forgetfulness to a consistent delusion that the body is fully functional. However, there are various other attitudinal distortions that also occur: anosodiaphoria, an inappropriate lack of negative feeling about the deficit (though not a flattening of affect in general, as is sometimes claimed, since this is often coupled with a disproportionately negative attitude towards minor unrelated complaints); misoplegia, an exaggerated disgust or hatred towards the affected limb which is felt to be alien and intrusive; and somatoparaphrenia, the attribution of ownership of the paralysed part of the body to another person (like a doctor or relative). Furthermore, these patients sometimes appear to have implicit knowledge of the deficit in parallel with the explicit unawareness.

These attitudinal distortions led earlier clinicians to explain the condition in terms of psychological defense against negative emotion associated with the deficit (Weinstein & Kahn 1950). On this view the attitudes are caused by conative factors (like a desire-like representation of bodily integrity) which distort belief formation. Since then, in part because of an influential critique by Bisiach and Geminiani (1991), these accounts have largely been replaced by deficit theories which propose that the delusion is caused by a deficit in the ability to compare predicted motor outcomes to sensory feedback, possibly also coupled with a deficit to executive function or working memory (e.g., Davies et al. 2005). Prime amongst the objections of Bisiach and Geminiani are two: first, that the defense theories can’t explain anatomical features of the condition; secondly, that they can’t explain why the paralysis is selectively denied (where other deficits—like cortical blindness in one case—are not).

Thursday, 7 September 2017

SPP Annual Meeting 2017

The 43rd annual meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology was held in Baltimore, Maryland, at Johns Hopkins University from 28-1 July, 2017. The meeting brought together philosophers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists working on issues of common interests. In this post, Federico Bongiorno (PhD student at the University of Birmingham) offers a summary of each of the keynote lectures presented in plenary sessions.

On day 1, Daniel Schacter (Harvard) kicked off the conference with a talk on memory distortions and constructive aspects of remembering. Schacter views human memory as being far more a matter of constructive rather than reproductive processes that are sometimes susceptible to error and distortion.

Two major themes were pursued. One is the idea that some types of memory distortions are side-effects of otherwise adaptive memory processes. The other is the critical role played by episodic memory, which is defined as the ability to recollect episodes from one’s personal past, in imagining possible future scenarios.

In the first part of the talk, Schacter discussed recent neuropsychological evidence suggesting the adaptive nature of gist-based false memories. He did so by showing that the same brain region that serves the adaptive function of encoding semantic memory, namely the temporal pole, is responsible for this type of memory errors.

The second part of the talk sought to demonstrate that the flexible retrieval processes involved in episodic memory support adaptive uses of episodic simulation but also increase memory errors. Experimental results were shown in support of the proposed hypothesis. The results suggested that the capacity for flexible retrieval underlying successful associative inference increases susceptibility to source misattributions, which result from mistakenly combining details of distinct episodes.

Peter Godfrey-Smith (CUNY, Sidney) opened day 2 of the conference. His talk looked at the evolution of consciousness, broadly conceived, in the context of the phylogenetic pattern of animal life – how animals of different kinds are related in the ‘tree of life’. 

Godfrey-Smith suggested that this can eventually help us work out whether consciousness evolved once or more than once, and if it evolved more than once, whether this was the replaying of an essentially similar sequence, or whether the historical paths were very different from each other.

He advanced the hypothesis that it evolved more than once. The branchings between vertebrates, cephalopods, and the most behaviourally complex arthropods (e.g. crabs and bees) are very deep in history, so deep that the common ancestor was probably something as simple as a flatworm. He conjectured that octopuses and vertebrates may be the clearest cases of evolutionary transition to consciousness, whereas arthropods are more uncertain.

Godfrey-Smith further discussed whether there might be two different kinds of basic consciousness, one kind linked to the senses and another more linked to evaluation and affect. He then discussed some invertebrate cases where these features might be dissociated. 

Some arthropods, in particular, seem much more sophisticated on the sensory then on the evaluative/affective side. This summarises a possible multiple-origin story where there are different types as well as different tokens with respect to the evolution of consciousness.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

A Moral Account of First-person Authority

This post is by Fleur Jongepier (picture below). Starting Autumn 2017 she will be based in Cambridge (UK), working on the role and value of self-knowledge in contemporary liberalism.

In the previous blogpost, I introduced some examples that I suggested provide a challenge to what I referred to as the ‘traditional’ approach to the notion of first-person authority, namely, the view according to which first-person authority and self-knowledge always come and go together. I ended the post by mentioning the following three views about the relation between first-person authority and self-knowledge:

  1. The Decoupling View. They have first-person authority despite not having self-knowledge.
  2. The Negative Traditional ViewThey do not have self-knowledge, therefore do not have first-person authority.
  3. The Positive Traditional View. They have self-knowledge and therefore have first-person authority.
One reason for thinking the second, Negative Traditional view (‘no self-knowledge, no authority’) is mistaken is because it appears to yield way too rigorous consclusions. It fails to reflect the way that we treat people’s sincere self-ascriptions. Even if someone says “I want to kill myself” and is clearly self-deceived somehow, it does not seem to be the case that we would be inclined or indeed justified to simply overrule or correct her self-ascription, and so it seems we should not deny her first-person authority.

Even if someone is wrong when s/he says “I feel X” or “I want Y”, it is still in an important sense out of place or inappropriate to e.g. say “No you’re not” – even if you’re entitled, epistemically speaking. So even when a person issues a self-ascription that is a very poor guide to how s/he will act in the future, this does not license us to correct, challenge or overrule the self-ascription. Indeed, we need to take their self-ascriptions seriously if we want to try to make them see their mistake or change their minds. Granting someone first-person authority is a condition for e.g. engaging in psychotherapy at all (see Strijbos and Jongepier forthcoming).

What about the third option? On the assumption the traditional view is right, granting that subjects have first-person authority in the given examples might also mean they therefore must have self-knowledge, given that on the traditional view, first-person authority and self-knowledge are a package deal. Those defending this option will thus want to say that e.g. the person saying he wants to kill himself in some sense does have self-knowledge, even if he does not (luckily) take any steps to act according to his own self-ascription. The defender of the third view will thus have to argue that it’s not evident that one lacks self-knowledge if one does not act in accordance with one’s own self-ascription.

And indeed such a view has been defended (see e.g. Ferrero 2003 and Bortolotti 2009). Luca Ferrero instance claims that “First-person authority is characteristic of self-ascriptions of present attitudes” and that “The distinctive first-person authority of [someone’s] self-ascriptions concerns ... whether she takes responsibility for them, not whether the self-ascribed attitude is both correct and a reliable guide to future conduct” (2003, 570 emphases in original). Lisa Bortolotti in a similar vein claims that subjects can have knowledge of their attitudes “no matter how representative of their future behaviour those attitudes would [turn] out to be” (Bortolotti 2009, 639). The subject, Ferrero and Bortolotti emphasize, has self-knowledge and responsibility with respect to what s/he is currently thinking or judging, and it’s this type of self-knowledge that lies at the basis of his self-ascription being authoritative.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Cognitive Phenomenology: An interview with Peter Carruthers

In this post Federico Bongiorno (PhD student at the University of Birmingham) interviews Peter Carruthers, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD. Peter’s research has focused predominantly on philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, and cognitive science. Here, Federico and Peter (pictured below) discuss Peter's position on the debate over cognitive phenomenology.

FB: Your recent work has focussed, among other things, on the question of cognitive phenomenology. Roughly, the question amounts to asking whether cognition has its own phenomenal character. Can you tell us more about this issue and its significance?

PC: The first thing that I ought to mention is that this is joint work done with Bénédicte Viellet. The issue is essentially whether thought has a phenomenal character that is not reducible to other kinds of phenomenal character. Thought is often associated with phenomenal states. As you listen to me speaking now, you are extracting meaning. At the same time, you have the phonology of the sentences that I am using and you might also be forming visual images or other kinds of affective associations. 

So there is going to be a whole wealth of phenomenal character that goes along with the meaning of any particular sentence that I utter. The question of cognitive phenomenology can be stated as follows: is there some distinctive phenomenology that belongs to the concepts and propositions themselves, that doesn’t just reduce to all the surrounding stuff? 

For instance, when you think a thought, there is a phenomenology of inner speech. But is there also a phenomenology that is distinctive to the thought that you are thinking in inner speech? If you could have the pure thought, would that have a phenomenology in its own right, independent of its causes and effects on the rest of your mental life?

I became interested in these sorts of questions back when I was working on qualia and phenomenal consciousness. It seemed to me that what gave rise to the hard problem of consciousness was distinctively to do with those kinds of mental states that you can form recognitional concepts for – as happens, for instance, when you experience red and form a concept for the way the experience of red is for you. These mental states do in fact give rise to thought-experiments of the ‘hard problem’ sort. 

You can have, for instance, zombie thought experiments, and speculate that zombies might be able to employ direct recognitional concepts of their brain states, even if those states have no associated phenomenal quality. But you can also have inverted-spectrum thought experiments, where an experience which we form the direct recognitional concept of red for is caused by perception of green. 

What occurred to me is that we don’t have analogous recognitional concepts for thoughts – the idea that you can, for instance, recognise the occurrence of the concept seven being tokened in yourself struck me as implausible. These considerations motivated me to argue that there is no cognitive phenomenology, as thoughts and conceptual states do not give rise to the sort of hard-problem thought-experiments that perceptual states do. My view is that we ought to maintain the original position, viz., that phenomenology belongs with the sensitive, whilst cognitive states do get bound into sensory states but do not add any distinctive phenomenal component on their own.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Self-knowledge and First-person Authority

This post is by Fleur Jongepier (picture below). Starting Autumn 2017 she will be based in Cambridge (UK), working on the role and value of self-knowledge in contemporary liberalism.

Normally, our sincere self-ascriptions, like “I want some coffee” or “I hope the meeting will be cancelled”, are not open to correction or challenge, for instance by asking me “Are you sure?”. Indeed, we would normally consider it inappropriate to do so (as expressivists like Dorit Bar-On have argued, see e.g. Bar-On and Long 2001; Bar-On 2004). Now most traditional theories of self-knowledge think of the special sort of authority that subjects have when speaking about their own mental states is to be explained epistemically. In other words, what is referred to as ‘first-person authority’ is typically explained in terms of self-knowledge: it’s because you know your own mental states particularly well that you are particularly well-placed to say something about them.

First-personal authority gets more complex, and I think perhaps philosophically and otherwise more interesting, when we consider more problematic first-personal statements. Consider for instance an utterance like “I am going to commit suicide” or “I should kill my daughter.” Sadly, some people self-ascribe these sorts of mental states, too – not just beliefs about the rain or a desire for getting a beer from the fridge (despite most of the examples in the self-knowledge literature).

But suppose that you are a close friend or family member of the person making one of these utterances, and suppose further that you actually know the utterance is false. Perhaps you found out that the person who - sincerely and perhaps repeatedly - thinks and says she wants to kill herself does not really mean it. Or you come to know, for instance, that the person who says she wants to kill her daughter suffers from OCD and does not genuinely have the desire to kill her daughter. Damiaan Denys for instance describes the following prototypical case of a young mother suffering from OCD:

When I’m alone at home and I see my daughter sleeping in her crib then I can see myself strangling her. I’m terribly shocked by the thought and I am very frightened by it. If nobody holds me back, I could murder my daughter. I don’t want to harm her, but there is no guar- antee that I never will. I can’t control myself any longer. I thought I was a good mother, but the fact that I think about it says something about who I really am. It shows that perhaps I don’t love my daughter enough. I don’t want to think about it but I’m not able to keep the thought out of my mind. The harder I resist, the stronger the thought is. (Denys 2011)

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Delusions: Understanding the Un-Understandable

Today's post is by Peter McKenna. He is a psychiatrist with some background in psychology, currently working full-time in research in Barcelona. He introduces his new book Delusions: Understanding the Un-understandable.

I have been interested in delusions for a long time and around five years ago decided to try and write a book on the topic. The result, for better or worse, is Delusions: Understanding the Un-understandable. The ‘un-understandable’ of the title references Jaspers’ contention that delusions are a) psychologically irreducible, ie they cannot be derived from other psychological experiences, either normal or abnormal; and b) are unmediated, ie they are immediate rather than being the product of reflection (for a good and concise account of Jaspers’ views, see Walker, 1991).

Apart from the work of Jaspers, who was a philosopher as well as a psychiatrist and whose thoughts on delusions have influenced successive generations of clinicians, I made a deliberate decision not to include any philosophy in the book. Nevertheless, the book may still intersect with the interests of followers of Imperfect Cognitions, as follows.

First of all, the book gives a detailed description of delusions as they are encountered in clinical practice. This is something I feel it is important to do, since it often seems like authors writing on delusions are trying to represent them as something they are not. It is not uncommon to hear statements (especially from psychologists) that there is something true at the heart of any delusion. In fact, as the book tries to show, delusions are a much more weird and wonderful phenomenon than this. Where is the hidden core of truth in John Nash’s (of A Beautiful Mind) letter turning down a job offer by a university on the grounds that he was about to take up a position as emperor of Antarctica? Or in the account of a patient who once told me that his brain had recently been removed from his body, flown to America, and taken to a recording studio on a wheelchair, where it took part in a recording session with a rap artist?

At various points the book addresses the important question of continuity between delusions and the beliefs expressed by normal or at least not frankly mentally ill people. While the continuum view of psychosis is currently very popular, I personally see many pitfalls and complexities with this view. Some well-known kinds of false beliefs that arise in healthy people – for example end of the world cults, witch-hunts and conspiracy theories – have in common that they are a) shared and b) impersonal. This is in contrast to delusions which are idiosyncratic and (in most cases at least) personal, ie focused on the person concerned or those close to him/her, rather than concerning the world at large. While I would certainly not deny that some normal people have psychotic-like experiences, the rates of 5-7% currently quoted by authors like Linscott and van Os (2013) are inflated by quite serious uncriticality of the approach used to elicit them. In fact, the case for a continuum is actually stronger for other kinds of abnormal beliefs, such as overvalued ideas and Beck’s depressive cognitions.

Two separate chapters review psychological theories of delusions. The results of this exercise are rather disappointing. Popular approaches such as probabilistic reasoning bias (‘jumping to conclusions’) and theory of mind abnormality are simply not supported by the available evidence. Specifically, while impairments are present in patients with schizophrenia/psychosis, in neither case do they correlate with scores on delusion scales. Rather more promising is the ‘two-factor’ theory, applied to the Capgras delusion and other so-called monothematic delusions in patients with neurological disease. The conclusion I reach in the book is that something like the two stage verification process of novel and unexpected events that Coltheart’s group and others have argued for, almost certainly must take place; nothing else seems capable of accounting for symptoms like confabulation and anosognosia for hemiplegia. The problem here, however, is an almost complete lack of formal experimental evidence.

Finally, if any of you would like an accessible guide to the currently extremely influential aberrant salience theory (and one that is entirely free of mathematical formulas), the book provides one. Is this theory supported? Well, it predicts that individuals with delusions (eg patients with schizophrenia, those with first-episode psychosis, those at high risk of developing psychosis) will show excessive activation in the ventral striatum, as salience gets inappropriately attributed to neutral stimuli. There is now ample evidence from fMRI studies using reward paradigms that activation in this brain region is abnormal in all these clinical groups. The only slight problem is that it the activation is reduced rather than increased. Maybe, though, there is a way round this problem…

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Challenges to interpretation

Today's post is by Eivind Balsvik (pictured above), who is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Oslo, Norway. His principal research interests concern questions related to rationality, interpretation, and research ethics. He has also worked on the philosophy of Donald Davidson and theories of self-knowledge. In this post, he presents a recent article published in Philosophy of the Social Sciences entitled “Interpretivism, First-Person Authority, and Confabulation.”

My article, “Interpretivism, First-Person Authority, and Confabulation” is a first step in developing a weakly naturalistic interpretation theory for the social sciences, which is consistent with interpretivism. I have been interested in figuring out how a Davidson-inspired interpretation theory can incorporate psychological theories about the imperfections of cognition, which seems to fly in the face of his principles of holism, charity and the presumption of first-person authority. The project has prompted me to study philosophical theories of self-knowledge, psychological experiments that demonstrate confabulation, and dual-systems theory within psychology.

In the social sciences, it is widely accepted that an adequate description of social phenomena must include the participating agents’ own understanding of their actions. Social actors are “self-interpreting animals” (Taylor 1985), whose beliefs and desires, values and preferences enter constitutively into what they do. Adequate descriptions of social action therefore require that social scientists engage in a “double hermeneutic” where the object is to interpret how knowledgeable agents conceive of their own actions (Giddens 1976). This approach has been coined interpretivism.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Distributed Cognition and Collaborative Skills

This post is by Alex Miller Tate (University of Birmingham), reporting from an event taking place in London at the Institute of Philosophy on 26th May 2017, entitled "The Distributed Cognitive Ecologies of Collaborative Embodied Skill".

Philosophers, psychologists, and others share an interest in how human beings act in the world. In particular, scholars are fascinated by how humans develop and then intelligently deploy complex suites of skills and abilities, successfully engaging with an equally complex and rapidly changing environment. Even more impressively, humans often coordinate their actions with others – synchronising with and complementing the actions of their peers in collaborative endeavours as varied as football games and musical performances.

This workshop, organised by John Sutton of Macquarie University, was focused around the investigation of this fascinating topic, with particular emphasis on ways in which our complex, structured, material and social environments act not as a further burden on intelligent collaborative action, but as an enabler of it. At this workshop’s heart was a coming together of work on environmentally situated cognition and collaborative action. While the workshop brought together an invariably insightful group of scholars, I shall focus on just three presentations here.

Emily Cross of Bangor University presented a number of fascinating studies that her lab had conducted on the many and subtle connections between action observation and action performance. Her lab’s work differs in one particularly important respect to other work in the area; they focus on complex rather than simple activities in their test environments. As a consequence, they are able to probe the effects of expertise and learning on action observation and vice versa, and open their investigations to the nature of involved whole-body movements, rather than small and constrained motions (which one might think are ecologically relatively rare). Specifically, her lab focuses on the forms of movement found in dance.

Emily Cross

While there were too many nuanced sets of results offered in her presentation to do justice to here, a few stood out. Firstly, her team have found evidence that sensorimotor brain regions are shaped similarly by both physical practice of complex, whole-body actions and the mere visual experience of another individual practicing the same action. This bolsters previous behavioural evidence that physical and observational rehearsal may share significantly common mechanisms. Moreover, the acquisition of expertise through weeks of learning significantly alters and sharpens activity in the brain associated with action simulation during observation, suggesting that degree and quality of action simulation is modulated by acquisition of embodied skill.

Finally, Cross and her colleagues are just beginning to unravel complex interactions between the development of expertise through physical practice, action simulation, and subjective aesthetic enjoyment of observed movements. Although there is some evidence that enjoyment increases as a function of perceived difficulty in untrained participants, early results look significantly more complex for trained dancers. All of this is grist to the mill for those who want to argue for the fundamentally embodied character of everyday acts of perception, and associated aesthetic judgments.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Morality constrains what we (implicitly) think is possible

My name is Jonathan Phillips and I earned my Ph.D. in Philosophy and Psychology at Yale in 2015. I am now a postdoc in the Moral Psychology Research Lab at Harvard. My research falls in the intersection of psychology, philosophy, and linguistics, and has focused on the psychological representation of modality, or the way our minds represent possibilities.

One incredibly important aspect of human cognition is that we are able to think not only about what is, but also what could be. This ability to represent and reason about non-actual possibilities plays a critical role in many of the judgments that have long interested philosophers and psychologists: it is essential, for example, in how we determine the causes of past events, decide whether a person acted freely, or figure out whether someone is morally responsible.

One interesting, though often overlooked, feature of these kinds of judgments is that humans seems to able to make them quickly and effortlessly. So, to the extent that they require us to represent or reason about alternative possibilities, we must not be doing it consciously or deliberatively. Instead, it seems that we must have some access to a default or implicit representation of possibility.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Autism and Responsibility

On June 7th, Ken Richman (MCPHS University, Boston) and Julian Savulescu (Oxford) hosted a small workshop on autism and moral responsibility at the University of Oxford. 

Some philosophers have argued that impaired cognitive empathy prevents autistic individuals from being fully morally responsible. Neuropsychologists working on autism, philosophers working on moral responsibility and psychiatric illness, autistic adults, and students and postdocs at the Oxford Uehiro Center for Practical Ethics came together to discuss autism and responsibility. Throughout the discussion, we focused on autistic individuals with average or higher intelligence, rather than those who also experience intellectual disability.

One of the first issues addressed was that questioning the moral responsibility of a certain group is extremely sensitive, as exempting individuals from responsibility entails doubting their moral agency, either in a specific situation or more generally. Such considerations might even be used to exclude a person from school or the workplace.

The capacities relevant to moral responsibility are generally considered to be volitional capacity (control) and understanding of the consequences and moral character of one’s actions. Both are affected by autism to some extent. However, autistic individuals are not more prone to committing crimes than the general population, and are not unusually prone to other kinds of immoral behaviour, either. My impression from the discussion was that problems arise most frequently when people are in overwhelming situations, or there can also be problems with inappropriate social behaviour, such as unintended rudeness.

It was pointed out that for most mental disorders, the disorder does not provide a blanket excuse or exemption from responsibility. Rather, what needs to be considered is how specific features of the disorder affected a specific action in order to make a case by case decision regarding excuse. For example, when making a responsibility judgment regarding an autistic child’s meltdown in a noisy situation, we need to take into account how much more stressful certain situations are for autistic children, as well as possible problems with volitional control. This implies that a global assessment of moral incapacity is inappropriate.

Under the label ‘authenticity’ we discussed approaches to moral responsibility and agency that require a morally competent agent not only to do the right thing, but to do it with the right feelings and attitudes. Examples introduced were comforting behaviour without typical feelings of empathy, and apologies without emotional appreciation of the harm done. In reaction to this, some of the participants with more experience with or of autism doubted that such descriptions, which ascribe a lack of affect to autistic individuals, are in fact accurate. It was pointed out that individuals with autism experience affective empathy and emotional contagion and primarily struggle with cognitive empathy, understanding and predicting what other people think. 

Issues are further complicated by another feature common among autistic people: alexithymia, the inability to identify and describe one’s own emotions. So it is important to note is that while the affective responses to other people’s plights may well be different, this does not mean that emotional responses are absent. Furthermore, many of us believed, contra some Strawsonian approaches, that the emotions with which individuals do the morally right thing should not feed into our moral evaluation of their actions, even if they may well influence other aspects of interpersonal relationships. 

The last point we discussed was whether autism has any effect on autonomy and people’s ability to make decisions for themselves. One frequently observed phenomenon is that parents of autistic children are often slower to let them make their own decisions because they want to protect them from ill-considered decisions arising from an inability to appreciate relevant options for action, or insufficient appreciation of the way their condition may affect the success of an action or project. In other words, there can be a struggle to balance respect with paternalistic care for autistic individuals’ welfare.

The workshop generated a very rich and interesting discussion which benefited immensely from the different perspectives that informed the conversation.