Thursday, 16 November 2017

Only Imagine. Fiction, Interpretation and Imagination

Kathleen Stock is a Philosopher at the University of Sussex, working on questions about imagination and fiction, including: What is the imagination? What is the relation between imagining and believing? What is fiction? Can we learn from fiction? Are there limits to what we can imagine? She has published widely on related topics, and her book Only Imagine: Fiction, Interpretation and Imagination is now out with Oxford University Press. She blogs about fiction and imagination at thinkingaboutfiction.me.





Philosophers and literary theorists argue about three things: what fiction is, how fiction should be interpreted, and what imagination is. In Only Imagine, I suggest that all three questions can be illuminated simultaneously.  I aim to build a theory of fiction that also tells us about the imagination, and vice versa.

My focus is on texts. First, I defend a theory of fictional interpretation (or ‘fictional truth’ as it’s sometimes called). When we read a novel or story, we understand certain things as part of the plot: ‘truths’ about characters, places, and events (though of course these are usually not actually true, but made up). A lot of the time, these ‘truths’ are made explicit – directly referred to by the words used by the author. But equally, in many cases, plot elements are only implied, not referred to explicitly. By what principle does or should the reader work out what such elements are, for a given story? Whether explicit or implied, I argue that fictional truths are to be discerned by working out what the author of the story intended the reader to imagine.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Philosophy of Psychedelic Ego Dissolution: Unbinding the Self

This post is by Chris Letheby.




In recent decades there has been a growing interdisciplinary attempt to understand self-awareness by integrating empirical results from neuroscience and psychiatry with philosophical theorizing. This is exemplified by the enterprise known as ‘philosophical psychopathology’, in which observations about unusual cognitive conditions are used to infer conclusions about the functioning of the healthy mind. But this line of research has been somewhat limited by the fact that pathological alterations to self-awareness are unpredictable and can only be studied retrospectively—until now.

The recent resurgence of scientific interest in ‘classic’, serotonergic psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin has changed all this. Using more rigorous methods than some of their forebears, psychiatrists have shown that psychedelics can, after all, be given safely in clinical contexts, and may even cause lasting psychological benefits. Small studies have shown symptom reductions in anxiety, depression, and addiction, and positive personality change in healthy subjects, lasting many months, after just one or two supervised psychedelic sessions.

What’s most intriguing is that the mechanism of action appears to involve a dramatically altered state of consciousness known as ‘ego dissolution’, in which the ordinary sense of self is profoundly altered or even absent. In many studies, ratings of ‘mystical experience’—of which ego dissolution is a core component—strongly predict clinical outcomes; so understanding ego dissolution is crucial for understanding the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.




Moreover, with the advent of modern neuroimaging technologies, there is a chance for psychedelics finally to fulfil their promise to be for psychiatry “what the microscope is for biology… or the telescope is for astronomy” (Grof 1980). The renaissance of psychedelic research allows neuroscientists, for the first time, to watch the sense of self disintegrate and reintegrate, safely, reliably, and repeatedly, in the neuroimaging scanner.

In a paper recently published in Neuroscience of Consciousness, Philip Gerrans and I have proposed a novel account of self-awareness based on findings from psychedelic science. Research to date has found that ego dissolution is associated with global increases in connectivity between normally segregated brain regions, resulting from a breakdown of high-level cortical networks implicated in the sense of self. However, results have not been entirely consistent; in some studies, breakdowns are most pronounced in the famous Default Mode Network (DMN), centred on the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices, whereas in others they are found in the Salience Network (SLN), centred on the anterior cingulate and anterior insular cortices.

Philip and I argue that this pattern of results can be explained by an account combining insights from two different theories: the influential predictive processing theory of brain function, and the self-binding theory of Sui and Humphreys (2015). Predictive processing holds that the brain is a prediction engine, constantly building models to anticipate its future inputs and reduce error. Meanwhile, self-binding theory says that a key function of self-representation is to integrate information from disparate sources into coherent representations. This claim is based on a body of experimental work showing that self-related information is integrated more efficiently than non-self-related information.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Copenhagen 2017 School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind




The Copenhagen Summer School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind is an annual event organized by the Center of Subjectivity Research . It aims to provide essential insights into central themes within the philosophy of mind, viewed from a phenomenological perspective. The general topics covered this year were intentionality, experience, reflection, perception, attention, self-awareness, rationality, normativity and methodology.

Over a period of 5 days, the schedule included keynote lectures, PhD presentations, discussion groups and seminars. The late afternoons and evenings were dedicated to different social events (such as visits to the city, a harbour tour) which allowed for opportunities to exchange ideas amongst researchers. In this post, I give a detailed summary of the main points made by the keynote speakers.




On the first day Søren Overgaard talked about Embodiment and Social Perception. The question he set up to answer was whether Social Perception Theory depends on a particular view of embodiment. Social Perception Theory (SPT) claims that it is possible to perceive that others are in happy, angry, in pain, desire another piece of pie, or intending to attack.

The idea of embodiment that Overgaard argued for is that in which at least some mental states extend all the way to the perceptible surface behaviour. In his view, a joyous smile on someone’s face is part of the mental state of joy in so far as it may carry information about the emotion. According to an intuitively plausible view that he labels the ‘Dependency Thesis’, SPT depends in specific ways on Embodiment. But he considers that in the context of the mindreading debate the Dependency Thesis is false.







On the second day Hanne Jacobs gave a talk on Attention, Reason and Subjectivity. According to Jacobs, Husserl’s account is worth considering when trying to understand what we do when we make up our own (embodied, personal, and socially embedded) minds. Based on Husserl’s phenomenology, she proposed that attention is a mode of consciousness in which we exercise reason.

She argued against contemporary authors who defend the idea that Husserl’s phenomenology proposes that there is a non-discursive form of rationality present in pre-predicative perception. She proposed instead that Husserl ties the activity of reason to the capacity for reflection in at least one significant sense. That in which, when we are attentive to something and take something to be in certain way and not other, we are also pre-reflectively aware of the reasons that there are are for and against our taking something to be in such specific way.

This sort of pre-reflective awareness gives way to reflective deliberation. And that it is for this that we do not just need a theory of self-knowledge but a theory of the subject or subjectivity to understand the nature and scope of the exercise of rationality. Jacobs argues that Husserl presents us with both a theory of self-knowledge and with an account of the subject that exercises rationality.


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Understanding Autism

This post is by Dan Weiskopf. He is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgia State University, and his research deals with classificatory practices in scientific taxonomy and everyday cognition.



Autism is among the most mystifying of psychiatric disorders. For patients and their families, doctors, and caregivers, it presents an intractable and often painful clinical reality. For researchers, it presents a profound theoretical challenge. While it has a handful of fairly well agreed-upon characteristics (the so-called “core triad”), it is also linked with an enormous range of inconsistent and heterogeneous symptoms. These include behavioral, cognitive, neurobiological, and genetic abnormalities, as well as somatic medical conditions.

Given this messiness, it is hard to say what autism itself even is, let alone design effective interventions and treatments for it. There has been a call by some—psychologist Lynn Waterhouse most prominently—to eliminate the disorder from our nosology, on the grounds that it is too disunified to count as a single condition.

Against this eliminativist position, I argue that the prospects for understanding autism are brighter if we adjust our expectations of what psychiatric disorders look like. In “An Ideal Disorder? Autism as a Psychiatric Kind”, I propose that the complexities of autism can best be explained using a network model.

Think of a disorder as initially “anchored” by a set of focal exemplars. These exemplars represent cleaned-up and idealized sets of clinical cases in which the disorder appears. They constitute the nodes of the network that represents the disorder. In the case of autism, there might be different idealized cases standing for “high” and “low” functioning individuals, but many more distinctions might be necessary depending on how the disorder presents itself in different settings and patient populations. For example, we now recognize the important fact that the profile of autism appears to be quite different in men than in women.

For each exemplar there is a set of a characteristic set of cognitive, somatic, neural, and genetic markers. These correspond to places where things have gone wrong, at many levels, to produce that particular clinical phenotype. The existence of these underlying explanatory clusters is what warrants treating focal exemplars as real sites for deeper investigation and treatment.

This captures autism’s heterogeneity. Still, why think there is one disorder here rather than many? The answer is that we can trace out commonalities in the patterns of disruption underlying these exemplars. Exemplars are chained together into a network by having these properties in common. One patient may share a certain rigid behavioral repertoire and GI ailments with a second one, and that patient may share a form of abnormal language development with a third. The third, in turn, might have a specific neuroanatomical abnormality that is shared with the first, but not the second.


Thursday, 2 November 2017

Call for Papers: Confabulation and Epistemic Innocence

Elisabetta Lalumera is organising a Confabulation and Epistemic Innocence workshop at the University of Milano-Bicocca (image below), to be held in Milan (Italy) on May 28, 2018.



Below you find a call for papers for the event.


Summary of topic

When people are unaware of information that accounts for some phenomenon, this does not necessarily prevent them from offering a sincere, but often inaccurate, explanation. Indeed, whilst confabulation has been shown to occur alongside psychiatric diagnoses featuring serious memory impairments, and in people undergoing symptoms of mental distress, it also occurs regularly in people with no such diagnoses or symptoms.

Some cognitions which fail to accurately represent reality may nonetheless have redeeming features that promote good functioning in a variety of domains. Inaccurate cognitions may misrepresent the world, but can also bring psychological and practical benefits. More recently, philosophers have pointed out that epistemically costly cognitions can also sometimes have positive epistemic features.

When these epistemic benefits are significant, and could not be attained in other ways, then the cognition can be considered “epistemically innocent”. The notion of epistemic innocence has already been discussed in the case of some inaccurate cognitions, such as delusions, but whether or not confabulation counts as epistemically innocent is a relatively underexplored issue.

Sample questions

  • What are the epistemic costs of confabulation and are there any epistemic benefits? 
  • How should epistemic costs and potential benefits of confabulation be adjudicated? 
  • Are the potential epistemic benefits of confabulation related to, or independent of, any psychological benefits? 
  • Is providing an inaccurate answer or an inaccurate explanation better (and in what sense) than providing no answer or no explanation at all? 
  • Are the costs and benefits of clinical confabulation comparable to those of non-clinical confabulation?


Instructions, review process, and timeline

Please submit a 500-word paper by 28th February 2018. The short paper is supposed to sketch the main argument and include some reference to its conclusions and implications. Contributors will be informed by 30th March 2018 whether their short papers have been selected for presentation at the workshop.

For the authors whose short papers are selected for presentation, there may also be an opportunity to submit a full paper (max. 8000 words) by 30th June 2018 for inclusion in a special issue of a journal on the philosophy of confabulation.

Please submit your 500-word papers to Valeria Motta as an email attachment. The title should be CONFABULATION 2018 [SURNAME OF AUTHOR]. Identifying information such as the full name of the authors, their email addresses, and their affiliations should not appear in the attachment, but only in the body of the email. The attachment should contain a blind version of the short paper. Authors’ names, affiliation if applicable, and contact details will be accessed only by Valeria Motta who will assign reviewers, but will not be involved in reviewing submissions. Each paper will be independently reviewed by two experts. Contributions from members of groups underrepresented in philosophy are especially welcome.

Please note that reasonable travel and subsistence expenses of the selected workshop contributors will be covered thanks to the support of the University of Milano-Bicocca and the sponsorship of project PERFECT. Also note that presentation of the selected papers at the workshop does not guarantee that the full papers will be accepted for publication in a special issue dedicated to the issue of confabulation, as the full papers will be subject to further, independent review and may be rejected at that stage.

You may contact Elisabetta Lalumera for general inquiries about the workshop or the CFP.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Quotidian Confabulations

In this post, Chris Weigel discusses her paper “Quotidian Confabulations: An Ethical Quandary Concerning Flashbulb Memories,” published in Theoretical and Applied Ethics in 2014. Chris is a professor of philosophy at Utah Valley University. She works mainly on experimental philosophy of free will and on cognitive biases.



How did you find out about the planes crashing on September 11, 2001? What do you remember about the first time you met your spouse? Wait, don’t answer those questions! Your memories about those events are flashbulb memories—memories of surprising, monumental, and emotionally-laden events—and my paper invites us to rethink asking people for their memories about these events, such as the Challenger explosion, assassinations of important public figures, and terrorist attacks.

My conclusion isn’t that we should never ask people about their flashbulb memories, but rather that sometimes asking people about their flashbulb memories is problematic. It’s problematic because flashbulb memories often involve confabulations (i.e., believed, obvious falsehoods), and under certain circumstances, we should abstain from provoking a confabulation.

My conclusion is counterintuitive. It’s counterintuitive to say that in certain cases people should not ask others about flashbulb events. To get to that conclusion, I begin by looking at Anton’s syndrome and Capgras syndrome, two syndromes that involve confabulations. People with Anton’s syndrome think they can see even though they are blind. If you ask someone with Anton’s syndrome about what you look like, they will likely answer you even if you have never met the person before.

People with Capgras syndrome believe that their loved ones are impostors. A person with Capgras syndrome might tell you that their father isn’t really their father despite all evidence to the contrary. If you ask that person how the so-called impostor came to have the right wallet, appearance, demeanor, and memories, the person with Capgras syndrome might begin by telling you a story about how the wallet must have been stolen. People with these syndromes confabulate. That is, they assert falsehoods that they confidently believe, even though others can see that the falsehoods are obviously false and baseless. Also, these particular confabulations can be reliably provoked in certain circumstances: ask an Anton’s patient what they see or ask a Capgras patient about the specific loved ones they believe are impostors, and you’ll most likely get a confabulation.

The next step in the argument is to see that absent competing obligations, it is wrong to provoke a confabulation. Competing obligations include such things as medical research, neuroscientific research, caring for the patient, and so on. A doctor who is talking trying to assess a blind person with Anton’s syndrome might ask that person what they see in the course of a medical evaluation. The importance of accurate medical evaluations entails that provoking a confabulation in such circumstances is not problematic. On the other end of the spectrum, suppose someone sold tickets at a fair to gawkers who wanted to see the confabulating blind person who thinks they can see. This ticket seller’s motives are negative and cruel, and it is fairly easy to see that provoking confabulations in such a case is problematic.

In between are cases where someone provokes a confabulation with no competing obligations (either positive as in the case of the doctor or negative as in the case of the ticket seller). For example, someone might provoke a confabulation out of idle curiosity, to fill a silence with sound, or for no reason at all. In these cases, since there are no overriding obligations like research or diagnosis, provoking a person with Anton’s syndrome or Capgras syndrome to confabulate is problematic.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

True Enough

Catherine Z. Elgin is Professor of the Philosophy of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is the author of Considered Judgment, Between the Absolute and the Arbitrary, With Reference to Reference, and (with Nelson Goodman) Reconceptions in Philosophy and Other Arts and Sciences. In this post, she talks about her book True Enough.




Epistemology valorizes truth.  There may be practical or prudential reasons to accept a contention that is known to be false, but it is widely assumed that there can never be epistemically good reasons to do so.  Nor can there be epistemically good reasons to accept modes of justification that are not truth-conducive.  Although this seems plausible, it has a fatal defect.  It cannot accommodate the cognitive contributions of science.  For science unabashedly uses models, idealizations, and thought experiments that are known not to be true.  Nor do practicing scientists think that such devices will ultimately be eliminated.  They expect current models to be supplanted by better models, but not by the unvarnished truth.  Modeling, idealizing, and thought experimenting are considered valuable tools, not unfortunate concessions to human frailty.

Such devices are, I contend, epistemically felicitous falsehoods. They are not mere heuristics. They are central components of the understanding that science supplies. If it is to accommodate science then, epistemology must relax its allegiance to truth.  True Enough develops a holistic epistemology that does so. It acknowledges that tenable theories must be tethered to the phenomena they concern, but denies that truth is the sole acceptable tether.  Felicitous falsehoods figure in understanding by exemplifying features they share with their targets.  They highlight those features and display their significance.  A model like the ideal gas, although strictly true of nothing, highlights important features of actual gases, while sidelining confounding features that for the purposes of a given inquiry make no difference.

On this picture, the center of epistemological gravity shifts from knowledge to understanding.  In science and other systematic inquiries, relatively comprehensive bodies of epistemic commitments -- some true, some felicitously false, some not even truth-apt -- stand or fall together.  Rather than accepting the kinetic theory of gases because she already accepts each of its component commitments, an agent accepts those commitments because they are part of a theory that is, on the whole, acceptable.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

PERFECT Year 4: Valeria

Today's post is by project  PERFECT Doctoral Researcher Valeria N. Motta




2018 is my second year as a doctoral researcher on project PERFECT.

During my first year, I’ve been investigating loneliness and solitude. For that I did research on existing literature from different philosophical traditions and on the outcomes of empirical research. The existing literature on loneliness has focused on identifying its characteristics and has utilised different approaches. The idea behind finding common features (such as boredom or passivity) is that if we are able to identify them, a specific treatment can be developed in order to alleviate the problem. But documented in the literature I have also found an array of different ways of experiencing loneliness (such as those that emerge from failure to remember traumatic events, or which are masqueraded as connectedness via social media). These cases require a more fine grained approach.

I have the privilege to get the support and multi-disciplinary guidance of the Principal Investigator Lisa Bortolotti and the Co-Investigator Michael Larkin. An approach that we find promising consists in viewing loneliness as a social construction that has cultural and personal meanings. The approach could potentially answer the question of whether the experience that we categorise as ‘loneliness’ is always or entirely harmful. Since we are interested in the complex web of costs and benefits that many human experiences have, it is important to contemplate that even something that is as disruptive as loneliness can have a temporarily positive role to play.

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.


Research

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?