Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Sweeping vs. Creeping Reductionism in Addiction Research

Şerife Tekin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research program in philosophy of science and mind aims to enhance psychiatric epistemology by developing methods for supplementing the existing scientific literature with a philosophical study of the first-person accounts of those with mental illness. 

She draws on the scientific literature on mental illness, philosophical literature on the self, and the ethics literature on what contributes to human flourishing to facilitate the expansion of psychiatric knowledge that will ultimately yield to effective treatments of mental illness. Here she discusses her article, “Brain Mechanisms and the Disease Model of Addiction: Is it the Whole Story of the Addicted Self? A Philosophical-Skeptical Perspective,” which recently appeared in the Routledge Handbook of Philosophy and Science of Addiction.


In my chapter in this anthology, which brings together cutting-edge work on the scientific and clinical research on addiction and various philosophical puzzles pertaining to addiction, I take issue with the disease model of addiction that construes addiction merely as a problem of the “broken brain.” I defend that self or person models of addiction are more resourceful for enhancing research on the mechanisms of addiction and developing effective interventions.

A common debate among scientists and philosophers is whether human sciences, such as psychology and psychiatry, involve phenomena distinct from those targeted in the physical sciences. According to reductionism, target phenomena in human sciences are only prima facie distinct from those in the physical sciences, lending themselves to explanation or even replacement by phenomena in the physical and chemical sciences.

Reductionism exists on a spectrum (Schaffner 2013). On the one extreme, human phenomena “are nothing but aggregates of physicochemical entities,” a view labeled “sweeping reductionism” (Schaffner 2013: 1003). For “sweeping” reductionists, “there is a theory of everything” and “there is nothing but those basic elements—for example, a very powerful biological theory that explains all of psychology and psychiatry” (ibid). 

Thursday, 6 December 2018

How We Understand Others

Today’s post was written by Shannon Spaulding, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Oklahoma State University. Her general philosophical interests are in the philosophy of mind, philosophical psychology, and the philosophy of science. 

The principal goal of her research is to construct a philosophically and empirically plausible account of social cognition. She also has research interests in imagination, pretense, and action theory. Here she introduces her new book, “How We Understand Others: Philosophy and Social Cognition”.




A question that has long interested me is how we understand others – that is, what are the cognitive processes that underlie successful social understanding and interaction – and what happens when we misunderstand others. In philosophy and the cognitive sciences, the orthodox view is that understanding and interacting with others is partly underwritten by mindreading, the capacity to make sense of intentional behavior in terms of mental states. 

On this view, successful social interaction often involves understanding what others are thinking and what they are trying to achieve. In our ordinary social interactions, we attribute beliefs, desires, emotions, and intentions to people to make sense of their behavior, and on the basis of that we predict what they are likely to do next. 

In this book, I argue that mindreading is an important tool in our folk psychological toolkit. But, I argue, mindreading is not as simple, uniform, or accurate as the orthodox view portrays it to be. The philosophical literature on mindreading suggests that neurotypical adult humans rarely make mindreading mistakes, that competent mindreaders all pretty much agree on the mentalistic explanations and predictions we infer, and all there really is to mindreading is attributing a belief, desire, or intention and explaining and predicting behavior. 

I challenge each of these ideas. I argue that individuals differ with respect to informational input to mindreading, their goals in mindreading, the kind of mindreading strategies they adopt, and the kind of mindreading output they produce. My claim is not simply that individuals use their mindreading judgments differently. That much is uncontroversial. 

Rather, my claim is that the input, processing, and output of mindreading all vary along many dimensions, which makes constructing an empirically adequate account of mindreading significantly more challenging than typically recognized. The overarching theme of the book is that mindreading is much more complex, messy, interesting, and relevant to other debates than philosophers have acknowledged. 

There are two particularly important dimensions of complexity for mindreading: the input and output of mindreading. Philosophical accounts of mindreading for the most part do not discuss the input into mindreading mechanisms. Discussions of mindreading rarely concern how social categorization (rapidly, spontaneously classifying individuals by their age, race, gender, and other categories), stereotypes, social biases, and situational context influence how we interpret social behavior. 

These aspects of social interaction filter the available information that serves as input to mindreading and thus directly influence the mental representations mindreaders end up attributing. Thus, realistic and accurate accounts of mindreading must explain how these aspects of social interaction shape both the input and output of mindreading judgments. 

Most contemporary mindreading theories presuppose that our primary goal in mindreading is to attribute beliefs in order to accurately explain behavior. Although this is the case in certain conditions, this presupposition is wrongheaded in two ways. First, mindreading is not limited to belief-based explanations. Existing mindreading theories often narrowly focus on how we attribute beliefs to others. 

Although there is good reason to think that belief attribution is a significant cognitive achievement, and there’s an interesting history of how belief attribution came to dominate philosophical discussion of social cognition, the result of this fixation on belief is that philosophical discussions neglect other important aspects of social interaction, such as attributing various kinds of mental states in order to influence others (mindshaping), to enforce social and moral norms (regulative folk psychology), to confirm our worldview, protect in-group members, and, in cases of competition or threat, vilify an outgroup member. 


Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The Subjective Structure of Thought Insertion

Pablo López-Silva is a Reader in Philosophical Psychology at the Faculty of Medicine of the Universidad de Valparaíso in Chile. He is the leading researcher of the FONDECYT project ‘The Agentive Architecture of Human Thought’ granted by the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) of the Government of Chile. 

His current research focuses on cognitive phenomenology, attributions of mental agency, and delusions. In this post, he summarizes his new paper titled ‘Mapping the Psychotic Mind’ recently published in the Psychiatric Quarterly.



Thought insertion – TI henceforth – is regarded as one of the most complex symptoms of psychosis. People suffering from TI report that external human and non-human agents have inserted thoughts or ideas into their minds. Over the last years, the enigmatic nature of TI reports has become target of a number of phenomenological, empirical, and conceptual debates. In fact, TI has been used as a good excuse to debate about the nature of delusions, the nature of psychiatric reports, the nature of the self, self-consciousness, the adaptive role of beliefs, the principle of immunity to error through misidentification, among many other issues.

However, three problems underlie these discussions.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

How to Feel Blue

Today's post is by Cheryl Wright.

In 1998 I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who was missing part of her corpus callosum. She was quirky and didn’t learn to speak in a typical manner. She had echolalia for years and would only simultaneously repeat what was being said in seemingly stereo timing to what she heard. I had to spend years teaching her to answer, “I’m fine, thank you.” to the question, “How are you?” I walked around with her, and for years pointed to everything blue, telling her it was blue; hoping she would get the concept of color.

We had a blue and white checkered tile floor. I had every person that came in hop on the blue tiles and exclaim “BLUE!” At the age of seven, she finally got it. She said, “Mama, I walk blue!” and excitedly walked across the white tiles on the floor. She did understand blue and was able to demonstrate her understanding over the next week. The other colors came within the next six months.

Cheryl Wright

When she did start to share her observations of the world, I found out that she didn’t view things in the same way that I did. “Look! An airplane, Mama!” she called out to me one day as we were outside walking. Of course, I looked up. No airplanes. I looked down for a toy airplane. I even looked for a sticker of an aircraft.

Then I saw it. The shadow that made an airplane. I became observant of shadows and realized that they were very real to her. She avoided stepping on shiny tiles that reflected the ceiling. For to her, it looked like she was going to drop into a pool. She didn’t look at her reflection in mirrors, as she didn’t recognize it was a reflection of herself, only a disinterested other child. She avoided stepping on shadows as they were physical objects.


The 'plane'


Through my sincere desire to understand my daughter’s thought processes, I researched and studied. I obtained an advanced degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders and earned a Doctorate of Education. I’ve worked to advocate for individuals with disabilities and enjoy being an international educator, speaker, and author. I have worked as a life-skills coach for students with developmental disabilities in South Korea, Thailand, Kuwait, and the United States. In coordination with the wonderful educational leaders that I have met internationally, we have authored the Cultural Rainbow series of children's books about individuals with different abilities, acceptance, holidays, and cultures around the world.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Intensity of Experience and Delusions in Schizophrenia

This post is by Eisuke Sakakibara, psychiatrist working at The University of Tokyo Hospital. In this post he writes about his paper “Intensity of experience: Maher’s schizophrenic delusion revisited” recently published in Neuroethics.



Delusion is one of the most frequently discussed themes in philosophy of psychiatry, and this is my second publication regarding delusions. In my first paper, entitled “Irrationality and pathology of beliefs,” I proposed that not all delusions are pathological, and some delusions are formed without any physical or mental dysfunction.

In my second paper, I focused on delusions accompanied by schizophrenia. As for schizophrenic delusions, it is beyond question that they are the result of dysfunction of some kind. The problem, then, is what kind of dysfunction is relevant for the development of schizophrenic delusions.

The theory of schizophrenic delusion has developed by the consecutive works made by Brendan Maher. He proposed in 1974 that schizophrenic delusions are hypotheses formed to explain anomalous experiences rather than the result of patients’ paralogical inferences. He stated that they are “rational, given the intensity of the experiences that they are developed to explain.”

But his theory was criticized by the two-factor theorists of delusion because 1) it does not explain why some patients with anomalous experiences do not develop delusions, and 2) adopting and adhering to delusional hypotheses is irrational, considering the totality of experiences and patients’ other beliefs.

In my second paper, the notion of the intensity of experience is reappraised to uphold Maher’s basic conception. Regarding 1), I propose that differences in the intensity of anomalous experience are vital to whether the patient forms delusions, while partially reforming his rationality claim regarding 2). Although adopting delusions is irrational, it is inevitable and excusable, given the intensity of the patient’s anomalous experience.