Thursday, 25 April 2019

The Emotional Mind

This post is written by Tom Cochrane, who is a British philosopher working at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. One of his main aims is to draw on facts about psychology to develop insights about the good life. 

Tom has worked a lot on emotions and aesthetics. He also has specific interests in mental disorders- including a co-authored article on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at Mind &Language that readers of this blog may find interesting.



My new book The Emotional Mind (2018) is mostly focused on how the various phenomena we associate with the emotions—feelings, behaviours, moods, pain and pleasure, rational cognition, character traits and so on—all fit together.

The overall picture I propose is of fundamental concern-regulating routines that get steadily elaborated as new ways to represent information come along. Thus the book starts by outlining the fundamental routines, and then builds on this layer and layer until we reach a pretty complete description of person-level emotional experience.

Although I do not say much about mental disorders in the book, given the major role that emotions play in mental health it is not hard to draw connections. For instance, one relevant connection comes in Chapter Six where I argue that the rational regulation of our emotions is itself a kind of meta-emotional process. However, since it is particularly in line with the interests of this blog, I want to focus here on my model of personality traits (presented in chapter 7), specifically those personality traits that could be considered unhealthy, such as neuroticism.

My main claim about personality traits is that they are long-term strategies for regulating concerns. Every personality trait combines a heightened sensitivity towards a certain concern with an enhanced capacity to protect that concern. For example, agreeableness can be understood as a strategy in which the individual is relatively oriented towards supportive social relationships and is relatively skilled in serving this concern (e.g. due to good empathic skills). Similarly, neuroticism is best understood as a heightened orientation towards sources of danger or loss and an enhanced capacity to notice when these things may occur.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Confabulating Reasons

Our series on new research on confabulation continues, featuring summaries of the papers contributing to the special issue of Topoi guest-edited by Sophie Stammers and Lisa Bortolotti.

Today's post, the third in the series, is by Marianna Bergamaschi Ganapini. Since September 2017, she is an assistant professor of Philosophy at Union College (NY), specialized in philosophy of mind and epistemology. She received her PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 2017.



My paper “Confabulating Reasons” focuses on the confabulatory episodes connected to those mental attitudes (e.g. belief, emotion, intention) whose causes we cannot introspectively access. In the literature, the predominant view is that these confabulations track – or at least attempt to do so – the psychological causes of mental attitudes. 

A related hypothesis is that these confabulations are either the result of a general cognitive mechanism that pushes us to understand the world in terms of causal relations (Coltheart, 2017), or the result of a self-directed mindreading mechanism (Carruthers, 2013).

I believe this psychological tack is insufficient to explain the nature of confabulations and the mechanism behind it. In the paper, I show that the best way to make sense of the typical cases of confabulations is to see them as statements that try to justify one’s pre-existing mental attitudes. More specifically, my main claim is that confabulations are primarily offered as normative reasons to justify our attitudes, and they are psychological explanations for those attitudes only as a result of this normative function. 


Thursday, 18 April 2019

Psychiatric Neuroethics

The author of the post is Walter Glannon, who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Calgary in Canada. He has held other academic appointments at McGill University and the University of British Columbia. 

Walter grew up and received all of his education in the US. Following a fellowship in clinical medical ethics at the University of Chicago, for 5 years (2000-2005) he was clinical ethicist at 3 hospitals in Montreal and Vancouver. This is largely how he developed his interest in research and clinical aspects of psychiatry.




Advances in psychiatric research and clinical psychiatry in the last 30 years have given rise to a host of new questions that lie at the intersection of psychiatry, neuroscience, philosophy and law. Such questions include:

  • Are psychiatric disorders diseases of the brain, caused by dysfunctional neural circuits and neurotransmitters?
  • What role do genes, neuro-endocrine, neuro-immune interactions and the environment play in the development of these disorders?
  • How do different explanations of the etiology and pathophysiology of mental illness influence diagnosis, prognosis and decisions about treatment?
  • Would it be rational for a person with a chronic treatment-resistant disorder to request euthanasia or assisted suicide to end their suffering?
  • Could psychiatric disorders be predicted and prevented?

Psychiatric Neuroethics explores these questions in a comprehensive and systematic way, discussing the medical and philosophical implications of neuroscience and the Research Domain Criteria (RDoc) in the fields of psychiatry and mental health. It examines the extent to which circuit-based criteria can offer a satisfactory explanation of psychiatric disorders and how they compare with the symptom-based criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV).

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Confabulation as Unreliable Imagining

This is the second in a series of posts featuring new research on confabulation. Today's contribution is by Kirk Michaelian (Centre for Philosophy of Memory) who summarises his paper, "Confabulation as Unreliable Imagining", for the special issue of Topoi on confabulation guest edited by Sophie Stammers and Lisa Bortolotti.




The context for my contribution to the special issue is a debate over the nature of confabulation that has been unfolding for several years now within the philosophy of memory community.

In my 2016 book, Mental Time Travel: Episodic Memory and Our Knowledge of the Personal Past, I developed and defended a simulation theory of memory. In opposition to the causal theory, the simulation theory denies that remembering an event presupposes the existence of an "appropriate" causal connection between the subject's present representation of the event and his past experience of it, maintaining, instead, that the difference between genuine and merely apparent remembering is a matter of reliability: genuine remembering is carried out by a properly functioning -- and hence reliable -- episodic construction system.

The simulation theory naturally suggests an account of confabulation according to which confabulation is distinguished from remembering by its unreliability: in remembering, the process that produces the apparent memory is reliable; in confabulation, it is not. While the book briefly sketches this account of confabulation, however, it doesn't develop it in any detail, and I hadn't thought carefully about confabulation until I was prompted to do so by a pair of stimulating articles by Sarah Robins on confabulation and misremembering.

Opposing the simulationist account sketched in the book, Robins develops a causalist account according to which confabulation is distinguished from successful remembering by its falsity and by the absence of appropriate causal connection, whereas misremembering -- seen, for example, in the DRM effect, in which subjects who study a list of thematically-related words tend to "remember" non-presented but thematically-consistent lure words -- is distinguished from successful remembering by its falsity and by the presence of appropriate causal connection.

Unconvinced by Robins' argument, I wrote an article devoted to critiquing the causalist account, in part on the ground that it failed to acknowledge the possibility of veridical confabulation, and to refining the simulationist account. According to the refined version of the simulationist account developed in this article, falsidical confabulation is characterized by falsity and unreliability, veridical confabulation is characterized by truth and unreliability, and misremembering is characterized by falsity and reliability; successful remembering, in line with the simulation theory, is characterized by truth and reliability.

This refined simulationist account was then attacked in an article by Bernecker, who argued that it could accommodate neither the possibility of unjustified memory nor that of justified confabulation.

My contribution to the special issue argues that, unlike the epistemic accounts with which Bernecker groups it, the simulationist account can indeed accommodate unjustified memory and that, since justified confabulation is not a genuine possibility, it need not accommodate justified confabulation.

It also further refines the simulationist account by taking into account the role of failures of metacognitive monitoring in unsuccessful remembering. Earlier versions of the simulationist account emphasized that reliability and accuracy can come apart at the level of apparent remembering; this happens in misremembering (in which a reliable process produces an inaccurate representation) and in veridical confabulation (in which an unreliable process produces an accurate representation). The current version of the simulationist account points out that this can happen at the metacognitive level as well. A form of luck thus plays a role at two distinct levels in the production of memory errors.

The result is a more complex but (I believe) more precise taxonomy of memory errors. In order to tame the complexity of the taxonomy, the article distinguishes among four groups of subjects -- those with no malfunction, those with malfunction at the level of remembering only, those with malfunction at the level of metacognition only, and those with malfunction at both levels -- and sorts the errors characteristic of each group according to whether they involve no luck, luck at one or the other level, or luck at both levels.

Table: A new simulationist classification, second attempt; alternative presentation


The obvious next step is to consider which of the errors acknowledged by the account have been or should be subjected to empirical investigation. And there will -- the conciliatory tone of Robins' contribution to the special issue notwithstanding -- no doubt be further attacks from the causalist camp. So, while the current version of the simulationist account is an improvement over previous versions, more work remains to be done.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

ASPP 2018


The Australasian Society for Philosophy and Psychology formed in 2017, with the aim to “promote interaction in Australasia among philosophers and psychologists, broadly construed to include anyone interested in scientific study of the mind”. The ASPP held their inaugural conference at Macquarie University in December 2018, and I was lucky enough to go along. Here’s a little of what I learned there...


If you’ve ever been perplexed by the prevalence of a viewpoint or political stance that you don’t share, then you might be wondering: how do we step outside of the epistemic echo chambers in which we find ourselves in our increasingly online world? Kate Devitt and her team at Queensland University of Technology are on the case. 

Inspired by the finding that increasing the number and diversity of hypotheses considered can improve decision making, particularly in an organisational and strategic setting, Kate and her team have built an interactive platform which encourages people to increase the number and diversity of ideas they considered before adopting a stance on an issue. The platform BetterBeliefs (which you can - and should – try out right after you’ve finished reading this…) links hypotheses to evidence (e.g. news articles or technical updates), which users can vote up or down producing a ‘Degree of Belief’ metric that indicates the likelihood a hypothesis is true given user belief in it.