Tuesday 13 October 2015

PERFECT Year Two: Ema

Ema Sullivan-Bissett

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

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

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

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

Last year I was research posts editor for this blog, commissioning and publishing posts every Tuesday, and I’ll continue to do this in the year to come. Do get in touch if you have ideas for blog posts on your recent research!

In the coming year I want to focus on three things. Firstly, I will continue working on defending the one-factor account of delusion formation, and in particular looking at the implications a successful defence of this account has for certain philosophical views of perception and the relationship between belief and truth.

Secondly, I want to work on the relationship between accounts of delusion formation and epistemic innocence, since I think that if delusions are epistemically innocent, as Lisa has argued (here and here), this might be something which all sides of the delusion formation debate can accept.

Finally, I want to think about the biological function of beliefs about epistemic normativity. My thought is that such beliefs are biologically useful, but not as an approximation to truth, since I think they are false. I’ll be developing this idea in time for presentation at our workshop on False but Useful Beliefs in February next year.

P.S. You can also watch my video on Year 2 of PERFECT.

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