Thursday, 17 May 2018

Exploring Culture and Experience

A workshop, entitled “Exploring Culture and Experience: choosing methodologies in qualitative research”, took place at Aston University on the 26th of April 2018. This brief report is written by two of the organisers, William Day (graduate teaching assistant/PhD student in Psychology at Aston) and Tiago Moutela (research assistant/PhD student at Aston). Most of the talks were recorded, and are linked to at the end this write-up.

This workshop was organised by members of the interdisciplinary, interuniversity, group Phenomenology of Health and Relationships (PHaR). PHaR meets bi-monthly at Aston University to read, discuss and share insights into any work which brings a phenomenological focus to the study of health and illness. We are especially interested in understanding the relational context of health and illness, and what we might call a 'health relationship.' Together, some members of PHaR successfully submitted an application to a workshop fund ran by the Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group (PsyPAG).

We had hoped that the rather ‘broad’ scope of the workshop’s focus would enable both the speakers and workshop attendees the freedom and space to talk about their own research, and research interests; whilst exploring the possibilities offered by new and ‘innovative’ ways of collecting and presenting data. Although rooted in psychology, we intended to continue the interdisciplinary ethos of PHaR. As such, delegates from a variety of backgrounds attended including optometry, philosophy and the local police force.

Opening the day, in a talk titled “foregrounding context in qualitative research”, Dr Michael Larkin (Aston University) drew upon a wealth of examples (his son’s spatial explorations of a car being the, perhaps, most memorable) to explain how and why context in qualitative research is the topic of interest rather than a ‘thing’ to be excluded and controlled for. Instead, we should think creatively about how to access the relationship between an individual and their world; how different types of data can bring the different aspects of these relationships to the foreground.

The second talk of the day was by Dr Sarah Seymour-Smith (Nottingham Trent University): “a synthetic discursive approach: research towards the co-production of a prostate cancer mobile application for African Caribbean men”. Speaking candidly about her experiences of data collection, Sarah explored the affect of her status as an ‘outsider’ within a community involved project. Of particular interest were issues experienced around dissemination, where participants actively wanted to be named and credited for their involvement in the project, and responses to perceived positioning (concerns that African Caribbean men were understood as being “homophobic”).

Before lunch we embraced some disciplinary clichés and handed out post-it notes. Attendees were encouraged to briefly write about methodological issues they would like to discuss, before sticking the post-it notes to adjacent walls and finding likeminded individuals. Despite some passing logistical mysteries, the exercise worked well as an ‘ice breaker’: described by one of the delegates as “an academic speed dating event”.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

The Tripartite Role of Belief

Today's post is written by Kenny Easwaran, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. He received his PhD in 2008 from the Group in Logic and Methodology of Science at UC Berkeley, doing interdisciplinary work on the mathematics and philosophy of conditional probability.

This post is about "The Tripartite Role of Belief" which appeared in Res Philosophica as part of a special issue on Bridging Formal and Traditional Epistemology. This paper and the others in the issue were presented at a workshop at St. Louis University. (The paper can be found here.)

This paper considers three broad accounts of the role belief and related notions play in our lives, and suggests connections between them, and the way that different philosophical literatures have privileged one or another. My focus has been on work in epistemology within the analytic tradition, though there is some interactions with psychology, economics, statistics, and other fields, and I hope the typology I draw can be illuminating to people in other traditions.

The starting point is the observation that belief is not a completely unconstrained activity (like imagination or supposition) but instead has some substantive notion of correctness or value. The classification I give is based on whether the goodness of a belief consists in properly following the evidence (or other "upstream" considerations of how the belief was formed), or whether the goodness of a belief consists in it effectively guiding actions to achieve one's other desires (or other "downstream" roles of how the belief is used), or whether the goodness of a belief consists in accurately representing the world (or any other "static" consideration that is neither properly upstream nor downstream).

I suggest that the history of mainstream analytic epistemology traces a pattern from the upstream considerations, through static ones, to a contemporary rising interest in downstream ones, while the history of formal epistemology moves from a focus on downstream considerations through static ones, to a contemporary growth of interest in upstream ones.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Metacognitive Diversity: Interdisciplinary Approaches

Joëlle Proust is an Emeritus CNRS Director of Research at Institut Jean-Nicod, Ecole Normale Supérieure, in Paris. She published The Philosophy of Metacognition in 2013, and co-edited in 2012 a collective volume entitled The Foundations of Metacognition. In this post, she presents a new collective book co-edited with Martin Fortier, Metacognitive Diversity: Interdisciplinary approaches.

The control and monitoring of one's own cognitive actions is called "metacognition". For example, try to remember Mark Twain's original surname. If you fail to retrieve it immediately, you may have the feeling that you will soon do: you have a "feeling of knowing". Other metacognitive feelings include the feeling of familiarity (when seeing a face), of understanding (an utterance), of being right (in drawing a conclusion) – with their negative versions: unfamiliarity, puzzlement, feeling of error. Other feelings lead you to decide whether or not to perform a task as a function of its apparent ease or difficulty.

Studying such feelings is an important topic for philosophers of mind, because attempting to articulate a state of uncertainty with its target belief leads to revise received views about cognitive architecture. Metacognitive feelings also have a central relevance to epistemology. They raise the question of the nature of the epistemic norms that regulate our feelings of knowing, of understanding, of clearly perceiving an object, and of the role of affect in rationality.

Because metacognitive feelings guide our judgments about what seems true, interesting, cognitively easy to do, (or about what seems boring, incoherent or too difficult for us), they play a considerable role in our daily lives as well as in our epistemic practices. Western philosophers until now have tended to assume that the intuitions they have concerning the meaning of concepts are universally shared across cultures. This assumption is foundational for much of the work conducted in analytic philosophy.

Similarly, cognitive scientists have tended to assume that participants in experi¬mental paradigms belonging to Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies ( for short: "WEIRD" participants)  do not differ, in their way of processing information, from the much larger set of participants who do not belong to the "WEIRD" group.  This assumption was proven false in the few domains where it was tested, such as attentional mechanisms and moral cognition. Similarly, in philosophy, conceptual intuitions were found not to be as plainly universal as assumed – but again, few of them have been so far tested across cultures.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Self-deception, Delusions and Responsibility

Quinn Hiroshi Gibson is currently a Teaching Fellow in the Global Perspectives on Society program at New York University Shanghai. He received his PhD in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley in 2017. He works on the moral psychology of self-deception, addiction, delusion, and other psychiatric disorders. His personal website can be found here.

In my recent article ‘Self-deception in and out of Illness: Are some subjects responsible for their delusions?’ I argue that there is significant overlap between self-deception and delusion. Obviously, whether this is true depends on how we think about self-deception. So, in this paper I offer an account of self-deception, which I call Self-deception as Omission. According to my view, self-deception that p occurs if an agent `intentionally omits to seek, recognize, or appreciate externally available evidence for not-p, for reasons which ultimately derive from her desire that that p be true, in a way which enables the maintenance of her belief that p.’

Most other views of self-deception face the difficulty of trying to account for how we get into the self-deceptive state. This is notoriously difficult to do. Three features of the self-deceptive process don’t seem to hang together very well: (1) that it is an intentional process (2) that the ‘self’ that is the agent of the process is unified and (3) that the process yields belief. Other views put pressure on one or more of these features, but often end up harbouring the original difficulty in concealed form.

My view says that it is sufficient for self-deception that the agent is guilty of a certain epistemic violation in the maintenance of her belief, so the self-deceptive state does not depend on coming about through some distinctively self-deceptive process at all. This allows us to sidestep these difficulties altogether. Indeed, I think the only way to decisively respond to such difficulties is to sidestep them altogether. (The argument I am able to offer in this paper for the superiority of my view of self-deception over others is necessarily compressed, but a more complete elaboration and defense of the view is available in my 'Self-deception as Omission’, currently under review, but available as a draft here).

Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Bodily Self: Selected Essays

This post is by José Luis Bermúdez, who is Professor of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. His books include The Paradox of Self-Consciousness (MIT Press, 1998), Thinking without Words (OUP, 2003), Rationality and Decision Theory (OUP, 2009), and Understanding “I”: Language and Thought (OUP, 2017).

His current projects include the third edition of his textbook Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Science of the Mind (CUP); and The Power of Frames: New Tools for Rational Thought (to be published by CUP), supported by a fellowship by the American Association of Learned Societies for the 2018-2019 academic year and a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend for 2018. In this post he presents his new book: The Bodily Self.

The Bodily Self contains a selection of essays on self-consciousness and bodily awareness written over the two decades since The Paradox of Self-Consciousness came out in 1998. All of the papers have been revised, some extensively so, and one appears here for the first time. The Introduction draws out the principal themes running through the volume, and an Afterword points to new directions.

For many philosophers, self-consciousness is closely tied to language. Think of Kant, for example, and “the ‘I think’ that accompanies all my representations”. For Kant, to be conscious of oneself is to be capable of thinking about oneself in a special way. Kant, like many others, took that special way of thinking of oneself to be coeval with the ability to refer to oneself using the first person pronoun “I” (or its equivalent in other languages).

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

How False Memories Can Be a Positive Sign

Today’s post is provided by Project PERFECT Research Fellow Katherine Puddifoot. It introduces the argument of the paper “Epistemic innocence and the production of false memory beliefs” co-authored with Project P.I. Lisa Bortolotti and available open access in Philosophical Studies.

Suppose that your friend tells you an anecdote at a dinner party. She honestly claims to be describing her personal experience but includes details that you told to her after the event. Imagine that your colleague tells you that Tim was at a meeting when he was not but all of the other members of his team were there. Suppose that your brother tells you that he overheard a really good joke on the train the other day, but you are confident that what he is describing is a scene from a recently released film that he has watched. You conclude that he must have imagined being in the scene while watching the film and falsely recalled experiencing the imagined event.

In each of these cases, a person has made a memory error. They have a false memory belief about an event in the past: misremembering who supplied some information, misremembering someone being in a meeting because others relevantly related to them were, or misremembering that something that was merely imagined really occurred. The errors correspond to three errors commonly discussed in the cognitive science literature: the misinformation effect, the DRM illusion and imagination inflation.

A natural response to memory errors of this type is to lower the trust that you place in the person providing the inaccurate information. It is also natural to be pessimistic about whether the person displaying the errors is generally a good source of information, at least about the past. One might conclude on the basis of evidence of memory errors of this type that other people are more likely to be good source of information than the person who made the error.

However, in a recent paper by myself and Lisa Bortolotti, we emphasise the bright side of the memory errors. We show how research from the cognitive sciences implies that the memory errors are the result of the ordinary operation of cognitive mechanisms that often allow us to gain knowledge and understanding and to utilise the information that we have about the world. Building on the cognitive science, we claim that the cognitive mechanisms that produce the memory errors are epistemically innocent.

A cognitive mechanism is epistemically innocent if it brings epistemic costs, preventing the epistemic agent from achieving goals like acquiring new true beliefs, increasing coherence between existing beliefs, gaining and properly using information, but it also brings significant epistemic benefits that would not otherwise be accrued.