Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Superstitious Confabulations

In this post, Anna IchinoPostdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Milan, working primarily in the philosophy of mind and philosophical psychology, continues our series of research posts on the special issue in Topoi, introducing her paper "Superstitious confabulations". 

Confabulation is a heterogenous phenomenon, which varies across a number of dimensions – including content, mode of elicitation, aetiology, and more. While acknowledging this heterogeneity, recent philosophical discussions have focussed mostly on some particular kinds of confabulation: notably, confabulations that are about the self, and externally elicited – classic examples being cases of memory distortions and of ‘choice blindness’. With a few exceptions, such discussions highlight the epistemic faults of these confabulations, especially in relation to self-knowledge.

In my paper, I draw the attention to a different sort of confabulations, which are typically about the world (as opposed to the self), and spontaneous (as opposed to externally elicited). I call them ‘superstitious confabulations’, since they originate in the domain of superstitious thinking and practices. I argue that these sorts of confabulations are peculiar in that they are often entertained in a non-doxastic way – with positive consequences for the assessment of their epistemic rationality; and that they can teach us important lessons on the epistemic and normative status of confabulations more in general.

I start by introducing superstitious thinking, broadly construed so as to include not only traditional superstitions like those concerning broken mirrors or black cats, but also a variety of more idiosyncratic superstitious ideas concerning such things as lucky charms, propitiatory rituals, telepathic connections, hidden conspiracies, etc. – that are shown to be pervasive both in clinical and non-clinical populations (see e.g. Risen 2016; Vyse 2014).

I argue that this sort of thinking, characterised by a tendency to exaggerate the world’s meaningfulness and coherence, shares many key features with paradigmatic confabulations – including ill-groundedness, motivational origins, gap-filling function, and lack of deceitful intentions.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Growing Autonomy (1)

This cross-disciplinary symposium on the nature and implications of human and artificial autonomy was organised by Anastasia Christakou and held at the Henley Business School at the University of Reading on 8th May 2019.

Josh Bongard (University of Vermont) opened the workshop presenting his research in robotics, where he and his team challenge the Cartesian assumption that body and brain are separate by simulating first, and creating then robots that have body plans adapting to changes in morphology.

Bongard also addressed important questions about AI safety and AI ethics. Based on a recent publication on Machine Behaviour in Nature, he argued that we should treat machine behaviour in the same way as we treat animal behaviour, as something that evolves.

Next Emma Borg (University of Reading) presented a paper on understanding agency in other people and in ourselves. She started comparing two accounts of how we explain and predict the agency of others, behaviour-reading and mind-reading, and argued for the latter.

In the second part of the talk, Borg asked about the plausibility of mind-reading account when applied to the explanation and prediction of first-person agency. Reflectivism says that we know what we are doing next because we consciously deliberate about it but Borg mentioned three challenges to the reflectivist model.

Borg moved on to Agency Skepticism which says that we are never responsible for what we do and we never choose on the basis of reasons. For Borg, this view is too extreme even considering the evidence for motivated cognition and fallibilism. So she settled for an intermediate position between Reflectivism and Agency Skepticism.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Mnemonic Confabulation

We’re continuing our series of posts on “Philosophical Perspectives on Confabulation” - our special issue in the journal Topoi this week. In today’s post, Sarah Robins, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kansas, introduces her paper “Mnemonic Confabulation”.

The motivation for this paper was the following question: How are discussions of confabulation in the philosophy of memory related to discussions of confabulation in empirical and clinical work? At first pass, it’s easy to suppose that they’re closely related. After all, both focus on confabulatory remembering. For philosophers of memory, confabulation is one of many memory errors (alongside misremembering, forgetting, relearning, etc.) that needs to be distinguished from successful remembering. 

In clinical work, interest in confabulation began with Korsakoff (1885) and Wernicke’s (1906) observations of bizarre false memory reports in patients with amnesia and dementia. Despite the shared focus on memory, the two have always struck me as distinct and difficult to put in direct conversation with one another. 

And so, in this paper, I am trying to articulate the differences I see between mnemonic confabulation on the one hand and broad confabulation on the other. Ultimately, I conclude that—as an error—mnemonic confabulation has more in common with perceptual hallucination than with the confabulatory phenomena included in standard accounts of broad confabulation.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

When Philosophy Meets Psychoanalysis

Today's post is written by Richard Gipps and Michael Lacewing, editors of the new 'Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychoanalysis’

Richard Gipps is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Oxford, UK. He’s also a philosopher and an associate of the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Oxford. He has co-edited the Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry (OUP 2015), and is currently writing a book on the intelligibility of psychotic thought. His blog can be found at clinicalphilosophy.blogspot.com.

Michael Lacewing is a former Vice-Principal Academic and Reader in Philosophy at Heythrop College, London, an Honorary Reader in Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology at University College, London, and a teacher of philosophy and theology at Christ's Hospital School, Sussex. He edited, with Louise Braddock, The Academic Face of Psychoanalysis (Routledge 2007), and has published widely in philosophy of psychoanalysis, metaethics and moral psychology, alongside writing textbooks for A level philosophy and training in Philosophy for Children (P4C).

When we philosophers consider failures of reason, we’re apt to think in particular of failures or distortions of deductive or inductive inference. The imperfect cognitions which interest psychoanalysts, however, more often have to do with disturbances in making lively contact and staying in touch with internal (emotional) or external (interpersonal) reality. 

Someone labouring under defence mechanisms against intolerable emotion inadequately acknowledges the fact, character and significance of her inner experience. The meaning of a bereavement, the hurtfulness of a slight or thoughtless comment, the natural worry provoked by opening herself to the possibility of romantic rejection, the fact of her anger at being taken for granted - when connected to unbearable emotion, these are repressed and her requisite conscious emotions and adaptations not given a chance to develop. In their place are found such symptoms as at first glance may appear meaningless. Black holes form in the fabric of her psyche: her emotional experience becomes absent, muted, disguised, displaced and undeveloped. Her emotions, that is, remain or become unconscious.

The 8 sections of The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychoanalysis collate 34 philosophical essays exploring the history character of and responses to psychoanalytic thought both inside and outside the clinic. As such they provide by far the largest single resource of philosophical work on psychoanalysis, and we hope the book will serve as the essential reference work both for philosophers looking to think philosophically about psychoanalytic theory and practice, and for psychoanalysts, psychotherapists and psychologists looking to develop a reflective and critical perspective on the theoretical foundations of psychoanalysis. 

Questions discussed within the book include: What is it to labour under a mechanism of defence? What is psychoanalytic symbolism and what is wish-fulfilment? What is it for a mental state to be unconscious, and for it to become conscious? What kind of self-knowledge is therapeutic? How did pre-Freudian philosophers anticipate psychoanalytic ideas? What did central 20th century philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, Wittgenstein and those of the Frankfurt School make of psychoanalytic theory? In what ways may psychoanalysis be considered a successful or unsuccessful science? When is it better considered an art or an intrinsically philosophical enterprise? How can it have a fruitful dialogue with psychology and neuroscience? And what are the helpful, and what are the less promising, ways in which psychoanalytic theory may be brought to bear upon matters political, sociological, educational, religious, aesthetic and ethical?

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

An Excess of Meaning

Today’s post is by Joshua Bergamin, philosopher and performance artist based in Edinburgh, Scotland, who continues our series on our Topoi special issue on confabulation with a summary of his paper “An Excess of Meaning: Conceptual Over-Interpretation in Confabulation and Schizophrenia”.

Most of my academic work centres on the effects of language and conceptual capacities on human consciousness, particularly on what I suspect is the role of language in creating and maintaining a sense of (egoistic) self.

This was the subject of my doctoral thesis, in which I touched upon confabulation, since it presents an interesting tension between our feeling of being a unitary agent, and the underlying motivations of our actions, however they might be described.

Thus, although much of the literature on confabulation is concerned with the fascinating -- and often bizarre -- pathological cases that arise through brain injury, my interest has leaned more towards the kinds of everyday confabulation of which we are all guilty, to some degree.

When I saw the call for papers for this special issue of Topoi, my first thoughts were to explore this connection of confabulation to our spontaneous attempts to make sense of the world. The inspiration for this came from experiments with 'cut-up ' art, of the style practised by Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. Here, the artist or author splices together various pieces of art or text-- their own, or that of others-- in order to create a new text. 

The interesting result, from a philosophical point of view--is that the new text, despite having no reference to the world, makes a kind of sense; the reader/viewer experiences images and ideas that do not come directly from the author. We might say that the mind imposes a narrative onto the stimuli, primed as it is to make sense--any sense--of what's before it.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Delusions and Beliefs

Today's post is by Kengo Miyazono, Hiroshima University, who talks about his latest book, Delusions and Beliefs (Routledge 2018).

This book addresses the following theoretical questions about delusions:

(1) The Nature Question: What is a delusion? In particular, what kind of mental state is it? The standard view in psychiatry is that delusions are beliefs. But, is this view (‘doxasticism about delusion’) really true? Delusions have a number of peculiar features that are not belief-like, such as the remarkable insensitivity to evidence. Are these peculiar features consistent with the doxastic conception of delusions?

(2) The Pathology Question: Delusions are pathological mental states. Delusions, together with other symptoms, warrant clinical diagnoses and treatments. Why are delusions pathological? What distinguishes pathological delusions from non-pathological irrational beliefs? Are delusions pathological because they are too irrational? Or, are they pathological because they are too strange?

(3) The Etiology Question: What is the cause of a delusion? How is it formed? It is widely believed that delusions (at least many of them) are formed in response to some abnormal experience. But does abnormal experience explain everything about the process of delusion formation? Is abnormal experience sufficient for someone to form a delusion? If not, what are the additional factors?

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Gaslighting, Confabulation, and Epistemic Innocence

Our series of posts on confabulation continues, featuring papers that appear in a special issue of Topoi on the topic, guest edited by Sophie Stammers and Lisa Bortolotti. Today's post, on gaslighting, confabulation, and epistemic innocence, is by Andrew Spear, Philosophy Faculty at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In Gaslighting, Confabulation, and Epistemic Innocence, I suggest that confabulation plays a central role in many paradigm examples of gaslighting, and that appreciating this sheds some light on what it takes for a defective cognition (such as confabulation) to be epistemically innocent.

The central feature of gaslighting is the attempt by one agent to undermine another’s epistemic self-trust, her conception of herself as an independent locus of experience, thought, and judgment.

I model gaslighting on the phenomenon of epistemic peer-disagreement (the gaslighter and his victim disagree specifically about whether or not the victim’s cognitive faculties and grasp of her own situation are reliable). It is this epistemic dimension that connects gaslighting to confabulation.

Confabulation plays a role in many central cases of gaslighting. I argue that both the perpetrator and the victim of gaslighting will, as a result of the perpetrator’s gaslighting behavior, often confront cognitive dissonance that they are motivated to resolve in ill-grounded ways, amounting to confabulation.

Confabulation has been argued to be sometimes epistemically innocent because subjects who engage in it may be more likely to achieve rational or true beliefs in the future; and because confabulation can assist a subject in maintaining a coherent sense of her own epistemic agency, which is at the very least a pre-condition for future epistemic improvement. The role of confabulation in typical cases of gaslighting fails both of these conditions in instructive ways.

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.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Confabulation, Rationalisation, and Morality

Our series of blog posts on new research on confabulation continues.

In this blog post Anneli Jefferson summarises her contribution to the special issue of Topoi on Confabulation guest edited by Sophie Stammers and Lisa Bortolotti. In her paper (available open access), she shows the costs and benefits of everyday confabulation and rationalisation for moral conduct and judgment. Anneli focuses on everyday-confabulations and rationalisations that give explanations and justifications in terms of moral motivations.

I understand everyday confabulations as a response to ignorance of our motives for actions, when we confabulate, we aim to explain to ourselves and to others why we did what we did. Rationalisations, on the other hand, aim to give justifications for our actions, showing that what we did was morally permissible or even morally required.

We can justify actions without explaining them, for example by saying that what we did was morally desirable, without claiming that moral desirability was the motive out of which we did what we did. However, in some cases confabulation and justification coincide, when we give an inaccurate but sincere explanation for our action that also provides a moral justification. The reasons our actual motives are inaccessible to us may be cognitive or motivational.

One example of a confabulation which also counts as a justification is a case where I ascribe the fact that I did not give money to a beggar to the belief that they would just use it to feed a drug habit. For this to be a case of confabulation, it needs to be the case that I believe my own explanation, even if the actual reason for my action was a different one, for example that it was raining and I didn’t want to get any wetter than I already was by stopping.

As has been pointed out by Summers (2017) some such inaccurate explanations of past behaviour can have positive effects, despite being inaccurate. If an agent does something morally desirable and wrongly ascribes their action to a moral motive, they may nevertheless reinforce that moral motive and make it more likely that they will act on it in future. 

Drawing on work by Velleman and social psychology, I show that self-consistency and self-enhancement effects can reinforce moral behaviour, even when the initial self-ascription of moral motives is erroneous. Seeing ourselves as generous may lead us to behave generously in future, even if the initial motivation to give to someone did not, in fact, stem from generosity.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The Anxious Mind

Today's post is written by Charlie Kurth, who is an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Western Michigan University. His research interests focus on issues in ethics, moral and philosophical psychology and emotion theory. 

A unifying theme of his work is that research in ethical theory, moral psychology and the philosophy of emotion can be productively informed by empirical inquiry in the cognitive and social sciences. In this post, he discusses his book The Anxious Mind: An Investigation into the Varieties and Virtues of Anxiety published by MIT Press. 

My book aims to enrich our understanding of anxiety by exploring two questions—What is anxiety? And is anxiety valuable? While I take these questions to be independently interesting, I also see them as intimately intertwined: understanding what anxiety is helps us understand the ways in which it can be valuable.

Consider the first project—investigating what anxiety is. We talk of ‘anxiety’ as if the label picks out something distinct. But does it? There is reason for doubt. We use ‘anxiety’ in a variety of ways: as a label for both social worries and hardwired responses to potential threats—not to mention existential angst and clinical disorders.

To make sense of this, I develop an empirically informed account of anxiety—what I call the ‘biocognitive model’. By providing a framework that identifies different varieties of anxiety, the biocognitive model helps explain the diversity in our talk of anxiety. It also demonstrates, contra sceptics, that we can reconcile empirical work indicating that anxiety is an automatic, hardwired feature of our psychology with our ordinary experiences of it as a cognitive, socially-driven phenomenon.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Philosophical Perspectives on Confabulation

Have you ever explained something that you believe or that you've done in a way that felt appropriate and meaningful at the time, but which, on reflection, you might have realized was a little…well…made up? You’re not alone! 'Confabulation', first studied in the context of psychiatric disorders featuring severe memory impairments (known as narrow confabulation) can also be seen as a more general tendency people have to provide explanations for their choices and attitudes (broad confabulation). Common to the two notions of confabulation is that whilst the teller does not intend to deceive their audience, the explanation given is not grounded in reality, and is usually false.

This week marks the first in a series of Tuesday research posts covering our forthcoming special issue “Philosophical Perspectives on Confabulation” in the journal Topoi. Last year, we had the pleasure of hosting and co-organising a series of workshops dedicated to the topic, its relation to the notion of epistemic innocence, and interdisciplinary investigations in clinical and non-clinical contexts (read more here and here).

From these, we noticed a number of newly emerging research themes, and so Lisa and I seized the opportunity to put together an open-call special issue dedicated to new philosophical perspectives on confabulation which attracted high quality submissions from authors who had participated in our workshops, as well as those who hadn’t, but who are also working in the area.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be introducing each paper in the issue with a short research post every Tuesday. Here's a little taster of what you can expect...

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Young People, Social Media and Health

This post is written by Dr Victoria Goodyear. Victoria Goodyear is a Lecturer in Pedagogy of Sport, Physical Activity and Health in the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Birmingham UK. Victoria's research focuses on understanding and enhancing young people's health and wellbeing through research on pedagogy. 

Her recent work has focused on pedagogy in the context of digital technologies, and how young people's engagement with social media, apps, and/or wearable devices shapes health-related knowledge and behaviours. Victoria can be found on Twitter. An example of her research can be found here. Here Victoria presents her new book Young People, Social Media and Health.

Young People, Social Media and Health adopts a novel approach to understanding, explaining and communicating young people's experiences of health-related social media, and the impacts young people report on their health, wellbeing, and levels of physical activity.

In Section One, a series of data-rich narrative case studies are presented, that were constructed from participatory research with over 1300 young people and 35 international multi-sector and multi-disciplinary stakeholder and academic networks.

In Section Two the book draws on a range of different disciplinary perspectives (e.g. psychology and eating disorders, pedagogy and media and cultural studies, education and the school curriculum and models of health literacy) to better understand the complex and dynamic ways in which health-related social media can influence young people.

In Section Three, the information from previous sections is crystallised into evidence-based actions and guidelines that can help relevant adults to mitigate against risks while simultaneously maximising the positive and powerful potential of engagement with digital health-related media.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Optimism in Schizophrenia

In this post, Catherine BortolonAssistant Professor of Clinical Psychology at University Grenoble Alpes, France, and Stéphane Raffard, Professor of Clinical Psychology at University Paul Valéry, Montpellier, France, discuss their paper “The contribution of optimism and hallucinations to grandiose delusions in individuals with schizophrenia” recently published in Schizophrenia Research.

We are interested in the psychological mechanisms that might contribute to psychotic experiences (e.g., delusional ideas) in individuals with and without a mental disorder.

Recently, we become more interested in grandiose ideas (or delusions), which are defined as false beliefs about inflated worth, power, knowledge, identity, and which are firmly held despite evidence of the contrary (APA, 2013). It might include the belief of having a special power such as mind reading, a special identity such as being a king or related to Kurt Cobain, and in terms of knowledge, it can include being a prominent researcher who made significant contributions to the scientific domain.

Grandiose delusions are found in around half of the individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and despite being associated with poor clinical outcome and refusal of medication (Bowers, 2010; Thara & Eaton, 1996); they have received little attention from researchers.

In our paper, my colleagues and I explored the association between grandiose delusions and future expectations in individuals who have received a diagnosis of schizophrenia. We were in particularly interested in positive future expectations also called optimism.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Ontology of Emotions

Today's post is written by Hichem Naar and Fabrice Teroni. In this post, Hichem and Fabrice present their new edited volume The Ontology of Emotions, recently published by Cambridge University Press.

Hichem Naar is Assistant Professor in philosophy at the University of Duisburg-Essen, a member of the Philosophical Anthropology and Ethics Research Group, and an associate member of the Thumos research group, the Genevan research group on emotions, values and norms hosted by the CISA, the Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences. Hichem currently works on the nature, value, and normative significance of various attitudes, including emotions.

Fabrice Teroni is Associate Professor in philosophy at the University of Geneva and co-director of Thumos. He works in the philosophy of mind and epistemology. He is also interested in the nature of emotions elicited by fiction, in the involvement of the self in emotions as well as in the phenomenology of memory. 

What kind of thing is an emotion? No one will seriously doubt that it is a psychological entity of some sort. There is also widespread agreement among philosophers regarding some of the features that are exemplified by emotions – they are felt, relatively short-lived, and directed to the world.

Recent work on the nature of emotions has almost exclusively focused on identifying their necessary features. Are emotions necessarily related to motivation? Do they necessarily have an object? What is the relationship between the phenomenal character of an emotion and its representational content? Are emotions themselves in addition, say, to the beliefs that may cause them or the actions that they themselves promote – assessable as justified, appropriate or rational?

While important in their own right, these questions have been so prominent in recent debates that, regrettably, very little attention has been devoted to identifying the general ontological category to which emotions belong.

Are emotions kinds of events? Their being short-lived may suggest so. But emotions are perhaps kinds of processes. Saying so would at least allow one to do justice to the idea that emotions have components or stages. Yet another possible position is that emotions are dispositions of some sort, suggesting a specific way of explaining their link with behaviour. 

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

I Err, Therefore I Think

Today's post is by Krystyna Bielecka (pictured above), assistant professor in the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Warsaw. For her PhD, Krystyna investigated the concept of mental representation and its use in philosophy and cognitive sciences. Her PhD thesis entitled, Błądzę, więc myślę. Co to jest błędna reprezentacja? (in English, “I err, therefore I think. What is misrepresentation?”), was awarded the Jerzy Perzanowski Prize by Jagellonian University (Poland) for the best PhD Thesis in Cognitive Science in 2016.

Recently Krystyna has obtained a research grant from the the National Science Centre (Poland) to pursue her research interests in the application of the concept of mental representation to certain psychopathologies. In the project, she asks whether certain mental illnesses, such as OCD, psychoses, or certain symptoms of mental disorders, such as confabulations or cognitive and emotional impairments of empathy, are necessarily representational and when it is reasonable to explain them without using the concept of mental representation.

Philosophers of mind and cognitive scientists discuss the nature of thoughts, how they acquire content, and what it means that thoughts correspond to reality. The modern debate over contentful thoughts, or mental representations, is dominated by the question of how to naturalize content. For example, Daniel Hutto and Eric Myin are skeptical whether any naturalistic theory of mental representation could ever naturalize contents understood as satisfaction conditions (which is what they dub “The Hard Problem of Content”).

In my book Błądzę, więc myślę. Co to jest błędna reprezentacja? (I err, therefore I think. What is misrepresentation?), I argue for the significance of the possibility to make representational errors. In contrast to philosophers for whom the possibility of misrepresentation is a problematic (such as Donald Davidson, Gilbert Harman, Jerry Fodor) or even an unnecessary (Mark Perlman) feature of mental representation, I argue that the possibility to make errors detectable by the cognitive system itself is a sign that the cognitive system has access to the contents of its mental representations. 

The detectability of errors is a necessary condition for the further possibility to correct them, which is fundamental for learning. Furthermore, the argument for the possibility of misrepresentation is based on the premise of overall rationality of cognitive agents - only if they can have access to the content of their mental states, they can recognize their mistakes in order to correct them.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Misinformation Age: how false beliefs spread


Today's post is written by Cailin O'Connor and James Owen Weatherall. In this post, they present their new book The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread, edited by Yale University Press.

Cailin O’Connor is a philosopher of science and applied mathematician specializing in models of social interaction. She is Associate Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science and a member of the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Science at the University of California, Irvine. 

James Owen Weatherall is a philosopher of physics and philosopher of science. He is Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the University of California, Irvine, where he is also a member of the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Science.   

Risultati immagini per The misinformation age: how false beliefs spread

Since early 2016, in the lead-up to the U.S. presidential election and the Brexit vote in the UK, there has been a growing appreciation of the role that misinformation and false beliefs have come to play in major political decisions in Western democracies. (What we have in minds are beliefs such as that vaccines cause autism, that anthropogenic climate change is not real, that the UK pays exorbitant fees to the EU that could be readily redirected to domestic programs, or that genetically modified foods are generally harmful.)

One common line of thought on these events is that reasoning biases are the primary explanation for the spread of misinformation and false belief. To give an example, many have pointed out that confirmation bias – the tendency to take up evidence supporting our current beliefs, and ignore evidence disconfirming them – plays an important role in protecting false beliefs from disconfirmation.

In our recent book, The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread, we focus on another explanation of the persistence and spread of false belief that we think is as important as individual reasoning biases, or even more so. In particular, we look at the role social connections play in the spread of falsehood. In doing so we draw on work, by ourselves and others, in formal social epistemology. This field typically uses mathematical models of human interaction to study questions such as: how do groups of scientists reach consensus? What role does social structure play in the spread of theories? How can industry influence public beliefs about science?

Throughout the book, we use historical cases and modeling results to study how aspects of social interaction influence belief. First, and most obviously, false beliefs spread as a result of our deep dependence on other humans for information. Almost everything we believe we learn from others, rather than directly from our experience of the world. This social spread of information is tremendously useful to us. (Without it we would not have culture or technology!) However, it also creates a channel for falsehood to multiply. Until recently, we all believed the appendix was a useless evolutionary relic. Without social information, we wouldn’t have had that false belief.

Second, given our dependence on others for information, we have to use heuristics in deciding whom to trust. These heuristics are sometimes good ones – such as trusting those who have given us useful information in the past. Sometimes, though, we ground trust on things like shared identity (are we both in the same fraternity?) or shared belief (do we both believe homeopathy works?) As we show, the latter in particular can lead to persistent polarization, even among agents who seek for truth and who can gather evidence about the world. This is because when actors don’t trust those with different beliefs, they ignore individuals who gather the very evidence that might improve their epistemic state.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Epistemic Innocence and the Overcritical Juror

Should we trust eyewitnesses of crimes? Are jurors inclined to trust eyewitnesses more than they should? People tend to adopt a default position of trust towards eyewitness testimony, finding it highly convincing. However, as has now been widely acknowledged, eyewitnesses are subject to memory errors, which make them susceptible to error. These two observations have pointed many researchers towards the conclusion that jurors do trust eyewitnesses more than they should.

However, in a recent paper, I argue that jurors are susceptible to being overcritical, assigning too little credence to eyewitness testimony, due to the presence of memory errors. How can this be so?

Jurors might adopt a default position of trust towards eyewitness testimony, but they are also prone to assuming that an eyewitness is generally unreliable due to noticing individual errors in their testimony. For example, mock jurors are unlikely to base a judgement of guilt or innocence on testimony containing inconsistencies, even if the inconsistencies relate to trivial information that would not determine guilt or innocence (Hatvany and Strack 1980; Berman and Cutler 1996; Berman et al. 1995).

These individuals infer from the presence of errors in some trivial details to general unreliability of the testimony. My suggestion is that often inferences of this sort will be incorrect: people will make errors in their eyewitness testimony but the errors will not indicate general unreliability, instead being due to the ordinary operation of reliable cognitive mechanisms. Not only this, the errors will indicate the presence of ordinary, well-functioning cognitive mechanisms, which in fact facilitate people being good, trustworthy eyewitnesses.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

What Beauty Demands: An Interview with Heather Widdows

Today I have the pleasure to post an interview with my colleague Heather Widdows, John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham, who talks to us about her research interest in beauty and her very successful monograph, Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal.

LB: Your project examines beauty from a new angle. How did you first become interested in beauty as an ethical ideal?

HW: That’s a difficult question to answer as my passion for researching beauty crept up on me. Before working on beauty I was a fairly typical moral philosopher working in global ethics and justice. My main topic was defining global ethics as an multidisciplinary approach to philosophy, taking the real world and empirical evidence seriously. More broadly, I have worked on areas such as women’s rights, reproductive rights, genetic ethics and bioethics.

I guess my interest in beauty emerged from this long standing interest in gender justice. I recognised that something was happening in visual and virtual culture which was different, profoundly moral and no less connected to justice than other issues of health and wealth I had been working on. 

The challenges of body image anxiety as a global epidemic is an issue of global concern. Likewise, the extent to which the modified body is becoming regarded as normal, and even natural, challenges our understandings of what human beings are, and of the self, at least as much as advances in genetic technology or the emerging possibilities of Artificial Intelligence do. 

Such profound changes about our understanding of human beings, brought on by the emerging dominant beauty ideal, are not well recognised or researched. Perhaps it’s because beauty is seen as trivial, a matter of taste, or a ‘woman’s issue’ that we don’t take it seriously. But in a visual and virtual culture beauty matters, and it matters fundamentally. It provides our values and we judge ourselves, and others, according to it.

LB: In your recent monograph, Perfect Me, you argue that pressure on women to be perfect has increased and is now ‘more global’. What do you think is the reason for this increased pressure, and what makes you say that the preoccupation with beauty is more than a ‘first-world problem’?

HW: In Perfect Me I set out why the current beauty ideal – characterised by thinness, smoothness, firmness and youth – is now an emerging global ideal. This does not mean we all have to look the same, or even similar, but we do have to fall within a certain range. And while diversity might be locally true, globally it is not. Globally, the range of acceptable appearance norms for the face and the body narrows and becomes more demanding.

So while it might seem there is more diversity – more shades and colours of skin, and more shapes and sizes of models are visible – this is diversity within a very small range. To be beautiful – or just good enough – you must conform to most of the features of the beauty ideal. You can be big, and very big, only if you are also firm and smooth.

Yet firm curves are more demanding than thinness alone. And you can be hairy – look at Januhairy – but can you be both? Can you be fat and hairy and saggy and old? You cannot! As I say in Perfect Me ‘muffin tops’ and ‘love handles’ are not features of any version of thinness.

Evidencing the global nature of the ideal is the main focus of Chapter 3, ‘A New (Miss) World Order?’. In this chapter I document the narrowing of the normal range everywhere and the emergence of a global mean. The global beauty ideal is one of thinness in some form (catwalk thin, thin with curves), firm (buff, shapely, athletic), smooth (hairless, with golden, bronze or coffee-coloured skin) and young-looking. 

This is not a mere expansion of Western ideals, but a global ideal, which is demanding of all racial groups. No racial group is good enough without ‘help’ – all need to be changed or added to. Everybody needs body work – diet and exercise, surgical and non-surgical technical fixes – to be ‘perfect’, or just ‘good enough’. While not all can, or afford to engage – all can aspire to. Poverty is no barrier to aspiration and I use the evidence of engagement in affordable trends (such as seeking thinness or using skin-lightening cream) as indicating engagement and aspiration, and supporting the global trend.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Contributory Injustice in Psychiatry

This post is by Alex Miller Tate, who works in the philosophy of the cognitive sciences, and is currently completing a PhD at the University of Birmingham. Here, he summarises his paper "Contributory Injustice in Psychiatry" recently published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Significant service user involvement in the provision of and decisions surrounding psychiatric care (both for themselves as individuals and in the formation of policy and best practice) is, generally-speaking, officially supported by members of the medical profession (see e.g. Newman et al 2015; Tait & Lester 2005). Service user advocacy organisations and others, however, note that the experience of service users (especially in primary care) is of having their beliefs about, feelings regarding, and perspectives on their conditions ignored or otherwise thoughtlessly invalidated. Some deleterious consequences of this have been noted before, including impoverished clinical knowledge of mental health conditions and worse health outcomes for service users (see e.g. Simpson & House 2002).

Not much attention has been paid to the structure and nature of these practices of exclusion themselves, however, until relatively recently. In the past couple of years there has been a small surge of work from both philosophers and practicing psychiatrists (sometimes in collaboration) identifying various kinds of epistemic injustice experienced by psychiatric service users and evaluating their significance (see e.g. Crichton, Carel & Kidd 2016; Kurs & Grinshpoon 2017Johnstone & Boyle 2018). Epistemic injustices are those which harm people specifically in their capacity as knowers (Fricker 2007). My article introduces the notion of contributory injustice (due to Dotson 2012 and a lesser-studied sub-type of epistemic injustice) to this evolving field of discussion.

To understand the notion of contributory injustice, we must first appreciate the notions of a) an interpretive resource and b) an interpretive gap. An interpretive resource is something that we use to help us make sense of the world; our collections of concepts, our lexicons, and our methods of investigating the world to obtain knowledge (amongst other things) are all important interpretive resources (Pohlhaus 2012). An interpretive gap is present when we lack some resource/s that would help us to obtain a better understanding of some phenomenon or state of affairs.

There are at least two ways in which interpretive gaps may lead straightforwardly to epistemic injustice. The first is when a whole society’s pool of shared interpretive resources lacks those required to make sense of (some of) a marginalised group’s day-to-day experiences. In such a case, these experiences remain somehow ephemeral, or otherwise difficult or impossible to properly capture, from the perspective of both the marginalised and the dominant parties alike. This is Fricker’s (2007) notion of hermeneutical injustice. The second (and in my view more common) situation is when a dominant group has an interpretive gap regarding a marginalised group’s experiences, which the marginalised individuals have already identified and overcome within their own community. In such a case, insights that individuals themselves have into their own experiences are ignored and persistently misunderstood by ignorant others. This is Dotson’s (2012) notion of contributory injustice.

In my article, I argue that psychiatric service users, in particular those who hear voices, are regularly subject to contributory injustice when interacting with clinicians. I draw on the work of the Hearing Voices Network (an organisation dedicated to open and welcoming discussion of all perspectives on voice-hearing, centering on those who experience it) to argue that the harm done by this is both significant and readily avoidable. I argue that clinicians are obliged to take seriously the potential therapeutic benefit of service users’ individual, and sometimes unique, perspectives on and explanations of voice-hearing. I suggest that this is especially important where these perspectives and explanations are alien to them, overtly strange, or otherwise contrary to the dominant medical understanding of psychological distress. In so doing, clinicians will begin to treat their service users both more justly and as they actually are; indispensably knowledgeable and equal partners in the search for a helpful resolution of their difficulties, rather than an object of clinical investigation, diagnosis, and intervention.

Alex’s website, where interested parties can keep updated on his current research, and where he hopes to soon begin regularly blogging on a variety of philosophical topics, is here. Those who appreciate silly jokes and the occasional bit of philosophical insight (usually from somebody else) are welcome to follow Alex on twitter.