Wednesday 25 December 2013

Epistemic Innocence (part 2)

This post is by Ema Sullivan-Bissett.

In her last post, Lisa outlined two conditions on Epistemic Innocence: 

1. Epistemic Benefit. The cognition delivers some significant epistemic benefit to a given subject at a given time, that is, it contributes to the acquisition, retention or use of relevant true beliefs.

2. No Relevant Alternatives. Alternative cognitions to the imperfect cognition are either unavailable or fail to deliver the same epistemic benefits as the imperfect cognition to that subject at that time.

In this post I will focus on the second condition, which requires further elucidation with respect to what notion of unavailability is in play. 

Friday 13 December 2013

Thinking Style and Threat-related Processing in Paranoia

The Psychosis Research Partnership
We, Professor Philippa Garety, Professor Elizabeth Kuipers, Dr Helen Waller and Dr Amy Hardy, are Research Clinical Psychologists based at the Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London. 
We work with the Psychosis Research Partnership (Professor David Fowler, Professor Paul Bebbington, Professor Daniel Freeman, Dr Richard Emsley & Professor Graham Dunn) on a research programme funded by the Maudsley Charity and the Wellcome Trust. This research has found it is common for people to have thoughts about others intending to cause them harm, which do not seem to be a valid reflection of the shared reality of others. These can range from fleeting ideas that someone on the street might be laughing at us, to more elaborate and persistent beliefs such as that the secret services are trying to have us killed. Most people experience paranoid thoughts occasionally, but for some the preoccupation, distress and conviction related to paranoia increases and it can become a defining part of their life.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Ownership and Thought Insertion

This post is by Rachel Gunn, PhD student at the University of Birmingham, working on delusion and thought insertion.

After introducing the phenomenon of thought insertion in my previous post, here I discuss ownership of thoughts. The impossibility of immunity to error through misidentification (IEM) is an established notion in relation to the self. If I have something to say about my experience it is self-evident that I am the one undergoing the experience. I cannot be mistaken. 

A subject experiencing thought insertion cannot be mistaken about who is experiencing the thought. Whilst this is true it does not explain what the experience is like. The thought is observed or witnessed by the subject, they have access to the content and have some sort of first-person experience of it. It is not, however, the same kind of experience that they ‘normally’ have. It differs from other thoughts – but in what sense?

Monday 9 December 2013

Epistemic Innocence (part 1)

I was awarded an AHRC Fellowship to develop and test the notion of epistemic innocence, and this blog is part of that project. Since she joined the project, Ema has helped me work out a sensible set of conditions for the notion, and Kengo has also provided a number of helpful suggestions and constructive objections.

The process of defining the notion and applying it to different cognitions has just started, and we still have some problems to solve, but I thought I would update you on my own progress with it (and Ema will do the same in posts to follow this one). My initial questions were the following: In what circumstances do delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations contribute to the acquisition and preservation of relevant truths? Do delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations have benefits that are genuinely epistemic? Are people epistemically blameworthy for having "imperfect cognitions"? What are the consequences of acknowledging that delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations can be epistemically advantageous?

Friday 6 December 2013

The Pathology of Thought Insertion

Rachel Gunn

I’m a new PhD student at the University of Birmingham studying delusion. I work as a counsellor and psychotherapist in Birmingham, Coventry and Warwick and studied thought insertion for my Masters dissertation at the University of Warwick. (What follows is a very rough summary of some of the findings from my work on my Masters dissertation).

While trying to understand thought insertion I became aware of the lack of first person descriptions in the philosophical literature. I didn’t understand the phenomenon and didn’t feel that the philosophical literature helped me, as it was full of contradictions. I felt I couldn’t make progress without more information. In my work in this area I rely heavily on what patients and others say about their experience (using mental health web forums and other first person descriptions) and take their description of their experience seriously.

Alienonite from the Crazyboards web forum describes the experience:

“Often, in a quiet place, and all the time at night when I am alone, I experience thoughts that do not "feel" like my own. It's like they come out of a part of my brain that is not the part that controls my "normal" thoughts and into my awareness from there. It is hard to describe. These "false thoughts" are usually about random subject matter and usually make little sense, but are extremely distracting. Back when I first experienced them, I thought I was psychic and that I was picking up other people's thoughts (telepathy?). However, now I know that they are a part of psychosis because I experience them around the times I hallucinate… I'm lucky that the false thoughts don't tell me to do anything. They just annoy me and keep me from falling asleep. Sometimes I question if they are other people's thoughts, because I don't know where they're coming from.”

I can never have access to someone else’s mental activity and, because thought insertion is so bizarre, it is incredibly difficult for a person experiencing it to describe. They know that it differs from their ‘normal’ experience of thinking but when it comes to describing it in ordinary language it is difficult to capture. This was repeatedly highlighted in the first person descriptions used to inform the work. On examining the descriptions and the philosophical literature it seems that thought insertion may be multiply realised but I would not rule out the possibility that different aetiology represent different phenomena – again the difficulties in explanation and understanding make this problematic.

Whilst distressing for some, thought insertion alone, may not be indicative of illness and should not perhaps be a first-rank symptom for schizophrenia. Rather, it is the secondary phenomena such as content, level of influence and intrusion on other mental activities, functioning and wellbeing that determine whether psychiatric or other therapeutic help is required.

The transparent mental activity that means that my thoughts are owned and produced by me is ‘given’ in my normal though processes. When thought insertion occurs unity of experience is lost – this is what makes the phenomenon bizarre and this fact cannot be explained away. If we take the descriptions and definition seriously then thought insertion, as well as some forms of ‘inner’ voice experience, are a passive phenomenon where the subject experiences a lack of agency and a lack of ownership of thoughts whilst retaining subjective access to the content of those thoughts.

Monday 2 December 2013

Disorder in the Predictive Mind

Over the last few years I have worked more and more on the idea that the brain is a prediction error minimizer. This has now resulted in a book—The Predictive Mind—just published with Oxford University Press.

The Predictive Mind
By Jakob Hohwy
The first part of the book explains the basic idea of prediction error minimization, which mainly stems from work by Karl Friston and others in computational neuroscience. The second part applies this to the binding problem, to cognitive impenetrability, to delusions and autism, and to a range of philosophical questions about misrepresentation. The third part considers how it applies to attention, consciousness, the mind-world relation, and the nature of self.

The prediction error minimization idea says that all the brain ever does is minimize the error of predictions about its sensory input, formed on the basis of an internal model of the world and the body. The better these predictions are, the less error there is. On this view, the bottom-up signals in the brain, beginning with the sensory input, are conceived as prediction errors that work as feedback to the models maintained in the brain and their top-down predictions.

This is a simple idea, but with extreme explanatory ambition. Perception is the process of refining the models so that better predictions are formed, attention is predicting the sensory input precisely, and action is changing the input to fit with the model’s predictions. In this sense, perception, attention, and action are all best conceived in terms of statistical inference: the brain must use statistical tools to make sound inferences about the world based only on its sensory input.

Friday 29 November 2013

Consciousness and Moral Responsibility

Consciousness and Moral Responsibility
By Neil Levy
This book aims to contribute to debates within moral philosophy and in philosophy of mind.

There has been a lot of debate in recent years focusing on the relationship between consciousness and moral responsibility. Some of this debate has been spurred by work in neuroscience and in social psychology, which allegedly shows that we lack ‘conscious will’: we are not conscious of the volitions that actually cause our actions. This work has been taken by some neuroscientists to threaten moral responsibility: “We do not hold people responsible for actions performed unconsciously, without the possibility of conscious control”, Libet claims. On the other hand, and quite independently of concerns over these alleged threats, a number of philosophers have recently argued that consciousness is not needed for moral responsibility at all: that we can be morally responsible for actions while unconscious of the reasons for which we act.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Remembering from the outside?

John Sutton and Chris McCarroll
Currently I am a PhD student under the supervision of John Sutton at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Macquarie University.

One of John’s research projects, and the topic of my PhD, is a philosophical investigation of visual perspective in autobiographical memory, and we recently gave a talk on this subject at the Philosophy of Memory Workshop in Adelaide.

When remembering past experiences, one can remember the event from one’s original point of view, maintaining the same visual perspective on the scene with which one experienced the event. Many people, however, report sometimes seeing themselves in the remembered scene, from an external or third-person perspective. Following Nigro and Neisser’s seminal paper these are known within psychology as memories from field and observer perspectives respectively.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Distortions of Memory: Costs and Benefits

Departures from reality and self-enhancing distortions apply not just to beliefs about the present and to future predictions, but also to memories. People neglect evidence of bad performance, concentrating on evidence of good performance, and emphasising their contribution to successful enterprises. When one’s personal story takes an unexpected direction, there are two conflicting epistemic demands: one needs to impose some coherence between new and previous episodes in the story, but also guarantee as much correspondence as possible between the story and the experienced reality.

These principles of coherence and correspondence apply to autobiographical memory (Conway 2005): memories are sometimes altered to preserve a coherent self as the past is re-written to make sense of current goals and a new self-image. 

Distortions exaggerating continuity between previous and present self may also be psychologically adaptive by enhancing self-appraisal and well-being. One instance of the so-called consistency bias is when we interpret the past in the light of the present (see also Dean 2008). People were asked to rate their attitudes towards major social issues, such as whether drugs should be legalised, whether women should obtain equality of treatment, and whether ethnic minorities should be helped. Nine years later, the participants were asked to provide the same ratings again, and also to report what their attitudes had been the first time around. Participants remembered their past attitudes as much closer to their current attitudes than they actually were (Markus 1986).

Sunday 17 November 2013

Workshop on Memory in Adelaide

University of Adelaide
On Friday, November 15th, a workshop on the philosophy of memory took place at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. This workshop was organized by Suzanne Bliss and myself, and it was funded by a grant from the Australian Research Council for a project on the debate between the 'false memory' approach versus the 'recovered memory' approach to reports of long-forgotten memories of sexual abuse.

The project is now finalizing its first phase, which has dealt with conceptual issues on the metaphysics of memory (what kind of causal history must a mental state have to count as a memory), the epistemology of memory (what kind of knowledge do we have of our own memories?) and the phenomenology of memory (what aspects of what it is like to remember something episodically are essential to memory, and what aspects could be missing from memory?). The workshop concentrated on conceptual issues for that reason.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

The Epistemic Benefits of False Autobiographical Memories and Beliefs

Reece Roberts
Our previous post outlined the evidence for episodic memory being a constructive process, and one that plays a necessary role in our ability to imagine future scenarios. In this post, I hope to sketch out a framework directly relating our work on episodic simulation to one of the main topics of this project: false beliefs and memories.

The constructive nature of episodic simulation – whether it be remembering or imagining the future – allows for deeply rooted cognitive biases to play a role in these processes. In particular, biases that maintain (or increase) self-esteem have been shown to strongly modulate properties of episodic simulation. In the case of episodic memory, we tend to remember positive events in more detail than negative events, regard achievements as occurring more recently than failures when this is not case, and experience a more rapid loss of affect associated with negative events relative to positive events. Similar effects are observed when imagining the future: in the face of compelling evidence, we have a strong tendency to underestimate the probability of future negative events while overestimating the probability of positive future events.

Thursday 31 October 2013

What's Positive about Positive Illusions?

Positive illusions provide a challenge to the once-accepted view that accurate beliefs about oneself and the world are conducive to wellbeing and mental health. Illusions are "beliefs that depart from reality" and they are positive when they involve unrealistic optimism about one's capacities, prospects, or control over the external environment. 

We can find three broad types of positive illusions, following Taylor and Brown (1994): (1) excessively positive self-appraisals; (2) the belief that one has greater control over events than it is actually the case; (3) more rosy views of the future than statistics can warrant. It is important that positive illusions are regarded as mild distortions of reality and do not involve "denying the obvious": most researchers interested in positive illusions are keen to distinguish positive illusions from cases of self-deception or from defence mechanisms. Taylor and Brown have shown not only that positive illusions are widespread in non-clinical populations, but that there are strong links between certain forms of positive illusion and the promotion of mental health (in terms of creativity and productivity), and physical health (in terms of prolonged longevity). 

Sunday 20 October 2013

Art and the Nature of Belief Conference

On 11th and 12th of October the Department of Philosophy at the University of York hosted an international conference on the topic of Art and the Nature of Belief, organised by Helen Bradley and Ema Sullivan-Bissett. The aim of the conference was to bring together philosophers of mind working on belief and its connection to truth with aestheticians working on beliefs gained from artworks.

We thought that there was an opportunity for a significant philosophical interaction between belief theorists and aestheticians which would illuminate the nature of belief for both parties. The interaction was intended to present the belief theorist with pertinent questions regarding the status of beliefs formed as a result of engaging with art and, in turn, encourage aestheticians to further consider the relations between art, belief, and truth.

Friday 18 October 2013

Delusions: Not on a Continuum with Normal Beliefs

Tony David
Delusions are the hallmark of madness. Coming up with a precise definition of ‘delusion’ is nevertheless difficult and perhaps impossible, especially when concerned exclusively on epistemology (David, 1999). 

Most aspects of standard definitions have exceptions on which clinicians in practice agree. The notion that delusions like other psychotic phenomena are best viewed as lying on a continuum with normal beliefs is appealing but flawed (David, 2010). Delusions are multiply determined with many typical features but none essential and / or invariable. Delusions are more than the sum of their epistemic features. They are clinical phenomena that require a huge amount of contextual information before they can be understood (or before it can be concluded that they are un-understandable!). Sometimes a statement that would only be weakly eligible to be called a delusion, passes this threshold because the person expressing the utterance shows evidence of psychosis on other grounds. This 'reverse reasoning' would be wholly inadmissible epistemologically but is perfectly acceptable and indeed sensible in a clinical context. 

The delusion should be considered to be akin to ‘a syndrome’ and has similar utility.
David AS (1999) On the impossibility of defining delusions. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 6 (1), 17-20.
David AS (2010) Why we need more debate on whether psychotic symptoms lie on a continuum with normality. Psychological Medicine, 40: 1935-42.

Sunday 13 October 2013

The Rise of Delusions in Philosophy

Recently I had the pleasure to update the Delusion entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I wrote the original version of it in 2009 and so much has happened in four years that I had to select topics or the entry would have become far too long.

It seemed to me there were several areas to revise and expand, and some entirely new debates to discuss. The most obvious sections to revise were: the one on the definition of delusion (given the subtle shifts in DSM-5 we previously reported in this blog); the one on whether the formation and maintenance of delusion can be regarded as rational (given the recent debate on Bayesianism initiated by the 2010 paper by Coltheart, Menzies and Sutton), the one on delusion formation theories, as in the original version too little space was dedicated to the prediction error theory defended by Jakob Hohwy and Phil Corlett among others; and the one on whether delusions are beliefs, considering the recent proposal by Schwitzgebel that delusions are neither beliefs nor non-beliefs, but in-between states, and the papers by Reimer, Graham and Bayne in this issue of Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Implicit Bias, Moral Assessment and Awareness

Chloë FitzGerald

I am a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Biomedical Ethics, University of Geneva, currently working on a project about implicit bias in clinical care. My background is in philosophy and I work in areas at the intersection of moral psychology, philosophy of mind, ethics and bioethics.

As Natalia and Jules have explained in previous posts, talk of implicit bias in social psychology typically refers to implicit associations between particular social groups, such as minority or oppressed racial groups, the obese, the elderly, women, transgender individuals etc., and negative evaluations or characteristics. Much remains to be understood about how these associations work. Psychologists may also distinguish between implicit stereotypes and implicit prejudices/attitudes, where implicit stereotypes refer to sets of belief-like states and implicit prejudice or implicit attitudes are ‘hotter’ states, more like preferences. This use of ‘attitude’ can be confusing for philosophers, who tend to use attitude to refer to a wider range of mental states, including beliefs.

Monday 23 September 2013

Understanding Delusions: The Belief Learning and Memory Lab

Phil Corlett
I’m interested in beliefs. Specifically, how the brain is involved in normal and abnormal belief formation. For example, I study delusions, the often bizarre and fixed false beliefs that characterize serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. I’m a cognitive neuroscientist, which means I use data from brains to make inferences about minds. 
I take what many consider to be a radically reductionist approach to beliefs. I think they might be related to simple behaviors like Pavlovian and instrumental learning. These processes can be observed in very simple organisms and I try to apply what we know about them to study beliefs.

Central to our understanding of learning, and I argue belief formation, is the concept of salience or importance. We learn and remember information about important events so we can respond appropriately if the same circumstances recur in the future. I think beliefs are one way that such learning and memory is manifest. If beliefs are so central to our comportment in the world, it is clear that there may be disastrous consequences when they are mis-specified.

How the Brain Constructs the Past and the Future

Reece Roberts, Aleea Devitt, Donna Rose Addis 
We’re a group of researchers in the Memory Lab at The University of Auckland. Our research interests are broad, ranging from autobiographical memory to false memory to imagination and creativity, and we approach these topics from both cognitive and neural perspectives. But the strand that threads all this research together is the constructive nature of memory.

It is well established that episodic memory is a constructive process. Seminal work from Bartlett (1932) demonstrated the fallibility of memory, and also highlighted the ways in which it can be distorted. Building on this earlier work on false memory, Schacter and colleagues proposed a framework for the cognitive neuroscience of constructive memory in the early 1990s that has proved influential. Since that time, advances in neuroimaging have provided evidence to support three key ideas: (1) that features or elemental parts comprising an episode must be linked together, probably by the hippocampus, to form a memory trace that we encode; (2) that these elements are stored in a distributed fashion across the brain in the regions that originally processed the information (e.g., face information in fusiform gyrus); and (3) that these elements must be reactivated (and re-integrated) upon retrieval.

Friday 20 September 2013

Guilt and Self-deceptive Narratives

Zoë Boden
I am Zoë Boden, a post-doctoral scholar working in the field of mental health. Much of my work focuses on emotional and intersubjective experiences, and how we make sense of these, especially when they’re complex or distressing. In thinking about distortions in beliefs and memories, in my research, I have focused on the stories we tell to help make sense of our experiences. My PhD research looked at experiences of feeling guilty and explored the relationship between our lived, bodily experiences and our narrative accounts.
A large part of feeling guilty is an experience of unfamiliarity – a feeling that your behaviour is out of character, and that you are unfamiliar to yourself. Who is this person who did this thing? How can it be the same me that is here now, knowing that thing to be wrong? This unfamiliarity can be understood as a distorted belief. It feels incongruous to acknowledge and accept that whatever was done, was done by you.
So how did my research participants make sense of their experiences? They told themselves, and others, stories about their behaviour in order to make sense of it. 

Thursday 12 September 2013

Relationism, Rationalism, and the Teleological Account of Belief

Ema Sullivan-Bissett
In my last blog post I wrote about mine and Paul Noordhof’s work on relationist accounts of experience and delusional belief formation. The conclusion from that post was that the relationist who denies phenomenal character to hallucinatory experience could not accept any empiricist account (an account which gives anomalous experience a role in the explanation of delusion formation) of what we called ‘positive delusions’ (delusions involving hallucinatory experience). This meant that the relationist must adopt a rationalist account of delusion formation, an account which refuses ‘to ground the delusion in an abnormal experience’ (Bayne and Pacherie 2004: 81). 

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Thought Insertion and the Adaptive Role of Delusions

Pablo López-Silva
I am a current PhD student at the University of Manchester Philosophy Department (Mind Group). I’m working on different philosophical problems raised by schizophrenia under the supervision of Dr Joel Smith and Prof Tim Bayne.

I became interested in the philosophical discussions surrounding schizophrenia while I was taking my clinical courses for my psychology professional degree in Chile. While attending some patients, I realized that delusions seemed to have a strong adaptive function. Although this is a matter that needs further argumentation, I think that systematic research on the structure of certain delusions can facilitate better understandings of their role (Roberts, 1992) and, quite importantly, to improve therapeutic intervention (Guidano, 1991). An example of this can be offered by looking at the structure of thought insertion, an abnormal conscious experience commonly regarded as suggestive of schizophrenia (Mullins & Spence, 2003). 

Friday 30 August 2013

Transparent Minds

We all know what mental states we are in. We know whether we are happy, whether we are in pain, whether we have religious beliefs, whether we have a desire to be a philosopher, and so on. But how do we know it?

Jordi Fernández
I have recently proposed (Transparent Minds: A Study of Self-Knowledge, Oxford University Press, 2013) that we determine which beliefs and desires we have on the basis of our grounds for belief and desire. The idea is that the racist, for example, thinks that he believes that white people are more intelligent than black people on the basis of his hate towards black people. The theory is one of the 'transparent' approaches inspired by Gareth Evans's observation that, when we are asked what we believe, we look at the world instead of inspecting the contents of our own minds.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Relationism and Empiricist Accounts of Delusion

Ema Sullivan-Bissett
Currently, I am a PhD student at the University of York, and will soon be a Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, working on Lisa Bortolotti’s Epistemic Innocence project. Paul Noordhof is Professor of Philosophy at the University of York. We are currently thinking about relationist accounts of perceptual experience, and what proponents of such accounts might have to say about delusional belief formation.
Paul Noordhof
Relationists about perceptual experience hold that perception is a relation of brute non-representational awareness of items in the world. This account can be contrasted with representationalist accounts which hold that perceivers represent the world to be a certain way. On the relationist account, the phenomenal character of perception—what it feels like to the subject to have a perceptual experience—is constituted by the items of which the subject is aware. In the case of hallucination, where intuitively, such objects and properties are missing, relationists are inclined to say two things. The first is that a hallucination of x is merely subjectively indiscriminable from a perception of x. More crucially though, for the relationist, hallucinations do not have any phenomenal character. The subjective indiscriminability of hallucinatory experience is just understood in terms of a common response—for example, in the judgements or beliefs of the subject—to something which does have phenomenal character on the one hand, perception, and something which does not on the other, hallucination.

Monday 19 August 2013

Delusion in DSM-5: A Response to Lisa

Kengo Miyazono
This post is a response to Lisa's earlier post on delusion in DSM-5.

Is the definition of delusion really different between DSM-5 and DSM-IV?

In DSM-5, definitional remarks on delusion appear twice; first, in "Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders" in Section II (p.87) and, second, in "Glossary of Technical Terms" in Appendix (p.819). So, we need to look at both of them and compare them to their counterparts in DSM-IV.  

Friday 16 August 2013

Reactions to the Question: Are Delusions Beliefs?

Sam Wilkinson
I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Durham University, as part of a Wellcome Trust funded project that examines voice hearing ( Recently, I completed my PhD at the University of Edinburgh on monothematic delusions caused by brain damage.

The issue of whether delusions are beliefs has been central to philosophical work on delusion, as several of the previous posts here reflect (see especially Bortolotti and Gerrans). I'd like to express a few reactions to this debate.

Obviously, before we can ask whether delusions are beliefs, we need to get clear about the nature of delusions, and the nature of beliefs.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Responsibility for Implicit Bias

Natalia Washington
I am a graduate student in the Philosophy department at Purdue University. My research interests lie at the intersection of philosophy of mind, cognitive science, moral psychology, and scientific psychiatry—and especially in externalist viewpoints on these subjects.

In a forthcoming paper with Dan Kelly, we defend a kind of social externalism about moral responsibility in the case of implicit bias, a particular kind of “imperfect cognition.” For those who aren’t familiar, implicit biases are unconscious and automatic negative evaluative tendencies about people based on their membership in a stigmatized social group—for example, on gender, sexual orientation, race, age, or weight. Because implicit biases operate without our conscious awareness, one might worry about the prospects for holding individuals responsible for their behaviors when they are influenced by biases, as mounting evidence suggests.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Getting (more or less) Rational Beliefs from Fiction

Greg is Professor of Philosophy at Nottingham (moving to York in September); Anna is doing her PhD with him. 

Greg Currie
We both work on the topics of fiction and imagination, and recently have become interested in the question of how our imaginative engagement with fictions influences our attitudes towards the real world – notably, our real-world beliefs. When we read Anna Karenina and become engrossed in the story of her life, what effects – if any – does this have on what we think, feel, desire about our own lives? Do we acquire new beliefs (or worries, or hopes...) about the real nature of love, or the evils of social conformity? To the extent to which we do that, how does it happen, and how rational is it?
Anna Ichino
These are in important respects empirical questions. In order to answer them we are looking at the psychological work in this area.

We have started by considering a growing body of studies that go under the heading of ‘Transportation studies’ (see Green & Brock 2000), which suggest that ‘being transported into a story-world’ tends to change readers’ attitudes in ways that reflect the views expressed, explicitly or implicitly, by the story in question. A story where a young girl is stabbed to death by an unrestrained psychiatric patient, even if explicitly labeled as fiction, seems to influence readers’ judgments about real levels of violence and injustice in the world. Psychologists in this field describe such attitudinal changes in terms of belief changes – and ones of a peculiarly irrational kind, which they call ‘narrative persuasion’. In this they are influenced by the work of Dan Gilbert, who argued for a ‘Spinozistic’ account of belief acquisition according to which we automatically believe everything we hear, while disbelieving means ridding ourselves of a belief already acquired: something requiring effort that, for various reasons, is not always forthcoming. Engagement with a fiction can be one of such reasons: stories absorb the readers’ attention, lowering their epistemic vigilance and preventing them from activating the appropriate processes of belief rejection. Readers’ epistemic vigilance might well be lowered also by the fact that they take the purpose of the narrator to be mere entertainment, rather than persuasion, so they’re even less motivated to assume a critical stance. This would explain why, according to some studies, readers tend to be even more influenced by fictional than by non-fictional stories (Prentice & Gerrig 1999).

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Psychotic Phenotypes and Autonomous Action

Alessandro Blasimme 
& Marco Canevelli

The relationship between mental capacities and autonomy has long been a matter of dispute, but we can surmise that clinical judgments about one’s mental capacities may incorporate or support considerations about patients’ autonomy as well as value judgments bearing on the choice of different therapeutic options, on how and to which degree a patient should be involved in therapeutic decisions and, finally, on the role of caregivers. This has important consequences for patients affected by dementia.

Behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) are defined as “a heterogeneous set of psychological reactions, psychiatric symptoms and anomalous behaviours that appear in patients with dementia, of any etiology” (Finkel et al. 1996).

Thursday 4 July 2013

Egocentric Representation: a Positive Dimension to Abnormal Self-Experience in Schizophrenia?

Gregory Yates
In schizophrenia, the basic experience of existing as a “self” – as a subject whose thoughts, beliefs and actions coincide with what is regarded to be “self” – is disturbed. This has been hypothesised as the distinct phenotypic core of schizophrenia (Sass and Parnas, 2003; Parnas et al., 2005) and the central psychopathological trait marker of psychotic vulnerability (Nelson et al., 2008; Parnas et al., 2005) 'The clinical symptoms come and go,' describes one schizophrenia patient, 'but this nothingness of self is permanently there.' (Kean, 2009)

Anomalous self-experiences (ASEs) provide much of the material for delusional beliefs formed in acute schizophrenia (Stanghellini, 2012). In line with my last post on this blog, I would like to consider whether ASEs might also provide a ‘secondary gain’ or epistemic benefit (Graham, 2013). I will examine one delusion frequently reported by schizophrenia patients, and highly suggestive of an ASE: the delusion of reference.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Delusional Cognition and Epistemic Possibility

Matthew Parrott
am currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Oxford. Most of my research is in philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and psychiatry (although I also have a strong interest in Hume).  Among other things, I'm currently thinking a lot about delusions. 

It seems to me that most current philosophical work on delusions is heavily focused on two issues.  First, as we can see from this blog, there is a lively and engaging debate about whether delusions are doxastic states or some other kind of mental state.

Secondly, there are discussions about the best framework or model to adopt for explaining delusions - for example, whether we should adopt a one-factor or two-factor theory or whether some kind of Bayesian model could be developed to explain the onset of delusion. Although I think these are both fascinating issues, I also think delusions present us with other philosophical questions that are worth consideration, especially once we start to think of delusions as patterns of thinking or cognition, rather than states.  
To offer just one example, it seems to me that one puzzling aspect of delusional cognition is that subjects consider possibilities that would not even occur to most of us. Regardless of whether one comes to believe it or not, there is something odd about seriously entertaining the thought that an imposter has taken the place of one's spouse. This is true, I think, even on the assumption that subjects with the Capgras delusion have highly irregular experiences of familiar faces.
If this intuition is on the right track, it suggests that, at least in some cases, delusional subjects consider a set of things (propositions/hypotheses) to be possible that is different from what ordinary subjects do. This raises some interesting questions about ordinary empirical reasoning, hypothesis generation, and the different ways in which ordinary thinkers and delusional subjects envision modal space. 
In my most recent work, I begin to explore this last idea in more detail. I claim that delusional subjects have irregular conceptions of epistemic possibility and that this is a significant respect in which their cognition is disordered (those who are attending can hear more at the upcoming ESPP conference -  If that is right, it naturally presents some further puzzles. Why do these subjects have such unusual conceptions of epistemic possibility? How does a subject's sense of what is possible influence belief fixation? These are the kinds of questions I am currently wondering about.
More generally, however, it seems to me that there are many underexplored issues when it comes to delusions, which makes it a very exciting time to work on imperfect cognitions...

Sunday 23 June 2013

Why can’t we think of mental disorders as being mental?

This post is by Matthew Broome.

Matthew Broome
I’ve recently taken up a new post as Senior Clinical Research Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, but prior to that was Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Warwick University and Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, and it was during a Journal Club at the IoP where I first met Lisa Bortolotti and we began our collaboration.

A month ago I was delighted to take part in a public philosophy event at the European Institute of the LSE, as part of their Consilience series, devoted to mental illness.  The format was that, together with two colleagues, Tim Thornton and Bonnie Evans, we were asked to talk about the nature of mental illness prior to the chair, Kristina Musholt, opening the discussion to the floor.  

Saturday 22 June 2013

Folk Epistemology and Knowledge Ascription

María G. Navarro

I am a postdoctoral ‘Juan de la Cierva’ fellow at the Institute of Philosophy of the Spanish National Research Council. Until the end of November this year I am a visiting fellow at the Department of Philosophy at Birmingham.

I am interested in how people reason and ascribe knowledge through the daily act of making interpretations.

In the very simple, fast and productive act of interpreting something as being something all of us use and project our beliefs, desires and actions. But not less important is that we produce interpretations in order to express, represent, and reason about knowledge. That implies that being capable of producing interpretations is not only related to folk psychology but also to folk epistemology. But what does ‘epistemology’ mean when we affirm that it may be ‘folk’?

Thursday 20 June 2013

Against Doxastic Theories of Delusion

Are delusions beliefs?
Delusions are formed in response to perceptual or sensory experiences, they interact with other mental states in a more or less intelligible fashion and they regulate behavior. Any mental state with these properties deserves to be called a belief, or so say doxastic theorists of delusion. The fact that delusions are irrational merely means that we need to search for the causes of irrationality rather than abandon the doxastic conception.

I disagree. Delusions also have some very un-belief like features. They are very resistant to counterevidence, often maintained with ambivalence, and also seem to involve a phenomenology and stance towards the world which is very dissimilar to that of someone trying to produce and verify an empirical hypothesis. John Nash the Fields medal winner (the Nobel prize for mathematics) and celebrity schizophrenic said of his delusions “ it’s kind of like a dream. In a dream it’s typical not to be rational.” Adoxastic theorists have variously argued that delusions while they have some belief like properties (as do dreams) are better conceived of as imaginary states or a distinctive type of propositional attitude.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Epistemic Urgency: a Positive Dimension to Reasoning Biases in Schizophrenia?

Gregory Yates
I am a Masters student in Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science at the University of Birmingham. My research interests here are centred on the experiences of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. I am also involved with the CogWatch project at Birmingham, a European funded research initiative aiming to enhance the rehabilitation of patients suffering from neurological disorders. Much of my theoretical and practical work, then, concerns cognitions seen as ‘imperfect’!

An article posted to Imperfect Cognitions in May explored the often-overlooked positive-psychological qualities or ‘secondary gains’ (Graham, 2013) associated with manic-depressive illness. I would like to consider here whether anything similar can be found in psychotic disorders – namely, schizophrenia.

Friday 7 June 2013

Delusions in the DSM 5

This post is by Lisa Bortolotti.

How has the definition of delusions changed in the DSM 5? Here are some first impressions.

In the DSM-IV (Glossary) delusions were defined as follows:

Delusion. A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith). When a false belief involves a value judgment, it is regarded as a delusion only when the judgment is so extreme as to defy credibility.

Monday 3 June 2013

Rationality and Delusions

I am Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham and I mainly work in the philosophy of psychology and psychiatry. I am also involved in the numerous activities of the Philosophy of Health and Happiness research cluster which I co-founded with Heather Widdows and Iain LawIn the last few years I have been mostly interested in delusions, and I have been very fortunate to work at a series of papers on delusions with psychiatrist and philosopher Matthew Broome.

Lisa Bortolotti
I am interested in clinical delusions in their own right, what they are, how they are formed, how they differ from other "imperfect cognitions", but I also think that the phenomenon of delusions can help us make progress with some long-standing issues in the philosophy of mind, such as the relationship between rationality and belief.

We tend to see delusions as the mark of madness. The content of some delusions is so bizarre as to invite scepticism about whether anybody can genuinely believe such things. And yet, people assert sincerely and with great conviction that they are dead (Cotard delusion), that their dear ones have been replaced by impostors (Capgras delusion), or that their neighbours are physically inserting thoughts into their heads (delusion of thought insertion).

Thursday 30 May 2013

Implicit Cognitions and Responsibility

Jules Holroyd
I am a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Nottingham. I've recently been working on implicit social cognitions in responsible agency - in particular, implicit biases. Implicit biases are, roughly, stored associations in memory, which can operate without the conscious awareness of the agent, and influence judgements and behaviours. We have many implicit associations and some of these enable us to navigate the world effectively. But others - those falling under the rubric of 'implicit bias' - seem deeply problematic and have a role in perpetuating discrimination and disadvantage (for a great resource on implicit bias, see here).

Monday 27 May 2013

Realism and Creativity as Epistemic Benefits

Magdalena Antrobus

I am a Masters student in Philosophy of Health and Happiness at the University of Birmingham. I also hold a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology and have over 5 years experience in clinical practice, working mainly with psychosis, depression, eating disorders and manic - depressive illness in conjunction with addictions (so-called dual diagnosis). In my recent work I examined possible beneficial traits of manic-depressive illness (Bipolar Disorder).

At first glance it may sound surprising to place ‘bipolar’ and ‘positive’ in the same sentence. However, a thorough study and analyses conducted by some psychiatrists (Galvez, Thommi, Ghaemi, 2011, Ghaemi 2012a, Ghaemi, 2012b) discovered that having the illness might enhance particular characteristics that are seen as beneficial. The authors of one of the studies reviewed 81 examples that mentioned positive psychological qualities in individuals diagnosed with manic depressive illness and found a strong association with the following five qualities: realism, empathy, spirituality, resilience and creativity.

From an epistemic point of view, two of the mentioned traits are worth special consideration, realism and creativity.

Studies in clinical psychology repeatedly evidence this extraordinary phenomenon: depressed people perceive their lives and events in a more realistic (understood as closer to truth) way than non-depressed individuals. When would a ‘depressive’ realistic perception be beneficial? Firstly, this particular discovery might change the way the close environment sees depressive individuals. Often perceived as ‘exaggerating’ their worries, people suffering from this illness may be actually closer to truth than others. Does it benefit them in any way? Not at first glance, in terms of their immediate emotional improvement. However, as they see things more realistically, they might be able to make a more accurate decision and take a more precise course of action in times of crisis or other general difficulties.

Enhanced creativity has been studied thoroughly in relation to manic depressive illness, especially to manic spectrum episodes. It very much seems to be an outcome of the individual being able to make quick mental associations, thinking fast and ‘outside of box’, and her mood being lifted above average, motivating her actions with an extraordinary strength. However, in many cases, where mood control fails, those emotional ‘highs’ have an adverse effect on achievement, leading to scattered thinking, grandiose delusions and destructive behaviours of mania. 

Can we then say, with clear certainty that, enhanced by BD, creativity is indeed a ‘positive’ attribute? Perhaps it can be, if we distinguish between mild symptoms that lead to productivity and severe symptoms that lead to dysfunction. Magnificent examples of art, created in manic spectrum episodes, certainly benefit the recipients and the world’s cultural heritage. Perhaps, by offering their authors positive feelings of contributing to the world’s good, they also provide a vital psychological profit of personal importance.