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.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Delusions as Malfunctioning Beliefs

Kengo Miyazono
with Charles Darwin
I am a research fellow at University of Birmingham and a JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) fellow. My main research area is philosophy of mind, broadly construed (including philosophy of psychology, philosophy of psychiatry and early modern philosophy of mind). Recently, I am working on a project which is, directly or indirectly, related to epistemic innocence project.

The aim of this project is to present and develop a new strategy to defend doxasticism about delusion from the main argument against it. Doxasticism about delusion is the view that delusions are beliefs.

Although this view is widely accepted in psychiatry, there is a simple but powerful philosophical argument against it. I call it “the argument from causal role”.
- Playing a belief-like causal role is necessary for a mental state to be a belief.
- Many delusions fail to play belief-like causal roles.
- Therefore, many delusions are not beliefs.