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.