Thursday 26 June 2014

Imperfect Cognitions and Creativity: Interview with Greg Currie

Greg Currie
Is there any significant link between mental disorders and creativity? As part of my research, I interviewed Greg Currie, Professor of Philosophy at the University of York.

Greg’s research focuses on the arts and cognition. His latest essay, entitled “Creativity and the Insight that Literature Brings”, appeared in the edited volume The Philosophy of Creativity: New Essays (Oxford University Press, 2014).
MA: How would you define creativity?

GC: I wouldn’t attempt a watertight definition but I think of creativity as the capacity to find good, unpredictable solutions to problems. Without the first clause about good solutions we simply have wildly unconventional behaviour which does not succeed, and I think a tendency to success is part of what it takes to be creative. The point about unpredictability highlights a point I would want to make about creativity being an epistemic notion: we judge certain behaviours as creative but other beings, knowing more about the workings of our cognition, might be able to predict the behaviour and for them it would not be creative. But I’d like to avoid complete relativism about this in the following way. There is generally a right perspective: that of the agent’s peers. That super-beings won’t find Einstein creative should not mean that he was not creative in thinking up the General Theory of Relativity.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Testimony and Theistic Belief

Jon Robson
I am a teaching associate at the University of Nottingham. I work on the epistemology of aesthetic, ethical, and religious judgements (and also on videogames).

I hereby assert that God exists and that I am in the fortunate position of knowing this to be the case. Of course I am aware that these assertions are likely to prove ever so slightly controversial (indeed Anna Ichino's previous post raises some insightful and thought-provoking worries about whether I am even correct in thinking that I believe these things) but let’s assume for the time being that they are correct. Furthermore, let’s suppose that you don’t share this knowledge. What, then, can I do to bring you to a position where you too know that God exists?

One obvious suggestion is that I provide you with some cogent argument demonstrating God’s existence. Debates concerning the epistemic status of theistic belief have traditionally centred around the evidential value of such arguments with numerous works discussing religious epistemology focusing exclusively on theistic (and anti-theistic) arguments and a number of philosophers endorsing claims to the effect that the rationality of theistic belief stands or falls with the success of these arguments.

Recently, though, (thanks in no small part to pioneering work by the likes of William Alston and Alvin Plantinga) the focus of discussions in religious epistemology has now widened significantly to include putatively non-inferential justifications for theistic belief arising from certain perceptual (or quasi-perceptual) experiences of the kind discussed in Joshua Cockayne’s recent post. But what if I am unable (or unwilling) to furnish you with arguments or experiences of the relevant kinds? Is there anything else I can do to enable you to know that God exists? Here is one simple suggestion; I do what I have done in the first sentence of this paper. I merely tell you – without argument or additional evidence of any kind – that God exists. In other words I attempt to bring it about that you know that God exists on the basis of my testimony alone.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Workshop on Functions in the Mind and Brain Mechanisms

Mickeln Castle
On May 19th and 20th, we had the chance of hosting “Functions in the mind and brain mechanisms” – an international workshop, at the Schloss Mickeln of the Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf (Germany). This event was organized in the broader context of our research project devoted to the classification of mental disorders (B06) of the CRC 991 research center on the Structure of representations in language, cognition and science.

The workshop aimed at taking a closer look at the increasingly tighter relations between psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience, while focusing on the role of abnormal cognition in cognitive scientific inquiries. Researchers from disciplines as diverse as psychiatry, philosophies of mind and science, that are unfortunately only tenuously connected, were invited to explore the different available approaches of mental disorders in psychiatry and their relation to cognitive scientific meta-theoretical accounts, such as the widespread mechanistic view of neuroscience.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Are Delusions Acceptances?

Keith Frankish
If psychotic patients did not tell us, would we guess what their delusions were? We might see that a patient was depressed, withdrawn, self-neglecting, and so on, but would it occur to us that they thought they were dead, as Cotard patients do? It is doubtful. Deluded patients are firmly attached to their delusions, but the attachment manifests itself most clearly at the verbal level, in what they say and how they argue, and may not show up clearly in their nonverbal behaviour. Most Cotard patients do not (as one early case did) arrange their own funeral.

Why is this? The answer, I think, is that delusion is an attitude closely bound up with language -- an attitude sometimes called ‘acceptance’. To accept a proposition, in this sense, is to commit oneself to arguing for it, defending it, using in reasoning, and acting upon it. This is the attitude a scientist takes to a hypothesis, a lawyer to the claim that their client is innocent, a politician to a policy. It is a sort of intellectual commitment, which is active, reflective, and conscious. (For more on acceptance and a detailed presentation of the case for thinking that delusions are acceptances, see this paper.)

Thursday 12 June 2014

The Future Making Machine

by Magda Osman
I am Senior Lecturer in Experimental Cognitive Psychology in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London. I am interested in developing an understanding of the underlying mechanisms involved in learning, decision making, and problem solving in complex dynamic environments.

Recently, I participated in a panel discussion at the LSE, hosted by the Forum of European Philosophy and the LSE Choice Group, on wise choices. There, I discussed some ideas from my new book, Future-Minded: The Psychology of Agency and Control (Palgrave 2014).

In the book I ask what drives us to do what we do. To answer this, I introduce the latest psychological research on agency, control, causality and the unconscious, and along the way challenge our folk psychological ideas on a wide range of phenomena (consciousness, subliminal priming, illusion of control, addiction). I discuss new theoretical approaches to understanding agency and control and argue that these psychological mechanisms work much like a future making machine, which shapes and plans the way an organism will act in the future.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Computational psychopathology: do it now!

Bill Fulford
This post has been published on behalf of Bill Fulford and Matthew Broome. Bill Fulford is Fellow of St Catherine’s College and Member of the Philosophy Faculty, University of Oxford; Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Mental Health, University of Warwick. Matthew Broome is Senior Clinical Research Fellow, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.

Matthew Broome
DSM is dead! Long live RDoC! In April this year Thomas Insel, Director of the world’s wealthiest neuroscience funder, the NIMH (the National Institute for Mental Health at Rockville, Maryland), pronounced the then shortly to be launched DSM-5 already dead. Introducing NIMH’s own classificatory framework, the RDoC (Research Domain Criteria), Insel warned that ‘NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.’

There has since been something of a row-back: Bruce Cuthbert, writing with the endorsement of NIMH, notes that Insel’s blog 'was addressed to the research community… rather than to observers of the DSM-5'; and in a joint press release NIMH and the American Psychiatric Association have reaffirmed the importance of the DSM in clinical use. But the principle remains. DSM has failed to deliver on the promise of the neurosciences for patient care. RDoC, Insel claims, will do better.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Beauty and Imperfect Cognitions

We are posting this on behalf of Professor Heather Widdows (University of Birmingham) who recently gave a talk on beauty as a topic in philosophy and ethics at the Hay Festival.

Heather Widdows
I'm John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics in the department of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. My current work is on ideals of perfection and beauty and I'm in the progress of writing Perfect Me! (under contract with Princeton University Press). In this book I’m exploring contemporary ideals of beauty and all the gory details which attach to messy, smelly, hairy, saggy and ever-changing human bodies from the perspective of moral philosophy.

In Perfect Me! I consider three key ways in which the (moral) ideal of beauty functions. First, as an individual’s aspiration to perfect themselves (‘I want to be perfect’) – a value judgement – that this type of beauty is worth having – a moral claim; second, as assertion of what being perfect is (‘this is what I would be if I were perfect’) – a judgement about what perfect in this context is; and third, as a command which a woman (or a man) feels she or he should obey (‘you should be perfect’) – so a moral imperative – directed towards this perfect ideal, which implies that beauty is some ‘good’ to be striven for.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

The Dark Side of the Loon (2)

Maarten Boudry
This post has been published on behalf of Maarten Boudry (University of Ghent).

In my previous post I introduced the psychological mechanisms responsible for people stopping the search for meaning in obscure texts. Here I shall show how these are used by Lacan.

Lacan’s pronouncements are couched in a number of highly abstract and complex concepts – the Other, the Symbolic, the objet petit a, jouissance, the Phallus, etc. – which are notoriously difficult to understand. The central tenets of Lacanian theory are that the unconscious is structured like a language and that human beings are trapped in a web of signifiers. By means of language, we try to comprehend reality and each other, but that hope is often frustrated.

In Lacan's linguistic re-interpretation of the Oedipus complex, subjects are symbolically castrated upon introduction in the Symbolic order. By means of obscure pseudo-mathematical formulas, Lacan has tried to show that the Real can never be fully accounted for by the Symbolic order. There always remains an ineluctable loss, something that defies understanding and remains elusive. This thing that cannot be grasped or comprehended, which plays a central role in Lacanian psychoanalysis, has been theorized as the "objet petit a". It is like a vanishing point, always out of reach. Or as The Master wrote: “The objet petit a is what remains irreducible in the advent of the subject at the locus of the other”. The later Lacan coined the term “sinthome” for that which is beyond meaning and unanalysable in the so-called topology of the human mind. Meaning is always manifold and interpretation ambivalent, determined by a web of unconscious associations that we can barely glimpse. As a consequence, communication is doomed to fail, our identity is fragmented and divisive, and truth has a fictional structure.