Thursday 31 July 2014

Workshop on Implicit Cognitions

Sophie Stammers

On Tuesday 15th July the University of Nottingham held a workshop on Implicit Cognitions, organised by network member Jules Holroyd. The workshop was part of the Leverhulme funded research project on Bias and Blame.

Sophie Stammers (KCL) started the afternoon with her paper ‘Not Conscious, Not Responsible?’. Stammers critically examined the account of bias and responsibility given in Neil Levy’s book (which he has presented on this blog). Stammers put pressure on three claims of Levy’s:

1) Agents are not conscious of the morally relevant facts regarding attitudes which generate implicitly biased actions.

2) Implicitly biased actions are generated by attitudes which are inconsistent with the agent’s endorsed values.

3) Implicitly biased actions are generated by attitudes which are not responsive to reasons at the personal-level.

With respect to 1), Stammers discussed the specificity of the morally relevant facts, and depending on this, whether agents might after all be aware of such facts. With respect to 2), she discussed what is meant by an agent’s endorsed values. And with respect to 3) she gave two interpretations of the claim by distinguishing two ways of interpreting what it means for actions to not be responsive to reasons. Stammers concluded with the claims that agents might be conscious of some morally relevant facts, that some aspects of their actions are assessable, and that implicit biases might be no less responsive to reasons than some explicit attitudes (the latter of which we are morally responsible for).

Next up was Robin Scaife (Sheffield), with his talk ‘Implicit Bias and Blame: An Experimental Design’. In his talk Scaife presented his work with collaborators Jules Holroyd and Tom Stafford. Holroyd, Scaife, and Stafford were seeking feedback on the experimental design they had created for an experiment on bias and blame to run at the end of the year. They were interested in whether blaming people for their implicit biases helped or hindered the expression of such biases.

Anna Ichino closed the workshop with her paper ‘Religious (So-Called) Beliefs and Imagination'. Ichino has blogged about her work on this issue. She defends the view that the cognitive attitudes usually thought to be religious beliefs, are – or at least many of them are – not actually beliefs, but imaginings. In her paper she considers three reasons for thinking that such attitudes are beliefs; sensitivity to evidence, holistic coherence, and sincere avowal. Ichino put pressure on the claim that these three features held of religious attitudes, arguing that they share many more features of paradigmatic imaginings than beliefs.

You can follow the progress of the Bias and Blame project by keeping up to date with the project blog.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Questions and Reasoning in Schizophrenia and Delusion

Matthew Parrott
Schizophrenia and delusion are typically described as involving some kind of impairment in a subject's ability to reason (e.g., Coltheart et. al., 2011; Coltheart, 2007; Davies and Egan 2013; Garety and Freeman, 1999). Yet, although there is evidence indicating that subjects diagnosed with these psychiatric conditions reason in anomalous ways, in many cases the pattern of reasoning they exhibit looks to be more optimal than the one exhibited by non-psychiatric controls. Most famously, we have known for a number of years that both schizophrenic and delusional subjects 'jump to conclusions' on probabilistic reasoning tasks (Fine, et. al., 2007) but their performance on these tasks is very close to a Bayesian model of ideal rationality. Secondly, there is some recent evidence that suggests schizophrenic subjects may be better at reasoning with conditionals. According to one study, they seem to be less susceptible to believability biases (Owen, et. al., 2007) and according to another they seem to be better at falsifying conditionals with negated antecedents (Mellet, et. al., 2006).

Thursday 24 July 2014

Workshop on The Challenges of Mental Health for Social Science and Policy

King's College London, Waterloo Campus
On 19th June 2014, a workshop on “The Challenges of Mental Health for Social Science and Policy” was held at the King’s College London, Waterloo Campus. Supported by the King’s Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Centre’s Science & Society initiative and organized by the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine, the workshop hosted a number of distinguished speakers and experts on mental health and involved postgraduate and early career researchers. The workshop consisted of three sections, psychiatry, social policy and social science.

The workshop opened with a psychiatry session. Prof. Derek Bolton observed that psychiatry is to a large extent concerned with psychosocial phenomena. However, current efforts to reconceptualise “mental disorders as brain circuits” create privilegization of “brain circuitry” in causation of mental illness, leaving psychosocial factors out and thus presenting well-known reductionist epistemological pitfalls. Nevertheless, the Research Domain Criteria project (RDoC), despite creating tensions, also holds the possibility of developing new diagnostic tools. Bolton suggested that genetics and social determinants of health, for instance, as interconnected fields of mental health research, hold the promise of inclusive scope for mental health research and treatment strategies.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Sense of Agency in Hypnosis and Beyond

Vince Polito
I’m Vince Polito, a postdoctoral researcher at Macquarie University, Sydney Australia. My area of research is sense of agency, that is the sense of control that each of us feels over our own self-generated actions. This is normally an unremarkable sense – right now I am intending to type this post and so my fingers move to press each key in turn and I have a sense of agency for the movements.

There are situations, however, where our normal sense of agency is disrupted. Perhaps the most striking example is alien control delusions. Patients with these delusions report that particular body movements are controlled by some external entity (Spence, 2001). A reduced sense of agency is also a defining characteristic of hypnotic responding. Individuals who are highly hypnotisable will often report that actions they make in response to hypnotic suggestions occur without their conscious intention. Hypnosis provides a marvellous opportunity to study sense of agency alteration. Whereas patients with alien control delusions are relatively rare and often unwilling or impractical research participants, hypnosis can be used in experimental designs with members of the general public to create safe, fully reversible instances of agency change in the lab (Oakley& Halligan, 2013).

Thursday 17 July 2014


Attention by Wayne Wu
I am Wayne Wu, currently Associate Professor in, and Associate Director of, the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.

Consider some mundane situations: (a) you've lost your keys and look around searching for them; (b) you watch picnickers throw a frisbee when suddenly, it flies towards you and you reach to catch it; (c) you memorize the first 30 digits of pi and then later, recall them; (d) you drink some wine and figure out what flavors it exemplifies; (e) you ponder various reasons for making a significant decision or for justifying a specific claim; (f) while onlookers are oblivious, a child's straying too close to a busy road captures your attention.

These mundane situations reflect instances of bodily and mental agency, of conscious awareness, of directed thought, and of epistemic and practical reflection. They are tied together by the subject's selective attunement to various facets of a situation. That is, they exemplify the deployment of attention (or so I would argue). Attention insinuates itself into many matters of philosophical significance.

In Attention, part of Routledge's New Problems in Philosophy series, I argue for the philosophical importance of attention. My aim is to provide an overview of empirical work on attention, investigate what attention is, and use that understanding to examine different philosophical issues infiltrated by attention.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

The Epistemic Innocence of (Some) Psychedelic States

Chris Letheby
Greetings! I'm a Ph.D. student at the University of Adelaide, Australia, writing a thesis on philosophical issues concerning scientific research into psychedelic drugs. This research raises questions in bioethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychiatry, philosophy of self, naturalised epistemology, and philosophy of cognitive science. In this post I propose that some psychedelic states are epistemically innocent imperfect cognitions. I have omitted citations for stylistic reasons but will gladly supply them on request.

Psychedelic (or 'hallucinogenic') drugs are once again being studied as psychotherapeutic and transformative agents, and results thus far are intriguing. There is evidence that a single administration of a psychedelic can yield durable improvement in symptoms of such conditions as obsessive compulsive disorder, treatment-resistant depression, addiction, and anxiety associated with terminal illness. Moreover, psychedelic experiences have been shown to cause lasting personality change in healthy adults.

Thursday 10 July 2014

European Epistemology Network Meeting in Madrid

Centro Cultural La Corrala Madrid
The 2014 meeting of the European Epistemology Network took place in Madrid during June 30th and July 2nd. It brought together philosophers from various universities (mainly in Europe) working on epistemology, and it provided an ideal opportunity for those philosophers to be aware of each other’s work and establish research collaboration links. Members of the Imperfect Cognitions network, such as Kengo Miyazono and myself, were present at this interesting conference.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Mental Time Travel

We are posting this on behalf of Dorothea Debus, Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of York.
Dorothea Debus
Hello! My name is Dorothea Debus, and my research is on topics in the Philosophy of Mind and Psychology. I've recently written a paper on a new paradigm in experimental psychology, the paradigm of 'mental time travel', and Lisa has asked me to write a piece for this blog on my work on that topic.

'Mental Time Travel' is a comparatively new research paradigm in experimental psychology and the neurosciences. Relevant empirical work starts from the observation that there might be important similarities between, and maybe even a shared neuro­physiologial basis for, our engaging with the past in memory, and our engaging with the future in foresight. Both ways of relating to times other than the present are then, in an attempt to emphasize relevant similarities, referred to as cases of 'mental time travel'.

Thursday 3 July 2014

How The Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In is a philosophy festival aimed at the general public, which runs for nine days around the end of May and the beginning of June in the Globe theatre in Hay-on-Wye, and in various tents in the grounds around the theatre, as well as at the new riverside location. There are several themed strands which cover lots of different areas in philosophy.

Neuroscience versus Philosophy
This year (as in other years) there were themed talks around mind, madness and power and speakers included Steven Rose, Maggie Boden and Barry C. Smith who all participated in a discussion entitled 'Neuroscience versus Philosophy'.

Boden advocates first understanding what human traits we are looking for, expressed in computational terms, and then trying to find neuro-scientific correlates. She suggests that, as the philosophical and computational work has not been done yet, this renders the neuroscience almost totally irrelevant. She cites Uta and Chris Frith’s work on neuroscientific correlates for autism (e.g. Frith & Frith 2009) but questions what use this is to us if we don’t have a fully developed philosophical and computational notion of, say, theory of mind and other differences associated with autism. She is not even sure that having this fully developed picture would help us. If all we are able to see is more or less blood flow to certain areas of the brain in an fMRI scan under certain conditions, how do we use this in practical terms? For Boden neuroscience can’t answer philosophical questions but it might inform them.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Imperfect Representations

F. Samaniego, M. Suarez and I. San Pedro
I currently hold a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Philosophical Research, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). I recently finished my doctoral research at the Complutense University in Madrid on interventionist explanations of entropy raising, under the supervision of Mauricio Suárez. He is Associate Professor in Logic and Philosophy of Science at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. During 2013-2015 he is a Marie Curie Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy (School of Advanced Studies, London University).

In this post I describe how the research interests of Mauricio Suárez partially overlap with the themes of the project on the epistemic innocence of imperfect cognitions. One of his main areas of research is the epistemology of science, more precisely, models, inference and scientific representation. Suárez defends that science is not as realistic and algorithmically objective as people commonly believe. He defends the view that, on the contrary, fictions and imperfect representations are often used in scientific practice. And this scientist’s creativity, this partial preservation of reality of their models, far of being negative is a positive and helpful engine in the scientific research.