Tuesday 30 December 2014

Stubbornly Clinging to a Belief

My name is Kevin Lynch and I am currently a Research Fellow at University College Dublin, and gained my PhD in philosophy from the University of Warwick in 2012. A lot of my current research activities relate to understanding self-deception and similar phenomena. I also have research interests in psychoanalysis, issues in metaphysics and epistemology, and the philosophy of information.

One example of an ‘imperfect cognition’ which I investigated in a recent paper, is stubbornness. I outlined the similarities and differences between stubborn belief and self-deception. Both being stubborn in holding to a certain belief, and being self-deceived in believing something, seem to be examples of motivationally biased belief. Both can involve very similar behaviours, such as ignoring, dismissing, downplaying, or explaining away unwelcome evidence, and searching one-sidedly for welcome evidence or considerations. In fact, I argue that cases of stubborn belief satisfy the set of sufficient conditions which Alfred Mele (2001) gives for self-deception, and should prompt an amendment of those conditions.

As I see it, stubbornness differs from self-deception primarily in the sort of desires and emotions which are causing the biased behaviour and belief. In standard cases of self-deception, the subject has a desire specifically for the proposition which she falsely beliefs to be true (e.g. she believes her son is not bullying other kids in school, because she desires that her son is not bullying other kids in school). In cases of stubbornness however, the subject’s bias is motivated by a more general sort of desire which is not linked to the content of the false belief. 

Stubbornness, for instance, may be motivated by a general aversion to losing arguments, or a desire not to be shown up as being wrong or foolish, or an aversion to having one’s long-standing beliefs threatened, beliefs which give one a sense of comfort and certainty. These sorts of affective factors can cause one to have biased beliefs with various different contents (and thus they can explain stubbornness as a trait, as well as particular occasions of stubbornness). Paradigmatically, people who stubbornly believe that P do not especially desire that P, while self-deceivers do.

Another recent interest of mine, and perhaps another example of an imperfect cognition, is wilful ignorance, and I hope to do work on the analysis of wilful ignorance and the distinction between it and self-deception. Wilful ignorance has been thought to be a species of self-deception, though I would argue that they are independent phenomena.

Monday 29 December 2014

Roberta Payne's Outsider Art

In this post Roberta Payne writes about the relationship between schizophrenia and art. Roberta earned a BA in classics from Stanford, an MA in Italian from UCLA, an MA in romance languages from Harvard, and a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Denver. She taught English, Latin, and Italian, and her published work includes literary translations from Italian, short stories, and articles on schizophrenia.

In 2013 Roberta published a memoir, Speaking to My Madness: How I Searched for Myself in Schizophrenia. Her article "My Outsider Art" has recently been published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin, and is available open access.

Although I’ve done art since I was a small child and studied art history formally in college, I didn’t find my artistic niche until I developed mental illness in my early 20s. Then I began a long love affair with what has been dubbed “outsider art,” the art of people variously marginalized in society, to distinguish it from the consensus-reality art of the nonmarginalized. In my case, the term meant the sometimes strange, often beautiful art of schizophrenia. My materials of choice have been pen and ink and paper, and my favorite stylistic form is the round mandala originally of ancient India.

I’m a whirling dervish in my ultimate art fantasy. In this fantasy, I put myself in a large, cube-shaped room covered on all 6 sides with whiteboards. A bright light bulb hangs down to the middle point of the room. I have a ladder and lots of black dry-erase pens. Whirling, I effortlessly draw as fast as I can, one image creating and then turning into the next, on and on, over the ceiling, the walls, and the floor, moving right along until the whole room is covered with my doodles; and then I elaborate the doodles, around and around; and finally the entire whiteness is filled up with black. I have become pure energy, just what I suppose whirling dervishes aim to become.

I feel like I’m flowing into and out of my pen when I’m drawing. I don’t know how common an experience that is among artists, either schizophrenic artists or consensus-reality artists. But it’s exhilarating, almost a “high.”

Are these examples of loosened ego boundaries or, instead, just part of the nature of creativity? On the one hand, it seems to me that, if the artist works from within consensus ego boundaries, she takes the material’s dimensions into account from the moment she begins to compose. On the other hand, when an artist is psychotic and having difficulties with her own boundaries, does she come to a grinding halt at the boundaries of the material? I have found myself stopped cold by the ruthless edge of the paper, and often wandering beyond the circle or perimeter of a mandala I am quickly, impulsively drawing.

Just as my outsider ink or paint often spirals outward, so at the same time it often spirals inward, like a fractal. Another metaphor of this dual movement has an eggbeater mixing items together in a bowl that is too small, so that much of the resultant mixture is hurled outward, while much is folded into itself again and again. In real life, during the times when I was most ill, I obeyed alien creatures as large as galaxies; and at the very same time I turned inward, examining my thoughts from every angle and relentlessly dissecting them. 

I could have been a watch repairman or a lace tatter. Little wonder, then, that I loved drawing a carnation, articulating every jagged petal; or an armadillo; every bump on every leg of an octopus; a head of cauliflower. I discovered that I could make a vine that produced leaves, the ends of which cried tears, each of which in turn contained a human face. One tear might fall on a spider (that wore 8 boxing gloves), imploding it and thus causing its web to sag so that a butterfly might escape it and fly to… I typically spent 6–8 h in one sitting so that the tension of my pen would remain uniform.

Some schizophrenic art, however, is more conventionally structured; it might be limited to 1 or 2 images with no extreme outward or inward movement, no apparent sense of being hemmed in, no building of fractals. But it often has “different,” idiosyncratic rules and aesthetics. For instance, I once drew on poster-size paper a gracefully diagonal, writhing black eel. So far, conventional structure that any artist might have planned. But the eel’s mouth was a circle of jagged teeth, out of which poured, in lovely calligraphy, words, phrases, and sentences about the nature of evil. (This was in response to the Aurora theater shootings.) 

I can’t imagine that this drawing would be anything but abnormally chilling to a consensus-reality viewer, chilling like the hallucinations of huge, neon, electric spiders slithering down walls struck me decades ago, when I experienced delirium tremens from alcohol withdrawal. The (usually anonymous) schizophrenic art I have viewed in books and on the Internet often has unique, otherworldly traits, especially aesthetics that remind the viewer of isolation, of a world made of metal, and bone-rattling electricity. It could be that the avoidance of aesthetic revulsion (a kind of fear) is a tactic that consensus reality uses to maintain its balance.

The most extreme example of creating repulsiveness takes place for me when I’ve been drawing while paranoid. I’m appalled by what I’ve drawn, just as I’m appalled by the paranoia itself, which feels like fear and anger experienced simultaneously. The figures I draw are nasty, sneering, in a world I want to run from: weird bats, black crows with huge wingspans, eerie owls uttering phrases in Latin. I’ve often hid those drawings, afraid of their power over me, and afraid of the startled reactions of others.

After examining on the Internet over a 100 paintings and drawings by artists with schizophrenia, I am struck by the thought that not only who you are and how you behave come from what is going on in your brain; but also that what you produce, the artifact itself, mirrors those features. For example, we can sometimes see fragile ego boundaries, extreme introspection, and sensory overload or crowding visible in a piece of art—a sort of reenactment of workings of the mind. What can be explained less easily—and are in the end the hallmarks of schizophrenic art—are the otherworldly taste, the love of the bizarre, the sense of a different journey. They are present sometimes to an overwhelming degree, like eerie, sky-high constructions of yellow-and-purple pinecones; sometimes as subtly as a wisp of oddly curling smoke.

Here you can visit Roberta Payne's website.

Thursday 25 December 2014


In this post, Ezio Di Nucci presents his book Mindlessness (Cambridge Scholars, 2013). Di Nucci is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Universität Duisburg-Essen. His latest book is Ethics Without Intention.

Philosophy is still hanging on to an over-intellectualistic picture of human judgement and agency – or
by Ezio Di Nucci
so I contend in my book. Our ability for thought is a useful resource, but one that we use less frequently than philosophers often assume – and that’s a good thing. Deliberation is not always the best way to deal with life’s challenges; on the contrary, we are often better off not thinking; other times we are just not worse off and it is therefore more efficient not to think.

The book begins by looking at data which has been accumulating in behavioural and social psychology over the last few decades, especially with relation to habits, skilled performances and priming. Expert golfers, for example, perform better when under time pressure and they also appear to be better when distracted than when they are able to concentrate. Here’s another one: if habitual cinema-goers are given one-week-old stale popcorn, they will eat as much of it as when given fresh popcorn.

Tuesday 23 December 2014


Jonathan Farrell
My name is Jonathan Farrell, and I am a post-doc at the University of Manchester on Tim Bayne’s Architecture of Consciousness project. I am interested in providing a taxonomy of seemings the states we are in when things seem some way to us.

In this post I will try to explain why a taxonomy would be useful. In brief: there are different kinds of seemings, and we have different, non-equivalent, ways of ascribing seemings to subjects. Thus philosophers need to be careful when and how they use ‘seem’ to make sure that their arguments do not equivocate and that they do not talk past each other. Providing a taxonomy of seemings can help us to avoid these problems.

In everyday speech it is common to talk about some of our mental states by using ‘seem’: the stick half in water, for example, seems bent to me, and it seems that this winter will be colder than last winter. Philosophers also talk about seemings. Indrek Reiland (2014) appeals to seemings to resolve the debate over whether we perceptually experience 'high-level' properties (e.g. tigerness, friendliness) as well as 'low-level' properties (redness, squareness). George Bealer (1998) appeals to seemings to explain what intuitions are: they are intellectual seemings. And the papers in Chris Tucker's collection (2013) consider whether appealing to seemings can give us (defeasible) justification for some of our beliefs. It is tempting, then, to think that there is one kind of mental stateseemingwhich is relevant to intuitions, justification, and perception.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Oxford Loebel Lectures 2014 - Professor Kenneth S. Kendler

Kenneth Kendler
This is a report on the 2014 Oxford Loebel Lectures by Rebecca Roache, Lecturer in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The biopsychosocial model in psychiatry tells us that psychiatric disorders arise from a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. But how do causes at these three ‘levels’ interact, and how do we put this insight to use in treating mental illness? Professor Kenneth Kendler addressed these questions in Oxford’s inaugural Loebel Lectures.

In his first lecture (which you can watch here or listen to here), Kendler shared fascinating empirical data to demonstrate the aetiological complexity of psychiatric disorders. He showed that whilst one’s genes can make it more likely that one will suffer certain disorders, the causal pathway does not run directly from genes to the development of a disorder. Rather, causal pathways often—to use Kendler’s expression—‘loop out’ into the environment. For example, having a genetic predisposition to depression makes you more likely to be depressed, but this is because you will be more sensitive than other people to stressful life events that can cause depression. Another example: alcohol dependency does not simply arise from one’s genes, but via one’s genetically-induced tendency to seek out social groups where drinking is encouraged.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Attention and Phenomenal Consciousness

Henry Taylor
My name is Henry Taylor and I have recently submitted my PhD in philosophy at Durham University. In this post, I would like to discuss some issues that I address in my paper ‘Is Attention Necessary and Sufficient for Phenomenal Consciousness?’

With some notable exceptions, attention has until relatively recently been neglected as a topic in its own right in analytic philosophy. This has occurred despite its widespread use in fields as diverse as aesthetics, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics. However, in the last few years this attitude has radically and suddenly shifted, and attention is one of the most exciting topics in contemporary philosophy of psychology.

One of the most striking questions within this domain is whether it is possible to use attention to explain consciousness. Amongst many psychologists, and philosophers, there is hope that by studying consciousness in terms of attention, the problem of consciousness may turn out to be empirically tractable. Of course, this project becomes significantly more realistic if it turns out that attention and consciousness co-occur.

Friday 12 December 2014

CFP: False but Useful Beliefs for PERFECT 2016

Dear all

As part of PERFECT we want to promote further investigation into whether false beliefs can be advantageous, due to their being biologically adaptive, enhancing wellbeing, being conducive to the satisfaction of epistemic goals, or promoting some other form of agential success. In the psychological literature, self-deception, positive illusions, delusions, confabulatory explanations, and other instances of false belief have been regarded as beneficial in some sense, but there has not yet been a systematic study of their role in supporting different aspects of human agency within philosophy. 

The workshop we are planning for February 2016 aims at filling that gap. We welcome theoretical papers from researchers in epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, philosophy of biology, and psychology.

Themes and research questions

Some beliefs seem to have an important role in supporting human agency: they can make us feel better about ourselves and even enhance our health prospects (e.g., positive illusions); they can provide some explanation for very unusual experiences (e.g., clinical delusions); they can protect us from undesirable truths (e.g., self-deception); they can help us fill existing gaps in our memory (e.g., confabulation); they can support a sense of community that improves socialization (e.g., religious beliefs); and so on. 

The workshop will encourage a reflection on the relationship among the different types of benefits (psychological, biological, epistemic) that such beliefs can have and on the different aims and functions of beliefs.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Intellectual Humility: Interview with Duncan Pritchard

In this post I interview Duncan Pritchard, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the Eidyn Research Centre.

Duncan is currently leading two inter-related Eidyn projects on the topic of intellectual humility, both of which receive the majority of their funding from the Templeton Foundation. The first is an outreach project entitled ‘Intellectual Humility MOOC’. The other principal investigator on this project is Dr Ian Church. The aim of this project is to produce and run a Massive Open Online Course (or ‘MOOC’) on the topic of intellectual humility.

The second project is a research project entitled ‘Virtue Epistemology, Epistemic Dependence, and Intellectual Humility’. The other principal investigator on this project is Prof Jesper Kallestrup. The aim of this project is to develop an anti-individualistic version of virtue epistemology and to explore the relationship between epistemic dependency and intellectual humility.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Autobiographical Memory Changes Across Retellings

My name is Misia Temler and I am a forensic psychologist and a PhD candidate in Cognitive Science supervised by Professor Amanda Barnier, Professor John Sutton, and Associate Professor Doris McIlwain at Macquarie University in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders. My PhD research investigates how our memory of recent personal events changes over subsequent retellings.

Misia Temler

Take a moment to remember your 21st birthday or other milestone birthday, or first date with your current partner. These events are often remembered quite vividly in detail as they are typically emotional, salient, and have frequently been retold on numerous occasions. Would it surprise you that some of these seemingly vivid details can change in just a week when you retell your event? Perhaps on your first date your partner wore a red shirt and not a blue shirt, or maybe that first date actually took place at noon and not in the evening. Did you feel happy and excited or did you feel stressed and anxious? Through my research, these are exactly the type of changes I have found people make when retelling their memories just one week after their initial recollection.

This is because memory does not work like a video recorder. It does not offer unedited playback of each event we have experienced. Our memory of past events is actually more like a perpetually changing kaleidoscope, where details of memories of previous experiences are continually rearranged to form a momentarily suspended pattern of memories of a certain event only to be rearranged again for next retrieval. Our memory is dynamic and reconstructive (Conway & Pleydell-Pearce 2000). Our personality, experiences, motivation, emotion, social influences (Barnier, Sutton, Harris, & Wilson 2008), and general interpretation of how the world works all impact and colour our past each time we remember.

In our everyday life we do not need to recall precise details from every event. On the contrary, recalling every single detail would constrain our ability to draw conclusions, to rationalize, interpret events and meaning from the experience, and provide a coherent narrative. Our memory serves us by extracting the necessary information for different functional needs (Harris, Rasmussen, & Berntsen 2014). We remember to learn from the past and prepare for the future, to make sense of who we are, and to relate to the society we live in. When we forget details we have gaps in our memory. Those gaps are often filled in with the details that are most compatible with the story of our narrative. In the day-to-day context, we often do not notice that we or others misremember certain details. Does it really matter if someone was wearing a red shirt or blue shirt in most circumstances? In many conversational settings, it is usually the gist and coherence of the narrative rather than the accuracy of specific side details that is important (Koriat, Goldsmith, & Pansky 2000).

The complications arise when the accuracy of memory of an event is held to more stringent standards across different settings such as the forensic context (Barnier, Temler, & Sutton 2014). In the forensic context with its high demand for accuracy, variation in subsequent retellings can result in serious consequences such as innocent people being convicted. Eyewitness accounts, confessions, and alibi confirmations, all of which are based on autobiographical memories, are carefully monitored and diligently transcribed. Deviation across retellings is often seen as a sign of deception.

Our research indicates that variation in recounts of personal past events is normal and should be expected. We found that all participants made omissions, additions and contradictions in their narratives across retellings. There was variability from small to large changes and not everyone’s account changed in the same way. How do we then interpret variation in memory across retellings? We argue that an important way to measure changes in memory recall is to explore variation thresholds and individual susceptibilities to a variety of internal and external factors. My project aims to unearth new data and theory on the genuine baseline of distortion in autobiographical memory and the factors that contribute to it.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Philosophy and Psychoanalysis in Dialogue

This week we feature a report on a conference on the dialogue between philosophy and psychoanalysis. The author, Marthe Kerkwijk, is a graduate student at Heythrop College, University of London.

Senate House, London
On Friday 17th and Saturday 18th of October, Heythrop College, London, the Institute of Philosophy and the Institute of Psychoanalysis co-organised a conference on the dialogue between philosophy and psychoanalysis. Philosophers' critical evaluations of the methodologies of psychoanalysis are well known, but in the last few decades philosophy and psychoanalysis have mutually influenced each other in more constructive ways. The conference brought together prominent scholars whose work navigates the intersection between philosophy and psychoanalysis in order to reinforce fruitful dialogue between both disciplines. Jonathan Lear, professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago and psychoanalyst, delivered the keynote address. The conference took place in the Chancellors Hall in Senate House and attracted more than 120 delegates.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

A Case of Knowledge Based Upon False Belief

Avram Hiller
My name is Avram Hiller, and I am Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Portland State University. I work in several different areas of philosophy in the analytic tradition. My work in epistemology concerns the nature of knowledge and, in particular, what the external environment must be like for an individual to have knowledge in it.

According to some theories of knowledge, it is impossible for someone to know something if the person’s belief is based upon a false belief. But an appeal to social aspects of belief formation casts this criterion into doubt. For it is not uncommon for a helpful individual to convey a point to someone else using a falsehood. Consider the following case, which appears in a recent publication of mine:

Natasha is a spy in the field. Messages to her from Headquarters often are detected by enemy intelligence, and Headquarters is aware of that. Today, Headquarters needs to communicate to Natasha that her contact will be at the train station at 4:00 pm, but Headquarters cannot directly tell her that. However, Headquarters knows that Natasha happens to have a false belief that the train from Milan is arriving at 4:00 pm. It really arrives at 8:00 pm; also, assume that there are no signs posted at the station indicating what time it will arrive. So Headquarters sends a communiqué to Natasha stating that her contact is on the train from Milan. She then forms the justified belief that the contact will be at the station at 4:00 pm (call this proposition C). C is true.

Monday 1 December 2014

3QD Prize semi-finalists and finalists

Epistemic Innocence logo
Dear Readers

Two of our posts had been shortlisted for the 3QD Philosophy Prize. 

In the semi-finals went both Epistemic Injustice and Illness by Ian James Kidd and Havi Carel (19 Aug 2014) and Sadder but Wiser? Interview with Jennifer Radden by Magdalena Antrobus (6 Nov 2014).

The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.I74D2I9T.dpuf
The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.I74D2I9T.dpufThe
The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.I74D2I9
Unfortunately, neither of those brilliant posts made it to the final round.

But a post on epistemic innocence, a notion we have developed and discussed here, is among the finalists: Anosognosia and Epistemic Innocence by Lisa Bortolotti, posted on Kerry Gutridge's blog, Psychiatric Ethics, on 5 Oct 2014. A full paper on the topic has been recently published open-access by Consciousness & Cognition.