Thursday 26 February 2015

Eating Disorders Awareness Week

During Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we take the opportunity to list some useful resources for people who want to know more about what it is like to live with an eating disorder and what can be done to help.

B-eat, the UK charity for eating disorders, has organised an event for tomorrow, called "Sock it to Eating Disorders": you can wear silly socks for a day! B-eat has also just released a report of the costs of eating disorders to the UK economy, which you can read about and download here.

The Mental Health Foundation website and the website of Mind, the mental health charity, are a good source of information about eating disorders in general. The MHF features the story of Casey that illustrates the difficulties of people facing eating disorders in receiving adequate support. Mind features the story of Hope, who writes about her time in an adolescent psychiatric unit.

There are several blogs dealing with eating disorders from different perspectives you may want to visit. Here is a small sample: Eating Disorders Blogs, Does Every Woman Has an Eating Disorder?, Laura's Soap Box, Make Peace with Food.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Fakers and Fanatics Revisited: A Response to Anna

Neil Van Leeuwen
I would like to thank Anna for her insightful response to my latest blog. I’m delighted to respond to her response.

The dialectic so far is this.

I maintain that psychology and epistemology should posit a cognitive attitude I call religious credence. This attitude is not the same as ordinary, mundane factual belief. But it is also not the same as fictional imagining, the attitude that underlies pretend play and cognition of fiction.

I hold this position for a number of reasons. But the motivation I gave in my blog is that most ordinary religious 'believers' are not full-blown fanatics (like Joan of Arc), nor are they fakers, who merely pretend to be religiously committed. Since ordinary religious people are in-between (that is a rough way of speaking), we should posit an attitude that captures their underlying mental state; so I posit religious credence. (See the full paper for a more thorough set of empirical and theoretical motivations.)

Anna responds that she agrees that ordinary religious 'believers' do not have factual belief attitudes toward their religious doctrines, as she’s argued before. But she does not agree that an additional attitude of religious credence needs to be posited. Rather, she thinks imaginings of various sorts can do the explanatory work needed to capture the behaviours of ordinary religious people.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Remembering, Imagining, False Memories, and Personal Memories

This is the fourth in our series of posts on the papers published in a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on the Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions. Here Catherine Loveday summarises her paper, co-written with Martin Conway, 'Remembering, Imagining, False Memories and Personal Memories'. 

Ogwo David Emenike once wrote, 'Our imagination goes ahead of us, bringing our yesterday's imaginings into present realities'. This beautifully encapsulates the extraordinary capacity and need that humans have for mental time travel but, more than that, it illustrates the inextricable relationship between memory and imagination. When we remember we imagine and when we imagine we use our memory. Both are mental constructions based on past experience and there is significant evidence to suggest that the same brain structures are involved when we remember and when we imagine.

The building blocks for both remembering and imagining are semantic memory – the knowledge we have of our world – and episodic memory – sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, and feelings that we have experienced. These are used to create a conscious experience that takes us out of the present moment and into another place that may be anywhere in the future or the past. So for example, I can easily call to mind the last time that I met a particular friend but by using much of the same knowledge and experience I can also imagine what a future encounter with the same friend might be like.

Monday 23 February 2015

Aimee Wilson on BPD

Aimee Wilson
This post is part of our series of accounts by experts by experience. Roberta Payne wrote about schizophrenia and outsider art in December, and Ellen White about OCD in January. Today Aimee Wilson tells us about BPD.

Hi! I am Aimee and I blog over on I’m currently in recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, after a six year long battle with the illness and a two year admission in a specialist hospital. When Lisa emailed me asking if I would write a post about the positive aspects of the things that have been deemed symptoms of BPD, I was intrigued. I guess, naturally, I’d only ever moaned and ranted about these things especially when they are the things that cause me to be hospitalised or to self-harm and attempt suicide.

So, to think of positives sounded like a good challenge.

When I was diagnosed with BPD, the diagnostic criteria were to have at least five of nine possible symptoms, and it was widely agreed by professionals that I had all nine. So, I will break this post up into each symptom and it’s positives:

Unstable mood: The depths of depression make me all the more grateful for my happiness and good moods. It means I make the most of the time when I feel good by taking all of the opportunities that come my way.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Borderline Personality Disorder: New Perspectives on a Stigmatizing and Overused Diagnosis

In this post, Jacqueline Gunn and Brent Potter present their recent book Borderline Personality Disorder: New Perspectives on a Stigmatizing and Overused Diagnosis (Praeger Publishers Inc). Dr Gunn is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in New York, specializing in Eating Disorders, Trauma, Interpersonal Problems as well as a variety of other psychological disorders. Dr. Brent Potter is a psychotherapist and wellness specialist with 20 years of direct clinical service. He is the Director for the Society for Laingian Studies, based in Thousand Oaks, California.

When you are reading our book, be prepared to challenge your view of what is called “borderline personality disorder” and even the way you see all so-called psychiatric ‘disorders’. This is what we have done as co-authors. We sound a little strong at times, but we really believe in what we are presenting.

We take you through exactly why we take this approach, give you historical context and also explain some experiences with real people who are suffering. To this end, client’s stories at the end along with a few narratives written by clients themselves along the way. We stick faithfully to the experiences themselves rather than upon theoretical constructs and other abstracted materials. Our approach is not experience-near, but experientialist; we don’t hypothesize, abstract, nor construct theories from human experience.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

What are the Benefits of Memory Distortion?

This is the third in our series of posts on the papers published in a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on the Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions. Here Jordi Fern├índez summarises his paper 'What are the Benefits of Memory Distortion'.

There are two intuitively appealing thoughts about episodic (or experiential) memory. One of them is that our memories are supposed to reproduce the contents of some of our past experiences, namely, those in which our memories originate. The other one is that our memories can be beneficial for us in a number of ways. They can, for example, help us make sense of how we feel and behave towards people and situations from our past. What is the connection between these two aspects of memory? One might think that memories are only beneficial for us to the extent that they reproduce the contents of some of our past experiences.

In this paper, though, I describe two possible scenarios in which this is not true. In both scenarios, a memory can be beneficial for the subject despite being distorted. In one case, the memory is that of a scene pictured from the point of view of an observer of (as opposed to a participant in) it. In the psychological literature, these are often called 'observer memories' (as opposed to 'field memories'). Given that, originally, the subject of an observer memory witnessed, or experienced, the scene from that point of view of a participant in the scene, it seems that the observer memory is distorted. But one can think of a situation in which this is beneficial for the subject. In fact, one can think of a type of benefit such that, in order for the memory to be beneficial for the subject in that way, the memory had to be distorted. There are reasons to think that field memories have phenomenal properties that observer memories lack. Sensorily, and emotionally, field memories are richer than observer memories. If this is right, then it seems possible for an observer memory to help its subject to achieve a certain 'distancing' from an event in the past. If that event was traumatic for the subject, one can see how this may be beneficial for the subject since, in that case, the subject will be spared from reliving the event all over again in memory.

Thursday 12 February 2015

Extended Knowledge: Interview with Duncan Pritchard

Extended Knowledge Project
In this post I interview Duncan Pritchard, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and Director of Edinburgh’s Eidyn Research Centre. Duncan is currently leading a major three-year AHRC-funded research project on ‘Extended Knowledge’, which is hosted by Eidyn.

The other co-investigators on this project are Prof Andy Clark and Prof Jesper Kallestrup, and the postdoctoral fellows on the project are Dr J. Adam Carter and Dr S. Orestis Palermos. The project draws on cutting-edge research in epistemology and the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, and its aim is to explore different ways of ‘externalising’ knowledge.

MA: What are the main research objectives of the Extended Knowledge project and what sparked your interest in this field?

DP: My interest in extended knowledge arose out of joining Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences in 2007 and becoming immersed in the excellent interdisciplinary work that is conducted here, particularly with regard to cognitive science. Edinburgh is a world–leader in this field and, thanks to my colleague Andy Clark, there is special interest here in the specific topic of the extended mind and, relatedly, extended cognitive processes (this is unsurprising given that it was Andy’s seminal work in this area which effectively began this particular research programme - see, e.g., Clark & Chalmers (1998) and Clark (2008).

I’ve always been keen to develop an epistemology which is informed by contemporary cognitive science, and it struck me that the possibility of extended cognition raises many interesting epistemological questions, particularly since epistemology as a discipline is strikingly individualistic in outlook (where the ‘individual’ in question here is essentially the biological individual as traditionally conceived). This led to me writing what is, I believe, the very first paper on the epistemology of extended cognition - Pritchard (2010) - which argues that virtue epistemology, one of the dominant research programmes in contemporary epistemology, is in fact compatible with the extended cognition hypothesis, at least so long as the former is construed in the right way (which means in an anti-individualistic fashion, though this particular way of putting things came later). This led in turn to the idea of ‘extended knowledge’, and thereby to this exciting research project, which has already generated a large and growing literature on this topic.

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Can Evolution get us off the Hook?

This is the second in our series of posts on the papers published in a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on the Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions. Here Maarten Boudry summarises his paper (co-written with Michael Vlerick and Ryan McKay) 'Can Evolution get us off the Hook? Evaluating the Ecological Defence of Human Rationality'.

In the opening lines of his essay 'An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish', Bertrand Russell wrote that 'Man is a rational animal  so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it'. Russell’s cry of despair is echoed by many writers. There is a cottage industry of books purporting to show that man is anything but a rational animal. Human reason, or so we are told, is a paltry and botched device, riddled with bias and error. Humans are foolish, obstinate, superstitious, irrational. The psychologist John Kihlstrom called it the People are Stupid School of Psychology (PASSP).

What arguments can an attorney, called in to defend Homo sapiens against these charges of irrationality, bring forward in favor of her client? In our paper, myself, Michael Vlerick, and Ryan McKay have explored one such line of defence: the Ecology Apology.

Researchers in the burgeoning field of ecological rationality have argued that, if we approach the human mind as an adaptive toolbox full of heuristics, tailored to particular ancestral environments, many of its apparent foibles and fallacies evaporate. Human rationality is not general and content-free, but is designed to work in a particular ecology, argues Gerd Gigerenzer, one of the main proponents of this school. Mind and environment, in a memorable phrase by Herbert Simon, are like two blades of a pair of scissors.

Thursday 5 February 2015

Experiences of Depression: A Study in Phenomenology

Experiences of Depression
 by Matthew Ratcliffe
In this post, Matthew Ratcliffe, Professor of Philosophy at Durham University, presents his new book, Experiences of Depression. From 1st April 2015, Matthew will be Professor for Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Vienna, Austria.

My new book, Experiences of Depression: A Study in Phenomenology (Oxford University Press, 2015), is part of a wider-ranging, longer-term research project on the phenomenology of feeling in psychiatric illness.

The book is a philosophical exploration of what it is like to be depressed. I start from the observation that many people struggle to describe their experiences of depression. It is often remarked that depression is like being in a ‘different world’, an isolated, suffocating, alien realm that is difficult or impossible to convey to others. By drawing on work in phenomenology, philosophy of mind and several other disciplines, I offer a detailed account of what such experiences consist of, which focuses on themes such as bodily feeling, emotion, narrative, belief, agency, temporal experience and interpersonal relations.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

The Epistemic Innocence of Motivated Delusions

In May 2014 Ema Sullivan-Bissett and I organised a workshop entitled “Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions”, hosted by the University of Birmingham and funded by the AHRC. Most of the talks presented during the workshop are now part of a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition, and two additional papers have been included.

The purpose of the workshop was to reflect on the effects of false beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations on agents’ wellbeing, success, health, and capacity for knowledge. In the collection of papers, our first objective is to discuss the different types of costs and benefits that such cognitions might have. Our second objective is to explore the relationship among different types of costs and benefits. Contributors consider paradigmatic examples of irrational beliefs, such as beliefs formed as a result of reasoning mistakes; delusions in schizophrenia, delusional disorders, and anosognosia; memories that are either distorted or entirely fabricated; and beliefs and preferences affected by implicit bias. You will know more about each case if you read our Tuesday posts for the next couple of months, as contributors will summarise the main arguments in their papers for our blog readers.