Thursday 30 April 2015

What is it like to be dead? The Philosophy and Psychology of Afterlife Beliefs

Helen De Cruz
In today's post Helen De Cruz reports from The Philosophy and Psychology of Afterlife Beliefs workshop which took place on 10 March 2015 at the VU University Amsterdam.

Most religions affirm an explicit belief in an afterlife, that is to say, that biological death is not the end of a human being’s existence. Recent research in the cognitive science of religion indicates that the cross-culturally widespread belief in a life after death is cognitively natural for humans: it arises spontaneously, without explicit instruction, and sometimes even in the absence of any cultural input. By contrast, the belief that everything (including a person’s beliefs and desires) ends at death is cognitively effortful and emerges later in development than the belief that at least some processes, such as psychological processes, continue.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

The Epistemology of Religious Testimony

Boudewijn de Bruin
My name is Boudewijn de Bruin and I am Professor of Financial Ethics in the faculties of Economics and Business, and Philosophy, at the University of Groningen. 

In this post I will summarize a paper I wrote for a symposium organized at the occasion of the publication of Herman Philipse’s book God in the Age of Science in which he takes issue with Richard Swinburne’s attempts to provide evidence showing that the existence of God is highly probable.

Most evidence Swinburne marshals is publicly available. But some is only private: evidence gained through religious experience. Ideally Swinburne would not need private evidence, but, as he admits, all publicly available evidence is not by itself sufficiently strong for the unbeliever to be moved to adopt the belief that God exists.

The unbeliever needs religious experience, then, but it cannot be his or her own lest Swinburne only persuades those that have had an experience of God themselves. Swinburne therefore resorts to invoking testimonial evidence of ‘of-God experiences’, as he calls them.

Monday 27 April 2015

Bipolar Whispers on Writing

This post is part of our series of monthly posts by experts-by-experience. This month, Bipolar Whispers tells us about the importance of writing. This is how she introduces herself: "33 year old Mental Health blogger who is married to the love of her life and together they have 3 wonderful children and 2 fur babies. She has Bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, and Anxiety. Lover of butterflies. Survivor."

They say that many people with Bipolar Disorder are creative. I always wondered if this were true. Within myself I could never see my creativity. I could not play music, I was not crafty. In retrospect I can see my creative outlet has always been writing. My love and knack for writing began around the time I experienced my first true mania, although I never knew it was mania at the time. Retrospect is a very powerful thing.

I never knew I could write, or rather, I never knew I wrote well. I went to appointment after appointment with my psychiatrist or my psychologist for therapy and they always praised my writing. I just thought they were being polite.

You see, I found it hard to talk during these appointments. So we decided I would write between sessions and during my sessions I would read what I wrote and they could ask questions if need be. Reading what I wrote made it much easier to express myself to them because it was like I was disconnected from the situation, reading someone else’s story.

I continued writing through my teens and into my adulthood. I have written pages and pages, books on top of books worth of my thoughts.

I never shared my writing with anyone except various therapists or psychiatrists through the years. It has only been recently, during a manic phase that I found the courage to begin Bipolar Whispers and began putting my writing out there.

Thursday 23 April 2015

The Phenomenological Bases of the Therapy of Severe Mental Disorders

Giovanni Stanghellini
A course entitled The Phenomenological Bases of the Therapy of Severe Mental Disorders took place on April 9-11 in Florence. Organized by the EPA (European Psychiatric Association) Section of Philosophy and Psychiatry, the course accommodated 30 practitioners and philosophers from all over Europe to offer an advanced practical workshop on Phenomenological Psychotherapy.

The participants learned therapeutic skills from such professionals as Giovanni Stanghellini, Thomas Fuchs, Andrea Fiorillo, Andrea Raballo and Borut Skodlar.

The first day started with an intensive but fascinating introduction by the course’s director Giovanni Stanghellini, who took his audience through the theoretical underpinnings of the phenomenological model, with philosophical references to Husserl, Heidegger and Levinas. Stanghellini argued that a human being ought to be seen and understood as a dialogue with Alterity. It is exactly in a dialogue, where the true essence of language lies and where subjectivity is displaced. Mental illness, argued Stanghellini, ought to be understood as the crisis of this dialogue.

Psychopathology happens when a human being becomes unable to maintain his/her dialogue with Alterity. The dialogue, in turn, was defined as driven by the subject’s will to reveal something new about the subject to the interlocutor. It functions like Husserl’s phenomenological reduction: it is the means by which it becomes possible for things to show themselves to a subject. In this light, a phenomenon which is regarded as a symptom, has a very special meaning: it is the Truth in a person that manifests itself.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Adaptive Rationality and Individual Differences

My name is Andrea Polonioli and I am a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. My primary research interests concern the philosophy of biological and cognitive sciences. The unifying theme of my research is the investigation of rational behavior and cognition.
Andrea Polonioli

Scholars in the field of judgement and decision-making have described a variety of heuristics that reasoners seem to deploy. Yet little attention had been paid to individual differences in the use of these heuristics, until Stanovich and his co-workers conducted a stream of individual differences studies involving reasoning and decision-making (e.g. Stanovich and West 1998; Stanovich 1999; and Stanovich and West, 2011).

They found a remarkable heterogeneity in the use of reasoning strategies and that a sizeable number of people do not deploy heuristics. But they also discovered important correlations between the use of heuristics and measures of cognitive ability. In one of my current projects I explore the implications of research on individual differences for the so-called 'rationality debate'.

Thursday 16 April 2015

The Nature of Representation: Interview with Robert Williams

Robbie Williams
In this post I interview Robert Williams, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Leeds. Robert is currently leading a project on the Nature of Representation (NatRep), funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant (2012-2017). The aim is to explore the metaphysics and epistemology of mental and linguistic representation. The team includes Jennifer Carr and Rachel Goodman as post-doctoral research fellows, and Nick Tasker and Will Gamester as PhD students.

LB: What was your main motivation in choosing to investigate the nature of representation? How did you become interested in the topic?

RW: I’ve been fascinated since days in graduate school with underdetermination/indeterminacy arguments in the theory of representation. To illustrate with one I’m thinking about right now. Start from the following picture of the metaphysical grounds of belief and desire content: the content of an agent’s mental states is whatever it has to be, to rationalize the agent’s actions (the outputs) in the light of evidence (the inputs). An indeterminacy argument seeks to show that the constraints just mentioned can be met, not just by sensible-seeming interpretations, but by wild and crazy ones. The one I’m looking at right now, for example, constructs interpretations that have the agent thinking of themselves living in a universe that is void except in the local perceivable and manipulable environment of the agent (the agent’s “bubble”).

It’s fun to think up these crazy interpretations and show that they meet specified constraints. But what’s philosophically interesting is the lessons we draw. The most natural one—and my first instinct—is to draw the lesson that our account of the metaphysical grounds of content is incomplete, that we’re missing some `saving constraint’ that knocks out the crazy interpretations. And then the goal is to pin down what that missing ingredient could be. An alternative is to accept the arguments and revise our views about how determinate mental or linguistic content is. This strategy too raises interesting questions in the theory of representation—if we want to pinpoint what’s wrong with accepting indeterminacy of content, in my view we’ll need to say something about the theoretical role of representation, which pinpoints what we’d lose by embracing deviant interpretations. A final alternative—more popular historically than nowadays, perhaps—is to preserve the account of the grounds of representation but avoid indeterminacy, by rejecting presuppositions of the argument about the metaphysical character of the world that is being represented.

My graduate work focused on indeterminacy arguments and possible saving constraints—working in particular within the kind of `interpretationist’ metaphysical grounds for content David Lewis proposed (one element of which involves the rationalization story about mental content described above), which in certain parts of the philosophy literature has become almost orthodoxy, though rarely examined or defended in detail. The moral I drew from that work 10 years ago was largely negative—that living with indeterminacy wasn’t a real option because it’d prevent content from doing the work it needed to; and that the saving constraints that people (including Lewis himself) proposed didn’t work.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Transparent Emotions?

In this post, Naomi Kloosterboer (PhD student at VU University of Amsterdam and visiting research fellow at the University of Birmingham) discusses her paper ‘Transparent emotions? A critical analysis of Moran’s Transparency Claim’ that will appear in the special issue of Philosophical Explorations on ‘Self-knowledge and Folk Psychology: Perspectives from Philosophy and Psychiatry’.

If I want to know what you believe or feel, the easiest and most prevailing way of finding out would be to just ask you. Moreover, if I don’t take your answer at face value, I should be able to provide good reasons to justify my mistrust. That is to say, when it comes to speaking our minds, the default mode is that we are granted the authority to do so. But what justifies this first-person authority? In Authority and Estrangement (2001), Richard Moran argues convincingly against the idea that our authority is grounded in epistemic features of self-knowledge because they do not explain its specific first-personal character. Instead, he advocates that our agential capacities ground our authority.

Crucial to Moran’s account of self-knowledge is his distinction between two different stances we can take towards our mental lives: a theoretical and a deliberative stance. Put concisely, from a theoretical perspective I answer a question about whether I have a particular mental attitude by looking for evidence for my having the attitude. From a deliberative perspective, by contrast, I answer such a question by deliberating about the reasons in favor of or against the content of the attitude. We are not mere bystanders of what goes on in our heads (theoretical stance), but acquiring knowledge of our mental attitudes is related to how we see the world (deliberative stance).

Thursday 9 April 2015

Sight, Sound, and Mental Health

On 16th March I chaired a session entitled "Sight, Sound, and Mental Health" for the Arts & Science Festival at the University of Birmingham. Thanks to project PERFECT sponsoring the event, we could have three exciting talks, one by Sam Wilkinson on verbal hallucinations, one by Amy Hardy on imagery, and one by Ema Sullivan-Bissett on alien abduction belief, followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Sam talked about the difficulties in defining verbal hallucinations, as some have an auditory quality to them, but others appear to be more like thoughts. The wide variety of verbal hallucinations makes it harder to arrive at a unifying theory of what causes them. Drawing from his work with the Hearing the Voice project, Sam illustrated with examples and case studies how hallucinations can play a significant role in either hindering or supporting the wellbeing of voice hearers. 

Amy Hardy
Amy explained the importance of imagery in everyday life and mental health. As with the previous talk, the emphasis was on how different the contributions of imagery can be, from supporting the constructions of memories to planning future actions. 

Imagery can help people improve their performance (as a form of 'mental' rehearsal elite sportspeople use before competing) but can also be distressing when it is influenced by previous experience of abuse or victimisation.

What Amy touched on at the end of her talk, based on her clinical experience, was the role that imagery can have in cognitive behavioural therapy for people who experienced trauma.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Aesthetic Memory

This post is by Jon Robson, teaching associate at the University of Nottingham. He works on the epistemology of aesthetic, ethical, and religious judgements.

There is a prominent doctrine in philosophical aesthetics according to which aesthetic judgements are only legitimate if based on first-hand experience of their objects. In order to properly judge that a painting is beautiful or a work of music graceful, we need to have seen or heard the relevant items for ourselves. Much of my recent work has focused on arguing that this doctrine is mistaken. In particular, I have aimed to show that there is nothing illegitimate about forming aesthetic judgements on the basis of testimony (see Robson forthcoming). Here, though, I want to focus on a different source of aesthetic judgement: memory.

Memory may initially seem to present no problems for the orthodox view. Those who accept the ‘first person requirement’ (FPR) will doubtless, like the rest of us, accept that we can (in the right circumstances) legitimately hold that a work has a particular aesthetic property on the basis of our memory of experiencing the work. Still, given that a first-person experience of the work plays an essential role in the process, this does not seem to generate any immediate worries for their view. I think, however, that a consideration of memory does lead to a number of problems for FPR.

One thing that consideration of memory in aesthetics teaches us is that a number of the standard worries about forming aesthetic judgements on the basis of testimony are misleading. We are often told that aesthetic testimony is insufficient since it does not give us the same aesthetic experience as seeing the work for ourselves or because it cannot convey the full detail of the work (it cannot tell us precisely what made that brushstroke so graceful). As others have noted already (Budd 2003), though, such considerations also apply with respect to many (if not all) aesthetic judgements retrieved via memory.

Memories are rarely, if ever, as aesthetically rewarding as the original experiences and it would be highly atypical for anyone to remember all of the minute details of even a treasured work. If, then, such considerations provide us with good reason to reject testimony in aesthetics then they would also, by parity of reasoning, give us reason to reject appeals to memory. On occasion some defenders of FPR (most notably Scruton 1974) have expressed a little sympathy for accepting the consequent of this conditional but I assume that most would, rightly, find it completely unpalatable.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Autism and Conscious Thinking

Uwe Peters
In honour of World Autism Awareness Day, we publish a post by Uwe Peters on his recent paper 'Self-Knowledge and Consciousness of Attitudes'. 

Uwe is currently writing up his dissertation on the accessibility and self-knowledge of beliefs at King's College London. He develops an account of self-knowledge on which our privileged, non-inferential self-knowledge of beliefs is grounded in and dependent on our inferential knowledge of other people’s mental states.

In my research, I often appeal to cases of atypical cognition. In a recent paper, I argue that findings on autism pose a challenge to the following view of conscious thinking. On the basis of empirical studies and theoretical considerations, it has been argued that conscious thinking, i.e., thinking that involves the deployment of the components of working memory, involves only sensory-imagistic events such as episodes of inner speech or visual imagery but no attitudes, e.g., judgments or decisions. 

The claim is that in conscious theoretical or practical reasoning, we only have indirect access to our own attitudes via their sensory-imagistic expressions which don’t themselves qualify as attitudes, for they don’t play the right causal role. They can attain attitude-like roles (e.g., settle reasoning and justify inferences and report) only after they have been unconsciously interpreted by the mindreading system and their underlying attitudes have been self-ascribed (see Carruthers 20112013; Fletcher and Carruthers 2012; Frankish 2009, 2012; Frankish agrees that conscious thinking is based on sensory-imagistic events but claims that some of them can be “virtual” attitudes. He too, however, maintains that they depend on unconscious mindreading and metacognitive attitudes to become “effective”).