Thursday 30 July 2015

Women in Philosophy: Mentoring and Networking (1)

On 22nd and 23rd June, I, together with Helen Bradley and Suki Finn, organised a Mentoring and Networking Workshop for graduate and early career women in philosophy, which took place at the University of York. The aim of the workshop was to bring together women in philosophy from a various areas of philosophy in order to offer support and encouragement, and to develop a community of women in philosophy. The workshop had eight graduate or early career mentees, and seven senior women in philosophy who acted as mentors.

Jennifer Saul (Sheffield), pictured above, opened the workshop with her talk 'Women in Philosophy: How the Profession is Improving'. Jennifer talked about the low number of women in philosophy, and the factors which might be responsible. She also talked about how things have improved for women in the profession, and what can be done to further improve them.

Mary Edwards (Cork), pictured above, was the first mentee to present her paper, 'Can We Resurrect the Author without Calling upon Intention?'. Mary offered a new argument for the relevance of the author of a work which circumnavigated the dispute about intentions in the literature. Her claim was that the author's expressed attitude toward the world she describes contributes to the reader's experience of that world.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Feeling and Thinking

This post is by Alex Tillas and James Trafford. Alex is a a Research Fellow at the University of Düsseldorf in Germany. He holds a PhD from University of Bristol and is mainly working on philosophy of psychology and cognitive science, broadly construed. James is a Senior Lecturer in Contextual and Critical Studies at the University of the Creative Arts in London. He completed a PhD in philosophy of mind at the University of East London, and his primary research interests lie in reasoning, rationality, and logical inferentialism.  

This post is based on their co-authored papers 'Intuition and Reason: Re-assessing Dual-Process Theories with Representational Sub-Activation', forthcoming in Teorema, and 'The Fear Factor: Reconsidering the Roles of Emotion in Reasoning', currently under review.

Emotionally responding to environmental cues is crucial for adaptive human behaviour. For instance, in the presence of a predator, fear can be a good advisor since it can sharpen our perceptual abilities and reasoning in finding the best escape route. Usually we have the ability to modulate our emotional responses in light of changes in circumstances, while failure to do so is often associated with various psychopathological conditions such as anxiety disorders, and so forth.

Nonetheless, despite their significant contribution to our cognitive landscape, the role of emotions in reasoning is often overlooked, and is often understood only negatively. One reason for this may be due to an understanding of reasoning in terms of two separate, and often antagonistic reasoning systems. One system (Type-1) is fast, automatic, emotional and/or subconscious, whereas the other (Type-2) is rule-based, analytical, deliberative and/or explicit (e.g. Stanovich, 1999).

Recent evidence from work in fields as diverse as psychology, philosophy and neuroscience has challenged ‘dual-process’ theories. In line with this evidence, we favour a unitary reasoning system (forthcoming), showing that reasoning is the outcome of a compound process consisting in cognitive and affective aspects and crucially that there is a clear modulatory relationship between the two.

Monday 27 July 2015

Pills, Poetry & Prose

Today's post is by Rebecca Chamaa, who blogs at 'A journey with you'.

I’m not an expert on schizophrenia based on schooling. I do, however, consider myself an expert based on the experience of schizophrenia, because I have lived with the illness for nearly a quarter of a century.

I wrote a book: Pills, Poetry & Prose: Life with Schizophrenia that is a short book (approximately seventy pages) and contains essays and poetry about my life with a severe mental illness. I have fairly good recall of the times in my life when I have been psychotic and I try to take the reader on that journey with me.

In one essay I talk about the delusion I had of being a healer and during this delusion I baked hundreds of cakes, because I falsely believed that the food I made would heal all of the people who ate it. This essay is a story of a harmless delusion that I had and my neighbor’s response to it. Often times my episodes start out as a somewhat pleasant experience, but they always turn ugly and dangerous eventually.

In another essay in the book, I give my psychosis its own personality by naming it June. I do this to make it clear to the reader how different I am when I am experiencing psychosis as opposed to when I am stable. In this essay June is definitely the enemy even causing me to nearly lose my life to two suicide attempts in the same evening.

The book contains a few poems about my childhood, and about my first marriage. It also contains a few poems about my first stay in a psychiatric hospital and the stigma surrounding a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

I like to think of the book as both tragic and triumphant. I was struck with this illness when life was just starting to unfold for me: I had graduated from college; I was successful in my career as a social worker; I had just started publishing poetry in national journals. My life was good. It would take a number of years, a number of treatments, a number of psychiatrists, and a number of suicide attempts, but my life is meaningful and rewarding now, and I have reclaimed some of what I originally lost. I am thankful to all the people on my journey that helped get me to this point. I am thankful to be alive.

Here is one poem from the book:

A Mass Grave

Where do the voices go

when I die?

Do they go to torture

some other victim of madness?

Does the man on the street


hear the same voices I do?

Is it all the same spirit,

these disembodied voices

controlling human beings?

I hope that when I die,

they die with me

so there will be less

voices heard

in the minds 

of others. 

Thursday 23 July 2015

Deliberation, Interpretation, and Confabulation (2)

This is a report on the second day of the Deliberation, Interpretation, and Confabulation Workshop held at the Abraham Kuyper Centre for Science and Religion at the VU University in Amsterdam in June 2015 (for a report of the first day, please go here).

The first talk was by Christoph Michel (University of Stuttgart) on the transition from deliberation to evaluation. Michel is interested in developing a theory of self-ascription of attitudes. Knowing one's own attitudes does not imply a full or deep understanding of one's own behaviour and does not come with powerful predictive capacities. Self-knowledge can be gained by self-interpretation (without privilege) and deliberation (with privilege). Some also think that we can gain self-knowledge by introspection.

A position on how to achieve self-knowledge depends on what we take attitudes to be: if they are conscious/neuronal states, then they can be scanned; if they are functional/dispositional states, then they can only be known by interpretation in virtue of their systematic relations with other states and behaviour; if they are resolutions, then they can be known by deliberation.

Carruthers argues that self-ascription of attitudes comes via self-interpretation: there is no introspection or privileged access. But this view would be supported by parallel success and accuracy rates between self- and other-attributions (and this is not clearly the case). Also, this model does not explain adaptive metacognitive control of judgement and decision, and ignores the possibility of deliberation as a source of self-knowledge. Moran focuses on authorship instead, and sees it as a relationship between the person as rationally responsible deliberator and her own attitudes. Epistemic access to mental items is not central, but commitment is. But attitudes are not always rational resolutions and do not generally involve an act of commitment.

Michel proposed a new account aiming to avoid the objections that can be raised to Carruthers and Moran. His account is based on transparency. Transparency has been criticised for applying only to new beliefs. But for Michel transparency is a widely applicable cognitive strategy that is beneficial to agents. This involves evaluation, meta-representation, and attitude representation. Evaluation can be explained in terms of the capacity we have to navigate complex environments and it is the process by which we attribute value to intentional objects.

Evaluation is not an action, is context-sensitive, and is not subject to rationality constraints. Meta-representation is full self-understanding, and implies the recognition that we are epistemic agents distinct from the world who can get things wrong. Via a general attitude theory ("if I believe that p, then I hold p as true"), we get to attitude representation and knowledge that we believe (by transparency). Attitude representation shapes attitudes by making them accessible to rational regulation.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

The Place of Egodystonic States in the Aetiology of Thought Insertion

This post is by Pablo López-Silva, a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Manchester. Pablo (pictured above) works on philosophical problems raised by schizophrenia, and is supervised by Joel Smith and Tim Bayne. Here Pablo summarises his recent paper 'Schizophrenia and the Place of Egodystonic States in the Aetiology of Thought Insertion', published in Review of Philosophy and Psychology. 

Paradigmatic cases of thought insertion involve the delusional belief with the content [someone/something is placing a thought with the content […] into my mind/head] (Mellor 1970; Mullins and Spence 2003). Despite the diagnostic relevance of this phenomenon, the debates about its aetiology are far from resolved. In this context, two projects can be distinguished. On the one hand, the motivational project characterizes thought insertion as resulting from the mind’s attempt to deal with highly stressing psychological conflicts. On the other hand, the deficit project defines delusions as resulting from different impairments in the process of formation of beliefs.

Current dominant deficit approaches to the aetiology of thought insertion have mostly focused on the exploration of neuropsychological impairment that might lead to the production of inserted thought (see Coltheart, Langdon, and McKay 2011). However, this seems to have led deficit approaches to overlook the role that impairment in affectivity might have in the aetiological process of this delusion. There is plenty of empirical evidence suggesting that impaired affectivity is not only a result of delusional episodes (post-delusional affective problems) but also, that is one of the conditions that might explain the very formation of delusional beliefs under certain circumstances (pre-delusional affective problems). So to speak, impaired affectivity is ‘already there’ when delusional beliefs are adopted (Marwaha et al. 2013).

Thursday 16 July 2015

Deliberation, Interpretation, and Confabulation (1)

This is a report from the first day of the Deliberation, Interpretation and Confabulation Workshop at the Abraham Kuyper Centre for Science and Religion, VU University in Amsterdam, organised by Naomi Kloosterboer, and held on 19 and 20 June 2015. Note about the workshop poster above: circles are confabulation, squares are deliberation, and triangles are interpretation (how amazingly clever is that! Thanks to Naomi for pointing this out to me).

I (Lisa Bortolotti) was the first speaker. I talked about features of confabulatory explanations about our own attitudes and choices, and attempted to offer an account of what happens when we confabulate that makes sense of several results in experimental psychology (such as introspective effects, social intuitionism about moral judgements, choice blindness). I argued that people often ignore the factors causally responsible for the formation of their attitudes and the making of their choices; they produce an often ill-grounded claim about what caused their attitudes and choices; and in the process of giving such reasons they commit to other claims that can also be ill-grounded.

In line with the scope and interest of project PERFECT I looked at the costs and benefits of confabulatory explanations. I argued that ignorance of causal factors is often faultless and that ill-grounded causal claims can be both beneficial and inevitable, but the ill-groundedness of the claims that we commit to in the process of confabulating is an instance of irrationality that can and should be avoided. But when the claims generated in this way are constrained by evidence, then confabulation is the beginning of something good (and maybe all instances of deliberation start with a confabulatory explanation).

Naomi Kloosterboer (VU Amsterdam), pictured above, was the second speaker. She asked whether Moran's account of self-knowledge is too rationalistic, especially when applied to emotions. Moran argues that I acquire knowledge of my belief that p by making up my mind whether p, and he argues that this is true not only of belief but of all other mental attitudes. Naomi went onto examine Finkelstein's interpretation of the Transparency Claim which is at the core of Moran's view of self-knowledge. The Transparency Claim is that when asked "Do I believe p?" I can answer this question by considerations in favour of p itself.

Finkelstein believes that Moran is committed to a rationality assumption: "I'm entitled to assume that the attitude I in fact have is the one that, by my lights, the reasons call for me to have." But this does not seem to apply easily to common examples. One example of Finkelstein's is David who is fond of his dog Sadie. There is no specific answer to the question whether David is rationally required to be fond of Sadie. And the question is harder to answer than the original question whether David is fond of Sadie.

Naomi criticised Finkelstein's interpretation of Moran: the rationality assumption does not capture what is special about the Transparency Claim. If I want to know whether I am scared of the snake, I need to ask whether the snake is dangerous, but this is only part of the story. We can make judgements about everything but we only have emotions about things that matter to us. Naomi believes that Moran's approach does not capture the fact that emotions are responses to things that are of our concerns. Naomi thought that it makes sense to endorse a rationality assumption, but she revised the assumption as such: "In general, mental attitudes are judgement-sensitive". But this applies to some attitudes (not all, for instance not recalcitrant emotions).

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Imagining the Future

This post is by Dorothea Debus (pictured below), who is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of York. Her research is on topics in the Philosophy of Mind and Psychology. 

At present, I am thinking about our ability to 'engage in future-directed mental time travel', that is, our ability to imagine future events. More specifically, I am interested in cases in which we imagine future events in a vivid, experiential way. For example, try to imagine what you are going to do this coming Sunday. Chances are that when you really try to do this, you will have some vivid imaginary experiences of the things you might hope to do, and the situations you might hope to encounter. 

Clearly, such experiential, or 'sensory', imaginations of future events have a characteristic temporal orientation - that is, they are directed towards the future, rather than the past or the present. In an attempt to account for this feature, I show that the context in which relevant experiences occur can ground their temporal orientation. More precisely, I argue that in order for a sensorily imagined event to be temporally located in the future, it is sufficient that the relevant imagination occur in a context of future-directed thoughts or beliefs, whose content is relevantly related to the content of the sensory imagination.

Secondly, when we sensorily imagine future events, the future does seem 'open' in a way in which the past and the present are not. I argue that this 'openness' should be understood as 'agential' opennenss: When a subject sensorily imagines a future event, the subject is aware of the fact that she herself, or others, might act in ways that could bring about, or prevent, the actual future onset and occurrence of the very event which she sensorily imagines now, and the subject's awareness of this fact is a constitutive feature of a sensory imagination of a future event.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Cognitio 2015

In this post, Reinier Schuur (University of Birmingham) reports from this year's Cognitio Conference for young researchers in cognitive science.

From the 8th to the 10th of June, I attended the Cognitio 2015 conference on "Atypical Minds: the Cognitive Science of Difference and Potentialities" at the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada (UQAM), where I also gave my first conference talk on my doctoral research.

The conference atmosphere was incredibly welcoming and friendly, and a great place to make new contacts and give my first conference talk. Many topics presented at the intersection between philosophy, clinical neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology were addressed. The topics of the talks can roughly be divided into four categories: delusions, synesthesia, autism, and the RDoC.

One of the reasons why philosophers have been so interested in delusions, and other psychiatric symptoms and conditions, is that explaining such symptoms and conditions present a challenge for our traditional epistemological notions. For instance, do delusions count as beliefs?

But psychopathology does not only present challenges for the conceptual issues that philosophers deal with. Philosophy also provides conceptual tools that help clarify and guide theoretical questions that are relevant to the cognitive sciences, such as neuroscience and psychiatry.

This was seen in talks by Berit Brogaard on mechanisms underlying synesthesia and Ian Gold’s new and ‘bold’ neuro-cognitive model of the mechanisms underlying delusion formation and maintenance (Ian Gold is pictured above). Such talks centred on the fact that in order to elucidate the mechanisms underlying psychiatric disorders and make sense of the empirical data we need conceptual work, and this is where the tools of analytic philosophy have a role to play.

The talks on autism had the same underlying motivation. Autism offers us a window into understanding our linguistic, social and emotional capacities by looking at cases where these capacities break down. There are debates about how to explain the social deficits associated with autism, either by means of positing a theory of mind module or other developmental theories. These debates in turn may shed light on the nature of such social capacities in the non-clinical population. In turn, such theorising can also help inform research on autism and the treatment of subjects with autism spectrum disorder.

My talk focused on the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC), a new framework for research in psychiatry that has been proposed in order to replace the DSM. I talked about the limitations of cognitive science in identifying what states are pathological, and what this could mean for a future classification system. Simon Goyer also talked about the RDoC, and argued that its framework could be used either to impoverish or enrich our understanding of the subjective states of patients, depending how we utilise it in research.

By listening to these talks I got a sense of the variety of emerging issues in philosophy of psychiatry and related fields. I had a great time in Montreal, meeting people and representing the University of Birmingham.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Childhood Trauma and Mental Illness

This post is by Rachel Upthegrove who is a Senior Clinical Lecturer in Psychiatry at the University of Birmingham. 

Childhood trauma is a risk factor for mental illness. This apparently simple statement, with such face validity hardly bears investigation does it? Of course traumatic events will increase the risk of mental distress and disorder - this is stating the obvious. However not all individuals with mental disorder have a history of trauma, or indeed childhood trauma, and certainly not all individuals who experience childhood trauma develop a mental illness.

Childhood trauma has been in focus as an environmental risk factor for psychosis, with some authors proposing a causal role with significant lack of recognition and underreporting of childhood trauma in those who treat patients with psychosis. Mechanisms proposed include a process of hypervigilance leading to persecutory ideation and enhanced 'threat to self' networks. However, often studies have looked at small clinical samples or alternatively adopted a large population based approach measuring self-reporting psychotic-like experiences (assessed for example by being asked to rate: 'People are trying to upset me' and 'People communicate about me in subtle way'). This is open to challenge - these measures may be very sensitive but are not necessary specific.

Many children throughout the world experience childhood adversity, and this unfortunate fact has been with human society throughout time and across cultures. Children remain subject to physical neglect, disease, illness, want, hardship, and exploitation. The challenge therefore may be to explain why indeed more children do not go one to develop psychosis, rather than any other type of mental disorder or no disorder at all. In order to begin this exploration we need to stop and think about what we mean by childhood trauma, and what is meant by psychosis.

Thursday 2 July 2015

How the Light Gets in 2015

In today's post Rachel Gunn reports from How the Light Gets in Festival 2015.

How the Light Gets in is a philosophy and music festival which takes place annually at Hay-on-Wye. This May was the seventh festival with over 650 philosophy, comedy and music events over a 9 day period.

On the 24th May I attended a workshop run by Richard Bentall (pictured above) about hallucinations – in particular AVHs (auditory verbal hallucinations) also known as ‘voice hearing’. In this workshop Bentall gave us a ‘whistle stop tour’ of the research and literature on ‘voice hearing’. He drew on his own research and the research of others on signal detection analysis (eg: Bentall & Slade, 1985; Badcock et. al.,2013), the research of Chris Frith and others (eg Frith, 1987; Ford & Mathalon, 2005) on the neuroscience behind the experience and on research from Marius Romme who has investigated aspects such as history, background and onset (including childhood trauma) to understand how ‘voice hearing’ might be conceptualised (Romme et. al., 2009).
There are a significant number of people in the population who experience ‘voices’ who do not consider themselves to be ill and do not seek psychiatric help (ibid). Secondary symptoms, such as stress relating to the experience of mis-attribution of one’s own internal voice to external others can be ameliorated by conceptualising the experience in ways that are meaningful to the person experiencing the phenomenon. Marius Romme is not in the business of ‘curing’ those who experience voice hearing. He is more interested in understanding the meaning that the experience holds for those facing the phenomenon.

Bentall referred to the oft-cited example (Romme, 1993) of a voice hearer who read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes – a book that argues that consciousness as we now understand it is a recent phenomenon (Jaynes, 1976). The ‘voice hearer’ saw that there was hope for her predicament - perhaps she had the pre-conscious mind of an ancient Greek person and this was why her mind seemed to be in dialogue with gods or others. This gave her some relief regarding the tension and stress associated with the experience and changed the way she (and her psychiatrist, Romme) conceptualised voice hearing. Bentall's presentation was followed by a lively discussion with a diverse audience about the nature of hallucination.