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.

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