Monday 31 August 2015

Young People and Mental Health

Today's post is by Sophie (pictured above), a Journalism student who has health anxiety, social anxiety and OCD. Sophie writes several blogs, and is on Twitter. The post you can read here is an extract from a longer post previously published in The Musings of a Journalism Student on 19th July 2015. We repost it on our blog with her permission, for our series of posts by experts-by-experience.

I recently watched a documentary called Kids in Crisis which featured young children and teenagers who had mental health problems. These children had a formal diagnosis. I’ve also had a family member recently diagnosed with reactive depression, who is merely a young person themselves. That is a strong diagnosis to place on someone so young.

Many clinicians are reluctant to place such a permanent diagnosis on young people but alas many young people do have a formal diagnosis. A label that will stick to them for life. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I was recently diagnosed with anxiety and OCD, if you haven’t well now you know! I’m always going to have these disorders. They are part of me, but they do not make up my identity as such. They aren’t a positive label to have. Being labelled with a mental health problem isn’t good at all. But we can use it to our advantage. Something not many people see.

Today mental health problems still have a stigma attached to them. Depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, anorexia, bulimia… every mental health problem has a stigma. Not every physical health problem does. I feel like today’s generation who have been placed in the “persons who are mentally unwell” box are going to be faced with a lot of stigma.

I know that I’ve been experiencing my current symptoms since the age of 14, but I never thought anything of it. I used to collect bottle tops, worry if I lost something to the point where I’d have a panic attack and so much more. I had low confidence too. I thought this was normal. I thought I had Asperger’s Syndrome at one point after researching, but ignored it, mainly because of the stigma attached to learning difficulties.

Thursday 27 August 2015

BSPS Annual Conference 2015

The British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference took place on 2-3 July 2015 at the University of Manchester. Throughout two days philosophers of science presented their recent work in this fascinating field, including well-established researchers as well as some postgraduate students. In this post I summarise five out of a broad spectrum of papers presented during the Open Sessions, related to – broadly understood – philosophy of psychology and psychiatry.

Brice Bantegnie (pictured below) kicked off the Open Sessions with his paper ‘A Shift in Focus: From Mental States to Mental Capacities’. The author reviewed different mental capacities investigated in cognitive psychology and argued that a greater attention ought to be paid to the work of psychologists in order to better understand a great diversity of these capacities. Bantegnie stressed that the good criterion of individuation can lead us to postulate a very high number of sensory modalities.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Therapeutic Self-knowledge

This post is by Fleur Jongepier, a PhD Student at the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Her research focuses on self-knowledge and first-person authority. Here Fleur (in the picture above) summarises a paper that she is currently working on with her colleague Derek Strijbos (in the picture below), psychiatry resident (Dimence) and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in philosophy.

Self-knowledge regarding one’s mental states comes in many forms. One can know about one’s mental states in a more or less ‘theoretical’ way, e.g. through reading about it in a psychology book or listening to the folk theories and advice of others, and on that basis make a conjecture about one’s own state of mind. For instance, one may become convinced that one has abandonment issues, and this piece of theoretical self-knowledge might motivate one to seek treatment.

An alternative to ‘theoretical’ self-knowledge is deliberative or agential self-knowledge. To use one of Richard Moran’s examples (2001, p. 26), imagine asking someone whether she intends to pay back the money she borrowed. Suppose she answers: 'As far as I can tell, yes'. What makes this response particularly disturbing is that it appears to be issued from an onlooker’s perspective, as if she were talking about someone else. We generally do not accept such answers precisely because they signal a lack of first-person involvement. We demand that others play an active part in coming to know their own mental states; we demand that they make up their mind, i.e. decide whether they shall pay back the money.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Collaborative Memory: Interview with John Sutton

I interviewed John Sutton, who is Professor of Cognitive Science at the ARC Centre for Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University, Sydney. John is interested in memory, skill, and distributed cognition, and in his work he seeks to integrate philosophical, psychological, and historical ideas and methods. This is the third in a series of three posts, you can read the first (on distorted memory) here and the second (on observer memory) here.

ES-B: Often old age is associated with memory impairments, but in your research you seem to have found advantages in remembering in old age, especially when the act of remembering is done collectively (e.g., with a spouse). How did you think about collective remembering to start with, and how do you think your research can contribute to changing preconceived ideas about memory?

JS: This is work I have been doing with Amanda Barnier and Celia Harris. We have looked at couples who have been together for forty or fifty years. These are people whose ability to work together really matters to them, and perhaps the way that they encode new information and manage the challenges of accessing information when they need it might also be something that they have had some success with over time. This is something that happens with relationships at all ages, a cognitive division of labour. What we are interested in are cases in which that division of labour works well and is applied specifically to remembering your past together. 

We have found some evidence to temper the prevailing pessimism about memory in old age. In general, results suggest that any decline in older people’s memory is most pronounced when remembering their own past experiences. In contrast their semantic memory tends to be better, bigger: this is why we think of older people as wise. They know a lot of stuff, but they often have trouble remembering perceptual details, remembering the vivid moment-by-moment sequences of a particular event, or at least they are slower in doing so and maybe do not care so much in getting the details right. 

But we have found that when older couples work together both at relatively boring tasks like remembering a word list together, and also remembering events from their honeymoon, or some important holiday they took together, they will tend to do better when they are working together compared to when they are working alone. Maybe that is not too surprising from a common sense point of view, but it is actually quite rare in the scientific work on memory. In general, when people work together on memory tasks they do not do as well as if you had just let them do it on their own and then pooled the results.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Soundless Voices and Audible Thoughts

This post is by Clara Humpston (in the picture above), PhD student in the School of Psychology at Cardiff University. Her research focuses on the pathogenesis of psychotic symptoms and adopts a cognitive neuropsychiatric approach; by incorporating behavioural, neuroimaging, and phenomenological investigations, she aims to further contribute to a unified account of delusions and hallucinations. 

Here she summarises her recent paper, co-written with Matthew Broome (in the picture below), 'The Spectra of Soundless Voices and Audible Thoughts: Towards an Integrative Model of Auditory Verbal Hallucinations and Thought Insertion', published in Review of Philosophy and Psychology.

Thought insertion is currently described as a delusion and a first-rank symptom of schizophrenia, i.e. a false belief that the subject receives inserted, whereas auditory-verbal hallucinations (voices) are aberrant sensory perceptions in the absence of any external stimulus. Our paper suggests that beliefs (that is, if all delusional thoughts are indeed beliefs) and perception are interconnected which can also morph into one another, and that the phenomenology of psychosis needs to be understood not as isolated mental events but in its full totality and heterogeneity.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Joint Session 2015: Open Session on Irrationality

In this post I summarise the four papers presented in the Irrationality session of the Open Sessions at the 89th Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association, held at the University of Warwick (pictured above) on 10th-12th July this year.

The session began with Cristina Borgoni (Graz) with her paper ‘Pluralism about Dissonance Cases and the Contradictory-Belief View’. Cristina started by identifying the structural features of what she identified as dissonance cases, in brief: an individual sincerely assents to p, but her behavior suggests that she believes not-p. She considered unified views of dissonance cases which have it that all such cases exemplify the same psychological phenomenon.

She offered three examples of dissonance cases and suggested that unified views would struggle to accommodate them. She proposed a pluralist interpretational principle according to which what underlies explicit dissonance is what identifies the psychology of the dissonant person. She finished by arguing that the contradictory-belief view can successfully interpret the cases which were problematic for unified views.

Next I (Birmingham) gave my paper ‘Unimpaired Abduction to Alien Abduction: Lessons on Delusion Formation’. I argued that alien abduction belief presents an interesting phenomenon which can inform the debate on monothematic delusion formation. I started by distinguishing empiricist from rationalist approaches to monothematic delusion formation and noted that I wanted to defend the one-factor empiricist approach, taking multi-factor empiricists as my opponents, and putting rationalism aside.

Next I outlined the kinds of experience abductees report, and gave a one-factor explanation of why they come to believe that they were abducted by aliens. I suggested that if a one-factor account can be given of this case, it can too be given for (other) cases of monothematic delusion, since there are no relevant differences between alien abduction belief and (other) monothematic delusions which indicate the need for additional explanatory factors. I concluded that a defence of my preferred account can be informed by an investigation into alien abduction belief.

Christoph Michel (Stuttgart) was the third speaker in the session with his paper ‘Norms of Rationality and Attitude Theory’. He considered the consequences of recent debates about the norms of rationality for attitude theory. Rather than prior intuitive and domain-general norms containing robust internal states, norms for rationality are context-sensitive and favour a view of attitudes themselves as being context-dependent entities. This view was motivated by empirical investigations into conditional reasoning and context-effects observed by descriptive choice-theory. Adaptive attitudes, on his view, turn out to be subject to a meta-norm of context-sensitivity.

This, he argued, makes adaptive attitudes a function of context rather than robust static entities, ordered by principles of logic, as dispositionalism and functionalism in the philosophy of mind traditionally postulate. Attitude-stability is regarded as a function of context-stability where stable Task/Context-Models play the role of programs for attitude-construction in context. The non-static view of attitudes offers a procedural account of irrationality that does not require synchronic inconsistency at a state-level.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Authorship and Control over Thoughts

This post is by Gottfried Vosgerau (pictured above), Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dusseldorf. Gottfried's research interests are in the philosophy and metaphysics of mind, neurophilosophy, and cognitive science. Here he summarises his recent paper, co-authored with Martin Voss, 'Authorship and Control over Thoughts', published in Mind and Language. 

While there is a considerable consensus that ownership and agency should be sharply distinguished for motor actions, the according distinction for thoughts (thinking actions) is much less agreed on. In our paper we argue that a distinction is needed between the mere occurrence of a thought in my stream of consciousness (thought ownership) and my being the 'source' of a thought (authorship). While it is a conceptual truth that all of my thoughts are mine in the sense of ownership, there are already many examples from (non-pathological) everyday life that this is not the case for authorship. However, the main arguments in the paper concentrate on the question of how authorship can be understood. In particular, we argue that the often claimed parallel between authorship an agency is not close enough to provide any interesting inside. We will now sketch the basic argument for this point.

Agency (for motor actions) is usually defined as the sense of initiating and being in control of an action. Interestingly, there are pathological thoughts which the patient cannot control, namely intrusive thoughts in OCD patients. Nevertheless, these patients never deny authorship for such thoughts. Hence, unlike for agency, control over thoughts cannot be an integral part of authorship for thoughts. In contrast, both factors (control and authorship) are independent of each other. This implies that theories that equate thinking mechanisms with motor control mechanisms cannot succeed. Moreover, even the weaker assumption that missing control elicits a sense of not being the author is doomed to fail. Therefore, we need two different explanations for the lack of control over thoughts and for the lack of authorship over thoughts, both of which occur in thought insertion.

Thursday 6 August 2015

Women in Philosophy: Mentoring and Networking (2)

This is the second of two posts reporting on the Women in Philosophy workshop which was held on the 22nd and 23rd June at the University of York. This post will summarise the talks given on the second day of the workshop, you can read about the talks given on the first in a previous post.

Jules Holroyd (Nottingham), pictured above, opened the second day with a talk on Applying for Grants. Jules is currently the Principle Investigator of the Bias and Blame Project, for which she and her team received funding from the Leverhulme Trust. In her talk she gave very helpful information and advice on the grant application process.

Laura Frances Callahan (Oxford), pictured above, was the first mentee speaker of the day with her paper 'Evil: Only Sometimes Evidence against God'. Laura discussed a forthcoming paper by Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne, and Yoaav Isaacs which claimed that since the absence of evil would be evidence for the existence of God, the presence of evil must be evidence against it. Laura argued that given the way we actually learn about the presence of evil in the world, its existence does not in general disconfirm God's existence.

Next up was Umrao Sethi (Berkeley), pictured above, with her paper 'Objective Appearances and the Argument from Hallucination'. Umrao outlined three theses which have been taken to be jointly incompatible in the literature on philosophy of perception: Item Awareness, Mind-Independence, and the Common Kind Assumption. Philosophical accounts of perception have resisted the incompatibility by rejecting one of the three theses. Umrao took a different route, she suggested a way in which we might accept all three theses by appeal to her notion of constitutively over-determined appearances. 

After lunch mentee Natalie Ashton (Edinburgh), pictured above, presented her paper 'Feminist Epistemology as Mainstream'. Natalie began by pointing out that feminist epistemologies do not tend to be discussed in mainstream epistemology, she suggested that this may be due to a suspicion that political motivations cloud feminist epistemologies. Natalie argued that such a suspicion is misguided, and that many epistemologists (focusing in this paper on hinge epistemologists), are doing work compatible with feminist epistemologies. She also argued that hinge epistemologies would benefit from bringing feminist epistemologies into the mainstream.

Our final mentee talk was given by Julia Langkau (Konstanz), pictured above, with her paper 'Learning from Fiction'. Julia started with the claim that we can gain substantive knowledge from fiction. She argued that through fiction we can gain substantive counterfactual knowledge, in the same way that we gain such knowledge through the use of thought experiments. She focused on the role imagination plays in the gaining of such knowledge, and drew on empirical evidence to suggest that the counterfactual judgements we form when we read fiction are reliable ones.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Truths that We Would Rather not Know

This post is by Kevin Lynch, currently a Research Fellow at University College Dublin (pictured above). His research focuses on understanding self-deception and similar phenomena, and also has research interests in psychoanalysis, issues in metaphysics and epistemology, and the philosophy of information. Here he summarises his recent paper 'Willful Ignorance and Self-Deception' published in Philosophical Studies.

What is willful ignorance? The following passage from the memoirs of the high-ranking Nazi Albert Speer is often quoted as a good illustration of it. Here Speer recounts an occasion where his trusted friend and colleague, Karl Hanke, after visiting a concentration camp (probably Auschwitz), reportedly advised him never to accept an invitation to inspect one under any circumstances.

'I did not query him, I did not query Himmler, I did not query Hitler, I did not speak with personal friends. I did not investigate – for I did not want to know what was happening there … During those few seconds, while Hanke was warning me, the whole responsibility had become a reality again … For from that moment on, I was inescapably contaminated morally; from fear of discovering something which might have made me turn from my course, I had closed my eyes. This deliberate blindness outweighs whatever good I may have done or tried to do in the last period of the war … Because I failed at that time, I still feel, to this day, responsible for Auschwitz in a wholly personal sense' (Speer 1971).