Thursday, 24 March 2016

12th Mind Network Meeting

On 4th March the twelfth Mind Network Meeting was held at Peterhouse College (pictured above), at the University of Cambridge. The meeting was organized by Chris Meyns and Tim Crane, with sponsorship from the New Directions Project (funded by the John Templeton Foundation). In this post I give an overview of the three talks given at the meeting.

Opening the meeting was Raamy Majeed (Cambridge) (pictured above, left) and Alex Grzankowski (Texas Tech/Cambridge) (pictured above, right) each giving a short paper under the heading ‘The Theory-ladenness of Recalcitrant Emotions’. Raamy was interested in what makes cases of recalcitrant emotions recalcitrant, and Alex was interested in what makes such cases normatively problematic. 

Raamy wanted to give a theory-neutral explanation of what is recalcitrant about recalcitrant emotions. He started by introducing the following case (call it the case of Fido): a subject knows that Fido the dog is harmless, but nevertheless fears him. He then outlined two positions and their treatment of such a case.

Judgmentalism has it that judgements individuate emotions. According to this view, in the case of Fido the subject has conflicting judgements: the judgement that Fido is harmless and the judgement that Fido is harmful. Raamy suggested that this result is to attribute too much irrationality to the subject. Neo-judgmentalism on the other hand replaces the evaluative judgement of the emotion with something else: evaluative thoughts, feelings, perceptions, or construals. In the case of Fido, the subject judges that Fido is harmless, but it seems to her that Fido is harmful. Raamy suggested that this account does not attribute enough irrationality to the subject.

Raamy’s preferred view appealed to the notion of cognitive penetration, understood in the context of emotion as the following: ‘someone’s emotion or emotional experience is cognitively penetrable only if it can be affected by his relevant beliefs’ (Goldie 2000: 76). He noted that there is a default assumption in the literature that emotions are cognitively penetrable, and argued for the thesis that recalcitrant emotions are recalcitrant to the extent that they are cognitively penetrable. Though noting that it is unclear what the conditions are for a case to count as one of cognitive penetration, Raamy claimed that one condition agreed on is that there is a failure of information encapsulation, and so cases of cognitive penetration of emotions are cases in which information is not encapsulated. He claimed that what will account for the phenomenon of recalcitrant emotions is a view like this, plus a story about the kind of conflict in play in such cases. It is this conflict that Alex sought to illuminate in this talk.

Alex wanted to offer a fresh characterization of the conflict present in cases of emotional recalcitrance. He noted, as Raamy had, that there has been a move in the literature away from straightforward judgementalism (according to which recalcitrant emotions involve conflicting judgements), to adding modes of presentation which are not beliefs. But, Alex said, now we lose the conflict—since it is consistent to believe, for example, that Fido is harmless and nevertheless it seem to a subject that Fido is harmful. And so this neo-judgmentalist move cannot ground the sense in which one ought not to be afraid of Fido.

Alex offered what he called a more straightforward approach, which appealed to appropriateness: the conflict of recalcitrance trades on emotions meeting normative constraints of appropriateness. Recalcitrant cases are ones in which if ones beliefs were true (and so appropriate), then ones emotion would not be appropriate. 

Next up was Helen Yetter-Chappell (York) (pictured above) with her paper ‘Leaving it Open: From Sparse Experiences to Sparse Reality’. Helen argued for the view that both experiences and reality can be a great deal more sparse than you might initially believe. She began by arguing by example for the claim that we can (and do) have phenomenal experiences that leave open various aspects of their form. Next, she appealed to what she called the ‘More of the Same’ Principle, which states that ‘[w]henever there can be a degree of sparseness along a certain dimension, there’s no principled barrier to there being more sparseness along that same dimension’. This then supported the claim that the experiences of other possible creatures could exhibit an even more radical degree of sparseness than that exhibited by our experiences, along those same dimensions.

Helen then turned to Berkeleyan idealism, arguing that a Berkleyan idealist should accept that anything left open in experience can also be left open in some possible world. Finally, extending this argument, Helen claimed that if there are Berkleyan possible worlds leaving things open insofar as experiences can leave things open, then there are possible worlds that do so simpliciter, and so there are sparse possible worlds.

Closing the meeting was Jennifer Corns (Glasgow) with her paper ‘Pain Eliminativism’, in which she argued for the claim that we should retain the notion of ‘pain’ for everyday discourse, even whilst granting that it is not useful in scientific inquiry. Jennifer began by giving an overview of different accounts of pain, and noted that we cannot identify a pain mechanism or system, and nor do we have a biological marker for pain. This raised the question: if pain is not a mechanistically explicable process, then what is it? She distinguished between scientific eliminativism and folk eliminativism, suggesting that both should turn on the utility of the notion to be eliminated. For scientific utility the notion should facilitate scientific inquiry (understood as the facilitation of successful explanation and prediction), and for everyday utility the notion should facilitate daily life.

Next Jennifer turned to eliminativist views put forward by Daniel Dennett and Valerie Hardcastle, such views had it that ‘pain’ systematically fails to refer, and thus should be eliminated. She considered arguments from Dennett and Hardcastle that ‘pain’ should be eliminated from our folk-psychological discourse, and argued that such arguments only support scientific eliminativism, and not folk-psychological eliminativism. Given this, she then asked, if pain should be eliminated from scientific discourse, should we eliminate it from everyday speech? Jennifer answered this question in the negative, noting that non-naturalness is not itself a good reason to abandon a folk-psychological kind term. So though she granted that pain is not usefully referred to in scientific discourse, it is useful for explanatory and predictive purposes in everyday life. In particular, it facilitates self-identification, self-ascription, and communication to others about a wide range of bad things happening to us. None of this utility, Jennifer argued, is lost even if pain is useless for scientific utility.

(Photos from #mindnetwork2016)

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