Thursday 28 July 2016

Are Emotions Rational? An Interview with Aaron Ben-Ze'ev

In this post Matilde Aliffi, PhD student at the University of Birmingham, interviews Aaron Ben-Ze'ev, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Haifa, and President of the European Philosophical Society for the Study of the Emotions. Aaron (pictured above) works in the philosophy of psychology and published extensively on emotions and love.

MA: What are the objectives of the European Philosophical Society for the Study of the Emotions?

AB-Z: Emotions punctuate almost all the significant events in our lives, but the nature, causes, and consequences of the emotions are among the least well understood aspects of human experience. In recent decades there has arisen a significantly greater interest in the study of emotions by scholars in various fields. Such an interdisciplinary interest and interaction are crucial for the understanding of emotions. Nevertheless, I believe that there is room for more intensive discussions among scholars about specifically philosophical issues within the broad area of the study of emotions.

The European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering the philosophical study of emotions by providing a forum for exchanging views, so as to increase the interaction or collaboration among its members. The Society will make a special effort to involve young philosophers in its activities. Although the title of the Society refers to European philosophers, the Society is open to people from other countries, as well as to those who are not philosophers by profession, but have an interest in interacting academically with philosophers.

MA: Nowadays the study of the emotions is an interdisciplinary enterprise. What is the contribution that philosophy can offer to this field, and what kind of methodology philosophers should adopt?

AB-Z: Philosophy is not limited to its subject matter, but merely to the level of complexity and abstraction of the issues discussed. Thus, we can speak about the philosophy of physics, philosophy of geography, and philosophy of emotions. The question of whether a woman is more likely to be more jealous if her partner has an affair with a beautiful woman or with a wise woman is basically a psychological issue. (The answer to this question depends on how central external appearance and wisdom are to the woman’s self-image.) 

The difference between jealousy and envy is an issue of discussion for both philosophers and psychologists. Philosophers are concerned with issues such as “what is an emotion?” and the role of emotions in morality. Collaborations between philosophers and psychologists (and other scientists) are always welcome—the extent and usefulness of these depends on the abstractness and complexity of the issues. There are various methodologies that philosophers use in studying the emotions: for example, conceptual analysis, reference to general views of classical philosophers, and discussing empirical findings that support or weaken a general philosophical claim. Combining all these and other such methodologies can be very fruitful.

MA: Your work on the emotions has been particularly influenced by Aristotle, Kant and Spinoza. How can the classics inform a contemporary theory of emotion?

AB-Z: My work on emotions has mainly been influenced by Aristotle and Spinoza—more so by the former. Emotions have been central to human life for thousands of years, and so we can learn much from previous philosophers. Their writings indicate that some emotional features are universal and not culturally dependent. If we can understand and accept what Aristotle or Shakespeare wrote about romantic love, it may imply that certain aspects of romantic love are not an invention of capitalist society, but rather have some universal features. This is not to deny that romantic love, and especially its manifestation and generation, may be influenced by a given society, context and character.

MA: In your book The Subtlety of Emotions, you challenged the idea that emotions are irrational in nature and that they disrupt normal functioning. Could you tell us why you think that emotions may help sustain our normal functioning?

AB-Z: Along with the tradition that considers emotions to be irrational, there is a tradition that views emotions as disorganized interruptions of mental activity and as impediments to normal functioning. Some even consider emotions to be a kind of disease that we need to cure, since to neglect these illnesses would be little short of suicidal. I believe that this negative view is unfounded and that in fact emotions are the optimal response to many circumstances associated with their generation, such as when we face a sudden significant change in our situation but have limited and imperfect resources to cope with it. The major functions of emotions are: (a) an initial indication of the proper manner in which to respond, (b) a quick mobilization of resources, and (c) a means of social communication. Emotions are typically very useful in our everyday life.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

The Paradox of Forgiveness

This post is by Lucy Allais (pictured above). Lucy teaches philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and the University of California in San Diego. She partly works in the history of philosophy, on the work of the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant (mostly on his metaphysics but she is increasingly interested in his moral and political philosophy), and partly on some topics in moral philosophy and moral psychology, such as forgiveness, resentment, and related moral emotions. In this post she writes about her research on forgiveness

Augustine once said that he knows exactly what time is until anyone asks him, and it seems to me that something similar can be said about forgiveness. It is a concept we are pretty confident we understand, until one tries to give a philosophical account of it, at which point it seems to start dissolving, to the point that a lot of philosophers have thought it to be paradoxical and impossible to make sense of.

The difficulties start because most people agree that forgiveness should be distinguished from excusing and justifying, as where there is an excuse or justification there is nothing to forgive. Many philosophers start from the view that the resentment or hurt that forgiveness overcomes is warranted or justified: this is precisely what follows from the view that forgiveness comes into play in relation to culpable wrongdoing. Since forgiving does not involve changing your mind about whether the wrong was really wrong (in which case it would be justifying or accepting), it seems that it does not change your view of the wrong as attaching to the wrongdoer. Yet the way we often use the term suggests that forgiving involves a change in your emotional orientation to the wrongdoer in which you no longer see it the wrongdoing as attaching to them or reflecting on them—you somehow wipe the slate clean.

Thursday 21 July 2016

A Prescription for Psychiatry

In today's post, Peter Kinderman introduces his new book ‘A Prescription for Psychiatry: Why We Need a Whole New Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing’, which is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

I am professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool and President-Elect of the British Psychological Society. My research interests are in psychological processes underpinning wellbeing and mental health. I have published widely on the role of psychological factors as mediators between biological, social and circumstantial factors in mental health and wellbeing. I have been awarded (with colleagues) a total of over £6 million in research grant funding (from the Medical Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the NHS Forensic Mental Health Research and Development Programme, the European Commission and others). My most recent grant, awarded in 2015, was for a total of over £1m from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), to lead a three-year evidence synthesis programme for the ‘What Works Centre for Wellbeing’, exploring the effectiveness of policies aimed at improving community wellbeing. You can follow me on Twitter as @peterkinderman.

My most recent book, A Prescription for Psychiatry, offers a radical new ‘manifesto’ for mental health and well-being. It argues that services should be based on the premise that the origins of distress are largely social. The guiding idea underpinning mental health services needs to change from an assumption that our role is to treat ‘disease’ to an appreciation that our role is to help and support people who are distressed as a result of their life circumstances, and how they have made sense of and reacted to them.

This also means we should replace ‘diagnoses’ with straightforward descriptions of problems. We must stop regarding people’s very real emotional distress as merely the symptom of diagnosable ‘illnesses’. A simple list of people’s problems (properly defined) would have greater scientific validity and would be more than sufficient as a basis for individual care planning and for the design and planning of services. This does not mean rejecting rigour or the scientific method – quite the reverse. While psychiatric diagnoses lack reliability, validity and utility, there is no barrier to the operational definition of specific psychological phenomena, and it is equally possible to develop coherent treatment plans from such a basis.

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Deontological Confabulation

Emilian Mihailov (pictured below) is the Executive Director of the Research Centre in Applied Ethics (CCEA) and a teaching assistant at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest. Currently he is working on the implications of experimental moral psychology and neuroscience for normative and applied ethics.

I will present some ideas I developed in my paper “Is deontology a moral confabulation?”, recently published in Neuroethics.

Here is a provoking thought. What if the effort of philosophical theorizing is an exercise in moral confabulation to polish off track emotional responses, admitingly hard to resist given their evolutionary roots? Joshua Greene speculates that if you mix the fact we are largely driven by strong emotional responses with the tendency to make up plausible sounding stories to justify or explain these responses, you get deontological moral philosophy.

As a philosopher who has done some work in the Kantian tradition, was I confabulating? I the paper I argue, hopefully in a non-motivated way, that the evidence used by Greene does not support the confabulation hypothesis, and that even if we accept it we should not be too worried.

One suspicion I start with is that paradigmatic cases of confabulation do not seem to fit the relevant model for Greene’s ambitious attack on deontology, namely what I call alarm-like emotion based confabulation. Since established cases tend to favour a neutral model, which is not committed to a particular content of behavioural causes (cognitive/emotional), it is puzzling to expect outright alarm-like confabulations in philosophical theorizing.

This puzzle leads to a deeper reason as to why the confabulation hypothesis is problematic. Why is the case that paradigmatic cases are not driven by alarm-like emotions? By looking at the conducive conditions for confabulation, I argue that there is an inherent resistance on the part of alarm-like emotions to be subject to confabulation. A confabulation is likely to occur when stimuli are not salient and are not plausible causes of belief or action. And vice versa, a confabulation is unlikely to occur when stimuli are salient and plausible causes. 

Thursday 14 July 2016

British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference 2016

The Annual Conference of the British Society for the Philosophy of Science was held at the University of Cardiff Business School (pictured below), on 7th and 8th July 2016. The conference featured four keynote lectures and several papers in parallel sessions. Here I am briefly reporting from the two keynote lectures delivered on the second day of the conference.

Samir Okasha (University of Bristol), pictured below, discussed in his keynote lecture the use of intentional language in describing the work of evolution. For instance, sometimes we say that the gene “knows” that it was inherited, or that an organism has a preference for a certain outcome to be selected. How should we understand the use of intentional language in this context? Is the intentionality of the language of biology something we can dispense with if we choose to, is it just a shorthand? Samir argues that it is more than a shorthand and delivers insights into evolution.

Darwinian evolution is described in terms of goals and strategies, and rationality-inspired concepts are used in decision-theory and game-theory. Does this use reflect a bias? Maybe something like hyperactive agency detection? Or is it a natural and justifiable way to describe biological phenomena? Samir argued that the truth is somewhere in between these two positions.

The intentional talk where we treat “Mother Nature” as an agent is not the type of intentional talk that may deliver insights, rather Samir focused on the talk of an organism having a preference or wanting to do something. This is a more promising use of intentional language as it points to the coherence in an organism's functions. Ruth Millikan says that we can talk about function without using intentional language, but when we talk about functions we talk about individual traits and not all organisms.

Tuesday 12 July 2016

Your Memory or Mine?

This post is by Misia Temler, project coordinator of the recently launched Not Guilty Sydney Exoneration Project at the University of Sydney. She recently completed her PhD in Cognitive Science at Macquarie University in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders. Her PhD dissertation was on how individual and social factors impact autobiographical memory variation across retellings. 

In my last post, I discussed the general reconstructive nature of autobiographical memory. In this post I discuss the powerful effect of social influence on memory and summarise a study from my thesis. 

Remembering with others can lead to the development of false memories. When individuals witness an event and then remember the event together they can change one another’s memory of what happened (Paterson & Kemp, 2006; Wright, Memon, Skagerberg & Gabbert, 2009). This has significant consequences in the forensic setting. Eyewitness memory distortion can lead to an inaccurate testimonial or mistaken identity, which can result in false conviction and imprisonment or conversely can set those guilty free. 

To address concern and map the possibility of contamination from others, researchers have devised paradigms to examine the impact of social influence on the development of false memories in a lab setting, such as collaborative recall, misinformation effect, and social contagion paradigm (Basden & Basden, 2001, Loftus, 1979, Roediger, Meade & Bergman, 2001). However, research using these paradigms has more often focused on shared simplified material such as the same set of stimuli, like word lists, photos or videos. Consequently, there is the same level of knowledge or expertise assumed across all involved in the experiment.

Thursday 7 July 2016

Voices and Thoughts in Psychosis

In this post, Sam Wilkinson (below right) introduces a forthcoming Special Issue of the Review of Philosophy and Psychology, that he co-edited with psychologist Ben Alderson-Day (below left), on “Voices and Thoughts in Psychosis”.

If we experience thoughts in our head, how can they seem to not be our own? To understand this, we need to explore what thoughts are and how we know them in the first place. In his paper (“Thinking, Inner Speech, and Self-awareness”) Johannes Roessler outlines two views about knowledge of our own thoughts, attributed to Gilbert Ryle. The first is that we are “alive to” our own thoughts in the “serial process” of thinking, and the second is that we can “eavesdrop” on our inner speech, and interpret our own utterances in much the same was as we interpret the utterances of others. Roessler suggests that the former account is the one that is relevant for understanding thought insertion.

In her paper (“On Thought Insertion”) Rachel Gunn questions the orthodox accounts of thought that posit ownership without agency. These accounts are not going into enough detail about the different things that “ownership” can mean. She clarifies this using detailed and varied first-person accounts, and presents her own account of thought insertion.

Whereas Gunn focuses on thought insertion as an experience, Pablo Lopez-Silva (“Schizophrenia and the Place of Egodystonic States in the Aetiology of Thought Insertion”) focuses on thought insertion as a delusional belief. For him, the content of the inserted thought is of crucial explanatory relevance. Thought insertion is not simply the product of a low-level disruption to phenomenology, according to which any old thought, in principle, could be experienced as inserted. More specifically, the inserted thought is ego-dystonic, and the delusion serves the function of protecting the subject from that thought. Lopez-Silva argues that we must pay more attention to the role that affective disturbances play in driving and generating ego-dystonic thought contents.

Such disturbances play a key role in the tradition of phenomenological psychopathology, within which the paper by Peter Handest and colleagues firmly falls. In their paper (“From Thoughts to Voices: Understanding the Development of Auditory Hallucinations in Schizophrenia”) they offer an introduction to the work of Klosterkotter, Conrad, Sass, and Parnas on how a range of disruptions to thoughts and perceptions can develop into auditory hallucinations in the context of schizophrenia.

Then two papers seek to bridge the gap between AVH and thought insertion: one focusing on phenomenology, the other, on neuropsychology. In the first (“The Spectra of Soundless Voices and Audible Thoughts: Towards an Integrative Model of Auditory Verbal Hallucinations and Thought Insertion”) Clara Humpston & Matthew Broome use first-person accounts to emphasise the phenomenological continuity between experiences of voices and thoughts in psychosis. They reject the idea that thought insertion should primarily be considered a delusion (contra, e.g. Lopez-Silva) and place it on a quasi-perceptual continuum with soundless voices and auditory hallucinations.

Johanna Badcock (“A Neuropsychological Approach to Auditory Verbal Hallucinations and Thought Insertion Grounded in Normal Voice Perception”) shows how a combined account of AVH and thought insertion might be accommodated in a neuropsychological model. Neuroimaging evidence from ordinary voice perception suggests that multiple processing streams are responsible for recognising voice identity, location and other features. Badcock uses these findings to propose that both AVH and TI result from disruptions to neural networks responsible for audition and language, but that their phenomenology will vary depending on which specific network components are affected.

Finally, there are papers in the issue pertaining to orthodox accounts of AVH that view the phenomenon as misattributed inner speech. Daniel Gregory (“Inner Speech, Imagined Speech and Auditory Verbal Hallucinations”) argues that we can make more sense of AVH as misattributed imagined speech (or auditory verbal imagery), rather than inner speech. In turn, inner speech has more in common with actual speech than with verbal imagery.

In contrast, Peter Langland-Hassan (“Hearing a Voice as One’s Own: Two Views of Inner Speech Self-Monitoring Deficits in Schizophrenia”) offers a defence of a revised inner speech model. Key to self-monitoring accounts is the idea that sensory cortex is typically dampened in response to self-generated stimuli. Langland-Hassan extends this account to incorporate thought insertion and thought disorder, with reference to semantic errors in Wernicke’s aphasia. Langland-Hassan uses this example of semantic self-monitoring failure to highlight how the interactions between speech production and perception lie not just in prediction of sensory consequences, but also in the expression of content.

All papers from the issue are currently available on the Review of Philosophy and Psychology website, under “Online First”.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Does Functionalism Entail Extended Mind?

This post is by Kengo Miyazono (pictured above), an Associate Professor at Hiroshima University. Here he summarises his recent paper 'Does Functionalism Entail Extended Mind?', recently published in Synthese. [Penultimate draft available here].

Andy Clark and David Chalmers (1998) present the following famous case.

Otto suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and like many Alzheimer's patients, he relies on information in the environment to help structure his life. Otto carries a notebook around with him everywhere he goes. When he learns new information, he writes it down. When he needs some old information, he looks it up. […] Today, Otto hears about the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and decides to go see it. He consults the notebook, which says that the museum is on 53rd Street, so he walks to 53rd Street and goes into the museum.

Clark and Chalmers (hereafter C & C) argue that 'Otto believed the museum was on 53rd Street even before consulting his notebook' (Clark and Chalmers 1998: 13). The belief is not physically realized inside his head. It is rather physically realized in his notebook. In other words, the belief 'extends into the world'.

[The TEDx talk 'Is your phone part of your mind?' by Chalmers is a nice introduction to the topic.]

Monday 4 July 2016

Optimism and Love

Recently I have become interested in the effects of optimism on relationship satisfaction. Unrealistic optimism about romantic relationships is very widespread. Even people who are aware of divorce rates in the society in which they live tend to overestimate the longevity of their relationships.

Unrealistically optimistic predictions about the future of our romantic relationships may be supported by other positive illusions, for instance, the superiority illusion and the love-is-blind illusion. According to the superiority illusion, which is a form of self-enhancement, we tend to perceive our relationship as better than most relationships. According to the love-is-blind illusion, we tend to be blind to our partner’s faults, and perceive the partner as better than average in a number of domains including intelligence and attractiveness. 

But for Murray and colleagues (1996) such illusions are not obviously a bad thing, as people who have an optimistic disposition towards the future and idealise their partners have more satisfying and longer lasting relationships, where conflicts are resolved more effectively. 

According to the ‘self-fulfillment’ model they endorse, positivity has three main effects: 
  • partners are protected from the potentially disruptive effects of conflict and doubt; 
  • people deal with problems effectively and see the bright side in their partners’ faults; 
  • people live up to the high standards of their idealising partners, increasing their sense of their own self-worth and coming to perceive themselves as positively as their partners do. 

The empirical results discussed by Murray and colleagues support the self-fulfillment model: idealised conceptions of our partners help us overcome difficulties and are much better related to wellbeing and relationship satisfaction and stability (even in the long term) than more realistic evaluations. Satisfaction mediates the link between positive illusions and stability. 

Moreover, in the long run, due to the self-fulfilling nature of positive evaluations, the gap between idealisation and reality shrinks, and people start manifesting those qualities that partners always attributed to them. So it would seem that happiness in love does not always come at the expense of knowledge...

I will discuss optimism, love and agency at the British Society for the Philosophy of Science annual conference in Cardiff this Friday.