Thursday 28 September 2017

Sense of Self Conference in Oxford

This post is by Raphaël Millière (University of Oxford), reporting from the interdisciplinary conference The Sense of Self  hosted by the Ertegun Scholarship Programme and held from 29th-31st of May at the University of Oxford. 

The idea that a sense of self pervades ordinary conscious experience appears to have at least an intuitive appeal for a number of authors in philosophy, psychology and cognitive neuroscience. The aim of this conference was to investigate the very notion of sense of self, which is notoriously elusive and polysemous.  In order to bring some clarity to these discussions and to bridge the gap between conceptual and experimental approaches to the notion, philosophers and scientists were invited to present their work and participate in this interdisciplinary exchange over the course of three days.

The first morning was dedicated to conceptual issues regarding the sense of self. The philosopher Marie Guillot (University of Essex, UK) and the neuroscientist and meditation researcher Aviva Berkovich-Ohana (University of Haifa, Israel) discussed important distinctions between several notions of the sense of self. Guillot stressed the conceptual difference between being aware of oneself and being aware of one’s conscious mental states as one’s own (“mineness”).

Meanwhile, Berkovich-Ohana’s research on various styles of meditation illustrates another distinction between the “narrative self” (the network of autobiographic memories and beliefs that constitute personal identity) and the “minimal self” (the low-level experience of being a self, rooted in sensorimotor processes). Guillot and Berkovich-Ohana agreed that there is no obvious overlap between these two distinctions, although the “minimal self” might be conceived as form of awareness of oneself.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

How Different are Implicit Attitudes?

In this post, Sophie Stammers, Research Fellow on Project PERFECT at the University of Birmingham, introduces her article, “A Patchier Picture Still: Biases, Beliefs and Overlap on the Inferential Continuum” recently published Open Access at Philosophia.

‘Implicit’ is a designation that does a lot of work in the philosophy and cognitive science of thoughts. This follows many decades of research which demonstrates that human minds don’t always behave in ways that many of have expected them to. For instance, people (a) sometimes appear to be unaware of factors which influence their decisions; or (b) they often think or do things in spite of evidence to the contrary, or fail to think or do things in spite of evidence in favour; or (c) people think or do things automatically, without having deliberated first; or (d) they think or do things in spite of sincerely disavowing the thinking or doing of these things – or, all of (a)-(d) at once.

Many theorists have made sense of these results by proposing that the human mind is comprised of two systems: the explicit system handles the conscious, rational, deliberate and avowed processes that we expect to be engaged in, whilst the implicit system is behind the above findings (Kahneman 2011).

The success of our explanations and predictions of cognition depend on whether we’re right to posit a second system with distinctive characteristics. So too do our conceptions of what it is to be a person, and how we should think about interpersonal interactions involving these supposedly distinct systems. For instance, if the implicit system produces cognitions or behaviours that aren’t identified with the agent, then we shouldn’t judge interactions driven by it as agential. But if that’s not the case, then maybe those judgements are back on the table.

Characteristics (a)-(d) each deserve attention, but for now, let’s look just at (b). Some psychologists (e.g. Gawronski and Bodenhausen 2014) have explained evidence for (b) by proposing that attitudes are differently structured: explicit attitudes are structured propositions, processed in accordance with their semantic content, whilst implicit attitudes are mere associations between concepts and are processed regardless of information about their constituent concepts. These latter attitudes don’t respond to evidence.

Contra this view, Eric Mandelbaum (2016) summarizes a range of findings purporting to show that implicit attitudes are in fact sensitive to content, proposing they are structured propositions after all. But can this explain findings that many other implicit attitudes fail to respond appropriately to content?

Thursday 21 September 2017

Sixth Biennial Conference of EPSA

The conference featured many contributed papers and symposia covering all subfields of the philosophy of science and brought together philosophers of science from Europe and overseas. The line-up of speakers was stellar indeed. Just to name a few, Sonja Amadae, Philip Kitcher, and Margaret Morrison gave keynote talks, and Helen Beebee offered a Women’s Caucus Lecture.

Project PERFECT also attended the meeting. Andrea Polonioli talked about cognitive biases in the search and assessment of scholarly literature and the possible value of using systematic reviews to limit the impact of such biases.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

The Epistemic Value of Emotions in Politics

Benedetta Romano is a doctoral candidate in the department of neurophilosophy and ethics of neuroscience at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich. Her research centers on the philosophy of emotions, focusing on various topics, such as the epistemic relevance of political emotions, the capacity of emotions to establish a narrative connection, and their function in analogical reasoning. Moreover, she is interested in the emotional dimension of different issues in applied ethics, such as torture and immigration.

Do the emotions that we experience towards political issues, characters and events, provide us with any valuable knowledge about them? My answer is a resounding yes, and in in my paper, I articulate it as follows. First, I address the epistemic part of the question. I argue that emotions can provide some knowledge about their objects, including political ones, by generating and modifying beliefs about them, and that such knowledge is evaluative in character. But is this knowledge epistemically reliable?

Thursday 14 September 2017

Philosophy of Psychiatry WIP day at Lancaster University

This post is by Moujan Mirdamadi (Lancaster University), reporting from this year's annual Philosophy of Psychiatry Work in Progress day held at Lancaster University.

My name is Moujan Mirdamadi and I am a PhD student at Lancaster University. My research is on the phenomenology of depression and how experiences of depression vary cross culturally. In particular, I look at the similarities and differences in experiences of depression in Iran and the UK, and the significance of these variations.

Lancaster University hosts an annual Work in Progress conference in Philosophy of Psychiatry. The conference, rather than being concerned with presenting finished papers, aims to open a discussion in which peers and colleagues share their thoughts on an ongoing project or question to be answered. This year, I co-organised the event with Dr Rachel Cooper. The conference was held on June 2nd and covered a wide range of different topics in Philosophy of Psychiatry, with speakers from different institutions across the UK.

The issues we talked about included the way in which psychiatrists in the US perceive and respond to their critics, how metaphors can inform the understanding of psychoses, the distinction between mental and brain disorders, the line between personal autonomy and serious psychopathology, and the theoretical and philosophical problems RDoC (Research Domain Criteria) faces in finding new ways of studying mental disorders.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Can Anosognosia for Hemiplegia be Explained as Motivated Self-Deception?

My name is Andrew Sims. Right now I’m working as a post-doctoral researcher at the Université Catholique de Louvain, in an Action de Recherche Concertée (ARC) project on action theory and neuroscience. Before this, though, I wrote my PhD dissertation in the philosophy department at Deakin University and while visiting at the Department of Clinical, Health and Educational Psychology at University College London. My dissertation focused upon the psychodynamic explanation of anosognosia for hemiplegia (AHP)—denial of paralysis—and its relationship to cognitive deficit models of the condition. I’ve recently had an article published in the Review of Philosophy and Psychology that draws upon some of this work (Sims 2017). Thanks very much to Andrea Polonioli for inviting me to introduce it on the Imperfect Cognitions blog.

AHP occurs after brain damage and involves a paralysis on one side along with various attitudinal distortions toward that paralysis. At a minimum, this is an inability to recognize the deficit which ranges from a mild forgetfulness to a consistent delusion that the body is fully functional. However, there are various other attitudinal distortions that also occur: anosodiaphoria, an inappropriate lack of negative feeling about the deficit (though not a flattening of affect in general, as is sometimes claimed, since this is often coupled with a disproportionately negative attitude towards minor unrelated complaints); misoplegia, an exaggerated disgust or hatred towards the affected limb which is felt to be alien and intrusive; and somatoparaphrenia, the attribution of ownership of the paralysed part of the body to another person (like a doctor or relative). Furthermore, these patients sometimes appear to have implicit knowledge of the deficit in parallel with the explicit unawareness.

These attitudinal distortions led earlier clinicians to explain the condition in terms of psychological defense against negative emotion associated with the deficit (Weinstein & Kahn 1950). On this view the attitudes are caused by conative factors (like a desire-like representation of bodily integrity) which distort belief formation. Since then, in part because of an influential critique by Bisiach and Geminiani (1991), these accounts have largely been replaced by deficit theories which propose that the delusion is caused by a deficit in the ability to compare predicted motor outcomes to sensory feedback, possibly also coupled with a deficit to executive function or working memory (e.g., Davies et al. 2005). Prime amongst the objections of Bisiach and Geminiani are two: first, that the defense theories can’t explain anatomical features of the condition; secondly, that they can’t explain why the paralysis is selectively denied (where other deficits—like cortical blindness in one case—are not).

Thursday 7 September 2017

SPP Annual Meeting 2017

The 43rd annual meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology was held in Baltimore, Maryland, at Johns Hopkins University from 28-1 July, 2017. The meeting brought together philosophers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists working on issues of common interests. In this post, Federico Bongiorno (PhD student at the University of Birmingham) offers a summary of each of the keynote lectures presented in plenary sessions.

On day 1, Daniel Schacter (Harvard) kicked off the conference with a talk on memory distortions and constructive aspects of remembering. Schacter views human memory as being far more a matter of constructive rather than reproductive processes that are sometimes susceptible to error and distortion.

Two major themes were pursued. One is the idea that some types of memory distortions are side-effects of otherwise adaptive memory processes. The other is the critical role played by episodic memory, which is defined as the ability to recollect episodes from one’s personal past, in imagining possible future scenarios.

In the first part of the talk, Schacter discussed recent neuropsychological evidence suggesting the adaptive nature of gist-based false memories. He did so by showing that the same brain region that serves the adaptive function of encoding semantic memory, namely the temporal pole, is responsible for this type of memory errors.

The second part of the talk sought to demonstrate that the flexible retrieval processes involved in episodic memory support adaptive uses of episodic simulation but also increase memory errors. Experimental results were shown in support of the proposed hypothesis. The results suggested that the capacity for flexible retrieval underlying successful associative inference increases susceptibility to source misattributions, which result from mistakenly combining details of distinct episodes.

Peter Godfrey-Smith (CUNY, Sidney) opened day 2 of the conference. His talk looked at the evolution of consciousness, broadly conceived, in the context of the phylogenetic pattern of animal life – how animals of different kinds are related in the ‘tree of life’. 

Godfrey-Smith suggested that this can eventually help us work out whether consciousness evolved once or more than once, and if it evolved more than once, whether this was the replaying of an essentially similar sequence, or whether the historical paths were very different from each other.

He advanced the hypothesis that it evolved more than once. The branchings between vertebrates, cephalopods, and the most behaviourally complex arthropods (e.g. crabs and bees) are very deep in history, so deep that the common ancestor was probably something as simple as a flatworm. He conjectured that octopuses and vertebrates may be the clearest cases of evolutionary transition to consciousness, whereas arthropods are more uncertain.

Godfrey-Smith further discussed whether there might be two different kinds of basic consciousness, one kind linked to the senses and another more linked to evaluation and affect. He then discussed some invertebrate cases where these features might be dissociated. 

Some arthropods, in particular, seem much more sophisticated on the sensory then on the evaluative/affective side. This summarises a possible multiple-origin story where there are different types as well as different tokens with respect to the evolution of consciousness.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

A Moral Account of First-person Authority

This post is by Fleur Jongepier (picture below). Starting Autumn 2017 she will be based in Cambridge (UK), working on the role and value of self-knowledge in contemporary liberalism.

In the previous blogpost, I introduced some examples that I suggested provide a challenge to what I referred to as the ‘traditional’ approach to the notion of first-person authority, namely, the view according to which first-person authority and self-knowledge always come and go together. I ended the post by mentioning the following three views about the relation between first-person authority and self-knowledge:

  1. The Decoupling View. They have first-person authority despite not having self-knowledge.
  2. The Negative Traditional ViewThey do not have self-knowledge, therefore do not have first-person authority.
  3. The Positive Traditional View. They have self-knowledge and therefore have first-person authority.
One reason for thinking the second, Negative Traditional view (‘no self-knowledge, no authority’) is mistaken is because it appears to yield way too rigorous consclusions. It fails to reflect the way that we treat people’s sincere self-ascriptions. Even if someone says “I want to kill myself” and is clearly self-deceived somehow, it does not seem to be the case that we would be inclined or indeed justified to simply overrule or correct her self-ascription, and so it seems we should not deny her first-person authority.

Even if someone is wrong when s/he says “I feel X” or “I want Y”, it is still in an important sense out of place or inappropriate to e.g. say “No you’re not” – even if you’re entitled, epistemically speaking. So even when a person issues a self-ascription that is a very poor guide to how s/he will act in the future, this does not license us to correct, challenge or overrule the self-ascription. Indeed, we need to take their self-ascriptions seriously if we want to try to make them see their mistake or change their minds. Granting someone first-person authority is a condition for e.g. engaging in psychotherapy at all (see Strijbos and Jongepier forthcoming).

What about the third option? On the assumption the traditional view is right, granting that subjects have first-person authority in the given examples might also mean they therefore must have self-knowledge, given that on the traditional view, first-person authority and self-knowledge are a package deal. Those defending this option will thus want to say that e.g. the person saying he wants to kill himself in some sense does have self-knowledge, even if he does not (luckily) take any steps to act according to his own self-ascription. The defender of the third view will thus have to argue that it’s not evident that one lacks self-knowledge if one does not act in accordance with one’s own self-ascription.

And indeed such a view has been defended (see e.g. Ferrero 2003 and Bortolotti 2009). Luca Ferrero instance claims that “First-person authority is characteristic of self-ascriptions of present attitudes” and that “The distinctive first-person authority of [someone’s] self-ascriptions concerns ... whether she takes responsibility for them, not whether the self-ascribed attitude is both correct and a reliable guide to future conduct” (2003, 570 emphases in original). Lisa Bortolotti in a similar vein claims that subjects can have knowledge of their attitudes “no matter how representative of their future behaviour those attitudes would [turn] out to be” (Bortolotti 2009, 639). The subject, Ferrero and Bortolotti emphasize, has self-knowledge and responsibility with respect to what s/he is currently thinking or judging, and it’s this type of self-knowledge that lies at the basis of his self-ascription being authoritative.