Anna Ichino (Bar Ilan University) focused on the form of confabulation that occurs in superstitious or magical thinking and in conspiracy theories. Superstitious thinking departs from scientific thinking (e.g. does not rule out action at a distance) and sees meanings, reasons, and agency where there is none. Core features of confabulation are falsity or ill-groundedness, lack of decitful intentions, motivational elements, gap-filling role. Superstitious thinking shares these four core features: beliefs or practices are ill-grounded, but there is no intention to deceive.
Superstitions and confabulations are equally characterised by the search for coherence beyond the evidence available to us. The gaps we want to fill in confabulation and superstition are explanatory gaps, and the explanations we tend towards are those that feature reasons. So the causal explanations we prefer are those that are psychological and mentalistic.
Ichino argued that superstitious thoughts are better interpreted as imaginings rather than beliefs—based on the view that they are not constrained by evidence and are responsive to our will; they are locally coherent and selectively integrated; and they can motivate action.
Finally, Ichino considered whether we can still talk about epistemic innocence if we think of superstitious thoughts as imaginings. She concluded that we can do that, as long as either we characterise the epistemic faults of superstitious thoughts as metacognitive errors (we do not realise that they are imaginings) or we come up with epistemic norms that apply to imaginings and identify where the faults might be (not all stories are equally good).
Svetlana Bardina (Moscow) presented her work on epistemic benefits of confabulation starting from the concept of mundane reason which consists of basic principles and assumptions we all endorse although we may never explicitly express them. Such assumptions make people feel ontologically secure and are necessary for any learning or argumentation to take place.
Examples of application of mundane reason are varied. In general people need to assume that they have a coherent self-concept and that the world is largely consistent. This ensures ontological security—when that is threatened, then cognitive capacities are compromised and mental health issues ensue. People are more interested in preserving consistency than in avoiding endorsing claims that might get them into trouble, as research on the behaviour of crime suspects shows.
Confabulation is a response to the threat to mundane reason. Bardina used a study by Bartlett on memory as an example. Bartlett asked people to reproduce some stories multiple times at different time intervals and found that people committed acts of omission (forgetting details) and transformation (changing the stories). Transformations are instances of confabulations, where people made stories more realistic given their cultural background and filled explanatory gaps.
Marianna Bergamaschi Ganapini (New York) argued that in some types of confabulation the report does not only occur to causally explain but also to justify choices. That makes it plausible that confabulations are produced by an argumentative reasoning mechanism (Mercier and Sperber 2011). Thus, confabulations are aimed at gaining epistemic goals such as attaining truth.
Bergamaschi Ganapini talked about the view that confabulation is due to a drive for causal understanding and commented that, although the view can account for some cases of confabulation, it is silent about motivating reasons, those reasons that justify choice.
The hypothesis is that we rely on the argumentative reasoning mechanism to provide justification for your choices and because the mechanism has been selected for checking the reliability of other people’s reasoning it is insensitive to the poor quality of our own arguments. With our own arguments what we want to do is confirm the things we already believe. So the mechanism has epistemic costs and is responsible for various biases.
However, the mechanism is beneficial when used in the appropriate environment: for instance, when we approach reasoning tasks in groups and with an open mind. Confabulation itself can be beneficial when it provides reasons for a belief we have that is true—because it prevents us from second-guessing ourselves and it delivers some epistemic stability, enabling us to keep our status as testifiers.
|Marianna Bergamaschi Ganapini|
The workshop was extremely interesting in that it offered different philosophical perspectives on confabulation in a range of relevant contexts.