Thursday 27 June 2019

Boredom: An Interview with Andreas Elpidorou

Here is an interview with Andreas Elpidorou (University of Louisville) whose book Propelled! How Boredom, Frustration, and Anticipation Can Lead Us to the Good Life will be out with Oxford University Press in early 2020. The book focuses on the role of negative emotions and states of discontent in our lives and argues for the counterintuitive claim that boredom, frustration, and anticipation are good for us.

LB: To start, how did you become interested in boredom? Are you one of those people who have a propensity to experience boredom frequently?

AE: Boredom has been on my mind for years. Although I don’t score high on measures of boredom proneness, I am no stranger to boredom. I experienced its full force almost two decades ago (it’s hard to believe that it’s been so long!) during a phase in my life that seemed to be – while it was unfolding – endless: my mandatory military service. What I remember most vividly from the time that I spent in various camps completing unnecessary and often irrational and bizarre tasks is the experience of boredom. It wasn’t pure or unadulterated boredom—it was always mixed with other emotions.

All the same, boredom was the affective soundtrack of that period in my life. I was bored, I remember, with almost everything. At that point, I didn’t have the tools to critically reflect upon my experience. I didn’t really know what boredom was and I had only a superficial understanding of its causes. Still, I was able to recognize it as boredom and was motivated strongly to fight it. When you can’t change your situation, sometimes you are forced to change your self. 

In my attempt to alleviate the experience of boredom, I did precisely that. I changed my temporal orientation: I was constantly thinking about the future, anticipating what is to come. Because of the significance that I placed on the future, I was able to endure my boring present. When viewed as a future to come, my largely meaningless present became meaningful and tolerable. There’s this wonderful exchange in Beckett’s Endgame that has stuck with me for years. Clov asks Hamm: “Do you believe in the life to come?” Hamm responds: “Mine was always that.” During that period in my life, my life was a life to come.

Professionally, I came to boredom indirectly. I find myself ‘traveling’ from one philosophical arena to another and I change interests every couple of years. This movement is largely an unconscious process but I like it that way. Perhaps it is a coping mechanism that allows me to deal with philosophical fatigue or boredom. During one of my philosophical ‘excursions’ I became interested in our subjective experience of time and specifically, the conditions under which the perception of the passage of time can be altered. I stumbled upon this issue when I was reading Husserl’s lectures on time consciousness. 

At first I thought I wanted to understand the general character of our perception of the passage of time. Soon, however, I realized that my interest was much more circumscribed. I wanted to explore the idea of being stuck in time—a type of existence during which we find ourselves in an unsatisfactory situation and because of that, we become disconnected (in some sense) from our past and future and stuck in the present. Boredom seemed like the natural candidate of this type of existence and I wished to learn more about it. I discovered that most philosophical and historical accounts of boredom conceive of boredom as an entirely negative state, something toxic and which ought to be avoided almost at all costs. Yet, the more I thought about boredom the more I disagreed with this negative view. So, I set out to write something about boredom and why it can’t be wholly negative.

LB: Boredom has had a bad press in philosophy. For instance, Bernard Williams thought that it was the main reason why people would not value a significantly longer life. But the tide is turning. What do you make of the claim, defended in the psychological literature, that being bored is instrumental to productivity and creativity in human agents?

AE: Figuring out why boredom has the philosophical reputation that it does has been somewhat of a puzzle for me. Despite thinking about it for a while, I don’t have a good story to tell as to why the history of philosophy has casted boredom in such a negative light. Sometimes I think this is because state boredom (i.e., the everyday, short-lived, emotional experience of boredom) didn’t seem significant or important enough to deserve sustained philosophical attention, unless the intentional object of boredom (what boredom is about) was clearly something that shouldn’t bore us (God, our religious or political duties, or life itself). 

At other times I think that this negative conception of boredom stems from a preoccupation not with boredom as a transitory (short-lived) affective experience (“state boredom”) but with boredom as an existential condition. If boredom is understood as a pervasive way of experiencing one’s life and one’s world, then it isn’t hard to see why boredom looks so problematic. Understood as such, boredom is a way of existing in the world during which very little matters to us. Psychologists conceive of this manner of existing as revealing of the presence of a lasting personality trait (“boredom proneness”). In the last thirty years or so, a large body of evidence shows that boredom proneness is correlated with a number of psychological, physical, and social harms. So, there are good reasons to think that boredom as boredom proneness isn’t something good or pleasant. (I make a case for this claim in “The Moral Dimensions of Boredom”.)

(Matters are much more complex than what I just described. Despite the numerous [and often strong] correlations that have been reported in the literature, one ought to be careful when discussing trait boredom. Not only do we have a tenuous understanding of the nature of such a trait but also our instruments for measuring the presence of trait boredom suffer from poor psychometric properties.)

The tide, however, is turning. That is partly because of the fact that boredom is now the topic of a very active and exciting research program that in the last decade alone has delivered a great deal of knowledge. State boredom is an unpleasant experience that signifies a failure to engage with one’s environment in a desired manner despite one’s desire to do so. Even if we don’t have a good understanding of trait boredom, we do have a good (or serviceable) understanding of state boredom. We know about its cognitive, and volitional character. We know about its correlates and effects. And we are now learning more about its causes and neurological correlates.

On the basis of this new body of knowledge about boredom (and specifically state boredom), certain characterizations of boredom seem inaccurate. For instance, if Bernard Williams’ argument regarding immortality has a chance of succeeding, then his boredom can’t be boredom – either state boredom or boredom proneness. Williams must be thinking of something very different than what psychologists call “boredom” and I’m not exactly sure what that is. In turn, recent work on boredom has given rise to a type of qualified or restrained optimism about boredom. Boredom might not be all fun and games, but it isn’t just pain and suffering either. There are many sides to boredom and a complete examination of boredom requires that we familiarize ourselves with all of them.

The positive side of boredom is certainly an exciting development and I can tell from conversations with non-specialists and journalists that people are fascinated by the complexity of boredom. Much of this fascination, I think, is due to some recent articles that have reported a positive connection between creativity and boredom. There is a lot to say about such findings and in my forthcoming book Propelled! I present my take on them. Here, I offer the following brief remarks.

(1) At this point, we should resist the temptation of drawing any firm conclusions about the role of boredom in creativity. Some of the older experiments (that studied the effect of task-related boredom*) didn’t include any direct measures of boredom and their findings admit of an alternative interpretation that doesn’t implicate boredom. 

Specifically, the observed improved performance on creativity tasks doesn’t have to be the cause of boredom but it could be that of practice—participants had more time and more opportunities to work on those tasks. In a recent study, psychologists Julia S. Haager, Christof Kuhbandner, and Reinhard Pekrun have found not only that practice positively affects creativity but also that task-related boredom hinders it.

(*There are experiments that study the effect of task-related boredom on creativity and others that study the effect of task-unrelated boredom on creativity. The distinction between the two is simple but important. Only in the former type of experiments, boredom is a feature of the task that purports to assess creativity. In cases of task-unrelated boredom, what bores individuals isn’t the task that is supposed to measure creativity, but something else.)

(2) Of course, not every experimental study of boredom’s effects on creativity can be dismissed so easily. Experiments that focused on the effects of task-unrelated boredom reported some intriguing findings. Still, their conclusions don’t appear to be as strong as they are often presented. The now famous study by Mann and Cadman gave rise to somewhat diverging findings. Mann and Cadman induced boredom by asking individuals to copy telephone numbers from a phone directory. After the completion of the boring task, participants were given two polystyrene cups and were instructed to write down as many different uses for the cups as they could think and to circle the two that they thought were the most creative ones. Findings from two variations of the experiment disagree as to whether the induction of boredom increases both fluency (reported number of uses for the cups) and creativity (how original the reported uses were) compared to a control group. I’m very curious to see what follow-up studies will reveal. 

The Gasper and Middlewood study (which measured bored individuals’ performance on an associative thinking task) found that that it’s better to be bored than distressed or relaxed right before performing a task that requires associative thinking. This study was a comparative one. So, the findings don’t show that boredom is the emotional state that’s most beneficial in terms of creativity—a look at the reported data from the Gasper and Middlewood study demonstrates that elation outperforms boredom.

(3) The reported findings regarding a link between creativity and boredom ought to be understood as part of a more general picture regarding boredom. I am not alone in understanding boredom to be a state that promotes motion. But motion comes in a plenitude of ways. Physical exercise, creativity, eating, daydreaming, thrill-seeking, caring, and even harming are all forms of motion. Such an account of boredom allows us to see why sometimes boredom can lead to creativity and why, at other times, boredom can lead to some other less than salutary activities.

LB: In two recent papers (The bored mind is a guiding mind and The good of boredom), you have proposed a new understanding of boredom and its function. You argued that boredom "promotes escape from non-interesting situations”. Can you explain in what sense this is a benefit of boredom?

AE: The easiest way of explaining this point is by drawing a connection to pain. The sensation of pain is unpleasant, but the capacity to feel pain is good for us. It is a well-documented fact that individuals with congenital insensitivity to pain live difficult and often short lives. Their lives contain harmful and dangerous stimuli but they cannot sense harm done to them and cannot easily protect themselves. Pain is thus a mechanism that both signals the presence of harm and motivates us to change our behavior in order to protect ourselves. Something similar, I think, holds for boredom.

What boredom does is to protect us from certain situations and in doing so, regulates our behavior. Boredom does so by informing us of the presence of situations that are not in line with our interests and desires and by motivating us to do something else. If we were to lack the capacity to be bored, we would have a hard time noticing when we are faced with an unsatisfying, non-stimulating, or monotonous situation. Ultimately, boredom disengages us from our current situation, makes salient to us our alternative possibilities, and motivates us to do something else. On account of these features, boredom plays a unique and useful role in our mental and behavioral economy.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Phil Corlett's response to Ryan McKay

In this post, Phil Corlett replies to Ryan McKay's summary of his paper "Measles, Magic and Misidentifications: A Defence of the Two-Factor Theory of Delusions", itself a response to Phil's earlier post on his paper "Factor one, familiarity and frontal cortex: a challenge to the two-factor theory of delusions". See also Amanda Barnier's important commentary on the debate, and Phil's reply. Got all that? Right, on with the post!

I am grateful to Ryan for his careful and collegial rebuttal of my critique. I am grateful too for the opportunity to respond.

Ryan’s response does mollify some of my points.

However, I am sure no one will be surprised that I have not updated my beliefs about 2-factor theory.

First, Ryan suggests that 2-factor theorists knew about the breadth of the deficits of vmPFC cases, since they were described in Langdon and Coltheart’s (2000) paper.

They were indeed described.

Why then, 19 years (and hundreds of theory papers) later, are 2-factor theorists still basing their arguments on these inappropriate cases?

Whether or not theorists are aware of the paucity of their data does not render those data any more or less appropriate.

If the vmPFC cases lack responses to ANY salient psychological stimulus, then they cannot logically serve as control for the specific face processing deficit in patients with Capgras delusion.

There may be other cases with more specific deficits, but they should be mentioned and invoked whenever the argument is unpacked and the four vmPFC cases ought not be mentioned.

Furthermore, the neural loci of the damage in these cases with more specific SCR deficits should be reported – this would be informative with regards to the overall structure of the account.

Thursday 20 June 2019

Epistemic Duty Workshop

We often say things like “you shouldn’t believe that the Earth is flat” or “just look at the evidence, you really ought to believe that vaccinations save lives”. Just as one might think that we have particular obligations to behavemorally, one might suspect that this sort of talk reveals that we have obligations to believeparticular things, or perhaps, to believe in a particular way. Is that right? And if so, what do those obligations consist in?

On 30th – 31st May, a workshop investigating issues related to these questions was held at St. Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Organised by Scott Stapleford, Professor of Philosophy at St Thomas University, and Kevin McCain, Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the workshop comprised eight talks over the course of two days. Here, I summarize just a few of them.

Sharon Ryan was interested in the question of whether we have an epistemic obligation to be open-minded. She maintained that we do have epistemic responsibilities, and moreover, that our epistemic responsibilities are among some of the most important. For Sharon, understanding reality certainly has instrumental value (in so far as it helps us to fulfil our practical goals) but it is also intrinsicallygood. Sharon suggested that one of the significant outputs of philosophy is that it helps to make us more epistemically responsible.

She argued there is a particular conception of open-mindedness that is a necessary condition for wisdom. She first examined some alternative constructions of open-mindedness, and found them deficient. For instance, a construction on which being open-minded amounts to withholding judgements on propositions about reality, or one which centers being aware of one’s own fallibility as a believer, might point to epistemically valuable characteristics, but also don’t give us positive instructions regarding how we should navigate information.

Wednesday 19 June 2019

The Two-factor Theory of Delusions: A reply to Amanda Barnier

This post is by Philip Corlett who is currently engaging in a debate with Ryan McKay on this blog about the two-factor theory of delusions (see Phil's and Ryan's previous posts). Here Phil replies to Amanda Barnier's comment.

I am grateful to Amanda for her contributions, to the blog exchange and to the literature on delusions. I am of course aware of her hypnosis work – having spent time at Macquarie and even been hypnotized (I am highly hypnotizable, which is perhaps too much to share here).

My article and post were provocative and perhaps too confrontational. Having spent time at the Belief Formation Program Table, I understand how exciting and generative it can be. My word choice was perhaps a little too strong. 'Adherents' may have been better. I see that 'acolytes' may be particularly insulting to practicing scientists.

My article was about the basic foundational data and arguments of two-factor theory. Whilst Amanda is right to criticize my word choices, and to chastise me for not acknowledging Robyn Langdon, do either of those points detract from my case? To presage next week’s response to Ryan, if 2-F theorists knew about the contents of my article; the broader SCR deficits and right DLPFC lesions in the control cases, why weren’t they mentioned in the many papers on 2-F theory? Did they come up around the big table? They did not when I sat at the table when I visited.

I think some of my vitriol comes from having sat at that very table and shared my ideas and data, only to have them rather harshly derided in print, without forewarning or right to prompt reply. I did eventually get to respond. If we are calling the tone police, I think it apt to return to the scene of the original crime. Squabbling aside, my use of the terms acolyte and magical properties, reflect a dissatisfaction in the way exchanges with 2-F theorists often evolve. If the stall is set out such that only one style of explaining the data, and certain data, are on the table, it is very difficult to disagree.

One must challenge the explanation, and the data, as I did in my article and post.

I could and perhaps should have done so in a less ad hominem way. But it wasn’t all ad hominem. Does Amanda disagree that the imprecise SCR response or the right DLPFC lesions of the VMPFC cases are a problem? Did the big table ever test the 2-F predictions about SCR in the other monothematic delusions? And what of modularity – if it doesn’t obtain, what will be the fate of 2-F? I will unpack these ideas further next week, but did not want to leave Amanda’s important post unanswered.

Two-factor Theory of Delusions: A commentary on the debate

This post is by Amanda Barnier, Professor of Cognitive Science and Associate Dean Research in the Faculty of Human Sciences at Macquarie University. She was Deputy Leader of the Belief Formation Program and Chief Investigator of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders from 2011-2018. In her work she has attempted to use hypnotic methods to recreate clinical delusions in the laboratory. Here she contributes to the exchange between Phil Corlett and Ryan McKay on the two-factor theory of delusions.

I read Phil Corlett’s and Ryan McKay’s blog posts with great interest as well as their original article and commentary. As someone who has worked in the field of delusions (albeit on a bit of a hypnotic tangent) for about 15 years (including for 12 years since I arrived at Macquarie University in 2007 to work with Max Coltheart), I wanted to share some insights.

In his original published article in Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, Phil described me and others who have collaborated with Max Coltheart as “acolytes” who ascribe “magical properties” to the two-factor theory. Here’s the relevant paragraph from Phil’s original paper (with a quote bolded by me):

A colleague and collaborator of Coltheart, and co-creator of two-factor theory, Martin Davies’ remarks of cognitive neuropsychology (Davies, 2010), apply to the strange status that two-factor theory has attained (above reproach, immune to criticism, unmolested by direct empirical examination):
... it is a familiar point about science in general that there is no logically valid deductive inference from evidence to explanatory theory. To be explanatory, a theory must go beyond a summary of the evidence and so cannot be entailed by the evidence. Within the narrower domain of psychology, it is well understood that there is no logically valid deductive inference from data, such as reaction time data, to an explanatory theory about cognitive structures and processes. It is very unlikely that cognitive neuropsychologists regard their research program as being different from all the rest of empirical science and take themselves to have access to evidence with magical properties. (Davies, 2010)
I suggest that acolytes of two-factor theory attribute it the magical properties Davies outlines. It appears to me to be a deduction that is unwarranted by the data. While Coltheart would likely respond that argumentation in cognitive neuropsychology is abductive infer- ence (to the best explanation), I would contend that two-factor theory, as he and his colleagues espouse, is an erroneous summary of rather scant evidence, and so not the best available explanation of those data, nor of delusions.
First, I want to highlight that Associate Professor Robyn Langdon always should be mentioned in discussions of two-factor theory as its co-creator. Her careful, insightful, clinically inspired thinking has been instrumental to both the theoretical and empirical work flowing from the two-factor model. Although mentioning her may not have fit the somewhat combative narrative of Phil’s original article, credit where credit is due.

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Measles, Magic and Misidentifications

I'm Ryan McKay, Professor of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London, and head of the Royal Holloway Morality and Beliefs Lab (MaB-Lab). I'm interested in how we form and revise beliefs, including delusional beliefs. This post is a summary of my article “Measles, Magic and Misidentifications: A Defence of the Two-Factor Theory of Delusions” in reply to Phil Cortlett's recent paper discussed on the blog last week.

The Two-Factor Theory of Delusions

One may (a) interpret data falsely, but also (b) receive false data for interpretation.
~ Southard, 1912, p. 328.

The idea that delusions arise when individuals attempt to interpret “false data” has been incorporated in several theories of delusions. Two-factor theorists, however (e.g., Coltheart et al., 2011; Davies & Coltheart, 2000; Langdon & Coltheart, 2000), view deluded individuals both as “receiving false data for interpretation” (factor one, which furnishes the content of the delusion) and as “interpreting data falsely” (factor two). Factor two is necessary, they claim, because some patients who appear to “receive false data for interpretation” are not delusional. The two-factor theory is thus based on the dissociation between “false data” and “false belief”.

Take Capgras delusion, for instance. For two-factor theorists, the “false data” in the Capgras case is a deficient autonomic response to familiar faces (indexed by skin conductance response [SCR]). The apparent dissociation between these “false data” and “false belief” comes from the fact that patients with damage to ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) have also been shown to have deficient SCRs to familiar faces ¬– but these patients are not delusional (Tranel et al., 1995). So, something must explain why Capgras patients – but not the vmPFC patients – adopt the delusion. For two-factor theorists, that “something” is a deficient ability to evaluate candidate explanations of false data – the eponymous factor two.

Thursday 13 June 2019

The Medical Model in Mental Health

Today's post is by Dr Ahmed Samei Huda, a Consultant Psychiatrist working mostly in Early Intervention in Psychosis for Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. He is introducing his book, The Medical Model in Mental Health: An Explanation and Evaluation (OUP, 2019). Huda is on Twitter (@SameiHuda), and blogs here.

I am a clinician not an academic who became increasingly frustrated with the strawman depictions of psychiatry in the fraught conflicts between different professions and ideologies in mental health. So I decided to read more about what the medical model was and the more I read the more he realised there was an absence of a book explaining from first principles what the medical model was and how it was applied in mental health. 

I’m not a world class expert but my over 20 years experience of clinical practice combined with extensive reading including several volumes of the excellent International Perspectives in Philosophy and Psychiatry series and Davidson’s Textbook of Medicine as well as several hundred papers helped qualify me to write this book and luckily OUP agreed.

The book starts with an outline of the medical model as a model of practice – using the best evidence to guide clinical decision-making – and as a model of explanation (currently biopsychosocial not biomedical) and the lack of clear-cut definitions for disease and illness in all of medicine.

Categorical diagnostic constructs are used as an easy way to acquire, learn and recall relevant information for clinical practice. Doctors match the clinical picture of the patient to the best matching clinical picture of a diagnostic construct. These constructs carry attached information such as on prognosis, complications or treatment effectiveness. 

Diagnostic constructs are classified on similarities of clinical picture, changes in structure/ process and/or causes. They are used to represent several different types of conditions such as spectrums with health, spectrums of conditions, injuries or problems thought to benefit from healthcare professionals’ interventions. Doctors work as part of teams and the medical model is not the only way and not always the best way to help people with the problems they come with to services.

The book then discusses some relevant papers to identify criticisms of psychiatric diagnostic constructs and treatments. The best comparison is with general medicine and the rest of the book analyses the relevant evidence which shows there is significant overlap between psychiatry and general medicine – for example both their diagnostic constructs often lack clear boundaries with healthy states, lack clear boundaries between each other and require additional information apart from diagnosis to guide clinical decision making, lack of knowledge of biological mechanisms or causes and the importance of social factors as well as overlapping effectiveness of their treatments which in both psychiatry and medicine which in both specialties are usually not cures or reverse diseases. 

Psychiatry is thus a member of family of the medical specialties despite the claims of its’ critics but necessarily must work in a multidisciplinary way and diagnostic constructs whilst the most useful classification for social purpose such as access to welfare and administration are often not ideal for different ways of working with mental health patients such as psychotherapy.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Factor One, Familiarity and Frontal Cortex

In this post, Phil Corlett, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, discusses some of the ideas in his paper ‘Factor one, familiarity and frontal cortex: a challenge to the two-factor theory of delusions’ recently published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuropsychiatry.

Over recent years, Imperfect Cognitions has become the premier hub and outlet for work on the neurobiology and cognitive psychology of delusions. It has featured my work on aberrant prediction error and delusions in schizophrenia (Corlett et al., 2007), and work that conceptually replicates it (Kaplan et al., 2016). There has been work, also highlighted on the blog, from neurological patients that suggest instead that a 2-factor explanation of delusions may be more appropriate (Darby et al., 2017), although that work was not conclusive (McKay and Furl, 2017).

It has all garnered much interest. Partly because delusions inherently fascinating, I think, and partly because the arguments being waged have clinical import as well as more broad appeal – they are about our beliefs, which we all cherish and often find hard to relinquish. These debates also factor on how best to map the mind and brain. Whilst the debate is about delusions, it has more wide-ranging implications.

Recently I uncovered something in the literature which I believe undermines the 2-factor theory of delusions (Davies et al., 2001, Coltheart, 2010, Coltheart et al., 2011). I believe this discovery warrants our consideration, and, my own reflection has led me to raise four objections to the factor theory of delusions. Two of those are about the control cases who are a foundational for the 2-factor theory of Capgras delusion (the flagship of the 2-factor explanatory fleet). 

Thursday 6 June 2019

Exploring Mental Health in Art and Film

In today's post we announce two events celebrating the work of project PERFECT, both to be held later this month. Both events are part of the Arts and Science Festival at the University of Birmingham. PERFECT hosted three academic workshops, one on belief in 2016, one on memory in 2017, and one on confabulation in 2018. In 2019 we want to see whether some core themes of the project can be conveyed to a wider public via the means of artistic expression.

We have planned the screening of a film, Mani Rosse (Red Hands) by Francesco Filippi; and an art exhibition entitled Pouring Water Through a Telescope in collaboration with the Art Recovery Group at the Barber Institute. Both events celebrate the role of imagination in promoting growth and healing. Both events explore the importance of personal relationships in wellbeing and success.


Film screening

Where: Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham 
When: 18th June, doors open at 6pm.
For whom: All welcome. Film suitable for young adults (+12). Tickets free.

Luna and Ernesto in Red Hands

The film addresses issues of domestic violence and friendship. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with experts in youth mental health and there will be an opportunity for the audience to ask questions to the film director and the experts.

For some more information, and to read a statement by the director, go here.

  • Francesco Filippi, director and screenwriter.
  • Michael Larkin, clinical psychologist, Aston University.
  • Bonny Astor, facilitator who leads philosophy and mental health discussion groups.
  • Gemma Hickman and Lucy Wright, experts by experience.
Register for the film screening for free on this Eventbrite page.


Art exhibition

Where: ERI Building Foyer, Edgbaston Campus, Birmingham
When: 26th June, 5:30-7:30pm. Just drop in.
For whom: All welcome. Refreshments available. Tickets free.

Every Passing Hour by Magdalena Antrobus

This is a special event, part of the Green Heart Festival at the University of Birmingham. This Summer, the theme of the Festival is CELEBRATION, and with this art exhibition we celebrate the power of imagination as a means of self-discovery, healing, and growth.

Please join us after work for a drink and some finger food to see some beautiful artwork, meet the artists, and learn more about project PERFECT. One of the artists exhibiting, Magdalena Antrobus, was a PhD student on project PERFECT in 2014-2017 (with a thesis on epistemic and psychological benefits of depression) and is now a full-time artist.

Register for the art exhibition for free on this Eventbrite page.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

The Pursuit of Resonant Meaning

In which I confabulate (in a sense I’ll leave up to the reader to determine) about my recent paper “Confabulation, Explanation, and the Pursuit of Resonant Meaning”. This is the final post in our series dedicated to our special issue “Philosophical Perspectives on Confabulation” in Topoi, so let me take the opportunity to thank all of the authors for contributing to what I think has turned out to be a fantastic resource on current philosophical and psychological thinking on the topic. You can revisit the other posts in the the series (and find links to the full papers) here.

I don’t really understand ball sports.

I mean that in the sense that, if I’m ever a spectator to a bunch of people throwing/kicking/hitting an inflated spherical object around a pitch, I’m usually not familiar with the rules, and I just don’t get a lot of what’s going on, and end up losing interest.

But I also mean it in the sense that I am just not stirred up by a lot of the grandiose sports discourse: the highs, the lows, the dreams made and the dreams dashed, the operatics of the turf…honestly, isn’t it just a ball rolling around?

And yet, this sort of extravagant sports talk is a nice illustration of something we humans commonly do: explain events not simply with a view to ellucidating the causal relations therein, but imposing a sense of narrative which strikes a chord with our audience. Indeed, research suggests that sports teams commonly use narratives to illustrate the triumphs and tribulations of their game.

One example is the use of the hero to villain to hero narrative used to redeem a player who scores after a second attempt (Cunliffe and Coupland 2011). Scoring of course implicates the player’s skill, but also depends on factors beyond their control (e.g. trajectory and speed of the ball, the local effects of the weather, and so on…). Yet the notion of the redeemed hero makes a better story than “well, actually she just got lucky that time because the sun wasn’t in her eyes”.