Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Goodbye PERFECT (Lisa)


This is a post in a series where we are reflecting on the end of project PERFECT, offer an overview of our activities, and look at the future!

So it's me first.


Yesterday the project officially ended, after five intense and wonderful years. We did achieve the goals that we set for ourselves, investigating what we call the epistemic innocence of beliefs that are irrational and often false. Epistemic innocence is the capacity some beliefs have to support epistemic agency despite their obvious epistemic costs. In other words, it is good for us to have those beliefs in some respects, even if the beliefs themselves are not well-supported by, or responsive to, evidence.

Our main focus was on those belief-like states that can be at the same time common in the non-clinical population and symptomatic of mental health issues: delusional beliefs, distorted memory beliefs, and confabulatory explanations.

Indeed, we investigated these three cases in some depth, Ema Sullivan-Bissett and Andrea Polonioli focusing on delusion and belief, Kathy Puddifoot on memory, and Sophie Stammers on confabulation. However, we significantly extended the number of cases to investigate, covering also those beliefs that seem to be due to implicit bias (thanks to Kathy's and Sophie's interest and strong background in the topic) and those that are produced as a result of optimism bias (Anneli Jefferson was instrumental here). We also connected epistemic innocence to the literature on the ethics of belief and epistemic normativity (thanks to Ema) and to traditional issues concerning rationality and good reasoning (thanks to Andrea).

The project developed in other, unexpected, ways with a thread of research on complex emotions that can be to some extent epistemically innocent (such as loneliness and boredom). We also reflected on the role of personal relationships and social context in the formation of those beliefs and the manifestation of those emotions that have been the object of our study. In this aspect of the project, Michael Larkin was a pivotal influence, conceptually and methodologically, and made a substantial contribution to the training of our shining PhD students, Magdalena Antrobus and Valeria Motta.

We hosted three academic workshops, in 2016, 2017, and 2018 and published extensively, within the core team and in collaboration with network members too. We guest-edited two special issues of well-established philosophy journals (an issue of Philosophical Explorations on False but Useful Beliefs and an issue of Topoi on Philosophical Perspectives on Confabulation), and secured open access for all the original contributions gathered in those issues. We also published an open access book, Delusions in Context, and prepared a monograph, aptly called Epistemic Innocence, which is in press.

Outreach and impact activities

Investigating all the interesting issues above, we wanted to be able to disseminate our results as widely as possible, which was consistent with our aim of undermining mental health stigma by promoting an understanding of the human mind according to which mental health and mental illness are continuous.

We used this blog as a platform and we organised six events as part of the Arts and Science Festival, with topics ranging from domestic violence to hallucinations, from the role of imagination in recovery to self-management of mood changes in bipolar experiences. We stepped out of our comfort zone very frequently, organising art exhibitions, hosting film screenings, and getting children to play with emotions lego... It was all great fun!

Sophie will talk about her experience with creating a pop-up philosophy group and engaging mental health service users, service providers, carers, and campaigners in project PERFECT's work. Here I will just take the opportunity to thank Akiko Hart and Bonny Astor at Mind in Camden, Antonis Kousoulis and Jolie Goodman at the Mental Health Foundation, and our friends at SureSearch for invaluable support throughout the project. We know it is not easy to work with academics...

So did we make an impact? Probably too early to say! We did spread the word, on radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, blogs, posters, and in schools, theatres, festivals, museums. The result is a long list of accessible resources you can browse on the PERFECT website.

The Future

Well, PERFECT people will keep in touch and keep collaborating! Our blog will continue with one new post a week and will bring you updates on project developments. And we will all start new projects. Mine is on stories.

Don't forget us!

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