Wednesday 19 June 2024

"I forgot that you existed": Making people responsible for their memories

This post is Marina Trakas, a philosopher and cognitive scientist interested in the ethical and epistemological aspects of memories of our personal past.


Marina Trakas

In a recent empirical study published in the American Psychologist, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin (Yan et al. 2024) investigated a novel and relatively unexplored factor possibly contributing to the gender gap in science, particularly in citation practices: memory mechanisms. They found that during a free recall task, wherein professors were asked to remember the names of experts and rising stars in their field, male professors (but not their female counterparts) underrepresented women researchers compared to a set of baselines. 

One possible explanation for this finding could be that male professors either did not remember female names or recalled fewer of them due to a lack of memory traces of these names. If they never encoded this information, they cannot remember it, given that this information is not available for retrieval. This explanation seems straightforward, but it is unlikely to be the right kind of explanation. 

Why is it unlikely? Everyone would probably agree that nowadays, it is highly improbable that these male professors never meet or hear about a tenured female colleague working on similar topics. It might occasionally occur in tightly knit inner circles within certain fields where there are only a handful of people working on the topic. However, such instances are quite rare when considering the broader field to which this subfield may belong. But there are more than just intuitive reasons to doubt this initial potential explanation. 

The same researchers conducted a series of additional tests to ensure that the tendency to remember more male names was not simply due to availability. First, they examined the order in which names were recalled: while male professors were unlikely to recall a woman’s name near the beginning of the list, the likelihood of recalling female experts increased as the list progressed, suggesting that female names were indeed available but took more time to come to mind. 

Secondly, to further explore this possibility, they included a recognition task where lists of famous researchers’ names were presented for later recall. Male names were not recognized more frequently than female names, as would have been expected under the availability hypothesis, indicating that female names were just as available as male names. All of this points to an accessibility bias (for a distinction between availability and accessibility, see Tulving & Pearlstone 1966): existing stereotypes, as well as less exposure to female researchers and greater social closeness with male researchers, may make female names less accessible to men when considering whom to cite and whom to invite.

Then the question that arises is: what should we do to remember better and have more inclusive memories in academia? Let’s revisit the availability hypothesis and the accessibility hypothesis, as they both suggest different approaches.

A strong interpretation of the availability hypothesis would suggest that when women and people from underrepresented groups in academia are not cited or invited to participate in academic activities, it is simply because their names are not available to those making decisions, who are often men. Their names do not come to their mind because there is no trace of them at all. Perhaps an initial stereotype influenced perception, attention, or encoding processes, resulting in the information about a less frequently encountered female researcher not being retained for later recall. 

However, it is not the male professor’s fault for not remembering that female researcher. Although the male professor could have made more effort to pay attention to her, there is nothing else he could have done after that initial stage. He has no control over memory processes after that stage, as consolidation processes are mostly unconscious and involuntary. Therefore, male researchers cannot be held responsible for these non-inclusive memories that overlook female researchers. 

This holds true in two ways: these memories cannot be properly attributed to them as expressions of their agency, much less as expression of their values; and these men cannot be held accountable for their memories, as it would not be reasonable for others to have specific expectations and demands regarding what they should remember when they have no control over it (for the distinction between attributability and accountability, see Zheng 2016). In conclusion, a strong interpretation of the availability hypothesis suggests that people cannot be held even minimally responsible for their memories: who we remember or forget, and how we remember the past, are largely beyond our control.

A strong interpretation of the accessibility hypothesis paints a completely different picture of the responsibility for our memories, suggesting that we bear some level of responsibility. Thus, male researchers can be blamed for misremembering or forgetting the names of female researchers when considering citations or invitations. Since many of these names have been encoded and are indeed accessible, albeit at a slower rate than those of their male counterparts, failing to remember them or remembering them only as a last resort indicates a form of vice. But what kind of vice? To address this question, it would be useful to examine the actions that these male researchers could have taken to exhibit greater virtue in remembering.

Firstly, they could have exercised more caution and refrained from blindly trusting the first names that came to mind. Blindly trusting the first memories that come to mind in all circumstances can be pernicious, both to others and oneself (for instance, when influenced by a negative mood, only recalling negative aspects of a past experience that reinforce that mood). We do not always have to believe the first memory that pops up in our mind; we can adopt various epistemic attitudes toward memory, including skepticism toward spontaneously recalled memories (Trakas 2021). When such memories have the potential to cause harm and there are no time constraints, consciously and voluntarily exercising our metacognitive abilities to better control and monitor our memories can help prevent or mitigate their potential negative effects.

For example, deliberately focusing on and examining a past experience that initially appears entirely negative can lead to the recollection of more neutral or even positive aspects of that experience. Similarly, concentrating on and thoroughly searching for experts’ names in their field can enable male researchers to remember a more diverse range of names and avoid solely focusing on their socially close male colleagues who come to mind first. These processes of monitoring and control can involve conscious, voluntary mental actions, where one attempts to enhance one’s own memories by searching within one’s own mind, or conscious, voluntary pragmatic actions that entail interaction with the external world and others, such as consulting other colleagues or conducting online literature searches, an option also highlighted by the authors of the aforementioned empirical study (Trakas 2019).

The issue is that these actions do not happen automatically. Engaging in them first requires certain kinds of knowledge. Understanding our own memory capabilities and limitations is crucial to determine when these additional actions are needed. For instance, knowing if one struggles to recall the names of female colleagues when organizing an event, or often tends to automatically endorse the first memories that come to one’s mind, is essential for recognizing when extra effort is necessary to have better memories. However, it is not just knowledge about our individual memory abilities that is important; understanding the general workings of memory may also be crucial. 

Preliminary findings from an ongoing study I am conducting with psychologist Ryan Daley (Gordon College, US) and philosopher Kate Finley (Hope College, US), as part of a project supported by the Summer Seminars in Neuroscience and Philosophy (Duke University/Templeton World Charity Foundation), suggest that certain metaphors used to conceptualize memory may lead to misconceptions about how memory functions. 

The more people consider memory as akin to a hard drive, recording device, or mental time travel, the less likely they are to believe that memory can be biased and influence our decisions and actions towards others, potentially causing harm. While we are still researching whether these memory metaphors also impact memory performance, it is plausible that socially circulating concepts and beliefs about memory, internalized by individuals, also shape their processes of memory monitoring and control, as well as their beliefs and evaluations of their own memory abilities.

But knowledge alone is clearly insufficient. Engaging in mental or pragmatic actions to form better memories also requires certain virtues. Not only the epistemic virtue of seeking knowledge about one’s own memory and memory in general, but also, and more importantly, other epistemic virtues such as avoiding overconfidence in one’s memories, being open to revising one’s own memories, and being receptive to others’ perspectives on a shared past, among others. These virtues, which can collectively be termed mnemonic humility, as they all relate to recognizing the limitations and fallibility of memory, are essential for motivating mental and pragmatic actions in our pursuit of better memories.

Virtue and knowledge appear to be deeply intertwined in memory enhancement. Neither is alone sufficient, but both are indispensable. As they enable us to exert some degree of control over our memory processes after encoding, we can be held responsible for misremembering and forgetting, in a twofold sense. Memories can be attributed to individuals since they are, at least in part, reflections of their agency and values, and thus, of their selves. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that individuals would be held accountable for their erroneous, distorted memories, and memory omissions.

This is certainly an imperfect duty, meaning that “we cannot simply ignore it, but we are not obliged to dedicate all our time and resources to it” (Zheng 2016, p. 73). It also ultimately relies on people’s good intentions, which are grounded in moral values such as equality, justice, and inclusion, and perhaps even a sense of caring towards others, including strangers. A person who is racist, misogynistic, or narcissistic will never engage in these additional metacognitive actions because they lack the inherent motivation: to be fair, inclusive, and compassionate towards others. They may even deliberately suppress a memory if a female name spontaneously comes to mind (see this). Fortunately, there are individuals out there, including within academia, who possess good intentions. As I have attempted to demonstrate, these individuals are also morally responsible for remembering better and more inclusively.


Wednesday 12 June 2024

Responsible Agency and the Importance of Moral Audience

Today's post is by Anneli Jefferson and Katrina Sifferd. Anneli is a lecturer at Cardiff University who works in the philosophy of psychology, moral philosophy, and the intersection of the two. Katrina is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Elmhurst College. In this post they discuss their recent paper in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.


Anneli Jefferson


Accounts of responsibility often underestimate the importance of the social environment. Other people are vital to the development and maintenance of moral agency: As social beings, we calibrate our moral compass to our moral audience. When deciding whether it is acceptable to eat the last piece of cake, not to disclose extra earnings on a tax return or spank our children as a form of punishment, we do this with an eye to what’s considered acceptable by our social environment. The reactions of others highlight the existence and importance of moral norms by providing us with feedback, directly and indirectly.


Katrina Sifferd


One account that does take an ecological approach is Victoria McGeer’s scaffolded reasons-responsive view; she argues that what makes us morally responsible agents is precisely that we are susceptible to being held to account and to adjust our moral judgment and actions in the light of moral feedback. However, this view faces certain challenges. First, some agents (e.g. autistic people) seem less attuned to the reaction of their (neurotypical) social environments but are generally no less moral and law abiding. Second, in some cases moral audiences can give morally bad feedback: for example, they can encourage misogynistic or racist behaviour. In a recent article we advocate for an ecological approach to responsibility that recognises the importance of moral audiences and attempt to answer these two concerns.

We argue that audience feedback in the form of blame and praise, reward and punishment plays both an informational and a motivational role in moral agency. The informational role – where we are given information about what is right and wrong – is more central in moral development and when facing new moral challenges. The motivational role remains relevant throughout our lives and keeps us in alignment with our social environment. 

Autistic persons form social attachments and are motivated to align themselves with moral expectations. They also make use of the informational role in development, although sometimes moral feedback will have to be more explicit than it might otherwise be. Autistic individuals may however be less reliant on social feedback for ongoing calibration of behavior and rely more on moral rules and principles. As we have discussed elsewhere, this may not be a weakness, and can in some cases be a strength, especially when it comes to avoiding the human tendency for moral slippage and making exceptions to moral rules (e.g., “Half the people I know lied on their tax forms, why shouldn’t I?”).

The human tendency for moral slippage is well illustrated in scenarios where societal sub-groups justify behavior that is in tension with their professed values, or when new problematic values are acquired from one’s social environment. This is the second challenge to ecological accounts: moral audiences can shape us in problematic ways. Think about the way people’s moral views can shift to accommodate current interests. One prominent example is the disconnect between climate commitments and actual behaviour. 

Flying is socially acceptable despite our keen awareness of climate change. More extreme examples are those where societies or subgroups of society adopt norms that justify oppression. A historical example was the widespread acceptance of slavery; current day examples include the views of Incels, who create a self-reinforcing social environment that justifies misogyny and violence towards women. Being a social creature that calibrates their moral compass to what is being reinforced in one’s immediate social environment is a risky business.

This doesn’t mean that ecological views of responsibility are psychologically incorrect. Our moral agency is dependent on societal audiences, for better or worse and to varying degrees. Given this, it is important to be aware that moral audiences are limited in their outlook, and that one good place to look for possible sources of those limitations is self-interest. We also ought to evaluate our moral norms for consistency, and to seek out new moral audiences, especially audiences comprising of those who may be negatively impacted by our behaviour.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Intruders in the Mind

In this post, Pablo López–Silva and Tom McClelland present their new edited book, Intruders in the Mind: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Thought Insertion (OUP 2023).



Thought insertion is a rare delusion most often found among those suffering from schizophrenia. It is characterised by subjects reporting that entities have introduced thoughts or ideas into their minds. Although the structure of these reports shows similarities, the external agents that subjects identify are highly variable: some identify individuals such as celebrities or relatives; some identify groups such as aliens or the government; others identify objects like radios, houses or trees. In an oft-cited case, one patient reports ‘…thoughts are put into my mind like “Kill God”, it’s just like my mind working, but it isn’t. They come from this chap, Chris. They are his thoughts’ (Frith, 1992, p. 66). 

This delusion raises a host of philosophical questions about the phenomenology of thought, our sense of ownership and agency over our own thinking and the boundary between self and world. This then feeds into more concrete questions about what causes these delusions and how they can be effectively treated. Intruders in the Mind is the first edited collection dedicated to this under-explored phenomenon and brings together work from philosophers, psychologists and psychiatrists. The collection is divided into four sections that deal with different aspects of thought insertion.

The first section - ‘Characterizing Alien Thoughts’ - considers how best to describe and define thought insertion. Roberta Payne offers a revealing personal account of her own experience of schizophrenia, anchoring the collection in the lived-experience of those suffering from the delusion. Clara Humpston & Matthew Broome draw on patient experiences to shed new light on the question of whether delusions of thought insertion are best characterized as beliefs. Following a phenomenological approach, Aaron Mishara, Pablo López–Silva, Cherise Rose & Andreas Heinz explores the often-neglected physicality of inserted thoughts i.e. patients’ describing thoughts as inserted into their minds as having physical properties. 


Pablo López-Silva

In Chapter 4 Michelle Maisse draws on ecological psychology, enactivism and phenomenology in her account of thought insertion as a disruption to how affordances for mental action are disclosed to the subject. In the fifth chapter Sam Wilkinson explores the contrast between inserted thoughts and auditory-verbal hallucinations and, in Chapter 6, Jasper Feyaerts & Wouter Kusters propose that schizophrenia is characterised by an attitude of preoccupation with and reflection on the world that is deeply akin to the attitude to the world adopted by philosophers.

The second section - ‘Explaining Thought Insertion’ - targets the problem about the aetiology of thought insertion. Catherine Cazimir & Al Powers explore the mechanistic and neural commonalities between thought insertion and auditory-verbal hallucination. Pablo López–Silva & Álvaro Cavieres then look at the merits and limitations of a predictive-processing approach to thought-insertion. In Chapter 9 Kengo Miyazono proposes a two-factor account according to which thought-insertion involves both experiential alterations and cognitive alterations. 

In the tenth chapter, Emilia Vilatta also proposes a multi-factorial model. Synthesising a deficit approach and motivational approach, she offers a nuanced account of the causal role played by different elements in the production of inserted thoughts. Finally, Peter Langland–Hassan offers an alternative account of thought insertion. He characterizes the delusion as a form of persecutory delusion that requires a distinctive form of clinical intervention.

The third section - ‘Experimental and Therapeutic Approaches to TI’ - begins with a chapter by Elisa Brann, Eamonn Walsh, Mitul A. Mehta, David A. Oakley & Quinton Deeley who propose experiments that might be able to produce relevant alterations in experience under controlled conditions. In Chapter 13 Alice Pailhès, Jay Olson & Gustav Kuhn suggest that experimental research can draw lessons from the practice of magic, including how magicians putting thoughts into people’s minds. 

Kentaro Hiromitsu & Tomohisa Asai shed light on the neurobiological underpinnings of thought insertion by focusing on the role played by the cerebellum. Working at the interface of theory and therapeutic practice, Susana Ochoa’s chapter argues that schizophrenia involves metacognitive dysfunction and explores what this means for therapeutic interventions. 


Tom McClelland


The fourth and final section - ‘Beyond the Phenomenon’ - focuses on how thought insertion challenges entrenched assumptions regarding the ontology of thought. Jordi Fernández argues that the experience of owning one’s conscious state is the experience of being committed to the content of that state, suggesting that thought insertion is a disruption to that sense of commitment. 

In the the final chapter of the edited book, Johannes Roessler challenges the common ‘no-subject’ interpretation of thought insertion according to which subjects are aware of thoughts without being aware of themselves as the thinker of that thought. 

Taken as a whole, the collection yields much-needed insights into the perplexing phenomenon of thought insertion. Beyond this, it serves as a valuable example of how disciplinary boundaries can be broken down in the pursuit of a greater understanding of the mind.


Wednesday 29 May 2024

Transparency and mindfulness

Today's post is by Victor Lange (University of Copenhagen) and Thor Grünbaum (University of Copenhagen) on their recent paper, "Transparency and the mindfulness opacity hypothesis" (The Philosophical Quarterly, 2023) 

Victor Lange

Imagine that you are standing in front of Delacroix’s famous painting, Liberty Leading the People. In one situation, you might perceive the lines and colours as objects and properties of objects. The yellowness appear as the woman’s dress and the thin light blueness appear as the sky above her. In such a case, we say that these properties appear as representational properties. 

In another situation, you might perceive the lines and colours as merely paint on the canvas. Say that you are interested in Delacroix’s technique, so you move closer to examine his brush strokes. Here, the yellowness and light blue do not appear as objects or properties of objects. Instead, they appear as features of the painting itself. In such case, we say that the properties appear as non-representational properties.  

Thor Grünbaum

Philosophers disagree about whether our own experiences are like paintings in the sense that the properties of our experiences can appear both as representational and as non-representational properties. For example, can the redness of the apple in front of me appear both as a representational property (i.e., a property of the apple) and a non-representational property (i.e., not as a property of the apple but as a property of something else, e.g., my mental state). 

Many philosophers have argued that the properties of our experience can only appear as representational properties. That is, when we introspect our own experience of the apple, we ‘look right through’ our experience. We simply become more aware of the apple and its properties. Philosophers sometimes call this view the Transparency thesis (TT). 

Although TT has been popular, it is controversial. In our paper, ‘Transparency and the Mindfulness Opacity Hypothesis’, we investigate an idea that is prominent in the scientific mindfulness literature. This is the idea that mindfulness meditation enables states of introspective awareness where some properties of our experience genuinely appear as non-representational properties. Call this the Mindfulness Opacity Hypothesis (MOH). Even though MOH is widespread among researchers, it has remained philosophically underdeveloped. 

Building upon a review of relevant mindfulness literature, we argue that (i) mindfulness meditation involves a shift in experiential perspective; (ii) individuals differ in the scope of how many properties shift from appearing as representational to non-representational properties; (iii) this scope depends upon an individual’s skill in mindfulness meditation. 

TT-fans and strong representationalists will most like not be persuaded. They might object that we build (i)-(iii) upon a dubious philosophical interpretation of the current mindfulness literature. We reply that future work in experimental philosophy is relevant in investigating whether there is any force in this objection. 

They might also object that MOH and (i)-(iii) make controversial assumptions about the nature of introspection. We argue that this is not the case. We assume nothing that is controversial or outrageous. In fact, trusting the science of mindfulness, philosophical theories of self-awareness and introspection leave plenty of room to develop MOH in terms of various forms of introspective dynamics. 

In conclusion, MOH is a novel and well-grounded objection to TT.


Wednesday 22 May 2024

Inclusive Language in Perinatal and Postnatal Care

In this post, Kathleen interviews Matthew Cull (University of Edinburgh), Jules Holroyd (University of Sheffield), and Fiona Woollard (University of Southampton) on their funded exchange project 'Inclusive Language in Perinatal and Postnatal Care'. 


Poster from
https://engagedphilosophy.org/inclusive/


Hello! Can you tell us a little bit about your recent project?

The project is a knowledge exchange project, about how to make language gender inclusive in perinatal and postnatal care. We’ve recently written a paper, which we’re nearly ready to submit for publication, about how standard approaches to inclusive language tend to be ‘monistic’: they aim to use one strategy, either making language gender-neutral (e.g. replacing ‘pregnant women’ with ‘pregnant people’) or gender additive (e.g. writing ‘pregnant women, trans men and nonbinary people’).

Working through a number of case studies, we find that no single strategy can meet the moral and communicative goals in all contexts. And, in fact, when attempts at using inclusive language are not done as well as they might be, this can fuel backlash and resistance to inclusion. Instead, a ‘pluralistic’ approach, which uses a range of linguistic devices, is needed. This means that reforms have to be done on a case by case basis, with careful eye on those goals in the particular context. But this is quite labour and time intensive, and there are a lot of potential cases! So we applied for knowledge exchange funds to support work with particular practitioners and policy makers on how to improve inclusive language.


How did the members of your group become interested in these issues?

My (Jules) experiences of pregnancy and childbirth were fraught with discomfort at the highly gendered aspects of it (e.g. being called ‘mum’ at every midwife appointment, having to sign up to taking ‘maternity’ leave). Shortly after having my first child, I worked with Matthew on a paper that applied Dembroff and Wodak’s work on gender-neutral pronouns to parenting labels, and we argued that using gender-neutral parenting labels (‘parent’ rather than ‘mother’ or ‘father’; ‘parental’ rather than ‘maternal’ or ‘paternal’) were both supported by Dembroff & Wodak’s arguments, and easily implementable in (e.g.) higher education parental leave policies. (The paper is forthcoming here. We’re still working on persuading our institutions to make those changes though!!).

Matthew themselves came to these issues through trans philosophy, and especially thinking about how we can use language to reshape our social practices to make the world a better place to be transgender. Whilst their book (What Gender Should Be, available in all good bookshops next year) focused mainly on engineering our concepts of gender, they have recently been getting more and more annoyed with how trans healthcare is run.

Meanwhile, Fiona had argued that our expectations of mothers are over-demanding in a way that harms parents, causing guilt, shame and feelings of being judged and required to justify their parenting decisions partly around hot button topics like infant feeding. She had originally spoken about harm to mothers, because these expectations did seem to be specifically around motherhood. However, she met parents who were treated as mothers - and so directly affected by overdemanding expectations of mothers - but did not see themselves as mothers. 

She began exploring what makes a parent count as a mother, and how gender impacts our experiences of parental duties. Fiona became aware that arguments against inclusive language seemed to be influencing policy makers and activists in infant feeding, and thought that a philosophical response was needed, so got in touch. We started writing a response paper, and over the course of doing so, we came to the conclusion that none of the existing approaches to inclusion alone were adequate, and formulated our own pluralistic approach, as described above. Our project poster gives a snapshot of the approach we take.


What is important about the topic and what do you hope it will contribute to ongoing work/debates?

We think the heavily gendered language in and around perinatal care alienates a lot of people: lesbian, bisexual and gay couples, surrogate families, and even cisgender heterosexual people who dislike the connotations of being called ‘mums and dads’. However, we’re especially concerned with the effects of this kind of exclusive language on trans people who might want to access perinatal care. Over 1% of births in England are to people whose gender does not match that which they were assigned at birth (CQC Maternity Survey 2022, see also Pearce et al 2023). 

Recent reports on the experiences of trans and non-binary people accessing perinatal care indicate that “28% of trans and non-binary respondents [to a survey about perinatal care] said they were not treated with dignity and respect during labour and birth” (LGBT Foundation, 2022, 9). Interviewees in the report describe their experiences of exclusion, and the harms experienced as a result:

“I felt there was no framework of language that was inclusive of people who do not identify within the gender binary so it was consistently a triggering experience” (2022, 22).

Yet, the NHS handbooks commit to values of respect, equality, and dignity. Moreover, their style guide explicitly makes a commitment to using inclusive language where possible. Clearly, there is a gap between aspiration and reality. And, we acknowledge, using inclusive language can be hard and sometimes involves carefully navigating competing goals. It is worth making the time to have discussions about inclusive formulations, and how to balance those competing values.

As a bunch of philosophers with (collective) expertise in pregnancy and parenthood and trans philosophy, and with a range of relevant experiences in this area, it felt like we could really say something useful about it, with the hope of improving things! The aim is to equip people writing public facing documents with a ‘conceptual toolkit’ to approach future writings. Since language is evolving, no one phrasing will be adequate forever, but feeling comfortable with the competing goals and challenges can better equip people to communicate in an inclusive way.


What are the future plans for the project?

The aim is to run a couple of workshops over the course of the project. We’d like these to have a ‘troubleshooting’ style format, where people bring resources they’d like to make (more) inclusive, and that we can work through together with a ‘conceptual toolkit’ on hand. It is very much a knowledge exchange project, as the different examples people bring help us to formulate and finesse our understanding of what inclusive language involves. For example, in our paper, we work through 6 different examples, from different sources (e.g. NHS public facing materials, government advice pages), about care in a range of contexts - tests available if you’re pregnant; risks of covid vaccinations for those who are pregnant; support during childbirth; post-natal checks offered; support for infant feeding, and cervical screening. Each example we considered posed a different set of challenges that required careful thought: simply pressing Ctrl-F and replacing all instances of ‘women’ with ‘people’ doesn’t always cut it!

So we’d love to have as many conversations, about as many different perinatal and postnatal care contexts as possible. And our overarching hope is that collaborative work helps to make care more inclusive in future.

If you’d like to participate in the project - either through ongoing conversations or the upcoming workshops (scheduled for Spring & Summer 2024), please do get in touch with us! You can fill out this form to express interest in participation, or email us directly.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

From Altered States to Metaphysics: The Epistemic Status of Psychedelic-induced Metaphysical Beliefs

Today's post is by Paweł Gładziejewski (Nicolaus Copernicus University) on his recent paper, "From Altered States to Metaphysics: The Epistemic Status of Psychedelic-induced Metaphysical Beliefs"  (Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 2023).


 Paweł Gładziejewski 


Psychedelic experiences sometimes lead people to revise their belief systems in far-reaching ways. My paper deals with the epistemic status of a particular class of beliefs that people sometimes acquire after a psychedelic session. These are the metaphysical beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality itself. Imagine someone in a deep psychedelic state, where their usual sense of self dissolves into an all-encompassing unity lacking an subject-object distinction. Chances are that the experience will inspire this person to modify her beliefs about the existence of God or the relation between consciousness and the physical world. Is updating metaphysical beliefs in this manner epistemically irrational? Or can psychedelic states, at times, rationally lead to a new perspective on reality? If so, then how?

In my paper, I argue that psychedelic states can play a positive epistemic role in a person’s epistemic life, acting as a (fallible) source of evidence or reasons. I develop this view in three steps.

First, I propose a general account of psychedelic-induced metaphysical belief changes as stemming from an epistemically transformative experience (in a technical sense introduced by Laurie Paul in her seminal work). I point to certain epistemologically relevant aspects of such transformations. For example, they do not involve an impediment of a person’s normal critical/rational faculties (metaphysical beliefs usually crystallize and stabilize during the sober “integration” stage that follows the psychedelic trip itself). Also, such transformations are graded and often involve belief revisions that are much subtler and less epistemically risky than full-blown mystical-experience-based religious conversions.

Second, I propose that psychedelic states can be treated as forms of radical metaphysical imagination, whereby a person temporarily gains a capacity to enter conscious states that are usually unavailable for neurotypical human subjects. These exotic states disrupt the structures of normal experience - related to time, space, or self – that underpin the Sellarsian “manifest” image of the world. As such, psychedelic experiences act as a form of exploration of one’s representational repertoire. I argue that bursts of such exploration can be epistemically beneficial in the long run.

Third, I show how such exploration can yield results that are evidentially relevant for metaphysics. For example, I argue that acute psychedelic experiences can undermine appeals to normal experience made in certain metaphysical debates (e.g. about the passage of time) or that they can validate certain concepts in metaphysics that have previously been posited on purely theoretical grounds (e.g. the notion of non-dual consciousness in recent debates on cosmospychism).

My hope is that this perspective offers a nuanced alternative to other prevalent approaches to the issue at hand. These alternatives include (1) treating psychedelic-induced metaphysical beliefs as ideations lacking any rational foundation or (2) treating such beliefs as directly, non-inferentially justified by their underlying experiences. While the first option might appear preferable to philosophical naturalists, the second tends to be favored by religiously minded authors. But there is an alternative on the table, one that treats non-ordinary experiences as epistemically relevant for metaphysics but evaluates whatever evidence they provide against a broader backdrop that includes other lines of inquiry, including science and philosophical reasoning.


Wednesday 8 May 2024

Interview on the journal 'Passion'

On the blog today, Kathleen speaks to Alfred Archer and Heidi Maibom about the journal 'Passion', which was launched relatively recently. Alfred and Heidi are editors-in-chief of the journal.
 

Alfred Archer

 KMH: Could you tell us a little bit about Passion, and its links to EPSSE?

AA & HM: Certainly. 2014, The European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions (EPSSE) has been going for ten years now and has grown into a wonderful, lively and welcoming group of scholars working on philosophical issues related to emotions. Several years ago, it was suggested that the society could look into starting its own journal . The main reason for this was that while EPSSE’s members were publishing their work in a range of philosophical and interdisciplinary journals, there was no academic journal dedicated to publishing the kinds of papers that EPSSE members were writing. Between 2017 and 2020 the executive board, then led by Achim Stephan, explored various options for starting an open access journal with commercial publishers.

When we took up our positions on the executive committee of the society (together with Joel Krueger), we decided that it would be better to look for a non-commercial publisher, as this would give a better financial deal for both the society and to the authors, as well as allowing the society to decide for itself how it wants the journal to be run. By happy coincidence, Tilburg University (where Alfred works) was just starting an initiative to encourage open science which included the start of an open access publisher, Open Press TiU. By working with Open Press TiU we are able to publish a completely open access journal that is free for both the reader and the author, and with only minimal costs for EPSSE. 

Heidi Maibom

KMH: What inspired you to start the journal?


AA & HM: We both felt that EPSSE was an inspiring group of philosophers, which every year would have a conference full of some of the most interesting philosophical work on emotions and that it was a real pity that there was no journal committed to publishing this kind of research. Having a journal would both be a major boost to the society and help draw attention to the valuable work being done by its members and others doing similarly exciting, cutting-edge, and engaged philosophical work on emotions. This feeling was shared by the other members of the executive board at the time (Max Gatyas, Joel Krueger and Lucy Osler) who are now the journal’s associate editors and who have been crucial in getting the journal started. 

KMH: What kind of topics do you hope to publish about in the journal?

AA & HM: As the title suggests, we are looking for original work on emotions. This could be papers on the nature of emotions generally or on specific emotions, such as guilt, anger, or joy. We are also interested in work on the connection between emotions and human welfare, politics, or art. We publish papers in both the philosophical traditions: analytic and continental. And although this is a philosophical journal, we are pretty ecumenical about what we take a philosophically interesting paper to be. We embrace interdisciplinarity and our own work is heavily influenced by work in fields traditionally external to philosophy, such as psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, history, anthropology, and so on. One does not have to be a card-carrying philosopher to publish in Passion, but the paper should be philosophical in nature. 

KMH: Are there any events or special issues coming up which we should keep an eye out for? 

AA & HM: At this time, we publish two issues a year. One with papers received during the normal course of events, and another which is a special issue. The special issue has historically been connected with a workshop organized in connection with the yearly meeting of EPSSE. Last year, that issue was about co-experienced emotions (which you can read here), and this year it will be on the nature of emotions, and is guest edited by Heidy Meriste. We strongly encourage anybody philosophically inclined to submit their papers to the next issue Passion, which will appear this summer..

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Why it’s important to ask what forms introspection could take

In today's post, François Kammerer and Keith Frankish write about their recent special issue 'What Forms Could Introspective Systems Take?'. François is a philosopher of mind. He holds a PhD from the Sorbonne in Paris (France) and currently works as a postdoc researcher at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (Germany). His work focuses on consciousness and introspection. 

Keith is Honorary Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield, UK, Visiting Research Fellow at The Open University, UK, and Adjunct Professor with the Brain and Mind Programme in Neurosciences at the University of Crete, Greece. He works mainly in the area of philosophy of mind and is well known for his 'illusionist' theory of consciousness. 

François Kammerer

Human beings can introspect. They can look inwards, as it were, at their own minds and tell what thoughts, experiences, and feelings they have. That is, they can form representations of their own current mental states. And they can put these representations to use, flexibly modifying their behaviour in response to information about their own current mental state. For example, on a shopping trip to the supermarket I might suddenly notice that I am extremely hungry. And since I intend to follow a strict diet and know that I am weak-willed, I decide to avoid the confectionery section of the store.

Human introspection has some unusual psychological and epistemological features, especially when contrasted with perception, and philosophers have devoted much time to speculating about it. How exactly does human introspection work? What sort of knowledge does it provide? However, there is a more general question that has been underexplored: What could introspection be? What are the possible ways in which cognitive systems — human or non-human, natural or artificial — could come to represent their own current mental states in a manner that allows them to use the information obtained for flexible behavioural control?

Keith Frankish


It is important to ask this question. If we don’t, we might assume that the human form of introspection is the only possible one, and that if introspection occurs in nonhuman animals, or ever develops in artificial intelligences, it will take the same basic form as our own, with some simplifications or variations. And this assumption might be wrong. For this reason, we have just edited a special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies devoted to exploring the neglected question of what introspection could be.

The issue opens with an article we coauthored, titled ‘What forms could introspective systems take? A research programme’, which serves as a target for the rest of the issue. In it, we argue that the question of what forms introspection could take is an important and fruitful one, and we give a precise, workable formulation of it. The central portion of the article then seeks to provide a preliminary map of the space of possible introspective systems. 

We focus on what we call ‘introspective devices’ — possible mechanisms for producing introspective representations. We propose that such devices can be classified along several dimensions, including, (a) how direct their processing is, (b) how conceptualized their output is, and (c) how flexible their functioning is. We define an introspective system as a set of one or more introspective devices, and we propose that such systems can be ranked in terms of how unified their component devices are.

We then use these dimensions to describe a possibility space, in which one could locate the introspective devices that various theorists have ascribed to humans, as well as a huge range of possible introspective devices that other creatures might employ.

To further refine the space of possible forms of introspection, we also examine what we call ‘introspective repertoires’. An introspective repertoire is a way of grouping and characterizing the mental states that an introspective device targets. For example, human introspection arguably groups together states on the basis of what direction of fit they have, whether they are perceptual or cognitive, and whether or not they possess intentional content, and it characterizes (conceptualizes) each group as such. However, there is no reason to think that all introspective systems would employ the same groupings and characterizations as our own, and we propose a provisional way of mapping other possible introspective repertoires.

Finally, the article proposes a research programme on possible introspective systems. We identify two routes for the exploration of introspective possibilities, one focusing on cases, the other on theories. The former looks at specific cases of introspection, either real or imaginary. Adopting this route, we might examine how different groups of humans introspect, considering differences due to culture, neurodivergence, meditative practice, and so on. We might also look how various non-human animals introspect (if they do) and ask whether and how current AI systems introspect. Finally, we might consider merely possible cases, imagining the forms introspection might take in beings such as aliens and future AIs, which have radically different forms of mentality from our own and different introspective needs.

The theory route, by contrast, involves looking at different theoretical models of introspection and of the mental states that introspection targets. By varying the parameters in these models, we should then be able to identify new introspective possibilities.

In both forms of exploration, the aim is to identify interesting possible forms of introspection — that is, ones that allow for efficient and flexible control of behaviour but are nevertheless different from the familiar human form. All this should give us insight into possible interesting ways in which a mind can introspect.

The special issue also includes fifteen contributions by philosophers and cognitive scientists, each responding in some way to our proposal.

Some contributors make direct comments on, or criticisms of, our research programme (Peter Carruthers & Christopher Masciari, Maja Spener, Daniel Stoljar). Others (Krzysztof Dołęga, Adriana Renero, Wayne Wu) discuss particular models or theories of human introspection in the context of our programme, testing and evaluating the conceptual tools we offer.

Most contributors, however, focus on some particular aspect of our research question. One looks at introspective variation among humans (Stephen Fleming). Others focus on introspection in neurodivergent individuals (Alexandre Billon) and in meditators as conceived in the Buddhist tradition (Bryce Huebner & Sonam Kachru). 

At least three pieces look at introspection in nonhuman animals (Heather Browning & Walter Veit, Maisy Englund & Michael Beran, Jennifer Mather & Michaella Andrade). One piece is devoted to introspection in current AI systems, asking whether Large Language Models, such as ChatGPT, could introspect (Robert Long), and AI introspection is also touched upon in other pieces (Heather Browning & Walter Veit, Krzysztof Dołęga, Stephen Fleming).

Finally, two contributions take a radically speculative perspective. They discuss introspection in imaginary minds very different from ours. One focuses on technologically enhanced humans (Pete Mandik). Another analyzes ‘ancillary’ artificial minds, which are intermediate between singular unified minds and group minds (Eric Schwitzgebel & Sophie Nelson).

This exciting multidisciplinary symposium is followed by a lengthy response paper in which we address the contributors’ arguments and proposals and draw some lessons for our project.

We hope that this special issue succeeds in making the case for the value of research on possible ways in which cognitive systems can introspect and that other researchers will pursue this research — ideally in unexpected directions!

Saturday 27 April 2024

Remembering Daniel Dennett

In this post, blog editors Lisa Bortolotti and Kengo Miyazono talk about how Daniel Dennett's work shaped their intellectual journeys. Lisa and Kengo have worked together on a number of projects, are editors of the journal Philosophical Psychology, and co-authored a textbook in the philosophy of psychology for Polity.


Lisa and Kengo


Lisa

As my graduate research on belief and rationality started in the late nineties, it won’t surprise anyone that Daniel Dennett’s work had a great influence on my ideas and on my way of coming to grips with what being a philosopher of mind involved. I remember reading The Intentional Stance (MIT 1987) many times, and studying the critiques by Stephen Stich and Christopher Cherniak to the notion that ideal rationality governs our practices of belief ascription. I had many questions and some concerns about the intentional stance, but I did love Dennett’s clear writing style and the elegance of his examples. Most of all, I cherished the sense of liberation (from the undue pressures of metaphysics) that I felt when I realised that it was OK to care about beliefs only in so far as we use them to understand each other. 

In May 2019 I got to meet Dennett at an event at the University of Reading where I was a speaker, entitled Growing Autonomy in Human and Artificial Agents. I was so nervous about presenting my work straight after the talk by Keith Frankish and Daniel Dennett! This was a hard act to follow indeed! I argued that there are some irrational beliefs, those that contribute to a view of ourselves as competent, coherent, and efficacious agents, that are instrumental to our pursuing our goals in the face of setbacks and also enhance our chances of attaining our goals. That idea, at the core of the project I was running at the time, had also been inspired by a paper by Ryan McKay and Daniel Dennett on adaptive misbeliefs. While I was walking back to my seat after the presentation, Dennett said he liked my talk and, trust me, that day won’t be forgotten anytime soon. 

My interests have continued to match and be inspired by those of Dennett. I was never particularly intrigued by consciousness but I have always been fascinated by how key notions in the philosophy of mind, such as belief, rationality, agency, and the self, were constantly challenged by experiences and discoveries in the psychological sciences and in mental health research. Dennett managed to combine philosophical rigour and inventiveness with the realisation that the best available empirical evidence is both a powerful inspiration and an unavoidable constraint for the philosopher’s theorising.

This remains his most important lesson to me. In Dennett’s words: 

"The most important job for philosophers is to negotiate traffic between our everyday vision of the world and science".


Kengo

I decided to write my PhD dissertation on delusions after reading Lisa’s book, Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs, which was published in 2010. Lisa’s discussions of delusions in that book adopt a Dennett-Davidson-style interpretationism according to which the (third-personal) interpretation or belief-attribution is constitutive of the mental state of believing. In contrast, Dennett-Davidson-style interpretationism is not suitable for my project. I needed a more robust form of realism about beliefs where the mental state of believing is taken to be a discrete state of a person that is ontologically independent from the (third-personal) interpretation of belief-attribution. 

In my dissertation, I adopt a teleo-functionalist theory of beliefs, where the mental state of believing is defined in terms of its functions in a teleological sense (rather than a causal sense). In preparing the dissertation, while staying in Boston as a visiting student at MIT, I found that Dennett described himself as a teleo-functionalist (in the Appendix A of his Consciousness Explained) but wanted to know more about his commitments. So I visited him at Tufts in 2012. 

He was extremely smart, friendly and generous. He spent several hours in the afternoon with me, clarifying his own views on interpretationism, teleo-functionalism, etc. as well as giving me useful feedback on my dissertation project. That conversation with Dennett in that afternoon was, personally and academically, one of the best moments during my years as a graduate student. Later, when my dissertation turned into my first book Delusions and Beliefs: A Philosophical Inquiry, I included Dennett’s name in the acknowledgement section. 

I learned a lot not only from Dennett's ideas and theories on philosophical issues but also from his insight into how philosophy needs to be done, and how philosophers need to behave in philosophical debates. One of my favorite quotes from Dennett is "Dennett-Rapoport rules" (in this book) for criticising another philosopher's view: 

"1 You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.

2 You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3 You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

4 Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism."


Wednesday 24 April 2024

First-person perspectives and scientific inquiry of autism

Today’s post is by Sarah Arnaud (Clemson University) on her recent paper, "First-person perspectives and scientific inquiry of autism: towards an integrative approach" (Synthese 2023).

Sarah Arnaud

In my paper, "First-person perspectives and scientific inquiry of autism: towards an integrative approach," published in Synthese, I analyse the essential role of first-person perspectives in enriching our comprehension of autism. This paper explores the interplay between scientific inquiry, activism, and the personal experiences of autistics, advocating for an approach that integrates insights from these varied sources.

The paper begins by confronting widespread misconceptions about autism, focusing particularly on the debate concerning the impact of science and activism in shaping our collective understanding of autism. I analyze the perspectives of Ian Hacking and Kenneth Kendler, two influential figures in this discourse. Hacking argues for the predominance of activism in influencing public perception and understanding of autism, while Kendler highlights the indispensable role of scientific research.

Moving beyond this debate, I critically evaluate the perceived dichotomy between scientific methodologies and activism in autism studies. I underline the significant contributions of the Neurodiversity movement and Critical Autism Studies, arguing that these perspectives have brought crucial comprehension to the autism discourse by effectively combining scientific research with activism. These approaches have not only enhanced our understanding but also fostered a more inclusive view of autism.

Central to my paper is the argument for incorporating autistic people’s perspectives in autism research. I claim that integrating these firsthand experiences is crucial for the validity of the autism category. This integration is examined through three distinct dimensions: content validity, criterion-related validity, and construct validity. Content validity deals with how comprehensively the autism category covers the diverse manifestations of autism. Criterion-related validity assesses the empirical correlations between the autism category and external standards, such as treatment responses. In the case of autism, the lack of response to alleged treatments is informative. Construct validity concerns the accuracy with which autism is differentiated from other categories and the effectiveness in identifying actual instances of autism.

A key aspect of my argument is the valuable and unique contributions that the perspectives of autistics bring. These perspectives not only challenge existing preconceptions and stereotypes about autism but also pave the way for more nuanced and accurate research. They offer a perspective through which we can understand the complexities of autism, leading to advancements in both theoretical and practical aspects of autism research.

In conclusion, I strongly advocate for an integrative approach to understanding autism, one that combines scientific research, activism, and the knowledge or experiences of autistic people. This approach, I argue, is indispensable for gaining a comprehensive and empathetic understanding of autism. Overall, my paper strongly supports the integration of autistics’ perspectives into the broader scientific research on autism. By challenging the traditional boundaries between science and activism, it highlights the need for an inclusive, multifaceted approach. This approach not only enriches our understanding of autism but also fosters a more inclusive society, where the voices of autistic people are heard and valued. 

Wednesday 17 April 2024

What does it mean for a robot to be cultured?

This post is by Henry Taylor, who is a philosopher at the University of Birmingham. He is interested in in the philosophy of mind. His main areas of research in the area are attention, consciousness, peripheral vision and robotics.

Henry Taylor

You wake up and listen for the familiar sound of your household robot making you your morning porridge. On the way to work, you pop into a supermarket, and a robot helps you to find the products you need. You’re a mental health professional, and you spend the day working alongside the robots that support people with post-traumatic stress disorder. On your way home, you call into the care home where your parents are being looked after by both humans and robots.

The use of robots in all of the above contexts is currently being investigated. In healthcare, for example, researchers are exploring how robots can support humans with autism, cancer, dementia, diabetes social anxiety, and more.

These applications raise questions that straddle robotics and philosophy. One of them concerns how robots should respond to differing cultural norms and expectations. For example, different cultures seem to have different norms about personal space. This is important for understanding how far from a human the robot should stand. Different human cultures also have different expectations about facial expressions, hand gestures, physical greetings, and so on. How should we take these on board when we’re designing the robot?

Cultural robotics is the study of how robots can fit into this world of varying (and constantly shifting) cultural expectations and practices. The most fundamental question in cultural robotics is: what do we mean by ‘culture’? One popular approach in robotics is to equate culture with nationality. On this approach, ‘culture’ just means things like British, Canadian, Indian, Iranian, Italian, Japanese, Nigerian, etc. However, this approach has raised concerns in the robotics community. Equating culture with nationality runs the risk of propagating an over-simplistic approach, where whole cultures are reduced to a few stereotyped patterns of behaviour associated with particular countries. It also marginalises those who do not fit into the dominant patterns of behaviour in a particular country, such as refugees, immigrants, religious minorities, or members of subcultures.

In our recent work, myself and my co-author, Masoumeh Mansouri, have addressed this issue by arguing for a more nuanced definition of culture in robotics. Rather than looking for ‘the correct’ definition of culture, we argue for a conceptually fragmented approach. This involves accepting that there are many different ways of approaching culture in sociology and the humanities, and recognising that different approaches to culture might be appropriate for different areas of robotics. For example, a robot designed only to give directions to humans in a shopping centre may only require norms of politeness and helpfulness. Conversely, a robot designed for long-term use by the same group of people in a factory or hospital may need to grow and change its behaviour over time, in response to changes in the social dynamics of that environment.

It is inevitable that robots will come to occupy a more prominent role in our everyday lives. This raises fundamental questions about how these robots can behave appropriately, and also which social interactions should be kept human.

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Experiences of Loss conference report

In this post, Kathleen reports from the 'Experiences of Loss' Conference which took place on the 26th and 27th October 2023, at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The conference was organised and ran by Sabrina Coninx (VU Amsterdam). The selection of talks over two days all spoke to the theme of loss in different contexts, addressing self, illness, and memory. 

Day 1

Regina Fabry


Regina Fabry (Macquarie University): Sharing experiences of loss through self-narration: possibilities and limitations. (online)

Regina first clarified the concept of a self-narrative. Individuals might also draw on master narratives, which are widely shared in a socio-cultural community or society. These are value-laden, usually reflecting systems of power and oppression in play. Individuals might push back against these master narratives with alternative narratives, as a form of resistance. In cases of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), there is a sense of loss or absence which is very much felt by the individual. This is a loss of possibility of change, of interactions with one’s environment, and of interpersonal connection. This affects one’s capacities for crafting one’s own self-narrative, but the practice of writing a memoir of one’s experience can help regain these capacities. However, given that there are master narratives and literary genre expectations in play when writing a memoir, this sets limits on how these experiences can be shared in this form.


Eleanor Byrne


Eleanor Byrne (University of Birmingham): Narrative Deference

Eleanor talked about how distributed memory can affect one’s self-narratives. Group memory enables greater recall than individual memory, this might happen amongst married couples, for instance. Sometimes, an individual has no memory of an event at all, and in these cases, they might defer to another who can remember. This means that their self-narrative is also significantly deferred to another. This narrative deference demonstrates how intimate others not only can play this role for us, but this affects our experience of them. We experience them as people who have the possibility of ‘taking hold’ of our self-narratives when it comes to matters we cannot directly remember ourselves. One way of understanding this is to see these people as affective scaffolds. They are trusted over time to reliably make possible an understanding (through narrative) of phenomena which could be otherwise missed or overlooked. They can help make sense of quite difficult and unarticulated phenomena.


 

Lilith Lee (VU Amsterdam): Love and Friendship: Daoist Partnership and Zhuangzi’s two losses

Lilith talked about various possible losses in cases of death. One is the loss of a life partnership, and the second is the loss of intellectual partnership. In the Zhuangzi, Zhuangzi grieves the loss of his wife and Huizi, despite death being seen otherwise as simply one of the many transformations that take place in the world. There are couple of ways that scholars try to make sense of this, but Lilith emphasised the depth of loss of an intellectual partner or foil. Given the loss of a fundamentally discursive skill here which may be integral to one’s life and livelihood, one arguably loses a part of oneself as well. These friendships and partnerships themselves also help individuals make sense of loss.


Peter Stilwell


Peter Stilwell (McGill University): The Self and Suffering: From Theory to Pain Practice. (online)

Peter discussed the difference between pain and suffering, and explored a newer concept of ‘pain-related suffering’, and this draws on experiences of loss. One difference seems to be that people can coherently say that their pain doesn’t bother them too much, but cannot say that their suffering doesn’t bother them too much. From qualitative interviews on pain-related suffering, it was found that people experienced disruption to the minimal self insofar as they experienced alteration or loss of perceived agency and ownership over their actions and experiences, and disruption to the narrative self insofar as they experienced loss or threat to valued life roles, relationships and aspirations.


Leon DeBruin


Leon DeBruin (Radboud University): Neurodiversity and Identity Formation.

Leon discussed the possible sources of harm when it comes to mental health conditions, which are teased apart in Wakefield’s hybrid account of disorder. One source of harm is the dysfunction itself, within some underlying psychological, biological or developmental process. But another source of harm is still deviating from socio-cultural norms, and the reactions which come from that. Many struggle with self-illness ambiguity; distinguishing between oneself and between what is often referred to as one’s mental illness. There may be spectrum, wherein some identify fully with their illness, whereas others do not identify at all. Individuals may ask themselves whether their own desires, actions and emotions can be attributed to themselves or to their illness. But many proponents of neurodiversity see their mental illness as actually a manifestation of natural variation and integral to their selfhood.

Day 2

Gerrit Glas


Gerrit Glas (Amsterdam UMC): Experiences of Loss in Mental Illness

Gerrit discussed the many links and interrelations to pay attention to between the patient as a person, the patient with an illness, and the patient in a context, whether that be individual, institutional, or societal. Senses of loss could appear in any of these dimensions. In particular, individuals also have a fundamental I-Self relation - one’s ‘self-referential pole’ in relating to the world. This relation is not explicitly felt by people but it is not an illusion either, and senses of loss here are very deeply felt and sometimes referred to as ‘disorders of ipseity’.


Lucy Osler


Lucy Osler (Cardiff University): Losses and Loneliness in Anorexia Nervosa

In Lucy’s talk, she emphasised the experiences of social loss, particularly of recognition and understanding, which can underlie cases of anorexia nervosa. There can be a somewhat cyclical relationship between experiences of social loss and anorexia nervosa, where each can contribute to the continuation of the other. In particular, feelings of loneliness can bring individuals to enter and remain embedded in communities based around the condition, such as pro-anorexia forums online. Lucy described these place as ‘affectively sticky’, in that they are very difficult to leave even when they cannot offer any new information or insights. These communities can give a sense of control, connection, purpose, emotional regulation and so on, but they also provide affective scaffolding for the condition itself.

 

Lieke Schrijvers


Lieke Schrijvers (VU Amsterdam): ‘Loss’ and ‘Gain’ Amongst Women Becoming Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

Lieke discussed her PhD study which looked at women who converted to Judaism, Christianity, or Islam in the Netherlands. The traditional conception of these conversions are strongly characterised by associated ‘losses’– loss in autonomy, in freedom, and of the emancipation that the women would otherwise have. Lieke emphasised that the real picture of conversation is more complicated, and involves transformation of their identity, daily lives, emotions, agency, and social circumstances. These processes of transformation mean that convert women themselves were less likely to have a clear sense of ‘before’ and ‘after’ their conversion, with their sense-making of the process contributing to the process itself. All of this means that using a framework of losses and gains is inadequate.

 

Marta Carava


Marta Carava (Purdue University): Norm-Induced Forgetting

Marta suggested that there are some cases of forgetting which take place despite agents having the cognitive resources required to retrieve the information, and so cognitive explanations of this forgetting are not adequate. She suggests that norm-induced forgetting helps explain these cases instead. In these cases, forgetting is caused and underpinned by some relevant social norms. This captures that there are normative elements to the mechanism of forgetting, which we can see in cases such as the tendency for women’s contributions to conversations to be forgotten. Culturally shared biases about the social group, ‘women’, can be triggered by the content of the memory (i.e., what the woman said) when the agent tries to access it.