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

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!