Thursday, 7 December 2017

Interview with John Sutton on Distributed Cognition

In this post Alex Miller Tate (AMT) interviews John Sutton (JS), pictured below, about his views on a number of research topics, many of which were explored at the Distributed Cognitive Ecologies of Collaborative Embodied Skill workshop.





AMT: Hello John, and thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed for the Imperfect Cognitions blog! Let’s start with quite a general question: could you please clarify for some of our readers the different research areas that came together at your workshop?

JS: Sure! The workshop investigated the intersection of three broad research topics that have interested myself and others for some time. The first is the notion of Collaborative or Joint Action, the second is the Psychology and Philosophy of Skill, and the third is the Embodied and Distributed Cognition paradigm.

Lab studies of Joint Action have tended to focus on various kinds of synchrony amongst actors – such as situations where two people who have just met up will walk off ‘in step’ with each other, having previously been walking out of synch with each other, or where two or more people’s eye-gaze falls upon the same object relevant to the achievement of some collaborative task. On this topic, we have evidence both that joint motives enhance certain kinds of bodily synchrony, and that bodily synchrony promotes the achievement of jointly held goals.

But many cases of intuitively joint action – or, perhaps better, collaborative action – necessarily involve non-synchronous behaviour in the achievement of some jointly held goal. Examples include members of sports teams and bands. Individual actions, in these cases, ideally complement each other, so that the group may achieve some collective end, but they may not be at all alike – a bass guitar player’s movements will be nothing like a trombonist’s, even (perhaps especially) when they are collaborating to produce, say, some improvised jazz.

In such cases, it seems like individuals are exercising skills collaboratively, but non-synchronously. But the skill literature is generally quite individualistic. While we have much discussion of the relative merits of automatic vs cognitively controlled accounts of skill and expert action, we have little insight into how collaboration in the realm of skill works, or how the need to collaborate may affect the deployment or acquisition of individual skill, or even how skills may be rightly attributed to joint agents (plausible cases include phenomena such as swarm intelligence).

Finally, we were interested in investigating at this workshop how features of our natural and social environments may act as cues or supports to our collaborative activities, or to our acquisition or deployment of skills in collaborative contexts. This is where the notions of embodied and distributed cognition enter into the picture.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Is Autism a Disease?

This post is by Christopher Mole, Chair of the programme in Cognitive Systems at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Attention is Cognitive Unison (OUP, 2010), and The Unexplained Intellect (Routledge, 2016). This post outlines the argument of his recent article, “Autism and ‘disease’: The semantics of an ill-posed question” (Philosophical Psychology, 8(3): 557-571).



Discussions of autism are often euphemistic: We speak of ‘service users’ rather than patients; and ‘atypicality’ rather than illness. By avoiding the rhetoric of disease we avoid the implication that the autistic point of view is a defective one, which would be gone from a world in which everything was operating correctly.

Those who do use the vocabulary of disease might reject such motivations, while congratulating themselves on their straight-talking, no-nonsense approach. This would, I think, be a mistake. According to one tradition, the mistake would be that of applying a ‘medical model’. Autism, on this view, is something other than a disease.

This too is an unappealing position. Autism has several effects, some disrupting the gastrointestinal system, others disrupting the processes of immune response and inflammation. It seems arbitrary to deny that those consequences that affect psychological functioning might also be understood medically. And to deny this would leave us without a full account of the autistic person’s entitlement to help.

Autistic people can seem inconsiderate. They are, as a result, prone to suffer from loneliness, unless allowances are made. Such suffering can be profound. It is appropriate that these allowances be made (and appropriate that healthcare budgets provide funding for them). Autism therefore differs from such non-medical conditions as the condition of being an arsehole. That condition is also prone to produce the suffering of loneliness, but — not being a disease — there is no reason why healthcare resources should be directed to its mitigation.

On these grounds (and others) we find ourselves wanting to avoid saying that autism is a disease, and also wanting to avoid saying that it is not one. We might try to have it both ways, by saying that the question is vague, or that the answer varies from case to case. I claim that we should instead reject both answers.

Michael Dummett’s theory of pejoratives opens up the logical space for this. Pejoratives (such as racist terms for ethnic groups) should be rejected whether their use is affirmative or negative. Such terms should even be rejected in contexts that are non-assertoric, as in the asking of questions.

Similarly, I claim, we should reject the vocabulary of disease in connection with autism, not because we should deny that autism is a disease, but because we should refuse even to ask the question.

It is a strength of Dummett’s theory that it applies to vocabulary whether or not that vocabulary is insulting, and so explains why vocabulary that applauds piety, machismo, or class loyalty, is no better than vocabulary that deplores racial diversity, effeminacy, or free-thinking. The problem with pejorative vocabulary is not the insult. The problem is that such vocabulary allows normative consequences to be inferred from the wrong descriptive basis.

The vocabulary of disease enables us to infer certain normative consequences on the basis of there being a condition that impairs human flourishing: from the presence of such a condition it allows us to infer that cure-seeking would be appropriate (and perhaps obligatory for those with a duty of care); and it allows us to infer that shortcomings attributable to this condition are mitigated.


Thursday, 30 November 2017

Understanding Ignorance

In this post, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Gettysburg College, Daniel DeNicola, introduces his just-released book, Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact of What We Do Not Know (MIT, August 2017). He writes on a range of ethical and epistemic issues, usually related to education. His new book grew from an earlier work, Learning to Flourish: A Philosophical Exploration of Liberal Education (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2012).  




Ignorance, it seems, is trending.  Political ignorance has become some so severe that the democratic ideal of an informed citizenry seems quaint.  Willful ignorance is the social diagnosis of the moment: critics found to be implicated in prejudice, privilege, ideology, and information cocoons.  Ignorance is used both as accusation and excuse.  In the broadest sense, it is a ineluctable feature of the human condition.

And yet, philosophers have ignored ignorance.  While occupied with the sources and structure of knowledge, epistemologists for centuries have dismissed ignorance as simply the negation of the proposition, “S knows that p. 

Within the last two decades, however, scholarship on various aspects of ignorance has popped up in several disciplines.  My book, Understanding Ignorance, draws on these multi-disciplinary works and presents what is likely the first comprehensive, philosophical treatment of ignorance—comprehensive, in that it addresses conceptual, epistemological, ethical, and social dimensions.

My explication is organized by four spatial metaphors: ignorance as a place or state, as boundary, as limit, and as horizon.   Among the topics discussed are the relation of ignorance and innocence, the technique of mapping our ignorance, and our intellectual tools for ignorance management.  I also offer a critique of “the virtues of ignorance” as proposed by various writers.


Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Structure-to-Function Mappings in the Cognitive Sciences




Muhammad Ali Khalidi is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at York University in Toronto. He specializes in general issues in the philosophy of science (especially, natural kinds and reductionism) and philosophy of cognitive science (especially, innateness, concepts, and domain specificity). His book, Natural Categories and Human Kinds, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013, and he has recently been working on cognitive and social ontology.

If a sudden interest in taxonomy is indicative of a crisis in a scientific field, then the cognitive sciences may be in a current state of crisis. Psychologists, neuroscientists, and researchers in related disciplines have recently devoted increasing attention to the ways in which their respective disciplines classify and categorize their objects of study. Many of these researchers consider themselves--rightly in my opinion--engaged in the effort to uncover our “cognitive ontology”.

Ever since the nineteenth century, naturalist philosophers like Whewell, Mill, and Venn have regarded scientific taxonomy as a guide to the “real kinds” that exist in nature. The categories that play an important role in our theorizing, by explaining and predicting phenomena, are the ones that will tend to uncover ontological divisions in nature. Contemporary naturalists, like Richard Boyd, agree with this inference from taxonomy to ontology, holding that “successful induction and explanation always require that we accommodate our categories to the causal structure of the world” (1991, 139).


Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Meaning of Belief

This post is by Tim Crane.

I am Professor of Philosophy at the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. I was Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and he taught at UCL for almost twenty years. I founded the Institute of Philosophy in the University of London, and I am the philosophy editor of the TLS

I have written five books on the nature of the mind, which is my principal area of interest in philosophy. But I also have a long-standing interest in the nature of religion and religious belief, and The Meaning of Belief is my first serious attempt to write on this subject.



The Meaning of Belief attempts to give a description of the phenomenon of religion from an atheist’s point of view — that is, on the assumption that there is no god, supernatural or transcendent reality or being. The book’s aim is not to argue for this atheism, but to give a description of religious belief which makes sense to believers themselves.

In this respect the book differs from many recent atheist books on religion, which aim to show that most of what counts as religious belief is both false and irrational. These books — by the self-styled ‘New Atheists’ — tend to emphasise the cosmological element of religious belief, treating belief as a kind of primitive science or as a rival to science. The Meaning of Belief challenges this view of religion — cosmological claims, claims about the universe as a whole, are important to most religions, but they are not scientific claims.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Does Hallucinating Involve Perceiving?


My name is Rami el Ali and I am an assistant professor at the Lebanese American University. I work in philosophy of mind, but also have research interests in Phenomenology and the Philosophy of Technology. Currently my focus is on the nature of misperception, and in particular hallucinations.




In my paper 'Does Hallucinating Involve Perceiving?', I argue for the tenability of a common-factor relationalist (alternatively, naive realist) view of perceptual experience. I do this by arguing that a view on which hallucinating involves perceiving can accommodate three central observations thought to recommend the widely accepted nonperceptual view of hallucinations, on which hallucinations do not involve perception.

Philosophers usually agree, even when they do not accept the view, that relationalism provides the simplest characterization of perception. Correspondingly, the simplest view of experience merely extends the account of perception to illusions and hallucinations. The resultant view is that all experience involves sensory awareness of the mind-independent surroundings, where those surroundings appear some way to the subject. 

This view of experience is quickly dismissed because hallucinations are thought to be nonperceptual. In place, we have views like disjunctive relationalism and common-factor representationalism that seek to accommodate nonperceptual hallucinations. But whether we should resort to these views at least partly depends on whether we must accept the nonperceptual view of hallucinations. Upon closer inspection, three observations that seem to favor the view fail to recommend it over a perceptual alternative.

The first two observations focus on discrepancies between hallucinatory appearances and the surroundings the hallucinator is related to. The gist of my response to these is that no discrepancy between what the subject is aware of and how things appear to her establishes that the subject is not aware of her surroundings. More specifically, the first observation focuses on the 'inappropriateness' of the objects of awareness to the hallucinatory appearance. This depends on specifying an acceptable standard of appropriateness. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Only Imagine. Fiction, Interpretation and Imagination

Kathleen Stock is a Philosopher at the University of Sussex, working on questions about imagination and fiction, including: What is the imagination? What is the relation between imagining and believing? What is fiction? Can we learn from fiction? Are there limits to what we can imagine? She has published widely on related topics, and her book Only Imagine: Fiction, Interpretation and Imagination is now out with Oxford University Press. She blogs about fiction and imagination at thinkingaboutfiction.me.





Philosophers and literary theorists argue about three things: what fiction is, how fiction should be interpreted, and what imagination is. In Only Imagine, I suggest that all three questions can be illuminated simultaneously.  I aim to build a theory of fiction that also tells us about the imagination, and vice versa.

My focus is on texts. First, I defend a theory of fictional interpretation (or ‘fictional truth’ as it’s sometimes called). When we read a novel or story, we understand certain things as part of the plot: ‘truths’ about characters, places, and events (though of course these are usually not actually true, but made up). A lot of the time, these ‘truths’ are made explicit – directly referred to by the words used by the author. But equally, in many cases, plot elements are only implied, not referred to explicitly. By what principle does or should the reader work out what such elements are, for a given story? Whether explicit or implied, I argue that fictional truths are to be discerned by working out what the author of the story intended the reader to imagine.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Philosophy of Psychedelic Ego Dissolution: Unbinding the Self

This post is by Chris Letheby.




In recent decades there has been a growing interdisciplinary attempt to understand self-awareness by integrating empirical results from neuroscience and psychiatry with philosophical theorizing. This is exemplified by the enterprise known as ‘philosophical psychopathology’, in which observations about unusual cognitive conditions are used to infer conclusions about the functioning of the healthy mind. But this line of research has been somewhat limited by the fact that pathological alterations to self-awareness are unpredictable and can only be studied retrospectively—until now.

The recent resurgence of scientific interest in ‘classic’, serotonergic psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin has changed all this. Using more rigorous methods than some of their forebears, psychiatrists have shown that psychedelics can, after all, be given safely in clinical contexts, and may even cause lasting psychological benefits. Small studies have shown symptom reductions in anxiety, depression, and addiction, and positive personality change in healthy subjects, lasting many months, after just one or two supervised psychedelic sessions.

What’s most intriguing is that the mechanism of action appears to involve a dramatically altered state of consciousness known as ‘ego dissolution’, in which the ordinary sense of self is profoundly altered or even absent. In many studies, ratings of ‘mystical experience’—of which ego dissolution is a core component—strongly predict clinical outcomes; so understanding ego dissolution is crucial for understanding the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.




Moreover, with the advent of modern neuroimaging technologies, there is a chance for psychedelics finally to fulfil their promise to be for psychiatry “what the microscope is for biology… or the telescope is for astronomy” (Grof 1980). The renaissance of psychedelic research allows neuroscientists, for the first time, to watch the sense of self disintegrate and reintegrate, safely, reliably, and repeatedly, in the neuroimaging scanner.

In a paper recently published in Neuroscience of Consciousness, Philip Gerrans and I have proposed a novel account of self-awareness based on findings from psychedelic science. Research to date has found that ego dissolution is associated with global increases in connectivity between normally segregated brain regions, resulting from a breakdown of high-level cortical networks implicated in the sense of self. However, results have not been entirely consistent; in some studies, breakdowns are most pronounced in the famous Default Mode Network (DMN), centred on the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices, whereas in others they are found in the Salience Network (SLN), centred on the anterior cingulate and anterior insular cortices.

Philip and I argue that this pattern of results can be explained by an account combining insights from two different theories: the influential predictive processing theory of brain function, and the self-binding theory of Sui and Humphreys (2015). Predictive processing holds that the brain is a prediction engine, constantly building models to anticipate its future inputs and reduce error. Meanwhile, self-binding theory says that a key function of self-representation is to integrate information from disparate sources into coherent representations. This claim is based on a body of experimental work showing that self-related information is integrated more efficiently than non-self-related information.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Copenhagen 2017 School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind




The Copenhagen Summer School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind is an annual event organized by the Center of Subjectivity Research . It aims to provide essential insights into central themes within the philosophy of mind, viewed from a phenomenological perspective. The general topics covered this year were intentionality, experience, reflection, perception, attention, self-awareness, rationality, normativity and methodology.

Over a period of 5 days, the schedule included keynote lectures, PhD presentations, discussion groups and seminars. The late afternoons and evenings were dedicated to different social events (such as visits to the city, a harbour tour) which allowed for opportunities to exchange ideas amongst researchers. In this post, I give a detailed summary of the main points made by the keynote speakers.




On the first day Søren Overgaard talked about Embodiment and Social Perception. The question he set up to answer was whether Social Perception Theory depends on a particular view of embodiment. Social Perception Theory (SPT) claims that it is possible to perceive that others are in happy, angry, in pain, desire another piece of pie, or intending to attack.

The idea of embodiment that Overgaard argued for is that in which at least some mental states extend all the way to the perceptible surface behaviour. In his view, a joyous smile on someone’s face is part of the mental state of joy in so far as it may carry information about the emotion. According to an intuitively plausible view that he labels the ‘Dependency Thesis’, SPT depends in specific ways on Embodiment. But he considers that in the context of the mindreading debate the Dependency Thesis is false.







On the second day Hanne Jacobs gave a talk on Attention, Reason and Subjectivity. According to Jacobs, Husserl’s account is worth considering when trying to understand what we do when we make up our own (embodied, personal, and socially embedded) minds. Based on Husserl’s phenomenology, she proposed that attention is a mode of consciousness in which we exercise reason.

She argued against contemporary authors who defend the idea that Husserl’s phenomenology proposes that there is a non-discursive form of rationality present in pre-predicative perception. She proposed instead that Husserl ties the activity of reason to the capacity for reflection in at least one significant sense. That in which, when we are attentive to something and take something to be in certain way and not other, we are also pre-reflectively aware of the reasons that there are are for and against our taking something to be in such specific way.

This sort of pre-reflective awareness gives way to reflective deliberation. And that it is for this that we do not just need a theory of self-knowledge but a theory of the subject or subjectivity to understand the nature and scope of the exercise of rationality. Jacobs argues that Husserl presents us with both a theory of self-knowledge and with an account of the subject that exercises rationality.


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Understanding Autism

This post is by Dan Weiskopf. He is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgia State University, and his research deals with classificatory practices in scientific taxonomy and everyday cognition.



Autism is among the most mystifying of psychiatric disorders. For patients and their families, doctors, and caregivers, it presents an intractable and often painful clinical reality. For researchers, it presents a profound theoretical challenge. While it has a handful of fairly well agreed-upon characteristics (the so-called “core triad”), it is also linked with an enormous range of inconsistent and heterogeneous symptoms. These include behavioral, cognitive, neurobiological, and genetic abnormalities, as well as somatic medical conditions.

Given this messiness, it is hard to say what autism itself even is, let alone design effective interventions and treatments for it. There has been a call by some—psychologist Lynn Waterhouse most prominently—to eliminate the disorder from our nosology, on the grounds that it is too disunified to count as a single condition.

Against this eliminativist position, I argue that the prospects for understanding autism are brighter if we adjust our expectations of what psychiatric disorders look like. In “An Ideal Disorder? Autism as a Psychiatric Kind”, I propose that the complexities of autism can best be explained using a network model.

Think of a disorder as initially “anchored” by a set of focal exemplars. These exemplars represent cleaned-up and idealized sets of clinical cases in which the disorder appears. They constitute the nodes of the network that represents the disorder. In the case of autism, there might be different idealized cases standing for “high” and “low” functioning individuals, but many more distinctions might be necessary depending on how the disorder presents itself in different settings and patient populations. For example, we now recognize the important fact that the profile of autism appears to be quite different in men than in women.

For each exemplar there is a set of a characteristic set of cognitive, somatic, neural, and genetic markers. These correspond to places where things have gone wrong, at many levels, to produce that particular clinical phenotype. The existence of these underlying explanatory clusters is what warrants treating focal exemplars as real sites for deeper investigation and treatment.

This captures autism’s heterogeneity. Still, why think there is one disorder here rather than many? The answer is that we can trace out commonalities in the patterns of disruption underlying these exemplars. Exemplars are chained together into a network by having these properties in common. One patient may share a certain rigid behavioral repertoire and GI ailments with a second one, and that patient may share a form of abnormal language development with a third. The third, in turn, might have a specific neuroanatomical abnormality that is shared with the first, but not the second.


Thursday, 2 November 2017

Call for Papers: Confabulation and Epistemic Innocence

Elisabetta Lalumera is organising a Confabulation and Epistemic Innocence workshop at the University of Milano-Bicocca (image below), to be held in Milan (Italy) on May 28, 2018.



Below you find a call for papers for the event.


Summary of topic

When people are unaware of information that accounts for some phenomenon, this does not necessarily prevent them from offering a sincere, but often inaccurate, explanation. Indeed, whilst confabulation has been shown to occur alongside psychiatric diagnoses featuring serious memory impairments, and in people undergoing symptoms of mental distress, it also occurs regularly in people with no such diagnoses or symptoms.

Some cognitions which fail to accurately represent reality may nonetheless have redeeming features that promote good functioning in a variety of domains. Inaccurate cognitions may misrepresent the world, but can also bring psychological and practical benefits. More recently, philosophers have pointed out that epistemically costly cognitions can also sometimes have positive epistemic features.

When these epistemic benefits are significant, and could not be attained in other ways, then the cognition can be considered “epistemically innocent”. The notion of epistemic innocence has already been discussed in the case of some inaccurate cognitions, such as delusions, but whether or not confabulation counts as epistemically innocent is a relatively underexplored issue.

Sample questions

  • What are the epistemic costs of confabulation and are there any epistemic benefits? 
  • How should epistemic costs and potential benefits of confabulation be adjudicated? 
  • Are the potential epistemic benefits of confabulation related to, or independent of, any psychological benefits? 
  • Is providing an inaccurate answer or an inaccurate explanation better (and in what sense) than providing no answer or no explanation at all? 
  • Are the costs and benefits of clinical confabulation comparable to those of non-clinical confabulation?


Instructions, review process, and timeline

Please submit a 500-word paper by 28th February 2018. The short paper is supposed to sketch the main argument and include some reference to its conclusions and implications. Contributors will be informed by 30th March 2018 whether their short papers have been selected for presentation at the workshop.

For the authors whose short papers are selected for presentation, there may also be an opportunity to submit a full paper (max. 8000 words) by 30th June 2018 for inclusion in a special issue of a journal on the philosophy of confabulation.

Please submit your 500-word papers to Valeria Motta as an email attachment. The title should be CONFABULATION 2018 [SURNAME OF AUTHOR]. Identifying information such as the full name of the authors, their email addresses, and their affiliations should not appear in the attachment, but only in the body of the email. The attachment should contain a blind version of the short paper. Authors’ names, affiliation if applicable, and contact details will be accessed only by Valeria Motta who will assign reviewers, but will not be involved in reviewing submissions. Each paper will be independently reviewed by two experts. Contributions from members of groups underrepresented in philosophy are especially welcome.

Please note that reasonable travel and subsistence expenses of the selected workshop contributors will be covered thanks to the support of the University of Milano-Bicocca and the sponsorship of project PERFECT. Also note that presentation of the selected papers at the workshop does not guarantee that the full papers will be accepted for publication in a special issue dedicated to the issue of confabulation, as the full papers will be subject to further, independent review and may be rejected at that stage.

You may contact Elisabetta Lalumera for general inquiries about the workshop or the CFP.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Quotidian Confabulations

In this post, Chris Weigel discusses her paper “Quotidian Confabulations: An Ethical Quandary Concerning Flashbulb Memories,” published in Theoretical and Applied Ethics in 2014. Chris is a professor of philosophy at Utah Valley University. She works mainly on experimental philosophy of free will and on cognitive biases.



How did you find out about the planes crashing on September 11, 2001? What do you remember about the first time you met your spouse? Wait, don’t answer those questions! Your memories about those events are flashbulb memories—memories of surprising, monumental, and emotionally-laden events—and my paper invites us to rethink asking people for their memories about these events, such as the Challenger explosion, assassinations of important public figures, and terrorist attacks.

My conclusion isn’t that we should never ask people about their flashbulb memories, but rather that sometimes asking people about their flashbulb memories is problematic. It’s problematic because flashbulb memories often involve confabulations (i.e., believed, obvious falsehoods), and under certain circumstances, we should abstain from provoking a confabulation.

My conclusion is counterintuitive. It’s counterintuitive to say that in certain cases people should not ask others about flashbulb events. To get to that conclusion, I begin by looking at Anton’s syndrome and Capgras syndrome, two syndromes that involve confabulations. People with Anton’s syndrome think they can see even though they are blind. If you ask someone with Anton’s syndrome about what you look like, they will likely answer you even if you have never met the person before.

People with Capgras syndrome believe that their loved ones are impostors. A person with Capgras syndrome might tell you that their father isn’t really their father despite all evidence to the contrary. If you ask that person how the so-called impostor came to have the right wallet, appearance, demeanor, and memories, the person with Capgras syndrome might begin by telling you a story about how the wallet must have been stolen. People with these syndromes confabulate. That is, they assert falsehoods that they confidently believe, even though others can see that the falsehoods are obviously false and baseless. Also, these particular confabulations can be reliably provoked in certain circumstances: ask an Anton’s patient what they see or ask a Capgras patient about the specific loved ones they believe are impostors, and you’ll most likely get a confabulation.

The next step in the argument is to see that absent competing obligations, it is wrong to provoke a confabulation. Competing obligations include such things as medical research, neuroscientific research, caring for the patient, and so on. A doctor who is talking trying to assess a blind person with Anton’s syndrome might ask that person what they see in the course of a medical evaluation. The importance of accurate medical evaluations entails that provoking a confabulation in such circumstances is not problematic. On the other end of the spectrum, suppose someone sold tickets at a fair to gawkers who wanted to see the confabulating blind person who thinks they can see. This ticket seller’s motives are negative and cruel, and it is fairly easy to see that provoking confabulations in such a case is problematic.

In between are cases where someone provokes a confabulation with no competing obligations (either positive as in the case of the doctor or negative as in the case of the ticket seller). For example, someone might provoke a confabulation out of idle curiosity, to fill a silence with sound, or for no reason at all. In these cases, since there are no overriding obligations like research or diagnosis, provoking a person with Anton’s syndrome or Capgras syndrome to confabulate is problematic.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

True Enough

Catherine Z. Elgin is Professor of the Philosophy of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is the author of Considered Judgment, Between the Absolute and the Arbitrary, With Reference to Reference, and (with Nelson Goodman) Reconceptions in Philosophy and Other Arts and Sciences. In this post, she talks about her book True Enough.




Epistemology valorizes truth.  There may be practical or prudential reasons to accept a contention that is known to be false, but it is widely assumed that there can never be epistemically good reasons to do so.  Nor can there be epistemically good reasons to accept modes of justification that are not truth-conducive.  Although this seems plausible, it has a fatal defect.  It cannot accommodate the cognitive contributions of science.  For science unabashedly uses models, idealizations, and thought experiments that are known not to be true.  Nor do practicing scientists think that such devices will ultimately be eliminated.  They expect current models to be supplanted by better models, but not by the unvarnished truth.  Modeling, idealizing, and thought experimenting are considered valuable tools, not unfortunate concessions to human frailty.

Such devices are, I contend, epistemically felicitous falsehoods. They are not mere heuristics. They are central components of the understanding that science supplies. If it is to accommodate science then, epistemology must relax its allegiance to truth.  True Enough develops a holistic epistemology that does so. It acknowledges that tenable theories must be tethered to the phenomena they concern, but denies that truth is the sole acceptable tether.  Felicitous falsehoods figure in understanding by exemplifying features they share with their targets.  They highlight those features and display their significance.  A model like the ideal gas, although strictly true of nothing, highlights important features of actual gases, while sidelining confounding features that for the purposes of a given inquiry make no difference.

On this picture, the center of epistemological gravity shifts from knowledge to understanding.  In science and other systematic inquiries, relatively comprehensive bodies of epistemic commitments -- some true, some felicitously false, some not even truth-apt -- stand or fall together.  Rather than accepting the kinetic theory of gases because she already accepts each of its component commitments, an agent accepts those commitments because they are part of a theory that is, on the whole, acceptable.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

PERFECT Year 4: Valeria

Today's post is by project  PERFECT Doctoral Researcher Valeria N. Motta




2018 is my second year as a doctoral researcher on project PERFECT.

During my first year, I’ve been investigating loneliness and solitude. For that I did research on existing literature from different philosophical traditions and on the outcomes of empirical research. The existing literature on loneliness has focused on identifying its characteristics and has utilised different approaches. The idea behind finding common features (such as boredom or passivity) is that if we are able to identify them, a specific treatment can be developed in order to alleviate the problem. But documented in the literature I have also found an array of different ways of experiencing loneliness (such as those that emerge from failure to remember traumatic events, or which are masqueraded as connectedness via social media). These cases require a more fine grained approach.

I have the privilege to get the support and multi-disciplinary guidance of the Principal Investigator Lisa Bortolotti and the Co-Investigator Michael Larkin. An approach that we find promising consists in viewing loneliness as a social construction that has cultural and personal meanings. The approach could potentially answer the question of whether the experience that we categorise as ‘loneliness’ is always or entirely harmful. Since we are interested in the complex web of costs and benefits that many human experiences have, it is important to contemplate that even something that is as disruptive as loneliness can have a temporarily positive role to play.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Interview with Matthew Broome on the new Institute for Mental Health


In today's post Kathy Puddifoot interviews Matthew Broome, Professor of Psychiatry and Youth Mental Health, on the new Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham that he directs. 





KP: Can you tell me about the make-up of the Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham?

MB: The Institute for Mental Health (IMH) is a cross-college Institute at the University of Birmingham. It is housed within the School of Psychology and the College Life and Environmental Sciences, but the Institute will also include colleagues from the College of Social Sciences, of Arts and Law, and Medical and Dental Sciences. We are hoping that staff at the IMH will have affiliations with each of these groups and represent a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. In terms of appointments, we will have colleagues appointed at different grades, from professor to lecturer, as joint appointment with the Colleges linked to the IMH. Appointments will be made between the Institute and Schools across the University. We will also have some clinical academic staff joining us, as well as core IMH appointments.  

KP: What are the main goals of the IMH?

MB: The main focus is to address issues concerning youth mental health with the recognition that to solve these complex problems will need interdisciplinary work. The focus will be to improve the care of young people with mental health problems and to improve services for those people.  We think that Birmingham has something distinctive to offer here. We can draw together expertise across the different disciplines but also build on the very strong areas we have across the university, such as cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and ethics, and social policy.

KP: Why do think it is important to focus on young people in particular?

MB: The first answer to that question comes from the epidemiology of mental health issues. Most disorders tend to begin in young people. The vast majority of adult mental disorders begin before the age of 25. Focusing on youth allows you to focus on how disorders develop, to detect mental health issues, and intervene early.  The second answer is connected. Mental disorders that begin in young people last a long time so the benefits of intervening in youth will be greater to society. If you help young people to navigate a tricky period of their life then you will see the benefit for them and for society for many years to come.  Also, Birmingham is the youngest and most diverse city in Europe, in terms of population demographics, so our research focus reflects that .

KP: What is the connection between the IMH and the Mental Health Policy Commission?

MB: The connection is that some members of the Institute are leading on the commission. In particular Professor Paul Burstow ,  Dr Karen Newbigging and Professor Jerry Tew. The commission predates the Institute and is doing work around social policy on mental health provision in the West Midlands, in particular examining the gap in care for young people between those who need help for mental health problems, and those that receive it. The commission is a project that the Institute will be connected with and some of its members will be a key part of.

KP: The IMH aims to contribute to the development of interventions based on academic research to improve practice in mental health care. To succeed in this task, you will work with non-academic partners. Can you tell us something about the partners that you intend to work with?

MB: At the moment the key partners are NHS service providers. There are two mental health trusts in Birmingham that we are working with. One is the Forward Thinking Birmingham Trust, which delivers youth mental health care between 0 and 25 years of age, and also the Early Intervention Psychosis services. The other mental health trust is the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust. They are our two main non-academic partners. There is also an organization called Birmingham Health Partners, which is a strategic partnership between the University of Birmingham and some of the acute hospitals. These are strong partners for us. I am hoping to expand our partnerships further to include work with charities, the voluntary sector, and involvement with education and social services. That is a step for me to develop over the next couple of months.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

PERFECT Year 4: Kathy


Today's post is by Project PERFECT Research Fellow Katherine Puddifoot.  




I am entering my third year as a Research Fellow on Project PERFECT.

During my time on the project so far I have had the opportunity to develop my views on memory and stereotyping. 

In the past year I have been developing my account of stereotyping, the multifactorial account. This account identifies multiple features of any act of stereotyping that can determine whether or not it will lead to the misperception of the people who are stereotyped. Two papers developing this view have been published (open access) in Philosophical Explorations and Philosophical Topics.

I have been working with the Principle Investigator on Project PERFECT, Lisa Bortolotti, to develop our view of memory errors. We argue that there is an important feature of distorted memories that has previously not been recognised: they are produced by cognitive mechanisms that bring epistemic benefits. It has previously been widely recognised within cognitive psychology and neuroscience that the cognitive mechanisms are adaptive, but we emphasise how they increase the chance of people obtaining epistemic goods like knowledge, true beliefs and understanding.
In the past year, I have also organised the PERFECT 2017 Memory workshop at the University of Cambridge, featuring talks from Dorothea Debus, Jordi Fernandez, Kourken Michaelian, John Sutton and myself.

I have also formed an exciting new collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation. In June we held a workshop with colleagues from the charity and people with lived experience of mental health issues. The workshop featured presentations on my work on stereotyping; Lisa's work highlighting the continuity between beliefs in the clinical and non-clinical population; and the work of the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland and with people with learning disabilities. I am extremely excited about this collaboration. We will be working closely together in the future to design practical applications of our research and pursue future research projects together.

In my final phase on the project I aim to produce a series of papers that apply the insights that I have gained about memory to specific concrete cases. I will draw out the implications for how education and the criminal trial should be conducted.

In addition to this, I plan to expand my work on stereotyping, highlighting further philosophical implications of my position that there are multiple features that can determine whether people make errors due to stereotyping.

Combining my interests in stereotyping and memory, my final research goal is to publish work examining how stereotyping can influence how we remember. There are important implications of the observation that memory can be biased by stereotyping, for both theories about the nature of memory and theories about the nature of justification (including for memory). These implications will be explored in the research I conduct in this final period of my Research Fellowship.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Interview with Louise Moody and Tom Stoneham

In this post, I interview Louise Moody, Associate Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of York, and Tom Stoneham, Professor of Philosophy & Dean of the Graduate Research School, also at the University of York. Tom and Louise are presently researching dreaming: specifically, they are investigating an alternative model of dreaming (one that holds dreams are confabulations on waking rather than experiences of some type that are remembered and reported as dreams) and whether this model might be beneficial for those experiencing parasomnias.



SS: Why is the topic of dreaming of interest to philosophers and what contributions have philosophers made so far?

LM & TS: The first thing to say is that dreaming takes up a surprisingly large amount of our mental lives with most of us apparently dreaming 4-6 times a night – indeed, awakenings from all sleep-phases (i.e. both r.e.m and non-r.e.m sleep) elicit dream reports between 50-90% of the time (e.g. Dement & Kleitman 1957; Nielson 2000). Yet dreaming receives relatively little attention from philosophers: whilst the possibility that we are now dreaming is often used to prop up sceptical arguments, the nature of dreaming is rarely directly examined - notable exceptions include Malcolm (1959) who thought the notion of any mental activity during sleep self-contradictory, Dennett (1972) who proposed that dreams might be non-consciously composed ‘cassettes’ that are inserted into memory for ‘playback’ on waking, and more recently, Ichikawa (2009) who treats dreams as sensory imaginings.

Almost everyone who has had a dream takes their experience to support the ‘Standard Model’ of dreaming: dreaming is a conscious experience of some type which happens during sleep, is encoded in memory, recalled – often partially – upon waking, and sometimes shared with others. That is just what it feels like. But as the great Islamic Philosopher Al-Ghazali pointed out in 1105, this model is likely to strike someone who has had no personal experience of dreaming as very puzzling. People are reporting having perceptions at times when they are clearly not having perceptions, precisely because they are asleep and not in the presence of those things they report perceiving. The very familiarity of dreaming has stopped philosophers (with very few notable exceptions) from seeing just how theoretically puzzling this idea of ‘offline’ perception really is.
  
SS: I understand you’re developing an alternative model to that outlined above, one that centrally involves imperfect cognitions? Tell us more!

LM & TS: Despite seeming incredibly obvious, the Standard Model is surprisingly hard to prove or disprove, precisely because it postulates a realm of private experiences that cannot be directly reported upon (note: LaBerge (1981) purportedly found that lucid dreamers can ‘signal’ that they are dreaming by performing a series of pre-arranged eye movements, but we take this finding to be methodologically controversial). Other well-known problems with the Standard Model, as Freud originally noted (1900: Ch.1), include pre-cognitive ‘alarm clock’ dreams (suppose you dream of an explosion and wake up to find this sound merging smoothly with the buzzing of your alarm clock; then you must have somehow predicted that your alarm clock was about to buzz, which is wildly implausible) and time-compression (experiences that would take a long time in waking life are often temporally compressed in dreams, and no-one has yet explained why such experiences are special cases).