Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Stubbornly Clinging to a Belief

Kevin Lynch
My name is Kevin Lynch and I am currently a Research Fellow at University College Dublin, and gained my PhD in philosophy from the University of Warwick in 2012. A lot of my current research activities relate to understanding self-deception and similar phenomena. I also have research interests in psychoanalysis, issues in metaphysics and epistemology, and the philosophy of information.

One example of an ‘imperfect cognition’ which I investigated in a recent paper, is stubbornness. I outlined the similarities and differences between stubborn belief and self-deception. Both being stubborn in holding to a certain belief, and being self-deceived in believing something, seem to be examples of motivationally biased belief. Both can involve very similar behaviours, such as ignoring, dismissing, downplaying, or explaining away unwelcome evidence, and searching one-sidedly for welcome evidence or considerations. In fact, I argue that cases of stubborn belief satisfy the set of sufficient conditions which Alfred Mele (2001) gives for self-deception, and should prompt an amendment of those conditions.

As I see it, stubbornness differs from self-deception primarily in the sort of desires and emotions which are causing the biased behaviour and belief. In standard cases of self-deception, the subject has a desire specifically for the proposition which she falsely beliefs to be true (e.g. she believes her son is not bullying other kids in school, because she desires that her son is not bullying other kids in school). In cases of stubbornness however, the subject’s bias is motivated by a more general sort of desire which is not linked to the content of the false belief. 

Stubbornness, for instance, may be motivated by a general aversion to losing arguments, or a desire not to be shown up as being wrong or foolish, or an aversion to having one’s long-standing beliefs threatened, beliefs which give one a sense of comfort and certainty. These sorts of affective factors can cause one to have biased beliefs with various different contents (and thus they can explain stubbornness as a trait, as well as particular occasions of stubbornness). Paradigmatically, people who stubbornly believe that P do not especially desire that P, while self-deceivers do.

Another recent interest of mine, and perhaps another example of an imperfect cognition, is wilful ignorance, and I hope to do work on the analysis of wilful ignorance and the distinction between it and self-deception. Wilful ignorance has been thought to be a species of self-deception, though I would argue that they are independent phenomena.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Roberta Payne's Outsider Art

Artworks by Roberta Payne
In this post Roberta Payne writes about the relationship between schizophrenia and art. Roberta earned a BA in classics from Stanford, an MA in Italian from UCLA, an MA in romance languages from Harvard, and a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Denver. She taught English, Latin, and Italian, and her published work includes literary translations from Italian, short stories, and articles on schizophrenia.

In 2013 Roberta published a memoir, Speaking to My Madness: How I Searched for Myself in Schizophrenia. Her article "My Outsider Art" has recently been published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin, and is available open access.


Although I’ve done art since I was a small child and studied art history formally in college, I didn’t find my artistic niche until I developed mental illness in my early 20s. Then I began a long love affair with what has been dubbed “outsider art,” the art of people variously marginalized in society, to distinguish it from the consensus-reality art of the nonmarginalized. In my case, the term meant the sometimes strange, often beautiful art of schizophrenia. My materials of choice have been pen and ink and paper, and my favorite stylistic form is the round mandala originally of ancient India.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Mindlessness

In this post, Ezio Di Nucci presents his book Mindlessness (Cambridge Scholars, 2013). Di Nucci is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Universität Duisburg-Essen. His latest book is Ethics Without Intention.

Philosophy is still hanging on to an over-intellectualistic picture of human judgement and agency – or
Mindlessness
by Ezio Di Nucci
so I contend in my book. Our ability for thought is a useful resource, but one that we use less frequently than philosophers often assume – and that’s a good thing. Deliberation is not always the best way to deal with life’s challenges; on the contrary, we are often better off not thinking; other times we are just not worse off and it is therefore more efficient not to think.

The book begins by looking at data which has been accumulating in behavioural and social psychology over the last few decades, especially with relation to habits, skilled performances and priming. Expert golfers, for example, perform better when under time pressure and they also appear to be better when distracted than when they are able to concentrate. Here’s another one: if habitual cinema-goers are given one-week-old stale popcorn, they will eat as much of it as when given fresh popcorn.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Seemings

Jonathan Farrell
My name is Jonathan Farrell, and I am a post-doc at the University of Manchester on Tim Bayne’s Architecture of Consciousness project. I am interested in providing a taxonomy of seemings the states we are in when things seem some way to us.

In this post I will try to explain why a taxonomy would be useful. In brief: there are different kinds of seemings, and we have different, non-equivalent, ways of ascribing seemings to subjects. Thus philosophers need to be careful when and how they use ‘seem’ to make sure that their arguments do not equivocate and that they do not talk past each other. Providing a taxonomy of seemings can help us to avoid these problems.

In everyday speech it is common to talk about some of our mental states by using ‘seem’: the stick half in water, for example, seems bent to me, and it seems that this winter will be colder than last winter. Philosophers also talk about seemings. Indrek Reiland (2014) appeals to seemings to resolve the debate over whether we perceptually experience 'high-level' properties (e.g. tigerness, friendliness) as well as 'low-level' properties (redness, squareness). George Bealer (1998) appeals to seemings to explain what intuitions are: they are intellectual seemings. And the papers in Chris Tucker's collection (2013) consider whether appealing to seemings can give us (defeasible) justification for some of our beliefs. It is tempting, then, to think that there is one kind of mental stateseemingwhich is relevant to intuitions, justification, and perception.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Oxford Loebel Lectures 2014 - Professor Kenneth S. Kendler

Kenneth Kendler
This is a report on the 2014 Oxford Loebel Lectures by Rebecca Roache, Lecturer in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The biopsychosocial model in psychiatry tells us that psychiatric disorders arise from a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. But how do causes at these three ‘levels’ interact, and how do we put this insight to use in treating mental illness? Professor Kenneth Kendler addressed these questions in Oxford’s inaugural Loebel Lectures.

In his first lecture (which you can watch here or listen to here), Kendler shared fascinating empirical data to demonstrate the aetiological complexity of psychiatric disorders. He showed that whilst one’s genes can make it more likely that one will suffer certain disorders, the causal pathway does not run directly from genes to the development of a disorder. Rather, causal pathways often—to use Kendler’s expression—‘loop out’ into the environment. For example, having a genetic predisposition to depression makes you more likely to be depressed, but this is because you will be more sensitive than other people to stressful life events that can cause depression. Another example: alcohol dependency does not simply arise from one’s genes, but via one’s genetically-induced tendency to seek out social groups where drinking is encouraged.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Attention and Phenomenal Consciousness


Henry Taylor
My name is Henry Taylor and I have recently submitted my PhD in philosophy at Durham University. In this post, I would like to discuss some issues that I address in my paper ‘Is Attention Necessary and Sufficient for Phenomenal Consciousness?’

With some notable exceptions, attention has until relatively recently been neglected as a topic in its own right in analytic philosophy. This has occurred despite its widespread use in fields as diverse as aesthetics, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics. However, in the last few years this attitude has radically and suddenly shifted, and attention is one of the most exciting topics in contemporary philosophy of psychology.

One of the most striking questions within this domain is whether it is possible to use attention to explain consciousness. Amongst many psychologists, and philosophers, there is hope that by studying consciousness in terms of attention, the problem of consciousness may turn out to be empirically tractable. Of course, this project becomes significantly more realistic if it turns out that attention and consciousness co-occur.

Friday, 12 December 2014

CFP: False but Useful Beliefs for PERFECT 2016

Dear all

As part of PERFECT we want to promote further investigation into whether false beliefs can be advantageous, due to their being biologically adaptive, enhancing wellbeing, being conducive to the satisfaction of epistemic goals, or promoting some other form of agential success. In the psychological literature, self-deception, positive illusions, delusions, confabulatory explanations, and other instances of false belief have been regarded as beneficial in some sense, but there has not yet been a systematic study of their role in supporting different aspects of human agency within philosophy. 

The workshop we are planning for February 2016 aims at filling that gap. We welcome theoretical papers from researchers in epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, philosophy of biology, and psychology.

Themes and research questions

Some beliefs seem to have an important role in supporting human agency: they can make us feel better about ourselves and even enhance our health prospects (e.g., positive illusions); they can provide some explanation for very unusual experiences (e.g., clinical delusions); they can protect us from undesirable truths (e.g., self-deception); they can help us fill existing gaps in our memory (e.g., confabulation); they can support a sense of community that improves socialization (e.g., religious beliefs); and so on. 

The workshop will encourage a reflection on the relationship among the different types of benefits (psychological, biological, epistemic) that such beliefs can have and on the different aims and functions of beliefs.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Intellectual Humility: Interview with Duncan Pritchard


In this post I interview Duncan Pritchard, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the Eidyn Research Centre.

Duncan is currently leading two inter-related Eidyn projects on the topic of intellectual humility, both of which receive the majority of their funding from the Templeton Foundation. The first is an outreach project entitled ‘Intellectual Humility MOOC’. The other principal investigator on this project is Dr Ian Church. The aim of this project is to produce and run a Massive Open Online Course (or ‘MOOC’) on the topic of intellectual humility.

The second project is a research project entitled ‘Virtue Epistemology, Epistemic Dependence, and Intellectual Humility’. The other principal investigator on this project is Prof Jesper Kallestrup. The aim of this project is to develop an anti-individualistic version of virtue epistemology and to explore the relationship between epistemic dependency and intellectual humility.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Autobiographical Memory Changes Across Retellings

Misia Temler
My name is Misia Temler and I am a forensic psychologist and a PhD candidate in Cognitive Science supervised by Professor Amanda Barnier, Professor John Sutton, and Associate Professor Doris McIlwain at Macquarie University in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders. My PhD research investigates how our memory of recent personal events changes over subsequent retellings.

Take a moment to remember your 21st birthday or other milestone birthday, or first date with your current partner. These events are often remembered quite vividly in detail as they are typically emotional, salient, and have frequently been retold on numerous occasions. Would it surprise you that some of these seemingly vivid details can change in just a week when you retell your event? Perhaps on your first date your partner wore a red shirt and not a blue shirt, or maybe that first date actually took place at noon and not in the evening. Did you feel happy and excited or did you feel stressed and anxious? Through my research, these are exactly the type of changes I have found people make when retelling their memories just one week after their initial recollection.


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Philosophy and Psychoanalysis in Dialogue

This week we feature a report on a conference on the dialogue between philosophy and psychoanalysis. The author, Marthe Kerkwijk, is a graduate student at Heythrop College, University of London.

Senate House, London
On Friday 17th and Saturday 18th of October, Heythrop College, London, the Institute of Philosophy and the Institute of Psychoanalysis co-organised a conference on the dialogue between philosophy and psychoanalysis. Philosophers' critical evaluations of the methodologies of psychoanalysis are well known, but in the last few decades philosophy and psychoanalysis have mutually influenced each other in more constructive ways. The conference brought together prominent scholars whose work navigates the intersection between philosophy and psychoanalysis in order to reinforce fruitful dialogue between both disciplines. Jonathan Lear, professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago and psychoanalyst, delivered the keynote address. The conference took place in the Chancellors Hall in Senate House and attracted more than 120 delegates.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A Case of Knowledge Based Upon False Belief

Avram Hiller
My name is Avram Hiller, and I am Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Portland State University. I work in several different areas of philosophy in the analytic tradition. My work in epistemology concerns the nature of knowledge and, in particular, what the external environment must be like for an individual to have knowledge in it.

According to some theories of knowledge, it is impossible for someone to know something if the person’s belief is based upon a false belief. But an appeal to social aspects of belief formation casts this criterion into doubt. For it is not uncommon for a helpful individual to convey a point to someone else using a falsehood. Consider the following case, which appears in a recent publication of mine:

Natasha is a spy in the field. Messages to her from Headquarters often are detected by enemy intelligence, and Headquarters is aware of that. Today, Headquarters needs to communicate to Natasha that her contact will be at the train station at 4:00 pm, but Headquarters cannot directly tell her that. However, Headquarters knows that Natasha happens to have a false belief that the train from Milan is arriving at 4:00 pm. It really arrives at 8:00 pm; also, assume that there are no signs posted at the station indicating what time it will arrive. So Headquarters sends a communiqué to Natasha stating that her contact is on the train from Milan. She then forms the justified belief that the contact will be at the station at 4:00 pm (call this proposition C). C is true.

Monday, 1 December 2014

3QD Prize semi-finalists and finalists

Epistemic Innocence logo
Dear Readers

Two of our posts had been shortlisted for the 3QD Philosophy Prize. 

In the semi-finals went both Epistemic Injustice and Illness by Ian James Kidd and Havi Carel (19 Aug 2014) and Sadder but Wiser? Interview with Jennifer Radden by Magdalena Antrobus (6 Nov 2014).

The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.I74D2I9T.dpuf
The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.I74D2I9T.dpufThe
The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.I74D2I9
Unfortunately, neither of those brilliant posts made it to the final round.

But a post on epistemic innocence, a notion we have developed and discussed here, is among the finalists: Anosognosia and Epistemic Innocence by Lisa Bortolotti, posted on Kerry Gutridge's blog, Psychiatric Ethics, on 5 Oct 2014. A full paper on the topic has been recently published open-access by Consciousness & Cognition.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Workshop on Epistemic Emotions

On August 25th and 26th, the Swiss Centre for the Affective Sciences held a workshop on epistemic emotions and epistemic feelings.  Epistemic emotions are a type of mental state that includes the feeling of understanding, the feeling of knowledge, and the feeling of interest.  The workshop was put on by the Phrontis research group on attention, interest, and epistemic emotions and organized by Anne Meylan and network member Richard Dub.

The workshop opened with a presentation by Brian McLaughlin (Rutgers) entitled 'Delusions and Feelings'.  McLaughlin presented a model of the Capgras delusion (the delusion that a loved one has been replaced with an imposter).  McLaughlin argued that it is necessary to posit the "cognitive feeling" of unfamiliarity to explain how Capgras belief is acquired.  The experience of unfamiliarity has a strongly affective aspect that causes the sufferer to straightaway acquire the belief that the person in front of her is unfamiliar.  Anxiety and paranoia then cause a tunneling of attention, and a full-fledged delusional theory thus grows from the single delusional belief.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Towards a Theory of 'Adaptive Rationality'?

Andrea Polonioli
I am posting this on behalf of Andrea Polonioli, PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.


My PhD project analyzes some recent developments in the ‘rationality debate’, which originated as a reaction to the body of research that has followed Kahneman and Tversky’s work within the Heuristics-and-Biases project. Empirical evidence suggested that people are prone to widespread and systematic reasoning errors, and pessimistic views of human rationality have been quite popular in the psychological literature. However, this picture has also attracted fierce criticisms, and several researchers have recently questioned pessimistic assessments of human rationality by emphasizing the central importance of evolutionary considerations in our understanding of rationality.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

3QD Philosophy Prize -- Update

Dear Readers

Three of our posts have been nominated for the 3QD Philosophy Prize:

Epistemic Injustice and Illness by Ian James Kidd and Havi Carel, 19 Aug 2014

Sadder but Wiser? Interview with Jennifer Radden by Magdalena Antrobus, 6 Nov 2014

The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.I74D2I9T.dpuf
The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.I74D2I9T.dpufThe
The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.I74D2I9
The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations by Sam Wilkinson, 9 Sept 2014.

Please consider voting for one of the posts above! Here is where you can vote, by 25th November 11:59pm NYC time.



mperfect Cognitions: Epistemic Injustice and Illness - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.61DsFTB5.dpuf
mperfect Cognitions: Epistemic Injustice and Illness - See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/11/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-philosophy-prize-2014.html#sthash.61DsFTB5.dpuf

Thursday, 20 November 2014

10th Mind Network Meeting


On Saturday 4th October, the 10th Meeting of the Mind Network was held at University of York, organised by Louise Richardson. The meeting was supported by the Department of Philosophy at the University of York, and the Mind Association.

Dominic Gregory from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield opened the meeting with his paper ‘Perception and Imagery’. Gregory was interested in what he called ‘distinctively sensory representations’, which are imagistic representations standing in a special relationship to our sensory powers. Gregory tried to do two things in the paper. First, he gave an account of the contents possessed by distinctively sensory representations, so-called ‘distinctively sensory’ contents. Gregory offered an explanation of the way in which distinctively sensory contents depend upon sensory experience. Second, Gregory discussed the possibility that the dependency relations between distinctively sensory contents and sensory experience might also hold in the other direction insofar as some of our expectations thought crucial to our being able to see objects as external, have contents which are distinctively sensory.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Neural Correlates of the Optimism Bias

Bojana Kuzmanovic
My name is Bojana Kuzmanovic, I am a postdoctoral researcher working in an interdisciplinary setting at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine at the Jülich Research Centre in Germany. I am a cognitive neuroscientist/psychologist by training and my work focuses on person perception and emotional influences on decision making. Here I am going to discuss recent work on the emotional value of self-related optimistic belief updates.

Recently, Anneli Jefferson reported a behavioral study investigating the optimism bias by using a belief update paradigm inspired by Sharot et al. (2011). The findings show that when confronted with new information, people adjusted their initial risk estimates for undesirable future events to a greater extent when this information supported more positive outlooks than when it suggested a higher risk for future hazards (Kuzmanovic et al., under revision). Moreover, this asymmetry in updating was greater for judgments relating to oneself than for those relating to similar others, and was moderated by individual differences in trait optimism.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

3QD Philosophy Prize

Dear Imperfect Cognitions readers

If you have read a post you really liked on our blog in the last year why don't you nominate it for the 3quarksdaily Philosophy Prize? A few hours left to nominate!

Details here!

The Imperfect Cognitions Team

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Symposium on Theory of Mind and the Social Mind

Logo of The Human Mind Project
I'm Mattia Gallotti, Project Coordinator of The Human Mind Project. In this post, I report on a recent symposium entitled "Theory of Mind and the Social Mind". This was the third public event of The Human Mind Project and it took place on September 16th in the broader context of the 2014 annual meeting of the European Society of Philosophy and Psychology (ESPP) held in Noto, Sicily.

Led by Professor Sir Colin Blakemore, The Human Mind Project highlights the contribution of the arts and humanities to the study of human nature, and the importance of a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind, integrating science and the humanities. In this spirit, the event - a symposium on “Theory of Mind and the Social Mind” - had presentations in social anthropology and neuroscience, by Rita Astuti (LSE) and Mina Cikara (Harvard), about how recent advances in the research on shared cognition and group behaviour can shed new light on corners of the debate on theory of mind that still await clarification.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Optimism Bias and Belief Updating

Anneli Jefferson
I'm Anneli Jefferson, Visiting Research Fellow at King's College London, and I'm interested in philosophy of psychology and ethics, particularly in issues at the intersection of these two fields.

People tend to systematically overestimate their own abilities and their likelihood of positive future outcomes and to underestimate the likelihood of negative outcomes. Most commonly, this optimism bias is measured at a group level. While it is clear that some people must be making overly optimistic judgments if, for example, 70% of people asked think that they are less likely than their peers to experience a car accident, it can be difficult to tell which individual person’s outlook is actually unrealistically optimistic.

In a recent study, Sharot et al. used an update paradigm to measure the optimism bias at the individual level. Participants were asked to rate their likelihood of experiencing various negative events and were subsequently confronted with the average likelihood of experiencing the respective events. All estimations were then repeated, so that participants had the opportunity to update their initial estimate. It turned out that on average, participants were more likely to update their estimate in response to information that was desirable than when they received information that was undesirable.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Sadder but Wiser? Interview with Jennifer Radden

Jennifer Radden
This week we feature an interview with Jennifer Radden. Jennifer is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her teaching and research interests include philosophy of mental health and the ethics of psychiatry. She is the author of ‘Divided Minds and Successive Selves: Ethical Issues in Disorders of Identity and Personality’, and ‘The Nature of Melancholy’.

MA: In our project we investigate the idea that mental imperfections may carry some important epistemic benefits. Do you find it plausible to say that depression may carry some benefits of this kind, even if it is a harmful experience?

JR: Answer: Harmful? Or painful? If it’s harmful also, then we’d need to do some weighing of relative harms and goods, I’d guess, for an overall assessment of the right kind, and my answer is: I don’t know… If you meant something more like painful, then yes, this is certainly the way people sometimes speak about these episodes, even using ‘no pain, no gain’ language. But I’m not sure we can judge in any general way. People’s sense of the meaning of pain and, indeed, of depression, are so varied, that it seems to be a sort of empirical question for social psychology, and one to which helpfully uniform answers may be hard to come by.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Dementia and the Truth

The Mental Health Foundation has made available on its website a literature review on truth-telling in dementia that I found really interesting to read. The review is part of an inquiry into distressing symptoms of dementia funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The reviewer is Yulia Kartalova-O'Doherty.

The upshot of the inquiry is supposed to consist in practical recommendations for carers and healthcare professionals who find themselves in a dilemma: on the one hand, challenging the patient's beliefs when they are delusional (e.g., the belief that a loved one is still alive when she has been dead for some time, or the belief that the spouse is a deceitful impostor) causes considerable distress to the patient; on the other hand, not challenging the beliefs seems wrong as it involves lying or implies disrespect towards the patient.

One of the findings of the literature review is that current guidelines to healthcare professionals do not justify lying, but in practice people with dementia are not often confronted about their delusional beliefs. Further, there seem to be some tension between the recommendations currently offered by charities and other organisations: the Alzheimer's Society, for instance, warns against letting people live in a delusional reality but then suggests that ignoring a mistake can be the right thing to do, in order not to undermine the patient's confidence.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Interview with Max Coltheart: Alien Abduction Belief (Part 2)


Max Coltheart
This is the second part of an interview with Professor Max Coltheart. You can read the first part of the interview here.

ES-B: What you say about the generation of the alien abduction belief in 2011 is really interesting. You suggest that the generation of the belief might be due to abductive inference as applied to sleep paralysis and hypnopompic hallucination not due to specific neuropsychological impairments. But you point out that many people who have these experiences do not adopt the alien abduction belief, and so we need a second factor, which you suggest is the alien abduction belief being compatible with things one already believes (so people who have ‘New Age’ beliefs may well be more prone to forming the alien abduction belief if they experience sleep paralysis and hypnopompic hallucination).

So this looks like the kind of thing a one-factor theorist might say about delusions more generally. What do you think the difference is between this kind of case, where the second factor consists of biases which are present in the healthy population, and the case of Capgras delusion, or other delusions, where you say the second factor is something quite different, and does not occur in the non-delusional or healthy population?

MC: Well it depends what you mean by ‘healthy population’. New Age people who believe in UFOs and so on—that doesn’t sound very healthy to me. So they’re healthy in the sense that they don’t have brain damage but they’ve got a very strange belief system, it’s very unlike most people’s belief system and if they didn’t have that belief system, then they wouldn’t become delusional.


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

PERFECT Launch (4): Anticipating Interdisciplinarity


This post is by Michael Larkin, co-investigator for project PERFECT.

Michael Larkin
I’m a psychologist, and I’m based in the clinical psychology training team at the University of Birmingham. I have a particular interest in phenomenological approaches to psychology, and most of my research involves asking phenomenological questions about various forms of anomalous or distressing experience (how do people make sense of these experiences?), or about the responses of various psychosocial and healthcare services to those experiences (what is it like to receive these interventions?). I’m particularly interested in the relational and cultural context of the answers to both of these questions, and this makes an interesting bridge to the work of PERFECT.

From a psychological perspective, PERFECT is interesting because it invites us to see ‘delusions’ (strange beliefs, disproportionate commitments, or ‘factually-erroneous cognitions’) as having some functional value – some epistemic benefits, and perhaps other benefits too. The proposition that such beliefs or commitments are meaning-rich, rather than meaning-less, has a long history in psychology. It can be tracked back all the way to the disagreement between Binswanger and Jaspers about the ‘understandability’ of psychotic phenomena. In most histories, which focus on Jaspers’ subsequent influence on the psychiatric classification system, his account would appear to have won out. But Binswanger’s argument for being with the person with psychosis, in order to understand the world from their point of view, has been accumulating a growing clinical currency in recent years.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Interview with Max Coltheart: Delusion Formation (Part 1)

Max Coltheart
While visiting the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University, I interviewed Max Coltheart, Professor of Cognitive Science, on the topic of delusion formation.

ES-B: According to the one-factor account of delusion formation, we need only appeal to an anomalous experience to explain why a subject comes to hold a delusional belief, it is only the kinds of experiences subjects with delusions have which sets them apart from the non-delusional population. What do you think is wrong with this account?

MC: Whenever you identify an anomalous experience that you think is the cause of a delusion, you can always find patients who have that experience but are not deluded. We have done that systematically. We just go through a whole lot of different monothematic delusions—about eight or nine of them—proposing a first factor, showing that that’s a plausible source of the content of the belief and for each of those first factors showing that there are patients that have that first factor who are not delusional. And so I think that rules out a one-factor explanation for all of those monothematic delusions.

ES-B: Could the one-factor approach appeal to individual differences here? If the belief formation mechanisms of patients with delusions operate within what we might call the ‘normal range’, this might allow for a range of possibilities regarding forming beliefs upon certain experiences. What is wrong with that kind of line?

MC: Well, first of all you have to decide whether there are at least some cases where the second factor is due to brain damage, and I think you can’t deny that, and so it’s not very parsimonious, with that evidence, to appeal to it sometimes being individual differences. Then you’re saying that there are two different kinds of second factors. There’s one that’s down to brain damage, and there’s one that’s down to individual differences. The two problems with that is that it’s not parsimonious and there’s no evidence that any patients like this have a second factor that’s pre-morbidly present and down to individual differences. Now that doesn’t rule out this theory, you can never completely rule out a theory, just, why say it? The only reason to say it would be if you denied that the second factor was ever due to brain damage, and you can’t do that.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

PERFECT Launch (3): Depression and its Benefits

Magdalena Antrobus
My research focuses on epistemic and pragmatic benefits of imperfect cognitions found in the clinical population. More specifically I am interested in acquiring answers related to the question of the possible positive sides of mental disorders.

It is commonly known that mental illness constitutes a source of profound harm. It relates to individual suffering, distorts one’s cognitive, emotional and behavioural processes, and sometimes leads to severe impairment. However, the results of more recent psychological studies indicate that psychiatric disorders might be linked to particular benefits as well as causing pain.

There has been a well-researched relationship between bipolar disorder and creativity. It is believed that certain clinical symptoms brought by the illness, for example thought speed or openness for new experiences, may contribute to enhanced creativity (see for instance Ghaemi, 2011; Andreasen, 2005; Jamison, 1996). (For more details see my interview with Greg Currie.) If that were true, we would have the grounds to believe that bipolar disorder brings certain epistemic benefits. At the same time the illness may cause cognitive impairments in other areas of functioning, for example it may affect memory, sleep and concentration. The idea that pragmatic or psychological harm may coexist with the benefits of an epistemic kind is relatively new in psychiatry, thus researching it seems very exciting.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Interview with Martin Davies: Delusions (Part 3)


Martin Davies
This is the third part of an interview with Professor Martin Davies on delusions. (Although this part can be read independently of the previous two, you may want to read also the first and second part of the interview if you haven't done so already!)


LB: In the first stage of our project PERFECT we are going to ask whether delusions can have pragmatic and epistemic benefits. You and your collaborators have noticed how anosognosia (denial of illness), despite initially interfering with rehabilitation, can then lead to lower anxiety and protect from negative emotions (Aimola Davies et al., 2009). Can you think of other examples of delusions having a positive psychological impact? 

MKD: Let me begin by reviewing the findings that you mentioned in your question. Some researchers distinguish denial of illness from anosognosia and use the ‘denial’ terminology for cases with a ‘psychological’ rather than neurological aetiology. In our paper, we referred to a theoretical review by Kortte and Wegener (2004), who found support for both adaptive and maladaptive effects of denial of illness across a range of rehabilitation populations.

They proposed two distinctions to explain these different effects: (i) subtypes of denial and (ii) different time points from symptom identification to hospitalisation and rehabilitation. On (i), they suggested that the effect of avoidance of illness-related information is more likely to be maladaptive while a positive reinterpretation of the illness experience was more likely to be adaptive. On (ii), and focusing now on Kortte and Wegener’s discussion of denial of heart disease, denial at the stage of symptom (self-)identification has obvious negative consequences and long-term denial (particularly, of the avoidance type) after discharge from hospital has been linked with poorer compliance with medication regimes and a failure to heed medical advice about risk factors. However, denial (particularly, of the positive reinterpretation type) during the hospitalisation stage appears to be associated with more positive effects, such as protection from negative emotional states and reduced medical complications.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

PERFECT Launch (2): Biological Function and Formation of Delusions

Our project logo.
My research so far has been on belief, and this is an area I will continue to focus on. I am interested in researching two main areas: first, how best to think about delusional beliefs when we look to the biological function of belief, and second, accounts of delusion formation.

In my PhD I defended a biological account of belief according to which our mechanisms of belief-production have (at least) two biological functions proper to them. The first is the function to produce true beliefs, and the second is the function to produce useful beliefs. When I say ‘useful’, I do not mean useful an approximation to truth, but rather useful with respect to facilitating the effective functioning of the believer. I was mainly concerned with explaining the connection between belief and truth, and so much of the work was done by appeal to the function of producing true beliefs. However, towards the end of my thesis, I gestured towards the kind of explanatory work which might be done by appeal to the function of producing useful belief.

In terms of future research I am very keen to think about how much work the functional account of belief I developed in my doctoral work can do when we look to pathological belief in the clinical population, specifically, delusional belief. I think there are several questions to ask about delusional belief in the context of my account. Firstly, what is the biological proper function of delusional belief?

Friday, 10 October 2014

Schizophrenia and Logic

Mental Health Awareness Weeks logo
Today, 10th October 2014, is World Mental Health Day. This year it is dedicated to living with schizophrenia. On this important occasion, Gareth Owen kindly agreed to discuss his fascinating work on schizophrenia and logic. Gareth is Clinical Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London.


People with schizophrenia do worse than others on many tasks. Indeed a global conclusion in the psychology of schizophrenia is that people with this disorder have somewhat lower IQ than those without – a conclusion that makes schizophrenia seem a disorder of cognition like dementia or learning disability. But this is an incomplete perspective. The phenomenology of schizophrenia also points in the direction of representational overactivity (1). Additionally, delusions, which people with schizophrenia often exhibit, are not explained by failures of formal inference such as inability to reason with modus ponens or modus tollens or inability to adhere to Bayesian updating norms. That is striking when one considers that delusion and illogically are often assumed to be the same.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Interview with Martin Davies: Delusions (Part 2)

Martin Davies
This is the second part of an interview with Professor Martin Davies on delusions. You can read the first part of the interview here.


LB: Presentations of the two-factor account of delusion formation usually begin with two questions. The first question is about where the content of the delusion came from and the second is about the adoption or persistence of the belief. The two factors are supposed to provide answers to these two questions. But it sounds as if you are distinguishing a question about adoption from a question about persistence (or maintenance). If there are more than two questions to be answered, will an explanation of a delusion have to appeal to more than two factors?

MKD: Thank you for raising this issue of the relationship between questions and factors. It is quite important for understanding the two-factor framework. Questions about the aetiology of a delusion can be multiplied and, correspondingly, explanations of a delusion can be increasingly detailed, appealing to more than two ‘factors’ in the ordinary sense of that term. But, crucially, factors in the sense relevant to the two-factor framework are not just elements in an explanation. They are, specifically, pathologies or departures from normality, such as neuropsychological deficits.

You are right to say that I want to distinguish between a question about adoption of the delusional belief and a question about the belief’s persistence. If we are going to say something substantive about the nature of the second factor then we need to be clear about the role of the second factor. Where, in the total story of the aetiology of a delusion, does it figure? So, along with the first question about the source of the delusional idea or hypothesis, there should be the adoption question, ‘Why is the delusional hypothesis adopted as a belief?’, and the persistence question, ‘Why does that belief, once adopted, persist; why is it not subsequently rejected?’.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

PERFECT Launch (1): False but Epistemically Beneficial Beliefs

In this post I would like to introduce our new project, PERFECT, which started a week ago and will last for five years. The next few weeks on the blog are dedicated to an initial exploration of
the project themes, with posts by team members and interviews with people who have inspired us.

(I interviewed Martin Davies, who was my PhD supervisor and introduced me to the psychological literature on delusions. The first part of the interview appeared here, and the second part will be published on Thursday).

The project is funded by a European Research Council Consolidator grant awarded to me last December. The funding allows me to explore a novel idea and provides the resources for building a team. Currently, the PERFECT team includes Ema Sullivan-Bissett (post-doc) and Magdalena Antrobus (PhD student) who are based in the Philosophy Department at the University of Birmingham. Other two post-doctoral researchers and another PhD student will join the team at a later stage. The Co-Investigator is Michael Larkin from the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham.

The novel idea we wish to explore is that even cognitions that are factually inaccurate can have benefits for the acquisition of knowledge. This is counterintuitive as most would agree that inaccurate cognitions can at best benefit an agent pragmatically, by enhancing their wellbeing (short- or long-term) or by conferring them other practical advantages, but undermine knowledge of the self or of the surrounding physical and social world. In the first part of the project, we want to focus on BELIEFS that are false and irrational, and that may be common in the non-clinical population or appear as symptoms of psychiatric disorders. Next, we will look at memories, narratives and explanations.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Interview with Martin Davies: Delusions (Part 1)

Martin Davies
The Imperfect Cognitions blog is celebrating the launch of our new project, PERFECT. On Thursdays for the next month or so, we will publish a series of interviews with people who have inspired us to pursue the themes of the project.

As part of this series, Martin Davies (Wilde Professor of Mental Philosophy at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College) kindly agreed to answer some questions about delusions. The interview will be published in three parts.


LB: Thank you for helping us launch PERFECT! When you started working on delusions, philosophical literature on the topic was scarce. Why did you find delusions interesting to start with?

MKD: Congratulations, Lisa, on the launch of your new research project, supported by an ERC Consolidator Grant of nearly two million euros! Perfect, indeed. And thank you for the opportunity to answer some questions on your blog.

I started to learn about delusions in the early 1990s from talks that Andy Young (now Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of York) gave at early meetings of the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology.

The phenomenology and the theories were of evident interest to philosophers and psychologists and Tony Stone (a philosopher) joined with Andy Young to write a seminal interdisciplinary paper about monothematic and circumscribed delusions following brain injury (Stone and Young, 1997). My first paper on delusions was a long editorial introduction, written with Max Coltheart, for a special issue of Mind & Language, reprinted as Pathologies of Belief. Our discussion was organised around two questions: (1) Can the delusional idea or hypothesis be understood as arising in a folk psychologically intelligible way from the subject’s experience? (2) Why is that hypothesis adopted and maintained as a belief despite its utter implausibility and the uniform scepticism with which other people greet it?

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Enacting a Phantom


Ken Pepper
This post is by Ken Pepper, who recently submitted his PhD at the University of York.

Amputees often feel 'phantom' sensations emanating from their missing limb (for a review, see Giummarra et al 2007). This entry discusses the role of action and perception in the constitution of these physically absent yet phenomenally present body parts. I urge the view that phantoms are to some extent enactive – they are constituted by active perceptual engagement with the world (see e.g. Noë 2004).

Impressed by the way in which a blind man localised sensations at the tip of his cane, Head and Homes (1911) hypothesised that his brain must update its representation of bodily posture on the fly and treat the cane as part of his arm. It turns out that they were correct; neural representations of limb locations are highly adaptable and continually modified by vision, touch, and kinaesthesia. Experiments on macaques reveal that while using a rake to retrieve food, the receptive field of neurons in somatosensory cortex – the location of the brain's inner model of the body – extends beyond the boundary of the monkeys' arm to incorporate the area occupied by the rake (Iriki, Tanaka & Iwamura1996).

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Understanding Beliefs

In this post, Nils J. Nilsson presents his new book, Understanding Beliefs (MIT Press). Nilsson is Kumagai Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University. He is the author of The Quest for Artificial Intelligence: A History of Ideas and Achievements.

Understanding Beliefs
by Nils Nilsson

Our beliefs constitute a large part of our knowledge of the world. We have beliefs about objects, about culture, about the past, and about the future. We have beliefs about other people, and we believe that they have beliefs as well. We use beliefs to predict, to explain, to create, to console, to entertain.

Some of our beliefs we call theories, and we are extraordinarily creative at constructing them. Theories of quantum mechanics, evolution, and relativity are examples. But so are theories about astrology, alien abduction, guardian angels, and reincarnation. All are products (with varying degrees of credibility) of fertile minds trying to find explanations for observed phenomena.

In this book, I examine beliefs: what they do for us, how we come to hold them, and how to evaluate them. We should evaluate our beliefs carefully because they influence so many of our actions and decisions. Some of our beliefs are more strongly held than others, but all should be considered tentative and changeable.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Bipolar Disorder Makes the Headlines

Today Magdalena Antrobus, PhD student at the University of Birmingham, comments on a news story for our new blog feature, "in the news".


The divide between humour and disgust seemed to dissolve for one British clothing retailer.

“Don’t get mad, take lithium” wrote Joy, a clothes chain, with 26 shops nationwide, on one of their greeting cards, available for sale. Spotted by one of the customers, the words trivialising bipolar disorder sparkled social media, causing anger and distress among those who could relate to the problem of manic-depressive illness, as well as among mental health charities.

Stories like this one hit the headlines now and then, exposing a lack of understanding of the nature of mental illness and questionable marketing strategies. However, what usually follows is a more or less sincere apology and withdrawal of the product of interest. The unfortunate story usually makes its exit as quickly as it makes its entrance to the national news. Not this time, though.

The response from Joy fell far short of what was expected. “If you know anyone with bipolar disorder, don't buy it for them. PROBLEM SOLVED!” And that was not the end. When asked about people with bipolar who may go in shopping for themselves, the store replied: “They'll like it one minute and hate it the next?”

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Self Harm: The Philosophical, Ethical and Policy Issues

My primary research interests are in ethics and philosophy of psychiatry. For the past ten years I have worked as a lecturer and researcher in bioethics at the Centre for Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol.
Self Harm
by Kerry Gutridge

During the past four years, my research has focused on the ethical, legal, philosophical and policy issues of self harm. In particular, I have been concerned with the ethical questions which arise when doctors or nurses allow patients to self harm in psychiatric hospitals. I first encountered this issue when it was reported in the British press that patients were being allowed to self cut in some NHS hospitals. For example, one inpatient was allowed to keep a piece of glass in a locked draw in her room and use it to cut her knees. This idea is of course controversial. Many people find the idea of allowing patients to self harm in medical institutions at best counter intuitive and at worst sickening and morally wrong. However, I argue that in certain circumstances patients should be allowed to self harm.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Another Perspective on Anosognosia

Sahba Besharati
I am currently in the 3rd year of my PhD undergoing a split-site collaboration project with the University of Cape Town and University College London. This post will focus on a recent publication featured in Neuropsychological Rehabilitation with my supervisor, Katerina Fotopoulou, and our collaborator in Italy, Valentina Moro, on a prototypical form of unawareness called anosognosia for hemiplegia (AHP).

Neurological disturbances in awareness can offer an important avenue to explore the construction of the bodily self. AHP is one such example of a disorder of self-awareness, where patients have a lack of recognition or awareness of their motor paralysis following a stroke. AHP can have various clinical presentations, ranging from blatant denial of limb paralysis and associated delusional beliefs to emotional indifference of one’s motor disabilities.

Although AHP is often transient (sometimes recovering within days or weeks), motor unawareness can significantly obstruct rehabilitation efforts. For example, patients often refuse treatment or do not engage in therapy, have longer hospital stays, and are often less likely to return to independent living. Unfortunately there is currently no failsafe treatment available. However, in a recent study, Dr. Fotopoulou and colleagues showed that self-observation using video replay led to the permanent and total recovery of motor awareness in an acute patient. This is a simple, psychophysical intervention used at the bedside, where AHP patients watch a video replay of themselves falsely claiming that they can move their paralysed arm despite blatant evidence to the contrary.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Being Amoral

Being Amoral
by Thomas Schramme
This post is by Thomas Schramme. Thomas introduces his new edited collection, Being Amoral: Psychopathy and Moral Incapacity (MIT Press).
It would be useful to know what kind of capacities human beings require in order to be moral. This piece of information would have tremendous practical significance, as we could try to organize institutions, such as education, to provide an environment where these capacities can develop and flourish. It would also be an interesting theoretical piece of information, as philosophers have for a long time quarrelled over the issue whether moral capacities are mainly due to reason or emotion.

One way of making progress in this debate on the necessary faculties in becoming a moral person is to study people who apparently lack morality; who are, in philosophical parlance, amoral persons. There seem to be indeed real-life exemplars of such amoral persons, and to study them might lead us exactly in the desired direction. The really amoral people seem to be psychopaths. So to scientifically study psychopaths' lack of capacities might well help us to solve theoretical problems. But we cannot simply apply such empirical research to solve philosophical riddles, because the conceptual basis of the construct of psychopathy is shaky. It is simply not always clear what phenomenon psychiatrists talk about when they refer to psychopathy. Yet, philosophers cannot decide either, by conceptual stipulation, what is means to lack moral knowledge or to be amoral. So both psychiatry and philosophy can benefit from working together in this area of research, but it requires genuine interdisciplinary research.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations

Sam Wilkinson
In this post, I will sketch some ideas from a paper that I have been working on with Vaughan Bell.

Current aetiological models of auditory verbal hallucinations (AVHs) tend to focus on the mechanisms underlying their occurrence, but often fail to address more fine-grained aspects of the content of the auditory experience. In other words, they tend to ask why there are AVHs at all, instead of asking, given that there are AVHs, why they have the properties that they have. One such property, which has been somewhat overlooked, is why the voices are often experienced as coming from (or being the voices of) agents, and often specific agents.

One reason why this has been overlooked (more by theorists than by clinicians) is perhaps the – explicit or implicit – view that, if we can account for the auditory experience, then the agency will follow. Thus Cho and Wu (2013, p.2) claim that ‘it is simple to explain why the patient misattributes the event to another person: that is what it sounds like’. According to such a view, I hear the voice of, e.g., my stepfather because my auditory experience has the properties that resemble those of my stepfather’s voice.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

A Metaphysics of Psychopathology

A Metaphysics of Psychopathology
by Peter Zachar
My name is Peter Zachar and I am a Professor in the Psychology Department at Auburn University Montgomery in the U.S. I have spent two decades writing about the philosophy of psychiatry, particularly in the area of psychiatric classification. About four years ago I decided it was time to systematize what I have learned in a book – which has recently been published by the MIT Press with the title A Metaphysics of Psychopathology.  

There is an ongoing tension between belief in the reality of psychiatric disorders versus the metaphysical skepticism of social constructionism and the anti-psychiatry movement. Within the mental health professions themselves, people have differing views about how much reality to attribute to conditions such as schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. For instance, some professionals consider schizophrenic psychosis to be real, others consider it to be a reified diagnostic category. 

Because psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are deeply involved in what behaviors society considers abnormal, deserving of sympathy, and even excusable, metaphysical questions such as “is PTSD a real disorder” are more than academic. Whether something such as PTSD is considered real matters – in many ways.

In the history of science, metaphysical concepts have been regarded suspiciously by thinkers inclined toward empiricism. Currently, however, the traditional empiricist skepticism that sought to expunge metaphysics from science is considered unworkable. For example, to assert that there is a categorical distinction between metaphysics and science is itself a metaphysical stance. 

In this book I re-introduce some metaphysical scrutiny into psychiatry (in the tradition of a pragmatic empiricism), but do not advocate for anti-psychiatry or its current descendants. If we examine the Science Wars of the 1990s, one of the outcomes was a more discerning use of metaphysical concepts on the part of both the participating scientists and social constructionists. This reduced the extent to which they talked past each other. The lessons learned there can also be applied to psychiatry.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

One Year of Epistemic Innocence

Epistemic Innocence logo
Yesterday, on September 1st, 2014 our project, Epistemic Innocence of Imperfect Cognitions, funded by an AHRC fellowship awarded to myself, came to an end. As my work on the project has been the main reason for starting this blog, I thought I would offer some thoughts on how things have gone, and invite your comments.

Fellowships are forms of funding awarded to an individual, but this project has been from the very beginning a collective effort. The researcher working on the project, Ema Sullivan-Bissett, has contributed to its development and its success in several ways: writing one new paper after the other, giving talks to very demanding audiences and taking excellent care of the blog by commissioning and authoring posts, editing material, all while preparing her (very successful) viva and honouring her teaching commitments.

Ema and I were supported by a wider group of Birmingham-based people who greatly helped us by contributing to the blog, running public engagement events and promoting the project far and wide: Kengo Miyazono (the author of the first post on this blog), Magdalena Antrobus (working on cognitive benefits of bipolar disorder), Gregory Yates (working on schizophrenia and its complexities), Ben Costello (writing about agent responsibility and psychiatric diagnosis) and Rachel Gunn (researching delusions) all deserve a special mention.

We were all inspired by the members of the Imperfect Cognitions research network, a fantastic international group of researchers who were happy to share their results and offer feedback on our preliminary ideas. Some debates on this blog have also helped make progress on some thorny issues outside the scope of the project narrowly conceived, such as the nature of beliefs and delusions, delusion formation theories, and how to understand human memory and what its limitations are.

What was new about Epistemic Innocence? The thought that "imperfect cognitions" (e.g., false beliefs) can be good for a variety of purposes had been explored before. But what we wanted to do was highlight their potential contribution to the advancement of knowledge. That false beliefs can be epistemically beneficial was a counter-intuitive thesis but it sounded promising to us and to those who followed and supported the project from the beginning, via social media (Facebook and Twitter) or by participating in our May workshop. At the core of our research efforts was the sense that there need not be a simple trade-off between epistemic and pragmatic benefits. Here is an example of the trade-off. Take Sarah's false belief that she is more generous than the average person. Of course having that belief may be beneficial to Sarah in a number of ways. She can feel better about herself if she thinks she is very generous, for instance. But if her belief is false, it is not likely to promote her epistemic standing. It is a form of deception.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Distorted Memory: Interview with John Sutton

John Sutton
I interviewed John Sutton, Professor of Cognitive Science at the ARC Centre for Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University, Sydney. John is interested in memory, skill, and distributed cognition, and in his work he seeks to integrate philosophical, psychological, and historical ideas and methods. This is the first in a series of three posts.

ES-B: Do you think that distorted autobiographical memories might have pragmatic benefits insofar as they may function to fill gaps in a person’s recollection of the past, or are distorted in a self-enhancing way?

JS: "I think that’s a very difficult question, and it’s probably going to pan out differently for different kinds of memory pathology. In general, yes, for sure, the mechanisms which give rise to distortions can be adaptive mechanisms, distortions might just be a by-product of mechanisms that work well enough most of the time.

I am uneasy about pushing the line that specific distortions themselves are adaptive too much just because for somebody who stresses the constructive nature of memory, I also want to really underline that remembering is making a claim on the past, memory can be wrong, and that’s not just a philosopher’s point, it’s something that really matters subjectively. I think it’s easy for people like me who talk a lot about constructive processes to lose sight of that fact, that memories are meant to be true, and that phenomenologically when we get some doubt about something we seem to remember that’s something that we worry at, we don’t leave it unresolved."