Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Sense of Agency in Hypnosis and Beyond

Vince Polito
I’m Vince Polito, a postdoctoral researcher at Macquarie University, Sydney Australia. My area of research is sense of agency, that is the sense of control that each of us feels over our own self-generated actions. This is normally an unremarkable sense – right now I am intending to type this post and so my fingers move to press each key in turn and I have a sense of agency for the movements.

There are situations, however, where our normal sense of agency is disrupted. Perhaps the most striking example is alien control delusions. Patients with these delusions report that particular body movements are controlled by some external entity (Spence, 2001). A reduced sense of agency is also a defining characteristic of hypnotic responding. Individuals who are highly hypnotisable will often report that actions they make in response to hypnotic suggestions occur without their conscious intention. Hypnosis provides a marvellous opportunity to study sense of agency alteration. Whereas patients with alien control delusions are relatively rare and often unwilling or impractical research participants, hypnosis can be used in experimental designs with members of the general public to create safe, fully reversible instances of agency change in the lab (Oakley& Halligan, 2013).

Thursday, 17 July 2014


Attention by Wayne Wu
I am currently Associate Professor in, and Associate Director of, the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.

Consider some mundane situations: (a) you've lost your keys and look around searching for them; (b) you watch picnickers throw a frisbee when suddenly, it flies towards you and you reach to catch it; (c) you memorize the first 30 digits of pi and then later, recall them; (d) you drink some wine and figure out what flavors it exemplifies; (e) you ponder various reasons for making a significant decision or for justifying a specific claim; (f) while onlookers are oblivious, a child's straying too close to a busy road captures your attention.

These mundane situations reflect instances of bodily and mental agency, of conscious awareness, of directed thought, and of epistemic and practical reflection. They are tied together by the subject's selective attunement to various facets of a situation. That is, they exemplify the deployment of attention (or so I would argue). Attention insinuates itself into many matters of philosophical significance.

In Attention, part of Routledge's New Problems in Philosophy series, I argue for the philosophical importance of attention. My aim is to provide an overview of empirical work on attention, investigate what attention is, and use that understanding to examine different philosophical issues infiltrated by attention.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Epistemic Innocence of (Some) Psychedelic States

Chris Letheby
Greetings! I'm a Ph.D. student at the University of Adelaide, Australia, writing a thesis on philosophical issues concerning scientific research into psychedelic drugs. This research raises questions in bioethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychiatry, philosophy of self, naturalised epistemology, and philosophy of cognitive science. In this post I propose that some psychedelic states are epistemically innocent imperfect cognitions. I have omitted citations for stylistic reasons but will gladly supply them on request.

Psychedelic (or 'hallucinogenic') drugs are once again being studied as psychotherapeutic and transformative agents, and results thus far are intriguing. There is evidence that a single administration of a psychedelic can yield durable improvement in symptoms of such conditions as obsessive compulsive disorder, treatment-resistant depression, addiction, and anxiety associated with terminal illness. Moreover, psychedelic experiences have been shown to cause lasting personality change in healthy adults.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

European Epistemology Network Meeting in Madrid

Centro Cultural La Corrala Madrid
The 2014 meeting of the European Epistemology Network took place in Madrid during June 30th and July 2nd. It brought together philosophers from various universities (mainly in Europe) working on epistemology, and it provided an ideal opportunity for those philosophers to be aware of each other’s work and establish research collaboration links. Members of the Imperfect Cognitions network, such as Kengo Miyazono and myself, were present at this interesting conference.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Mental Time Travel

We are posting this on behalf of Dorothea Debus, Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of York.
Dorothea Debus
Hello! My name is Dorothea Debus, and my research is on topics in the Philosophy of Mind and Psychology. I've recently written a paper on a new paradigm in experimental psychology, the paradigm of 'mental time travel', and Lisa has asked me to write a piece for this blog on my work on that topic.

'Mental Time Travel' is a comparatively new research paradigm in experimental psychology and the neurosciences. Relevant empirical work starts from the observation that there might be important similarities between, and maybe even a shared neuro­physiologial basis for, our engaging with the past in memory, and our engaging with the future in foresight. Both ways of relating to times other than the present are then, in an attempt to emphasize relevant similarities, referred to as cases of 'mental time travel'.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

How The Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In is a philosophy festival aimed at the general public, which runs for nine days around the end of May and the beginning of June in the Globe theatre in Hay-on-Wye, and in various tents in the grounds around the theatre, as well as at the new riverside location. There are several themed strands which cover lots of different areas in philosophy.

Neuroscience versus Philosophy
This year (as in other years) there were themed talks around mind, madness and power and speakers included Steven Rose, Maggie Boden and Barry C. Smith who all participated in a discussion entitled 'Neuroscience versus Philosophy'.

Boden advocates first understanding what human traits we are looking for, expressed in computational terms, and then trying to find neuro-scientific correlates. She suggests that, as the philosophical and computational work has not been done yet, this renders the neuroscience almost totally irrelevant. She cites Uta and Chris Frith’s work on neuroscientific correlates for autism (e.g. Frith & Frith 2009) but questions what use this is to us if we don’t have a fully developed philosophical and computational notion of, say, theory of mind and other differences associated with autism. She is not even sure that having this fully developed picture would help us. If all we are able to see is more or less blood flow to certain areas of the brain in an fMRI scan under certain conditions, how do we use this in practical terms? For Boden neuroscience can’t answer philosophical questions but it might inform them.