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.

LB: How would you define intellectual humility, and how did you become interested in it?

DP: Intellectual humility is a very broad notion, and it can mean different things to different researchers. But at the most general level, it involves recognising the fact that we tend to overestimate our cognitive abilities, and hence the need to adjust our epistemic self-image accordingly. My interest in intellectual humility arose from a desire to understand how contemporary themes in cognitive science, particularly regarding cognitive heuristics and biases, have a bearing on epistemology. Primarily, then, my interests were research-led, and this is reflected in the research project I run on this topic with Jesper Kallestrup. In this project we try to connect a number of contemporary issues in epistemology and cognitive science under the general heading of intellectual humility, such as extended and distributed cognition, situationism, epistemic anti-individualism, and epistemic dependence. We also aim to apply some of these ideas to the epistemology of education.

Increasingly, though, I have become convinced of the potential that such an interesting and interdisciplinary topic has with regard to public engagement. This is the aim of the second project that I run with Ian Church. This is devoted to producing a MOOC on intellectual humility which will showcase a wealth of contemporary interdisciplinary research in this area. The MOOC will bring together researchers from across the world from such diverse fields as philosophy, psychology, education, and divinity to discuss, in an accessible manner, the issues raised by intellectual humility. The hope is that this free online course will promote a broader public understanding of this notion.

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.

This is because memory does not work like a video recorder. It does not offer unedited playback of each event we have experienced. Our memory of past events is actually more like a perpetually changing kaleidoscope, where details of memories of previous experiences are continually rearranged to form a momentarily suspended pattern of memories of a certain event only to be rearranged again for next retrieval. Our memory is dynamic and reconstructive (Conway & Pleydell-Pearce 2000). Our personality, experiences, motivation, emotion, social influences (Barnier, Sutton, Harris, & Wilson 2008), and general interpretation of how the world works all impact and colour our past each time we remember.