Thursday, 30 April 2015

Consciousness and Cognition - Special Issue

Ema Sullivan-Bissett gives us an overview of the latest edition of Consciousness and Cognition which she co-edited with Lisa Bortolotti:



In May 2014, Lisa Bortolotti and I organized a workshop on the Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions, funded by Lisa’s AHRC grant for her project on the Epistemic Innocence of Imperfect Cognitions. We have since edited a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition, which includes most of the papers presented at the workshop, plus two more. In this post I will summarise the papers in the special issue (to see fuller summaries head over to our blog, where the authors have blogged about their papers).

In our Introduction Lisa and I describe our two objectives for the issue. The first is to look at what kinds of costs and benefits imperfect cognitions might have, and the second is to explore the relationship between such costs and benefits.

Lisa then opens the issue with her paper ‘The Epistemic Innocence of Motivated Delusions’ (blog post summary here). She argues that motivated delusions (those which have been understood as playing a defensive function), may have both psychological and epistemic benefits, and she introduces the notion of epistemic innocence to capture cognitions which have epistemic benefits which are otherwise unavailable. She argues for the conclusion that motivated delusions are sometimes epistemically innocent by looking at the case of anasognosia, and pointing out that alternatives to the delusional belief that one is not impaired is unavailable to the subject, since she does not have direct evidence of her impairment and she is unable to integrate indirect evidence of her impairment into her concept of self.

In her paper ‘The Virtual Bodily Self: Mentalisation of the Body as Revealed in Anosognosia for Hemiplegia’ (blog post summary here), Aikaterini Fotopoulou argues that the present self is known via perceptual inference (whilst the past self is known via inference from autobiographical memory). She argues that anosognosia for hemiplegia is an exaggerated imperfection of bodily awareness, which is due to the subject’s inability to update bodily awareness in response to new information about the affect body parts, as well as an inability to integrate first and third-person perspectives of the body.

Jules Holroyd argues in her paper ‘Implicit Bias, Awareness and Imperfect Cognitions’ (blog post summary here), that one can and should have observational awareness of the effects of implicitly biased behaviours. If one has observational awareness, one is aware that one’s behaviour has some morally undesirable property, for example, the property of being discriminatory. She also suggests that whether or not people are responsible for their actions guided by implicit biases may be informed by the relationship between such biases and other imperfect cognitions (e.g., failures of attentiveness and self-deception).

In their paper ‘Can Evolution get us off the Hook? Evaluating the Ecological Defence of Human Rationality’ (blog post summary here), Maarten Boudry, Michael Vlerick, and Ryan McKay ask whether human reasoners can be exculpated of their irrationality via ecological considerations. They argue that though some reasoning heuristics might have local adaptiveness, this is not an indicator of such heuristics being epistemically rational.

Jordi Fern├índez defends the possibility of beneficial memory distortion in his paper ‘What are the Benefits of Memory Distortion?’ (blog post summary here). He looks at two forms of distorted memory: observer memories, and fabricated memories, and asks whether they can be adaptive. Looking at these kinds of memory distortion brings to light an interesting result: if we are narrative function theorists about memories, observer memories and fabricated memories do not count as distorted, due to their pragmatic benefits. If we are preservative theorists about memories, observer memories and fabricated memories do not have benefits, because only epistemic benefits count. Jordi concludes that these two cases demonstrate that we should take an inclusive approach to the functions of memory.

In my paper ‘Implicit Bias, Confabulation, and Epistemic Innocence’ (blog post summary here), I explore the nature of confabulatory explanations of action guided by implicit bias. I frame my discussion with two imaginary cases: that of Roger, whose implicit bias against women guides his decision not to invite a good (female) candidate to interview, and that of Sylvia, whose implicit bias against black people guides her action in crossing the road upon seeing a (non-threatening) black man. I argued that sometimes confabulatory explanations of decisions or actions guided by implicit bias can be epistemically innocent, and that when we are evaluating confabulatory explanations, we ought to take into account the context in which they occur.

In his paper ‘Delusions as Harmful Malfunctioning Beliefs’ (blog post summary here), Kengo Miyazono gives a positive account of the pathological nature of delusional beliefs. He defends a Wakefieldian account of delusional belief according to which delusions are harmful beliefs producing by malfunctioning psychological mechanisms. Delusions are pathological because they involve a harmful biological malfunction, they are produced in a biologically abnormal way.

Finally, Martin Conway and Catherine Loveday in their paper ‘Remembering, Imaginings, False Memories and Personal Meanings’ (blog post summary here), suggest that false memories can carry significant benefits. Drawing on empirical work on memory, they argue against the preservative function of memory in favour of a view which has it that memories and imagined events are constructed in a similar way, via the ‘remembering–imagining system’. They conclude that the main function of memory is to provide agents with an understanding of the world which will allow them to adapt to it, via the generation of personal meanings.


As Lisa and I note in our Introduction, we think that the eight papers collected in this issue initiate a much needed interdisciplinary dialogue on imperfect cognitions and their costs and benefits as they occur in the clinical and non-clinical populations. 

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