Friday, 26 September 2014

Philosophy of Mind and Psychology Reading Group --The Predictive Mind chapter 8

Alex Kiefer
Welcome to the Philosophy of Mind and Psychology Reading Group hosted by the Philosophy@Birmingham blog. This month, Alex Kiefer (CUNY), introduces chapter 8 of Jakob Hohwy's The Predictive Mind (OUP, 2013).

Chapter 8 - Surprise and Misrepresentation
Presented by Alex Kiefer

Chapter 8 of The Predictive Mind explores longstanding and unresolved debates about the nature of mental representation and representational content from the point of view of the Prediction Error Minimization framework. The chapter is concerned primarily with perceptual representation, in keeping with the emphasis on perception throughout the book.

Jakob offers novel perspectives on a wide range of topics in the theory of content and the philosophy of mind more generally. In this post I'll focus on the two topics that I take to be most crucial for characterizing the account of representational content that best fits with the PEM framework: misrepresentation and causal VS descriptive theories of content. The positions sketched in the chapter with respect to these topics can be summarized in the following two claims:

Misrepresentation: Misrepresentation is perceptual inference that minimizes short-term prediction error while undermining long-term prediction error minimization.

Causal VS descriptive theories: Cognitive systems that minimize prediction error represent the world by maintaining causally guided descriptions (modes of presentation) of states of affairs in the world.

In what follows I'll discuss these claims and Jakob's arguments for them in more detail, then consider challenges for each position as well as connections between the two topics.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Philosophy of Religion One-Day Workshop (9th October)

The John Hick Centre for Philosophy of Religion is pleased to announce

The 7th Philosophy of Religion One-Day Workshop

Date: 9th October, 2014

Location: Room G16, Law Building, University of Birmingham


2:00-2:45: Dani Adams (University of Leeds), ‘'God and Laws of Nature’

2:45-3:30: Toby Betenson (University of Birmingham), ‘Moral Anti-Theodicy and the Moral Philosophy of Raimond Gaita’

3:30-3:45: Break

3:45-4:30: Sarah Adams (University of Leeds), ‘Theism and Modal Expressivism’

4:30-5:30: Erik Wielenberg (DePauw University, USA), ‘The Absurdity of Life in a Christian Universe’

All welcome. Please let Yujin Nagasawa know whether you are planning to attend.

Birmingham Workshops: Aesthetics & Value (29th September)

Our series of BIRMINGHAM WORKSHOPS IN PHILOSOPHY starts on Monday 29th September with a workshop on Aesthetics & Value.

Aesthetics & Value

10:40am Coffee & Biscuits

11:00am Paul Boghossian (Birmingham, NYU): “Should We Be Objectivists about Aesthetic Value?”


1:45 Coffee

2pm Eileen John (Warwick): “Are Meals Art?”                    

4pm Aaron Meskin (Leeds): “Challenges to Experimental Aesthetics”

Talks will be in room G05 of the Law building. This is building R1 on the campus map.

All welcome. Please contact Scott Sturgeon if you are planning to attend.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Climate Change and Divestment Policies

Scott Wisor
Yesterday, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund made headlines by announcing that it would divest its portfolio of fossil fuel companies. The announcement was timed to coincide with global protests calling on governments to take action to combat climate change. The announcement seems welcome—one time oil barons decide it is time to shift to a green economy. But is the fossil fuel divestment campaign structured so as to contribute to efforts to halt global warming?

In a recent post at the Ethics and International Affairs blog, Scott Wisor argues not. On his view, the campaign is designed in such a way as that it cannot effectively change the conduct of fossil fuel companies. Worse, it may draw strength from more effective efforts to combat climate change by directing activist energy to misguided policies.

What do you think? Have a read of Scott’s post and feel free to comment.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Philosophy of Mind and Psychology Reading Group -- The Predictive Mind chapter 7

Kengo Miyazono
Welcome to the Philosophy of Mind and Psychology Reading Group hosted by the Philosophy@Birmingham blog. This month, Kengo Miyazono, post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Birmingham, introduces chapter 7 of Jakob Hohwy's The Predictive Mind (OUP, 2013).

Chapter 7 - Precarious Prediction
Presented by Kengo Miyazono

In chapter seven, Hohwy describes the ways in which perceptual inference is tuned in order to represent the world correctly and the ways in which it goes wrong.

The chapter discusses many different issues, but the central idea is that maintaining the "balance between trusting the sensory input and consequently keeping on sampling the world, versus distrusting the sensory input and instead relying more on one's prior beliefs" (146) is crucial in the successful operation of perceptual inference. Maintaining it is not a trivial task. And, the failure of the maintenance might be responsible for pathological conditions such as delusions or autism.

In principle, the prediction errors that are expected to be precise are allowed to drive revisions of prior beliefs higher up the hierarchy, while the prediction errors that are expected to be imprecise are not allowed to do so. Ideally, we expect high precision in predictions errors and, hence, allow them to drive belief revisions when they are trustworthy and expect low precision in prediction errors and, hence, do not allow them to drive belief revisions when they are not.

But, the process can go wrong. A possibility is that some people expect sensory prediction errors to be much less precise than they actually are. Hohwy suggests that this is what is happening in people with delusions; "a persistent, exaggerated expectation for noise and uncertainty would lead to imprecise sensory prediction errors mediated by low gain on sensory input and heightened reliance on top-down priors. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Agent-Responsibility and Psychiatric Diagnosis

In this post PhD student Benjamin Costello talks about his research. Ben is supervised by Lisa Bortolotti and Iain Law, and soon Hanna Pickard will join his supervisory team too.

Benjamin Costello
My research is concerned with the relationship between mental illness, involuntary hospitalisation, and the sequencing of actions and personal identity. My thesis can be broken-down into the following four areas:

Moral Sequencing: Accounting for the nature of and changes in agency, personality, and identity. I am in the process of examining the nature of agency, personality, and identity, ascertaining the link between them, and determining how these alter or change. I am devising new models of moral sequences that can be used to track the actions of agents, which account for changes in personality/identity, and can help ascertain if and when an intervention is justifiable. I argue that these models have ramifications for how personality disorders and dissociative disorders should be discussed and used both in psychiatry and in the DSM/ICD. By constructing these models, I hope to: (a) establish a relationship between agency and personality/identity; (b) assess the dangerousness of an individual and the need to intervene; (c) gauge the extent to which an identity-change undermines agent-responsibility; and (d) elucidate how detentions based solely on the presence of a mental disorder is morally unjustifiable.

The criteria for being labelled ‘dangerous’ and ascertaining when intervention is justifiable. With the aim of positively influencing the way mental disorders are perceived, I aim to debunk the idea that the mentally ill are ipso facto dangerous (either to themselves or to others). Within the models of moral sequencing, I aim to incorporate a method of ascertaining the justifiability of intervening to assess the dangerousness of agents and prevent dangerous people from harming by constructing a “quick but accurate” hybrid decision theory that amalgamates a calculated decision-making mechanism (based on Bayesian probability) with a fast-and-frugal mechanism (based on Damasio’s Somatic Marker Hypothesis).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Emotion and Consciousness: Damasio's Hypothesis

Isaura Peddis
This week PhD student Isaura Peddis writes about her research. Isaura is supervised by Iain Law and Lisa Bortolotti in the Philosophy Department, and her thesis is provisionally entitled 'The Importance of Empathy'.

I am a first year PhD student interested in emotions, particularly in empathy. In the last couple of months, I have researched the cognitive and feeling theories of emotions. During my research, I came across Damasio’s theory of emotions, which I will shortly summarise here. In my opinion, his idea well introduces the important role of consciousness for emotions, as it is a key factor for empathy and any actions deriving from this feeling. This is a topic that I will particularly focus on in my dissertation.

Antonio Damasio thinks that, to feel an emotion, an organism must satisfy three prerequisites. Firstly, the organism has to have a body and represent it through its mind; this excludes plants which do not have neural patterns to process the reaction of the stimuli like a brain would. Secondly, the organism has to have a nervous system able to map body structures and body states and transform this information into a mental representation. Thirdly, the brain creates the neural patterns that generate emotions through a constant interaction with the objects that provoke those emotions (Damasio, 2004: 109-110). Therefore, in simple words, an emotion is a change that happens into our body and is trigged by the interaction that an organism has with a particular object. Through our sensory perception and thoughts, we elaborate a mental representation of the relation between the body and the object, and this causes the bodily changes that we feel and normally label as emotions.