Mind, Science and Everything!

Our understanding of the mind and experience, once the product of largely a priori reasoning and speculation, has increasingly profited from discoveries in the empirical sciences.  Most obviously, philosophers have drawn on data from the neurosciences and psychology, but research from such disparate fields as biological evolution, psychiatry and quantum physics has also been claimed to have possible implications for the philosophies of mind and perception.

The Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience is convening a graduate conference to promote interdisciplinary discussion of the relationship between the philosophies of mind and perception and relevant scientific disciplines.  In particular we are interested in exploring issues related to the following questions:

  • What is the role of empirical evidence in informing and shaping philosophical theories?
  • How do philosophical theories guide and influence scientific research?
  • To what extent does philosophy of mind go beyond the reach of science?

The deadline for submissions has now passed.

The conference will be held on Friday 25th and Saturday the 26th of June 2010, in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.


The registration fee for the conference is £15 and this includes the attendance fee for both days, lunch, teas and coffee. The conference main dinner, which will be held on the evening of the 26th at the Left Bank Restaurant, is a further £15.

To register please complete the MSE! conference registration form, and email it to either John Donaldson or Andy MacGregor.

The registration deadline is Sunday 20th of June.

 Keynote Speakers & Abstracts

Professor Philippe Schyns, Department of Psychology, University of Glasgow

"Decoding the Information Processing Dynamics of Cortical Activity"
Abstract: If the brain is a machine that processes information, then its cognitive activity can be interpreted as a set of information processing states linking stimulus to response (i.e. as a mechanism or an algorithm). The cornerstone of this research agenda is the existence of a method to translate the measurable states of brain activity into the information processing states of a cognitive theory. Here, we contend that reverse correlation methods can provide this translation and we frame the transitions between information processing states in the context of automata theory. We illustrate, using examples from visual cognition, how this novel framework can be applied to understand the information processing algorithms of the brain in cognitive neuroscience.

Dr George Botterill, Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield

"Transparency, Richness, and HoT Consciousness"
Abstract: Some of us (Botterill and Carruthers, 1999; Carruthers, 2000) think there are general reasons for finding a higher-order thought theory of consciousness congenial. Chief among these are that in giving a functional account of what it is for a state or experience to be conscious it both avoids Mysterianism and holds out the possibility of an explanation as to how consciousness could have evolved. Two popular complaints against HoT theory are: (1) it is committed to a distinction, between what experience is like and what the world-as-experienced is like, which allegedly cannot be made out because of the transparency of experience (Moore, 1903; Harman, 1990; Dretske, 1995; Tye, 1995, 2000); and (2) it implies that consciousness is restricted to creatures capable of higher-order thought — and many have the intuition that this is too restrictive. I examine how the claim that experience is transparent is to be understood and conclude that it is straightforwardly false in the case of ordinary human visual experience. The transparency claim was only ever made to appear plausible by the use of examples which facilitate neglect of the the richness and perspectival character of visual experience. As richness is a matter of the co-conscious integration of very many phenomenal features in evanescent visual fields, it is inevitable that the great majority of these features — although available to be the target of HoTs — will never be the subject of higher-order thinking. So there may be a way of assuaging the second complaint: by acknowledging precursors of consciousness in the form of short-term memory mechanisms which integrate perceptual fields.


Graduate Speakers, Abstracts & Biographical Summaries

Umut Baysan, Informatics Institute, Middle East Technical University

"Cognitive Science Explanations and the Relevance of Physical Information"

Abstract: Are there any physical constraints on the computations that realize cognitive properties? In this paper, I introduce empirical evidence showing that some computations are partly dependent on the constraints that are imposed by the structure of our bodies. One source of evidence comes from the observation of the Simon effect, which occurs due to the fact that responses are faster and more accurate when the stimulus and response share the same dimension (Simon, 1969). It is observed that some features of this effect change in accordance with the way the task is conducted, and these differences occur because of the changes in the computations the mind makes (Wiegand & Wascher, 2007). These computations depend on the constraints that our bodies impose. Moreover, in one study, it is shown that, from some features of the Simon effect, one can predict whether the participant is right-handed or left-handed (Rubichi & Nicoletti, 2006). Then, it follows that, apart from the availability of the constraints, one can predict physical properties of the body from cognitive properties. In conclusion, these facts suggest that physical properties and cognitive properties are linked in some cognitive science explanations.

Umut is an MSc student of cognitive science at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey, and a research assistant in the Informatics Institute of the same university. His areas of interest include philosophy of mind and cognition, philosophy of biology, and embodied cognition. He is mainly interested in the question of whether recent studies in cognitive science can shape the discussions of the problems of philosophy of mind in a conclusive way. If he is not studying or reading, Umut is probably drinking whisky or watching a football game.


Stuart Crutchfield, University of Glasgow

"The Evidence for Phenomenal Consciousness in the Absence of Access Consciousness"

Abstract: Following Ned Block, many people have drawn a distinction between phenomenal consciousness and access consciousness. When a state is phenomenally conscious, there is something it is like to be in that state, and when a state is access conscious, the contents of the state are available for use by a subject in reasoning, action and reporting. Since Block made this conceptual distinction, there have been questions raised about the possibility of having access consciousness without phenomenal consciousness, or vice versa, and various cases have been held up as putative examples of one or the other. This paper is concerned with the potential evidence we might have for saying of a given case that phenomenal consciousness is present, despite a lack of access consciousness; and the worry that I will raise is that there is no independent test for phenomenal consciousness, aside from access consciousness.

Stuart is a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, and Graduate Assistant at the Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience. His thesis is centred on the issue of the phenomenal unity of perceptual experience, and touches on other issues in the philosophy of mind and perception. His other research interests include the individuation of the senses, auditory perception and the metaphysics of sounds, and various metaphilosophical and methodological concerns, such as the role of thought experiments. He is originally from a part of Scotland where they still point at planes.

Kelvin McQueen, Australian National University

"A Quantum Mechanical Defence of Physicalism"

Abstract: The mind-body problem concerns the reducibility of phenomenal facts (facts about phenomenal consciousness) to physical facts. Reducibility is a relation holding between non-fundamental facts and (more) fundamental facts where the latter can in some sense account for the former. Our understanding of the reducibility relation is got from studying cases in which the relation intuitively holds. Using studies of non-quantum cases (often cases of reduction to quasi-classical molecular facts e.g. water to H2O), David Chalmers and Frank Jackson defend the idea that the A-facts reduce to the B-facts iff the B-facts apriori entail the A-facts. Chalmers (via the 'concievability argument') argues that because phenomenal facts cannot be apriori entailed by physical facts, mind-body dualism must be true. While I believe his argument to be plausible, it at best establishes the conditional: 'if we live in a quasi-classical physical world then the reducibility relation (that non-fundamental facts generally bare to (more) fundamental facts) does not hold between phenomenal facts and physical facts'. But against the antecedent, we live in a quantum physical world. I will (using the GRW interpretation) argue that quantum mechanics introduces 'wavefunction facts' at the fundamental level, which cannot be expected to apriori entail non-fundamental facts, despite the conviction in physics that they reductively explain non-fundamental facts. I will argue that this severs the link between apriori entailment and reducibility and consequently cripples the use of conceivability arguments for dualism, and paves the way for understanding how phenomenal facts might be reductively explained by physical facts.

Kelvin grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand. He went to the University of Otago to study computer science. Kelvin took a couple of interest courses in philosophy in his first year and after coming across the problem of free will, he began taking philosophy and particularly the metaphysics of mind, very seriously. He eventually dropped computer science in his third year, and went on to do a masters in philosophy, on David Chalmers’ argument for the irreducible fundamentality of consciousness – a rigorous formulation of what Descartes was getting at centuries ago. Kelvin focused on the use of a priori reasoning in the argument, and argued that all such uses are sound. Two years ago, He moved to Canberra, to do a PhD under David Chalmer's supervision, to work specifically on the issue of what it would take to reductively explain consciousness. Since April he has been visiting Oxford University, to see David's Locke Lectures on his understanding of the a priori, and to receive tuition from the philosophy of physics research group. He has (tentatively) come to the conclusion that the notion of reduction that comes from classical mechanics (and its relation to the special sciences) is one that quite plausibly makes consciousness look irreducibly fundamental. But that the notion of reduction coming from quantum mechanics, and in particular, the notion that arises from plausible attempts to reduce the truth of particle-statements to the truth of wavefunction-statements is one that does not motivate us to take consciousness as irreducible. At the conference he will be talking about this in the most non-technical way he knows how. And despite what you may have come to expect from the pre-exhibition rituals of kiwis, he regrets to inform you that he (probably) will not be performing a haka, prior to his talk.


Kathy Puddifoot, University of Sheffield

"Thinking Scientifically About Rationality"

Abstract: Philosophy of rationality is an area of philosophy where empirical findings and scientific theories are particularly influential. Many philosophers concerned with the nature of rationality respect the ‘ought implies can’ principle: they accept that the criteria used to assess rationality should be within the reach of ordinary thinkers, so they are willing to factor in cognitive limitations when developing normative theories about human reasoning. Since proponents of the ‘heuristics and biases view’ in psychology presented findings suggesting that humans are often unable to follow the principles of logic and probability theory there has been much philosophical debate about whether the normative principles usually associated with rationality in philosophy – those promoting careful deliberation and integration of all available information in line with logic and probability theory – should be adjusted to reflect cognitive and resource limitations.  One example of such an approach is presented in response to the findings presented by evolutionary psychologists. Evolutionary psychologists present findings suggesting that human reasoning is underwritten by adaptive reasoning processes. These findings have led some philosophers to argue that traditional notions of rationality associated with careful deliberation should be replaced by normative principles associated with adaptive fast and frugal methods of reasoning. In this talk I am going to argue that the empirical findings justify less radical adjustments to intuitive theories of rationality than these philosophers suggest. I shall thus defend a view of rationality that takes empirical findings about reasoning seriously but nonetheless respects intuitive notions of rationality.  

Kathy started studying philosophy as an undergraduate at Durham University. After graduating she spent a couple of years working in the public sector and travelling before returning to philosophy to study a Masters at the UEA, Norwich. During the masters she mostly focused on philosophy of linguistics and concepts and became increasingly interested in the innate capacities of the human mind and the extent and limits of human cognition. In the summer of 2008 this interest led her to move to Sheffield with partner and cat in tow to begin studying for her PhD. She is currently in her second year there. Her thesis focuses on the rationality debates in the cognitive sciences. She is particularly interested in drawing out the implications of the claim made by evolutionary psychologists that humans have adaptive cognitive systems guiding reasoning. More generally, she is interested in the ways that philosophy and science ought to be interrelated in discussions about the nature and extent of human rationality. Her general research interests are in philosophy of mind and psychology, epistemology and philosophical methodology. She works in the Hang Seng Centre for Cognitive Studies at the University of Sheffield and is a BSPS doctoral scholar. When not involved in philosophy related activities Kathy loves supporting her home football team, Norwich City, running, and watching all sorts of films - those that are good, bad and somewhere inbetween.

Kevin Reuter, Birbeck College, University of London

"Who Should Study Attention, Philosophers or Scientists?"

Abstract: Attention is a potential gateway to the study of consciousness and its relation to consciousness has therefore attracted great interest. In this paper I discuss and reject the thesis that attention is sufficient for consciousness, and investigate the merits of a philosophical approach versus a scientific approach to this debate. The traditional tools which philosophers avail themselves of to examine this relation are very limited: conceptual analysis and the probing of intuitions. Mole (2008) believes that our commonsense notion of attention supports the view that attention cannotoccur without consciousness. He defuses a potential counterexample to this view by probing people’s intuitions. However, because attention is not necessarily a voluntary personal-level process, I claim that intuitions about attention can be very misleading, and that we should rather investigate attention through carefully designed experiments. Two of these experiments, a blindsight case and interocular rivalry, are then presented which seem to show that attention can indeed occur without consciousness. I expound how De Brigard and Prinz (2009) interpret these empirical cases as instances of spatial attention and hence avoid the threat to the sufficiency claim. I argue that these interpretations are difficult to maintain - again relying on the distinction between sub-personal bottom-up processes and top-down attention. De Brigard & Prinz seem to face the dilemma that adhering to the sufficiency claim results in the abandoning of selection as an aspect of the notion of attention, which should be considered as decisive evidence against the sufficiency claim.

Kevin thinks that whereas the ultimate answer to the question of mind, science and everything is very likely not a number, Douglas Adams was certainly correct that coming up with the right questions is even harder than answering them. So far Kevin has acquired a taste for at least two ways of posing questions. During his physics studies in Munich, model building and tedious empirical investigation were the guiding principles with mathematics being the language of communication. As a PhD student of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, London, he is now confronted with inquiries on meaning and existence with some form of English being the lingua franca; which, interestingly, most people believe to be easier to understand than maths. His thinking is shaped by a mixture of these two tastes: when he did experiments, he was drawn to philosophical questions; on the other hand, on reading some philosophers he wishes they would have spent some time in the lab. The main topic of his doctoral thesis is introspection, and he is happy to defend the view that the tensions between scientific and philosophical analysis will continue to trouble this topic for a long time to come. Kevin thinks that we might never resolve the issue of mind, science and everything, but his provisional response for this conference is to focus on whether philosophers or scientists should study attention. He believes that solving this problem is important for any future hitchhiker’s guide to the Mind.

Kranti Saran, Harvard University

"Must all Bodily Sensations Feel to be Located on the Body?"

Abstract: Must all bodily sensations feel to be located on the extent of the body, as Martin (1998) argues, or can they feel to be located externally to it, as Wittgenstein (1958) thought possible? I argue for the latter possibility. After reconstructing Martin's argument for the necessity of sensations feeling to be located on the body, I introduce empirical evidence against his conclusion. Martin notes that the empirical evidence has force only if one assumes that the location of sensation does not demarcate the felt extent of the body. Martin rejects that assumption. I present an argument in favor of the assumption and defend its premises from objections open to Martin. I conclude that the assumption stands and hence the empirical evidence refutes Martin.

Kranti stumbled into philosophy thanks to his poor performance in school leaving examinations in India. With economics, mathematics and other roads to riches closed off, he threw himself into philosophy, hoping to eventually redeem himself by becoming a lawyer. Due to further fortuitous stumbles, the law never welcomed him. Kranti eventually washed ashore as a graduate student at the University of Virginia, where he was taught how to write a paper and developed an appetite for the philosophy of perception. After a brief stint in Virginia, he transferred to Harvard, which had the effect of recasting his life thus far in a new and glowing light to his family and friends. Since then he has had two children and engaged in an aborted attempt to defend positive metaphysical disjunctivism. Bloodied and repentant, he now spends his time thinking about bodily sensations, their spatial character, and the kind of self-knowledge that our awareness of bodily sensations engenders. Late at night, when nobody is looking, he guiltily indulges his taste for old school metaphysics written in D.C. Williams' flamboyant style, and thinks about the significance of death.

Max Seeger, University of Bielefeld

"Experimental Philosophy, the Concept of Knowledge, and the Gettier Intuition"

Abstract: Traditional philosophy relies heavily on the use of thought experiments and on the intuitive judgments elicited by them. Recently, so called experimental philosophers have argued that intuitions are not a trustworthy source of evidence. Their arguments are based on empirical investigations which purportedly show that intuition varies with irrelevant factors. Armchair philosophers have offered different answers in defense of intuition, such as the expertise defense or the conceptual divergence strategy. My claim in this paper is that the whole debate is cast at a too general level. Instead of debating the trustworthiness of intuition in general, we should be looking at particular examples. Both sides need to take into account the diversity of intuitions. While some empirical findings do present a problem to the intuition in question, others may be easily assuaged. Similarly, different armchair defenses may be successful in some cases, but not in others. I will illustrate this claim by discussing the Gettier intuition, which has been put into doubt by one of the very first studies in experimental philosophy. The study purports to show that the intuition varies with cultural background and therefore shouldn’t be appealed to as evidence. I will briefly portray different armchair defenses and compare their plausibility in this particular case to their plausibility in other cases. The main lesson will be that even small differences in the case under discussion may yield differences in plausibility of different armchair defenses.

Max studied philosophy and biology at the University of Bielefeld, Germany. In honouring a venerable tradition he is currently taking way too long writing his Masters thesis. As an excuse he cites his job as a teaching assistant at the Bielefeld Department of Philosophy. Before focusing on methodological questions and the debate surrounding experimental philosophy he spent lots of time thinking about diverse philosophical topics and thinkers such as the explanatory gap argument in the philosophy of mind, Saul Kripke’s influence on language, mind, and metaphysics, distributive justice in John Rawls’ Theory of Justice, Jerry Cohen’s Egalitarianism, etc. When Max is not philosophizing he is probably busy keeping his two daughters from giving the cat a new haircut or conducting another one of their so called experiments which typically involve flour, water, and baking soda. Attempts to combine philosophy and caretaking have failed miserably so far:  “Do we really need another one of these experiments if there is no hypothesis being tested?” – “But a hypothesis there is! Before we spread half of the goo all over the kitchen Max will be ready for another nervous breakdown.” Once this has been confirmed Max will do some road cycling.

Richard Stöckle-Schobel, University of Edinburgh

"Interaction, Dynamic Systems, and Representations: Three concepts of philosophy and the cognitive sciences"

Abstract: In this paper, I want to investigate how developmental psychology has informed the philosophy of mind in recent years. The research in social cognition in infants led by Trevarthen (1979) has become the basis for a recent contender to the classic Theory of Mind approaches. Interaction Theory (IT) holds that our understanding of other’s intentions and thoughts is based on our embodied capacities to engage in interactive practices. Infants have a much earlier understanding of themselves as subjects and of other people as being like them – an understanding that leads to intersubjectivity – than classic developmental theories would have posited. In the first part of the paper, I will lay out IT’s basic assumptions. One important point of divergence between IT and ToM is the role of mental representations. I will elaborate on the Dynamic Systems Theory perspective of Thelen & Smith (1994, 2006) to find support for a different kind of notion of representation. The dynamic interpretation of mental representations that I want to present starts off with a change in perspective: whereas CTM regards representations as static symbols that are like snapshots of mental states, I claim that a diachronic study of mental episodes is a better explanation of the way in which perception and conceptualisation inform each other and of how perception leads to action. Several streams of activity, both sensorimotor and conceptual, are interwoven and create the feeling of a unified conscious state that we normally attribute. This dynamic notion of representation is better suited to explain the actual goings-on in social interaction and cognition.

Richard started his studies of philosophy in Munich, where he was vigorously thrown out of vague post-existentialist (if that is a term at all) fantasies about philosophy into the bleak reality of analytic philosophy and propositional logic. He somehow got used to it, even re-approached French philosophy (via Merleau-Ponty) and is now happy to form his philosophical theorising at the intersection of developmental psychology, analytic philosophy of mind and the excitement that lies in extending cognition.
Now, Richard is a first-year PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, working on questions of concept acquisition, the relation between philosophical and psychological theories of concepts and on sensorimotor theories of concepts. His PhD thesis researches the import of developmental psychology for a philosophical account of conceptual development.

Conference Programme

Friday, June 25th             
09.00 - 09.55    Arrivals; Registration; Tea & Coffee   
  Common Room, Department of Philosophy  
09.55 - 11.25    Professor Philippe Schyns   Decoding the Information Processing Dynamics of Cortical Activity   Caird Room, Department of Philosophy 
11.30 - 12.30    Kevin Reuter   Who Should Study Attention, Philosophers or Scientists?    Caird Room, Department of Philosophy  
12.30 - 13.30    Lunch       Common Room, Department of Philosophy 
13.30 - 14:30    Max Seeger   Experimental Philosophy, the Concept of Knowledge, and the Gettier Intuition    Caird Room, Department of Philosophy   
14:35 - 15:35    Umut Baysan   Cognitive Science Explanations and the Relevance of Physical Information   Caird Room, Department of Philosophy   
15.35 - 16.00    Tea & Coffee       Common Room, Department of Philosophy  
16.00 - 17.00    Kathy Puddifoot   Thinking Scientifically About Rationality    Caird Room, Department of Philosophy   

Saturday, June 26th             
09.30 - 09.55   Tea & Coffee        Common Room, Department of Philosophy   
09.55 - 11.25    Dr. George Botterill    Transparency, Richness, and HoT Consciousness    Caird Room, Department of Philosophy  
11.30 - 12.30    Kranti Saran    Must all Bodily Sensation Feel to be Located on the Body?    Caird Room, Department of Philosophy  
12.30 - 13.30   Lunch        Common Room, Department of Philosophy   
13.30 - 14.30   Stuart Crutchfield    The Evidence for Phenomenal Consciousness in the Absence of Access Consciousness    Caird Room, Department of Philosophy  
14.35 - 15.35    Kelvin McQueen    A Quantum Mechanical Defence of Physicalism   Caird Room, Department of Philosophy  
15.35 - 16.00    Tea & Coffee        Common Room, Department of Philosophy   
16.00 - 17.00    Richard Stöckle-Schobel   Interaction, Dynamic Systems, and Representations: Three concepts of philosophy and the cognitive sciences   Caird Room, Department of Philosophy  
17.00 - 19.00    Drinks at the Bar         
19.00 - 24.00    Conference Dinner       Left Bank Restaurant 

 Venue and Accommodation

For information about the location of the conference venue (the Department of Philosophy) and travel to it please go here, and for local accommodation details please go here.

For information about the University please go here, and for details about the City of Glasgow please go here.

panoramic pictures of the university campus, science centre, west end campus and ashton lane

 Funding and Support

The University of Glasgow Arts & Humanities Graduate School

The British Society for the Philosophy of Science

The Mind Association

The Scots Philosophical Association

The Aristotelian Society

 Conference Committee

Dr Fiona Macpherson

Mr John Donaldson

Mr Andy MacGregor

Please direct all enquires to either John Donaldson or Andy MacGregor.