Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience (PPN) Research Seminars 2015/16

Monday 16 November 2015 Martin Doherty (Psychology, UEA) Developmentally distinct systems for processing gaze and theory of mind
Monday 14 December 2015 Christopher Mole (Philosophy, UBC) A new approach to involuntary memory
Monday 25 January 2016 Alistair Isaac (Philosophy, Edinburgh) What is timbre realism?
Monday 22 February 2016 Takuya Niikawa (Philosophy, Chiba) Is radical error in the introspection of phenomenal character possible?
Monday 7 March 2016

William G. Lycan (Philosophy, UNC Chapel Hill)

Commentator: David Simmons (Psychology, Glasgow)

The intentionality of smell
Tuesday 8 March 2016 William G. Lycan (Philosophy, UNC Chapel Hill)

Note: This talk will take place 2–4pm in the Jebb Room (Classics Building, Room 316) at 65 Oakfield Avenue.
“Propositional” attitudes?
Monday 16 May 2016 Anna Sedda (Psychology, Heriot-Watt) Re-thinking the body, re-thinking the brain
Monday 13 June 2016

Casey O'Callaghan (Philosophy, Washington St Louis)

Wayne Wu (Philosophy, Carnegie Mellon)

Note: These talks will take place at 2:15pm and 4pm, respectively.

Senses as capacities

Top-down modulation, cognitive penetration and visual attention

Organised by Dr Keith Wilson and Professor Fiona Macpherson.


Martin Doherty (University of East Anglia)

Developmentally distinct systems for processing gaze and theory of mind

Recent exciting work on theory of mind development demonstrates infants’ sensitivity to others’ mental states.1 In this talk I consider whether this is the same ability shown around 4 years in classic theory of mind tasks, or whether there are separate systems for theory of mind processing, analogous to the System 1–System 2 distinction.2 Gaze understanding is considered as a test case: understanding perceptual access is foundational to theory of mind.  Gaze following in infancy appears fast and automatic (system 1); gaze judgement is not possible until 3 years3 and appears slow and deliberative (system 2). Data are presented demonstrating that the two gaze abilities rely on different perceptual cues.4  Gaze following employs only the luminance cues in the eye5, whereas gaze judgement employs both luminance and geometric cues:6 objective psychophysical evidence for two systems. Discussion concerns the wider theoretical implications for theory of mind development.

  1. Onishi, K. H., & Baillargeon, R. (2005). ‘Do 15-Month-Old Infants Understand False Beliefs?’ Science, 308(5719), 255–258. doi:10.1126/science.1107621
    Southgate, V., Senju, A., & Csibra, G. (2007). ‘Action anticipation through attribution of false belief by 2-year-olds’. Psychological Science, 18(7), 587–592.
  2. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  3. Doherty, M. J., Anderson, J. R., & Howieson, L. (2009). ‘The rapid development of explicit gaze judgment ability at 3 years.’ Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 104(3), 296–312.
  4. Doherty, M. J., McIntyre, A. M., & Langton, S. R. H. (in press). ‘Developmentally distinct gaze processing systems: Luminance versus geometric cues’. Cognition.
  5. Ando, S. (2002). ‘Luminance-induced shift in the apparent direction of gaze’. Perception, 31(6), 657–674.
  6. Langton, S. R. H., Watt, R. J., & Bruce, V. (2000). ‘Do the eyes have it? Cues to the direction of social attention’. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4(2), 50–59.

Christopher Mole (University of British Columbia)

A new approach to involuntary memory

Some of the events that populate the stream of consciousness are experienced as voluntary. Others are not. In this paper we ask how the distinction between voluntary and involuntary mental events should be drawn. We argue—with particular reference to the theory of involuntary recollections advanced by Berntsen (2009)—that existing theories of this distinction make unwarranted assumptions about the role of conscious intentions. We then present a new theory, from which these assumptions have been dropped.

Alistair Isaac (University of Edinburgh)

What is timbre realism?

Timbre is that quality of a sound that distinguishes it other than its pitch, loudness, or duration. Historically, it has often been thought of as the auditory analog of colour, that property of surfaces that distinguishes them other than location, orientation, and extent. The analogy between colour and timbre has been (implicitly) exploited in the philosophy of sound to motivate a form of timbre realism apparently analogous to colour physicalism—the view that colours reduce to surface spectral reflectance types. Timbre “physicalism” reduces timbre to the mechanical process types of distal sound-producing events.

In this talk, I first offer some background from the psychophysics of timbre to further clarify the analogy between colour and timbre. However, some considerations from the physics of vibrating bodies will lead to the conclusion that timbre “physicalism” is ultimately disanalogous to colour physicalism. Rather, I argue, the reduction of timbres to distal mechanical process types is better understood as a form of ecological realism in the tradition of J. J. Gibson. I conclude with some morals for both the philosophy and the psychology of sound perception.

Takuya Niikawa (Chiba University)

Is radical error in the introspection of phenomenal character possible?

In defending naïve realism against the argument from hallucination, William Fish and Heather Logue have argued that naïve realists should be committed to eliminativism about hallucination; hence stating that total and internally perfect hallucinations do not have perceptual phenomenology. This view presupposes the possibility of radical error in the introspection of phenomenal character. In other words, it is possible for a cognitively unimpaired subject (e.g. who is not drunk or does not have Anton’s syndrome) to mistakenly judge, via introspection, that she is in a mental state with perceptual phenomenology, even though she is not in such a mental state in reality. Is such a radical introspective error really possible? What theory of introspection should naïve realists hold in order to coherently explain this radical introspective error? In this talk I will argue that in order to give a satisfying account of such radical introspective error, we need to postulate that hallucinations have a certain type of non-perceptual phenomenology such that (1) it is not present in the case of veridical perception, (2) it is contentful, and (3) it is psychologically real. Finally I will conclude that a feeling of reality, a sort of existential feeling, can perhaps meet these three requirements.

William G. Lycan (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

The intentionality of smell

This paper argues against opponents that smell does represent. Then it defends the Lycan (1996) view of what smell represents, viz., miasmas in the air, against more recent competitors put forward by Clare Batty and Ben Young. It concludes by considering a “layering” thesis: that smell represents commonsensical distal objects and kinds, but only by representing miasmas.

“Propositional” attitudes?

With rare exceptions, when philosophers talk about "propositional attitudes," they mean belief. And their views on attitude content in particular are extrapolated from that of belief content. (What could be simpler?: When S believes that P, the content of S's belief is that P.) But in fact, for other attitudes, the respective notions of content vary dramatically. In previous works I have argued this for the case of desire. In the present paper I will look at intending, wishing and wondering, arguing that in each case the relevant notion(s) of content work differently in each case.

Anna Sedda (Heriot-Watt University)

Re-thinking the body, re-thinking the brain

Human beings show astonishing differences, in personality, memory and attentional skills, and emotional expressions, to name some. However, we all share one feature: we have a unique physical body. This body can be modified in its external appearance (i.e. by changing the skin colour through tanning beds), can be loved or hated, can be used or not by being active sport players or lazy television watchers. In fringe cases, we can also exchange a part of our body with somebody else, as in hand transplantations. Nonetheless, for (almost) all of us, defined features characterize the body, such as the acceptable number of limbs, a skin temperature that we consider normal and the set of movements that we can perform.

Regardless, cognitive theories that try to explain how the brain represents this physical body produced a plethora of dichotomic, triadic and even more itemised versions of body representation. During this talk, I will concentrate on recent findings that challenge the idea of a “canonical” body representation divided into components: I will present results on body representation in healthy individuals, patients with spinal cord injuries and individuals suffering from body integrity identity disorder.

These results shall convince us that theories on body representation need to apply the Occam razor principle: why decomposing something that works only if united? Importantly, understanding how we represent our bodies could contribute a missing piece to the understanding of how we represent ourselves and could promote a new vision of studying “the brain” instead of its functions singly.

Casey O’Callaghan (Washington University in St. Louis)

Senses as capacities

I'll present a novel account of the nature of the senses and their differences that accommodates richly multisensory perceptual capacities and experiences. According to this account, senses are collections of perceptual capacities.

Wayne Wu (Carnegie Mellon University)

Top-down modulation, cognitive penetration and visual attention

While it is well established that there are massive feedback connections in the brain, and hence the circuitry required for top-down modulation on vision, there remains a debate about whether there is cognitive penetration of vision. This talk will discuss the ideas of top-down modulation and cognitive penetration in the context of shifts of visual attention. I begin with an account of what attention is, given some controversy regarding the possibility of even defining it. After discussing conceptual issues about cognitive penetration, I argue that attention provides the best supported example of cognitive penetration: intentions fix attention. This leads to the question whether all top-down modulation counts as cognitive penetration or whether there are other forms of modulation. At the core will be the idea of computational models as explanatory models that can link psychological and neural explanations.