The project investigated the potential epistemic benefits of imperfect cognitions (including delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations) in the clinical and non-clinical population.
It was funded by a 12-month AHRC Fellowship (Science in Culture theme) awarded to Lisa Bortolotti at the University of Birmingham (UK) starting September 2013. Ema Sullivan-Bissett was involved as part-time research fellow on the project.
Featured posts on the project themes were published in:
In February-March 2015 Imperfect Cognitions published summaries of all the eight papers included in the special issue of Consciousness & Cognition on the themes of the project. On 30 April 2015 a report on the special issue also appeared on the Philosophy@Birmingham blog.
In what circumstances do delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations contribute to the acquisition and preservation of true beliefs?
Do delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations have genuinely epistemic benefits? Are people epistemically blameworthy for having "imperfect cognitions"?
What are the consequences of acknowledging that delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations can be epistemically advantageous?
Ideally, we would have cognitions that satisfy norms of truth and accuracy and that are supported by, and responsive to, the evidence available to us, as well as fostering the acquisition, retention and good use of true beliefs. But we have limited cognitive capacities, and imperfect cognitions that are false or inaccurate and badly supported by, or irresponsive to, the evidence are a common occurrence (e.g., delusional beliefs, distorted memories, confabulatory explanations).
The project explored the possibility that some of these imperfect cognitions are epistemically innocent, where the notion of innocence captures the fact that for a given agent at a given time it is epistemically beneficial to have such cognitions, even if they fall short of key epistemic norms. The exact formulation of conditions for epistemic innocence varies depending on one's epistemological commitments and the type of cognition to be considered, but the central idea is that a cognition is innocent if the following two conditions are met:
1. Epistemic Benefit. The cognition delivers some significant epistemic benefit to an agent at a time.
2. No Alternatives. Alternative cognitions that would deliver the same epistemic benefit are unavailable to that agent at that time.
Different notions and degrees of unavailability apply. In general terms, there may be no genuine alternative to an imperfect cognition, because information that would lend support to a different, more accurate, cognition is opaque to introspection, not open to investigation, irretrievable, or blocked for motivational reasons; or the alternative cognition could be strictly speaking available, but it would not carry the same epistemic benefit as the imperfect cognition (e.g., it would not offer a plausible explanation of the agent's experience or it would not support the agent's sense of self to the same extent).
A two-day workshop was held in Birmingham on 8 and 9th May, 2014, to discuss the themes of the project.
See our Outputs page for a list of talks and publications by the project team. Details of Public Engagement activities are also available.
See the Calendar for a selection of project related events, and visit our Imperfect Cognitions blog, where network members and other experts write about their recent research and share ideas.
You can also view the project Facebook page or our Twitter feed to follow the developments of our project.