Wednesday 21 March 2012

AAPP Bulletin

The latest AAPP bulletin is here.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

David Clegg and the Trebus Project

David Clegg gave a talk at UCLan yesterday, broadly outling his Trebus project, named after Edmund Trebus, a Polish war veteran, who filled his house with things the rest of the world had decided were rubbish, convinced that in time a use would be found for them. Clegg is gathering stories from dementia sufferers in a similar spirit.

He described his early career as a painter turned sculptor who ran a gallery called ‘Work for the eye to do’ described, after its close, as a “boot camp for the visually illiterate” by someone at the Tate. He closed it at the end of the 1990s because of disillusion with the London with art scene and impulsively applied for a job using art therapy with those suffering dementia. But he ended up in charge of project when his manager left. Initially given two days of training he learnt more, he said, from his first dramatic encounter: the door opened by a naked woman clad only in an oven glove.

He said that, from the beginning, he listened carefully to what his subjects told him, writing it down ‘without editing’ (though see below). He discovered, by chance, that when he read their own accounts back to them, they recognised their stories (despite their apparent memory impairments). They would then add to their accounts: sometimes strictly consistently, sometimes changing some details but leaving the essence the same.

In fact Clegg does not think that dementia patients are ‘unreliable narrators’ in Tom Kitwood’s phrase. They often have very clear, especially physical, memories. It is rather that events remain, especially those of the ‘reminiscence bump’ of between age 14-28, coinciding with the 1930s and 40s but fragmented. The past can be so strong that they talk of it being physically present in the building. One subject, Sid, described an event as down the corridor or under the floor. The fireplace from his childhood was somehow plastered into the wall. Clegg said that placing memory into the architecture is common often with the past physically underneath them. Perhaps making sense of the distance spatially given temporal disruption. (Subjects sometimes place Clegg into the past, as part of their history, to make sense of the fact that he knows about it, having forgotten telling him.)

My colleague, Bernie Carter, expressed a worry she has in making sense of children’s utterances. She described herself as 'working with fragments' and then putting them into some sort of order. But perhaps this imposes a merely adult structure. It seems to me that there might be two worries here. It might be that the process of retelling or re-presenting them imposes more of a structure than there really was, thus distorting a significant absence. But I think Bernie’s worry was also that there might be a child’s structure that became buried in her own restructuring of their apparently fragmented utterances. (I’m not sure that I share the latter worry.)

Clegg’s response was that his subjects reconnected with their own words when read back to them. So, I guess, that was one test that the structure was still in some sense theirs. But, he suggested, had he not assembled the words in some sort of order, they would not have got much from that. So it was not that he did no editing but that he did merely minimal structuring.

He finished by talking about people who had moved beyond the ability to express themselves linguistically and one woman in particular, Winnie, who presented practical problems for caring having a very short attention to any activities and being aggressive with other patients and staff. His approach was to follow what it was they could still do (which I took to be a case of seeing the sense in what they do, not simply tagging on behind). In Winnie’s case, he discovered that she reacted by pointing to a video of herself (possibly a trace of a memory technique taught to early stage dementia sufferers), would point to pictures in books and would play sounds from an electric guitar by striking the frets with a drum stick. In each of these cases there was an order in the short repetitive actions she carried out. Clegg slowly built up these repeated actions in which she seemed contentedly absorbed. In the film he made of her she looked, according to her daughter, no longer like a dementia sufferer but her mother of old, albeit ‘slightly stoned’.

I was left with three thoughts.

1: In the case of Winnie, we watched a film put together using a screen divided into nine segments and with different activities taking place in most of them. Clegg, originally an artist after all, pointed out the finished result (originally intended for a number of different screens) made for an attractive art installation. The thought was left hanging that this, too, had something to do with its therapeutic effects but that seemed to me to be changing the subject. It is one thing for dementia sufferers to engage with art, it is another to make art (respectfully, non-exploitatively) out of them. Of course, the world will be better if both are possible.

2: I wondered, but only as I left for the station, whether what was going on both in the assembling of narratives and in the musical work was a form of understanding. It seems so in the former case but less so much in the latter. To what extent do we understand Winnie by seeing her take pleasure in the guitar for example or pointing to spots drawn on a table? (The sense of ‘understand’ I have in mind is more than simply predicting that she will continue to do that.) Perhaps, in so far as the gestures are shared even if in her case they have become more like fragmented words than coherent patterns of activity.

3: There is a genre of presentation which people who have done good things, have changed the world rather than described it, seem forced to adopt in giving presentations in universities. I was more impressed by David Clegg the person – who, for a year, lived one week in four in a care home, for example – than this summary suggests. But at the same time, I never really know what to do with presentations of, in effect, heroic endeavour. (His conclusion, for example, was biographical rather than dialectical: ‘Well this is what I’ve been doing for the last few years.’ I think responding to the same gentle disorientation, a colleague pressed the question ‘why?’ at one point – ‘why did you look for that sort of thing?’ – but without quickly hitting shared narrative form.) And thus I’m forced by habit to reorder his story as making some central claims about the nature of dementia, narrative and sense rather than saying: this is the history of what I did. But there’s an irony in my retelling the story in my own way in this case.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

2012 AHRC Autonomy Summer School

This email may be of interest:

"Dear Colleagues,

The Essex Autonomy Project is pleased announce details of the 2012 AHRC Autonomy Summer School, which will take place at the University of Essex on the 20 – 22 September 2012.
The Summer School is a three-day training course aimed at frontline professionals and researchers who face issues surrounding autonomy and mental capacity. The programme focuses on the key areas of:

·         The Legal Terrain
·         The Philosophical Terrain
·         Capacity Assessments
·         Best Interest Decision-Making
·         Deprivation of Liberty
·         Paternalism and Coercion

Teaching on the Summer School programme will be provided by staff from the Essex Autonomy Project and there will be dedicated ‘clinic’ time for exploring dilemmas in practice. The AHRC Autonomy Summer School is designed for professionals in medicine, psychiatry, social care, policing, law, researchers and students.

Further details of the Autonomy Summer School, including an on-line application form, are available on our website:  Please do forward this email to colleagues and contacts that you think may be interested in this event.

Kind regards,

Professor Wayne Martin"

Empirically determining concepts or instances of wellbeing?

In the Equator coffee house yesterday with Laura Buckley (pictured), a PhD student at UCLan working on conceptions of wellbeing amongst older people, I was struck by a Quinean thought. Suppose one wishes to find out someone’s conception of wellbeing, one might ask them: ‘What does wellbeing mean to you?’. But if so, the question might be answered in either of two ways.

Someone might articulate a general concept. Thus they might press eudaemonic or, alteratively, hedonic views emphasising either broader conceptions of the role of virtue in flourishing or a narrower view of the importance of pleasure or happiness. They might stress a role for meaning or narrative intelligibility and so on. (Laura has highlighted some interesting differences in such views between older people and younger professional carers.)

On the other hand, they might not advance a general conception of wellbeing but rather say what instances or exemplifies it or even what might cause a state that instances or exemplifies it. Thus, for example, they might say that wellbeing was being surrounded by one’s family, or involved keeping active or eating icecream on a pier.

The Quinean thought was this. There is a kind of slack between these two ways of answering the question. So one might have a eudaemonic conception and think it instanced by family interaction. Or – perhaps if one’s family is a barrel of laughs – one might have a hedonic view and still think it instanced by family interaction. Or, whilst it may seem obvious, that the eating of a pizza would merely instance the latter, to a retired pizzaiolo it might, carried out with due solemnity, exemplify the former.

Conceptions of wellbeing, on the one hand, and instances of it, on the other, can be mediated by different surrounding beliefs about the instances. And thus there is no clear way of telling what role the instances are playing: of what they are taken to be instances.

Now there is, in principle, a solution to this. One might brief one’s sample population on the distinctions between different general conceptions of wellbeing and inculcate a distinction between general concepts and what exemplifies them. But this move, like the similar one in empirical approaches to philosophy, threatens to distort the raw data. I suspect, instead, one has to tolerate some degree of indeterminacy in exactly what one is measuring but minimise it by an exercise of interpretative judgement in what role the instances probably have in context: the burden, no doubt, of social science.

Monday 12 March 2012

Podcasts of McDowell's Edgington Lectures

There are recordings of the two lectures here.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

McDowell's second Edgington Lecture, How perception yields knowledge

(The same caveat as for the first lecture applies to this truncated report.)

How perception yields knowledge

How does perception yield knowledge? In Charles Travis’ phrase, by placing the surroundings in view. But this lecture will take issue with aspects of Travis’ unpacking of that idea. Travis thinks that there is no content in experience itself.

Recognising a pig is more than just having it in view. One may lack the recognitional capacity or ability. So having a pig in view depends on cognitive capacities. Thus capacities can be additional to experience. This is a Travisian case. But Travis thinks that this is always the case. According to him, content is involved only when we make something of having the world in view.

Travis also thinks that if experience has content then we only encounter representations which serve as mere evidence for judgement.

But the structure of the case of recognising a pig need not be shared by all cases of perceptual experience. Cognitive capacities are not always additional to experience.

Consider the thought expressed by ‘I see that it is a pig’. Experience’s contribution in this case merely places the pig in view. The thing being a pig is not given in the experience. But unlike the presence of the pig, some things are given in experience: its size, colour and surface configuration. If experience places things in view, their visual features are present in the experience. That givenness consists in experience having content such as the presence of something pinkish which is at the disposal of the subject merely in having the experience. All one needs do is bring this – albeit with some loss of specificity – to explicit awareness. Some of what perception enables us to know is included in the experience. Content is needed for experience to make perceptible features visible.

Consider the argument from illusion as applied to the content view. If subjective character consists in perceptual content then if experience can make knowledge possible it cannot be by placing the environment in view. The worry is that experience itself can never provide conclusive warrant (ie such that the belief formed must be true) so experience itself can never show belief formed from it is knowledge.

This worry can be addressed in the following way. The way experiences have content is that they purport to reveal environmental realities. Of such an experience, it can be true that it does. If so, its content is its revealing. And if so, it has epistemological significance it does not share non-revealing cases.

That a belief is based on a non-revealing experience can still be rational. There can be a rational pattern with experiences with less than conclusive warrant. But these are cases where the subject at least seems to have conclusive warrant. So our grasp of less than conclusive warrant is derivative of revealing cases where experience warrants beliefs conclusively.

In rejecting a highest common factor model of warrant, one need not reject the idea that there is something common between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ disjuncts.

Perceptual belief may depend on experience plus recognitional capacities (eg. the pig case). But consider a case where the belief just registers environmental reality. One can know how one knows.

Perception is a fallible capacity. The broader capacity to have environmental reality present to one may break into sub-categories eg. the capacity to have something red and a rectangle present. But such subsidiary capacities have to have a kind of togetherness (a red rectangle is more than just redness and rectangularity present at the same time). A chromatic sensation is not enough.

But one can abstract to subsidiary capacities. Think of the fallible capacity to detect redness. One can have an experience as of redness, partly constituted by such a fallible capacity, and yet redness not be present. defective instances will still have an appropriate togetherness. It will still seem to the subject as though the experience reveals redness. When not defective, the same capacity can place redness in view. The content will be experiential / visual and be the same representational content in both disjuncts. But in non-defective cases the content is a case of revealing.

Two loose ends remain. First, consider the objection ‘One would only have a conclusive warrant if one knew that the experience was not defective’. If one has a capacity, one can know how one knows something. The capacity is to be knowingly presented with redness and know one has that experience. So capacity is fallible at both levels (knowing and knowing how one knows). But this does not imply that one cannot know how one knows when the capacity is not defective. Self-knowledge, like ground level knowledge, does not need to be infallible.

Second, since the defence of naive realism seems to need elaborate defence, can it really be called ‘naive’? Yes. The discussion of the two lectures has merely cleared away apparent difficulties to leave naive realism in place.

First lecture.

McDowell's first Edgington Lecture, Perception: Objects and Contents

Here are my very rough and obviously massively truncated notes from McDowell’s first Edgington Lecture, Perception: Objects and Contents. It seemed to me that about a third of the questions asked after the two lectures failed to understand what McDowell had said, whether or not what he said was plausible. (“Although you said you were talking about conclusive warrant, I realise that you did not really mean that. You were really talking, were you not, about degrees of warrant?” “No, I really meant, just as I said, conclusive warrant.”) Perception of lecture content is obviously fallible. Now if McDowell is right, awareness of that need not undermine my knowledge of what he actually said if the exercise of the capacity was not, on this occasion, defective. But I am not sure I am reassured on that.

Perception: Objects and Contents

There’s no tension between naive realism and the idea that experience has content. The target idea – to be countered – is: if experience has content then we debar ourselves of the idea of naive realism.

For seeing to have content is for its content be captured through the use of that clauses such as ‘seeing that there is a red rectangle’. This is merely a partial account of the content of an experience (missing out its size and shape, for example). It may even be true that the content of an experience cannot be exhausted by that clauses. But if so, that does not matter. All that matters is that such that clauses can be true.

Note uses of ‘see’ without a ‘that’ such as: ‘I see a red rectangle’. One needs to beware of the way such locutions present seeing such what experiential content drops out.

Is the experience’s content what a subject encounters? If so that idea might block realism because what would be encountered would be representations rather than worldly objects. Likewise the idea of experience as evidence (an idea Travis criticises). But there is no need to suggest that experience presents representations.

Consider the argument:
1) Experience is constituted by subjective character: experience as of...
2) Content can mislead.
3) Experience’s subjective character is non-committal with respect to external reality.

What else – aside from such an argument – would be the point of talking of experience’s content? That is only one reason to reject the combination of content and realism and can be rejected in the following way.

In an experience which is a seeing, the representation is a revealing or disclosing bringing aspects of the world into view. Whilst some do not, some representations reveal: those that make knowledge available. A seeing does not just seem to reveal.

If we are just told that an experience represents, we do not yet know whether it reveals. Its representing can be its revealing.

An experience’s subjective character is partly constituted by representing reality as being a certain way. ‘Partly’ because it can reveal also. Revealing is a mode of representing external reality. But experience can also be misleading. One can take oneself to have a revealing experience when one does not. For example, trompe-l’oeil cases.

“Surely one can’t be wrong about subjective character?” That assumption is disastrously wrong.

Naive realism implies that only descriptions of subjective character in false case is of what seems true but is not. There is no positive account. A non-seeing visual experience may seem to reveal environmental reality. What – aside from such seeming – can we say of its subjective character?

There is some positive characterisation in common, however: the experience’s representational content. But the shared aspect of subjective character does not exhaust subjective character. Revealing is a further aspect of an experience’s subjective character beyond representing. The subjective character of a revealing is constituted [partly?] by external reality. The truth concerning subjective character is that the subject is in contact with external reality.

Second lecture.

Monday 5 March 2012

How is it (so much as) possible to see the world through vari-focal spectacles?

A depressing sign of aging is that I’ve been prescribed vari-focal lenses to counter the excessive strain I was putting my (generally short sighted) eyes under when reading close to. There is thus a stage of accommodation to be gone through.

This is familiar. When I first began wearing glasses, I found the bending of straight lines in my surroundings (such as door frames) when I moved my head very distracting. After a while, not only did this not disturb but it became hard to see it at all. Or rather, whilst at first I had an experience as of the external world (impossibly) bending, later it never even seemed that way though I could, if I wanted, concentrate on the visual ‘impression’ and still see bendiness in it.

With a more recent pair spectacles which had a new lens coating designed to reduce glare, my first awareness of a corresponding distortion was finding myself thinking ‘Now I can see this scene as though it were in 3D’. That is the sort of experience one has of 3D cinema which sometimes takes a bit of work (to ‘assemble’ a single 3D experience rather than two non-overlapping 2D ones). But I was in fact looking around Preston station. It took a bit of reflection to realise that a fringing effect around the edges of pillars etc made them look like 2D pictures posted at different distances.

So the idea of getting used to a new correction isn’t a surprise. With vari-focal lenses, the top ‘row’ of the lens corrects short sightedness for infinite distance, the middle spot works at about computer screen distance and a lower central spot works for close up reading. All smoothly connect. But because of engineering limitations middle and lower areas to left and right are blurred.

Initial instruction is to improve focus of blurred objects by moving the head: chin down to focus on far distance; chin up and centring to focus at middle or, further up, close distance. Thus the first aspect of accommodation is to learn these sensory motor contingencies (as those nice enactivists would say) and then let that tacit knowledge become habitual second nature. But to do that, it is initially necessary to notice what is blurred and then correct it. It takes a bit of explicit finding. Only so, can the head movements be learned as more of less instinctual practical knowledge.

But there’s an obvious second element of accommodation. Unless the world is arranged such that the distance of elements is in the just the right function of polar coordinates (lower things nearer), some elements just will be blurred. Walking downstairs, for example, looking ahead to the (sharp/clear) bottom of the stairs, the step one is just about to use is blurred. Sootica, scurrying at my feet, is a perpetual blur. And given the limitations of the lenses, lower left and right is blurred at any distance (so, in fact, there’s no function that could yield a universally sharp picture). Moving the head to focus on what was blurred in those areas simply moves the area away, like a cat chasing its tail. Thus the second element of accommodation must (I assume) be to cease to notice this blurriness, to make no attempt to focus on it (or else to feel permanently drunk or drugged).

Given that these two accommodations pull in opposing directions (notice blurriness and correct versus ignore blurriness and do nothing), I do not know how I will ever learn to use vari-focal lenses.