The placebo effect as a ‘looping kind’

The idea has been floated that when psychiatrists classify people and effect that classification through education, medical practice, and popular culture, those people can become aware of their being so classified and thence render the original classification obsolete. The idea is Ian Hacking’s and he calls the phenomenon, ‘looping kinds.’

Whereas Hacking applies this idea to kinds of people, research reported in Wired suggests that a similar phenomenon can be witnessed in the infamous placebo effect.

There has been a rise in the placebo effect since the 1990s. Part of the explanation is this. Drug companies create advertisements. The aim is to make the drug more appealing than the others at the point of sale. But the result has been an increase in positive expectations and experiences at point of consumption.

By effecting a classification of a drug through education, medical practice and popular culture, the activity of undergoing treatment and recovery from illness, has looped: it has been caused to change by how it has been widely (mis)understood.

For the original article go here.

Related articles:
£1.99 - small Natural Kinds and Natural Kind Terms
By Kathrin Koslicki , University of Colorado at Boulder
(Vol. 3, June 2008)
Philosophy Compass

It’s not easy being evil

Lucifer sitting on a rock

Scientific American covers cognitive scientist Selmer Bringsjord’s efforts to program a thoroughly evil artificial intelligence.  As presented in the article, Bringsjord’s working definition of evil seems pretty confused.

To be truly evil, someone must have sought to do harm by planning to commit some morally wrong action with no prompting from others (whether this person successfully executes his or her plan is beside the point). The evil person must have tried to carry out this plan with the hope of “causing considerable harm to others,” Bringsjord says. Finally, “and most importantly,” he adds, if this evil person were willing to analyze his or her reasons for wanting to commit this morally wrong action, these reasons would either prove to be incoherent, or they would reveal that the evil person knew he or she was doing something wrong and regarded the harm caused as a good thing.

Parts of that paragraph read as describing a sadist, a psychopath, or someone who is badly confused. None of these things seem like a good stand-in for evil. But, then, evil is a notoriously difficult idea to define.

I wonder if this general approach– skip the rigorous definition, instead try to recreate the behavior– might appeal to experimental philosophers. Is there anything to be gained from trying to model confusing psychological phenomena like weakness of the will or self-deception? If we could program a computer to behave as if it were deceiving itself, could that possibly give us any insight into what’s going on when we deceive ourselves?

Related articles:

£1.99 - small Neuroethics: Ethics and the Sciences of the Mind
By Neil Levy, University of Melbourne (December 2008)
Philosophy Compass

Remembering the good, forgetting the bad

800px-EdisonDelights1905The relation between memory and personal identity is a well trodden track in the metaphysics of mind and self. But an article on the BBC News website suggests a connection not standardly considered.

A standard proposal of their relation, for instance, is that A is the same person as B only if A can remember experiences had by B. A consequence of such a view is that a person who is sufficiently old and incapable of remembering experiences had by her younger self is not the same person as that ‘younger self.’ There are variants on this approach which rule out that consequence. But all variants share the following feature: the link between memory and personal identity is in what is remembered.

But recent psychological research gives reason to consider a different kind of relation. Psychologists have found that as we get older, we tend to remember positive things better than we do negative things, with a corresponding change in how we behave (we’re happier) and in how we exercise our mental capacities. If this is true, then perhaps, in addition to changes to what one remembers, there are also changes in how one remembers that could constitute changes to who one is.

For the BBC article go here. For a more elaborate description of the research go here.

Related articles:
£1.99 - small Anthony Collins on the Emergence of Consciousness and Personal Identity
By William Uzgalis , Oregon State University
(Vol. 4, March 2009)
Philosophy Compass