Our own Joshua Knobe has an interesting piece on theory of mind and corporations that just appeared in The New York Times entitled, "Do Corporations Have Minds?" He reports some interesting findings that address a very important moral, legal, and political issue (especially given some of the awful U.S. Supreme Court decisions from the past few years about these and related issues). So, go check it out!
The Duke Philosophy Department is pleased to announce that professors Felipe De Brigard and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong have received a $1.8 million dollar grant from the John Templeton Foundation to conduct yearly Summer Seminars in Neuroscience and Philosophy (SSNAP) starting in May, 2016. Each SSNAP will be a 15 day long seminar in which neuroscientists and philosophers will learn about each other’s discipline, and will then form interdisciplinary teams to design and conduct studies founded by sub-awards. For further information please visit the SSNAP site.
Here are the relevant urls for the bits you may want to link to the announcement:
However, I want to take issue with one parenthetical remark. Doris writes "(Less cynically: if scientific findings weren’t surprising, why would we need experiments and publications?)". Although this may just be a throwaway remark for Doris, I actually think it might be a somewhat common thought. The thought is that experiments get some of their value from surprisingness -- i.e. disconfirming some intuitive thought. Or, put it in the reverse direction, if people were able to reliably predict whether an experiment would confirm or disconfirm a commonsense belief, then there would be less reason for us to do such an experiment.
I don't think that's the right view about experiments. Duncan Watts's book Everything is Obvious gives an easy way to see why. As Watts points out, many of our commonsense beliefs appear in tension with one another. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But out of sight is out of mind. So you might imagine that, if the result of an experiment went one way, it'd be framed as "Counter-intuitive finding! Absence does not make the heart grow fonder!" for publication, but if the result of the same experiment went the other way, it'd be framed as "Counter-intuitive finding! Out of sight is not out of mind!" for publication.
Given that many of our commonsense beliefs appear in tension with one another in this way, whether an experiment is counter-intuitive or not hardly has any connection to its value. Instead, as Watts points out, what is valuable about scientific experiments is that they can delineate the scope of such commonsense beliefs. And I might add, they can estimate the magnitude of the highlighted causal relationships. From a scientific perspective, it's not that interesting to find out whether "out of sight is out of mind" is true or not, but it is interesting to find out in which cases it holds and in which case it doesn't, and to what extent it holds.
I think this view of why do experiments actually coheres with some important methodological lessons that came out from #repligate. There should be less emphasis on the yes/no question of whether p is above or under 0.05. Instead, there should be more emphasis on effect sizes, which measure the magnitude of a causal relationship, including giving confidence intervals for effect sizes. Moreover, there should be more emphasis on "scope" -- covering aspects ranging from moderating factors to conditions under which the effect is expected to replicate. For example, as I've mentioned before on this blog, psychologist Dan Simons suggests that publications of studies should come with an explicit method section on "Limits in scope and generalizability". At the same time, Many Labs 2 and Many Labs 3 are now investigating, respectively, replication across sample and setting and replication across timing of experiments.
Why do experiments? The answer has nothing to do with intuitiveness, but everything to do with magnitude and scope of causal relationships that are of interest to some of our aims.
Sytsma and Arico begin with an overview of empirical investigations of folk intuitions about phenomenal consciousness. Then (15:03) they consider the landmark 2010 study by Sytsma and Machery, which produced evidence that the folk are largely willing to ascribe perceptual experience (“seeing red”) to a simple robot, but unwilling to ascribe bodily sensation (“feeling pain”) to the robot. (Interestingly, the same study also probed philosophers’ responses, which turned out to differ from those of the folk.) After that, they discuss (20:15) whether the Agency Model developed by Arico and colleagues can adequately account for the Sytsma and Machery results, and consider a range of other interpretations and follow-up studies. They conclude (53:58) by considering possibilities for future empirical work on folk views of phenomenal
Justin and Adam do a great job stoking interest in several x-phi-related issues. So, check it out (and spread the word)!
Many readers of this blog have probably already seen the latest issue of Emotion Review, which features Nina Strohminger's review of Colin McGinn's book on disgust. There is also a terrific set of commentaries that expand on the themes prompted by Strohminger's review.
In particular, David Pizzaro's commentary is focused on the challenges of interdisciplinary research. Pizzaro rightly joins Strohminger in excoriating McGinn's data-free approach to theorizing disgust, and noting the essentiality of data to making scientific claims. Pizarro also rightly emphasizes the importance of intellectual humility in doing interdisciplinary research. Toward the end of the commentary, Pizarro writes,
Philosophers interested in empirical questions about the mind, but who have not themselves been trained in experimental methods or statistical analyses, are more likely [...] to selectively report results that support their argument [...]
I find this claim curious. Is it the case that experimental philosophers who lack formal background in experimental methods or statistical analyses are more likely to selectively report results that support their argument?
Given the recent discussions regarding replication and research practices in psychology, what can experimental philosophers do to avoid being seen by other philosophers and psychologists as p-hackers? The replication project in X-Phi is a good start. Perhaps we should be p-curving ourselves more? Perhaps we should be registering our projects on Open Science Framework?
What other measures do you think would be helpful toward a better x-phi?
So a few years ago I had a post here (Are People Actually Moral Objectivists?) reporting some data we had collected about folk views concerning the status of morality. Much discussion ensued. That research project eventually yielded a co-authored paper in Mind & Language.
More recently (and more awesomely) the intrepid experimental filmmaker Ben Coonley put together a fantastic, short film based on that paper, starring Amanda Palmer!
You may already have seen Ben Coonley's previous short films on the Knobe effect, as well as a multi-part, interactive film on happiness, both inspired by experimental philosophy research, each of which has thousands of views. This one makes three in this series (so far). Not only are they great illustrations of the experiments, but they help get folk outside the academia to think about these philosophical issues!
1. Congrats to Wes B., for winning the "Top Quark" from the 3QuarksDaily (which is a great aggregation site, if you're not already familiar with it). It's for this outstanding post of his a little while back on this very blog. The prize comes with both bragging rights and 1,000 smackeroos, so, if you see Wes, drinks are on him.