Associated Projects

Bad beliefs, echo chambers, and the epistemic conditions of moral responsibility

Prof. Olena Komar, Ph.D.

My research project is supported by the Philipp Schwartz Initiative of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. It aims to reveal the factors that contribute to the formation of bad beliefs, including the role of epistemic, cognitive, affective, and social conditions. Bad beliefs are inappropriately formed, unjustified beliefs that contradict available evidence and expert consensus (Levi, 2022). The focus of my research is on how echo chambers affect the processes of belief formation and evaluation as well as personal and collective moral responsibility. One way to delve into the relevance of multiple epistemic drivers of bad beliefs is to look at the typical preconditions of echo chambers, where the beliefs of others are systematically ignored or discredited. Because the project aims to investigate the relationship between false beliefs and the echo chamber effect, I consider whether echo chambers are intended to provide epistemic protection against evidence, testimony, and arguments that could refute them.
A specific example of bad beliefs in my research is propaganda, which I study in Ukrainian, Russian, and English-speaking sources. Propaganda has a social dimension and uses specific linguistic tools that are markers of group identification. Its effectiveness depends not only on the power of the language and the skill of the propagandists but also, to a large extent, on people’s preconceptions, values, and preferences. The notorious result of successful propaganda is the polarization of beliefs, which is greatly enhanced by the echo chambers created by the media.
I presume that this approach will also provide a better understanding of typical examples of bad beliefs. Anti-vaccination ideas, conspiracy theories, and fake news are not formed in a vacuum but are a continuation of epistemic, moral, and value-based attitudes that serve as a breeding ground for the development of these beliefs. Thus, the irrationality or gullibility of people who hold bad beliefs is greatly overstated, since there are pragmatic reasons for holding and sharing bad beliefs, such as reducing the moral burden.

The space of emotional reasons: a contextualizing view

Dr. Héctor Andrés Sánchez Guerrero

A pendular movement characterizes the course of the historically extended philosophical discussion on human affectivity and its relation to rationality. This conceptual oscillation moves between the view that affective and rational capacities are independent of (and can, therefore, be contrary to) one another and the conviction that they are not merely usually aligned with each other but can, furthermore, be understood as domains of one of the same fundamental capacity. Seeking to solve one of the modern versions of this oscillation, a number of philosophers have argued that human emotions, being genuinely affective states, constitute a rationally structured space. A contextualizing approach has not been employed yet to further illuminate this notion of a space of emotional reasons. Exploiting the polysemy of the term ‘immersing affectivity’, my project discusses the development of what I call a properly human emotional life. It articulates the following three topics. (1) The way in which, in the course of a cultural immersion of impulses of the infant and by means of what I call ‘affective dislocations’, affects become constituents of the space of reasons. (2) The mode in which these ‘dislocations’ more or less precariously immerse us in specific modes of being. (3) The fact that we typically get situationally immersed in states that constitute anomalies in relation to the idea of a rationally organized space. This discussion construes a genuinely human emotional life as the kind of affectivity that is proper to ‘symbolically overactive’ embodied beings normatively expected to meet in the space of reasons.

Emotion – Society – Understanding

Dr. Imke von Maur

The aim of my research is to investigate the interweaving of affective and cognitive individual abilities and social, cultural, technological and media infrastructure, as well as to develop criteria for the normative evaluation of the realities produced by them. My theoretical work is guided by the desire to make a practical contribution to pressing social problems of the present. In particular, I research (1) the (epistemic and practical) reality-determining role of affectivity in the context of the climate crisis, (2) the increasing reification of the lifeworld through a reductionistic, “analytical-scientific paradigm” and (3) “understanding” (as the ability to grasp complex meaningful phenomena and to judge them on the basis of values and well-founded principles in order to realize a meaningful life (for oneself and others)) as the core of a sustainable education. My research is located at the intersection of philosophy of emotion (and philosophy of cognition in a broad sense), epistemology and (critical) social philosophy and combines phenomenological, practice-theoretical, analytical and critical theory, supplemented by work from neighboring disciplines, especially cultural studies, sociology and educational theory.
My research background lies in the epistemic relevance of emotions from a decidedly socio-critical stance. In my research so far, I have combined situated approaches to affectivity with practice theory and (critical) phenomenology to address the question which role emotions play for the aim of understanding, assuming that emotions are habitualized ways of embodied sense-making against a contingent socio-historical background.
Fundamental for both my research as well as the RTG is the premise that all human sense-making is inevitably situated (in a concrete moment) and that this situatedness is, in the way in which it shapes concrete subjects, itself a product of a history of contingent norms and values (cf. von Maur (2021). Taking situatedness seriously. Front in Psy: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.599939

How language, norms, and culture shape our minds

Leda Berio

I focus on the impact of language and culture on our folk psychology, on our perception of gender roles as well as racialised groups, and on interaction with artificial agents. During my PhD I worked on the relationship between language development and theory of mind; in particular, I have argued in my dissertation that language provides helps the developing mind forming schemata that are used to understand others.
In my current work, I explore the way schemata form from a variety of input, language included, and how they are used to speed up and simplify our social cognition, often producing significant bias and injustice. I am currently taking into examination, in particular, the way in which emotional components contribute to our judgements in social cognition; with Kristina Musholt, I work on how generics and language related to gender fosters stereotype formation.
Moreover, I am a collaborator to the project “The Communicative Mind” led by Richard Moore at the University of Warwick, where I explore how research on child development as well as ape cognition can inform our understanding of the role that culture has in shaping our cognitive abilities.
Since January 2021 I am employed with the project INTERACT! at the Ruhr University of Bochum where I focus on how current understanding of social cognition can inform our interaction with robotic agents and Artificial Intelligence. With Basil Wahn, I am also exploring the extent to which we take robot’s perspective into consideration in simple tasks.

Mental Constraints: A Dynamical Systems Approach to Mental Causation

Alexander Hölken

A wide range of human-centered research, from neurobiology to psychology, frequently refers to mental states and processes, both as phenomena to be explained and as explanatorily relevant factors in their own right. While there is yet no interdisciplinary definition of the terms “mental state” and “mental process”, research projects in these different fields seem to be homing in on a set of natural phenomena that enter into scientific explanations because they are causally efficacious in a way that allows us to distinguish between them and other, non-mental phenomena. In my thesis, I work on drawing out this distinction by applying the methodology developed in Dynamical Systems Theory, characterizing mental states and processes as elements of a causally efficacious topology that is realized by a diverse set of biological, and sometimes technological systems. Using this methodology, I show that mental states and processes are 1) non-reducible to biological states, qua being undetermined by them and 2) causally efficacious in a way that the systems realizing them are not. Accordingly, a central focus of my work is the issue of causality, with a large part of my argument for the causal efficacy of mental states and processes relying on the theory of nonlinear causation that I am developing. In further work, I would like to explore the extent to which a nonlinear theory of (mental) causation may provide the groundwork for unifying non-computational approaches in the cognitive sciences, such as 4E theories of cognition and Ecological Psychology.

Situated Cognition and Early Intersubjectivity

Ana Lorena Domínguez-Rojas

In my research, I explore early sharing from the situated framework of cognitive sciences. This framework claims that cognition is a phenomenon that goes beyond the limits of the brain and includes the participation of others and socio-material resources. In that sense, I underlines the role of corporeality, emotions, or cultural practices as valuable resources for understanding the genesis of early social cognition. Mainly, this research offers reasons to consider that sharing emerges before infants develop cognitive sophistication and can share mental states; it reveals the importance of cultural differences and local practices in analyzing early sharing; and it shows the connection between interactional dynamics and affective styles. My Ph.D. research covers six axes of the study of early sharing: a) the role of social practices in which caregivers and infants participate; b) the role of corporeal and affective aspects of interactions between them; c) the importance of the level of engagement for creating the interactional and affective style between caregivers and infants; d) the implications of interpersonal scaffolding to enculturation; e) the importance of mind-shaping process to regulation of infants’ affectivity; and f) the contributions of sustained practices over time for creating affective repertoires. This study integrates perspectives from various disciplines (e.g., psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and neuroscience) that enrich the understanding of early intersubjectivity and create an interdisciplinary approach.

Coupling & Cognition

Caroline Stankozi

Supervised by Tobias Schlicht, I am currently taking a closer look at coupling – analysing how two systems can be coupled to each other and in how far this relates to certain cognitive phenomena. My philosophical work is empirically informed and some of my findings are meant to feed back into empirical sciences.

By weaving ideas from different traditions together, I aim to provide a better understanding of organism-environment coupling – detailed not only regarding internal processes (Microbiology and Neuroscience), but also regarding external processes (Ecological Psychology). Inspired by Enactivism and Dynamical Systems Theory, I am particularly interested in the relation between internal and external processes. It changes dynamically not only in its physical structure (e.g., when ion channels in the membrane are being closed), but also in its functional organisation (e.g., when the closure of the ion channels is no longer induced by the environment, but by the organism). This is also where cognition becomes explanatorily valuable – an adaptive regulation of behaviour, furthering the system’s viability.

By going back and forth between basic and more complex instances of coupling (say, between a bacterium and its environment, or between a researcher and her current paper project), I aim to uncover underlying principles. How to scale up, though? Here, it is noteworthy that some systems are capable of higher-level cognition: They not only regulate their behaviour but also regulate their regulations. A closer look at the respective physical realisers could help to further illuminate the link between variations in coupling and cognition.

Penny for my Thoughts: What can Inner Speech tell us About (Self-)Consciousness?

Daniel Müller

Inner speech is a phenomenon which is familiar to most of us. Many have a “little voice” in their mind when they read, reason or reflect. In the literature, inner speech is oftentimes defined as the “subjective experience of language [or the production thereof] in the absence of overt and audible articulation” (Alderson-Day & Fernyhough, 2015, p. 931). This definition via phenomenology, albeit intuitive, makes definitional that inner speech is a conscious phenomenon, hence unconscious inner speech is impossible. Peter Carruthers (1996) has argued that inner speech is constitutive of conscious thought, since any abstract thought needs to be clothed in “sensory garment” in order to be consciously accessible. I want to challenge this assumption by clarifying the relation between inner speech and different kinds of consciousness. Daniel Dennett (1991) proposed to explain consciousness by means of a multiple drafts model, where different (unconscious) drafts of what happens compete for fame in the brain and the draft which becomes most influential becomes conscious. Although Dennett’s own account of how thoughts become conscious appears to align more closely with Carruthers’, I think that Dennett’s idea of multiple drafts and the self as the centre of narrative gravity draws a more plausible picture: The conceptual or propositional thought is already (proto-)linguistic when it is unconscious. There is no translational process from a language of thought to a natural language, therefore, thoughts become conscious by another mean. What this “other mean” is, is the central question of my project.

Embodied Remembering: The Role of Inner-Time Consciousness in Episodic Memory

Francesca Righetti

Philosophy of memory skirts around debates on the characters of episodic memory and the nature of memory traces. Since the “constructive episodic simulation hypothesis” (Schacter and Addis, 2007), some philosophers have questioned whether remembering requires storing memory traces, and accounted for episodic memory as simulating personal past episodes. Despite the acknowledged simulative and reconstructive aspects of remembering, there is a lively debate on the reliability of reconstructive processes, and the role of memory traces, body and environment in episodic memory. Endorsing the Scenario Construction Framework (an account for constructive episodic memory, Cheng et al. 2016; and for minimal memory traces, Werning 2020), and the embodied and enactive perspectives of the mind (Varela et al. 1991; Fuchs 2018), I explore whether episodic memory is the result of reconstructive processes rooted in the bodily self-awareness. Thus, I investigate the role of “inner-time consciousness” (Husserl 1999) in episodic memory, and provide an account of the subjective structures of remembering as embodied and enactive, through the following theoretical work packages and conceptual applications. In the first package, I theorize that episodic memory involves re-enacting the past bodily and agential consciousness. In the second package, I suggest that the situated and embodied states affect the reconstruction process and determine the mnemonic content. The third package provides an understanding of temporal disorientation as a subjective phenomenon resulting from scaffolding the memory reconstruction processes. In the fourth package, I studied the madeleine-memory as a case of overlap between body memory and episodic memory (Righetti, 2023).

Consciousness in Neuromorphic Systems

Johannes Brinz

Johannes Brinz’s academic pursuits center on the intersection of the philosophy of mind and artificial intelligence, specifically exploring the potential for AI models to attain phenomenological consciousness through the implementation of neuromorphic hardware. His research is dedicated to unraveling the intricate relationship between hardware and consciousness, underscoring the significance of neuromorphic engineering in the realm of AI inquiry. Brinz critically examines the validity of computationalism, challenging the notion that mental states can be exclusively defined as computational states. Instead, he posits the viability of biological theories of consciousness as more accurate frameworks for comprehending artificial consciousness. Brinz’s exploration extends to the prospect of conscious machines, contemplating whether the integration of neuromorphic hardware is imperative for realizing this objective. His emphasis lies in replicating, rather than merely simulating, key facets of the human brain to achieve this feat. Employing an interdisciplinary approach, Brinz integrates perspectives from philosophy of mind, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence. He asserts that a comprehensive understanding of the physical structure of the brain is fundamental for the development of intelligent machines. Departing from the conventional stance of computationalism, which reduces the mind to computational rules, Brinz advocates for a holistic perspective on consciousness that encompasses both computation and the underlying hardware on which it operates.

Extracted, Intracted, and Tracted Cognition

Louis Loock

My dissertation project in situated cognition analyzes, structures and contributes to the philosophical dispute on the constitutive location of cognition. Three major hypotheses require analysis and structuring. Extended cognition proclaims that parts of cognition extend into the organism’s environment. Internalist cognition, the counter-thesis, defends the bounds of cognition within the cranium or at least within the body. Embedded cognition is sort of a middle position supporting the bounded constitution base, while also considering the strong causal dependencies toward external tools and structures. I strive to offer three possible contributions respectively.

Firstly, I challenge extended cognition’s overly optimistic portrayal of empowered tool users with my strong antithesis of extracted cognition: Intelligent programs incite our constant sharing and delegating of cognitive information and strategies so that we are eventually deprived of our cognitive abilities and autonomy overall – what started with extension ends as extraction. Secondly, internalist cognition leaves unanswered how cognition became to be in the brain before any subsequent tool exploitations could boost performance. My proposal of intracted cognition puts tool affordances as prior before they are transformed into consequent agent abilities within the core of cognition. Thirdly, embedded cognition emphasizes external cognitive entanglements that deserve strengthening in my stronger thesis of tracted cognition: this external causal web actually consists of cognitive tracts that enable cognitive intraction and extraction processes. My main incentive in all this originates from a concurrent evolution in the situated cognition paradigm – from studying how cognition situates itself, to how the environment situates cognitive agents in it.

Anthropocentrism: The Intimate Framework

Renee Ye

My current research lies at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and related fields, with a primary focus on the nature of consciousness. I am fascinated by the study of both biological and non-biological aspects of mind and consciousness. Consequently, I aim to establish an interdisciplinary project that encompasses multiple facets of my research interests. Additionally, I am passionate about interpreting and integrating Daoism and Buddhism into the analytic discussion on mind and consciousness. I have two ongoing research projects that intersect in various ways:

Consciousness Across Species and Systems:
My research explores the shared nature of consciousness across species and systems. I investigate potential issues with current methodologies, particularly the anthropocentric perspective that predominantly considers human or mammalian consciousness as paradigm cases. I propose strategies to address these problems and advocate for a new methodological paradigm that recognizes consciousness beyond anthropocentrism. This inspires the view that non-human entities, such as animals and machines, might be able to think and feel in their own distinct ways, even though it may not align with the human experience.

Moral and Legislative Considerations for Potential Conscious Entities:
My research explores the relationship between conscious entities and moral considerations. I explore the interplay between theoretical aspects — _understanding consciousness in theory with practical considerations — _and the practical side, involving adjustments to conceptualizations and policies based on theoretical advancements. I investigate motivations behind conscious animal welfare policies and consider the treatment of potential conscious entities, examining their entitlements, welfare, privileges, and rights.

Polysemy and Co-predication: A case study on Modern Standard Arabic

Suaad Alhelou

My doctoral project delves into the intricate phenomena of polysemy and co-predication within Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). Focusing on sentences containing multiple senses, we aim to unravel the cognitive processes involved in comprehending such complex linguistic structures. The investigation revolves around sentences akin to “The university hired John and got renovated” and “The university got renovated and hired John”, which embody distinct interpretations of the predicates. Our inquiry extends to exploring how the human brain navigates and processes these sentences, particularly when they entail simultaneous semantic shifts. To achieve our objectives, we employ a multidisciplinary approach integrating EEG (Electroencephalography) and eye-tracking methodologies. EEG provides insights into the temporal dynamics of neural activity, allowing us to examine the brain’s response to semantic ambiguity and resolution. Concurrently, eye-tracking enables us to trace participants’ visual attention patterns, shedding light on the allocation of cognitive resources during sentence comprehension. By elucidating the neural mechanisms underlying the comprehension of polysemous and co-predicative structures in MSA, this research contributes to our understanding of the cognitive architecture of language processing. Furthermore, our findings hold implications for theoretical linguistics, psycholinguistics, and cognitive neuroscience, providing valuable insights into the universal principles governing human language comprehension.