Copenhagen Summer School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind 2015

Copenhagen Summer School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind 2015

Center for Subjectivity Research, University of Copenhagen

Place:  Copenhagen University, Njalsgade 134, Aud. 22.0.11, 2300 Copenhagen S

Time: 10-14 August, 2015

Deadline for registration and submission of abstract is May 11, 2015 Continue reading Copenhagen Summer School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind 2015


CFP: Special issue on Mind and Folk Psychology

CFP: Special issue of ‘Studia Philosophica Estonica’ on Mind and Folk Psychology, ed. by Bruno Mölder

Folk psychology is commonly understood as a conceptual framework that is comprised of concepts for making sense of people’s actions. Sometimes it is assumed that folk psychology fixes the meaning of mental terms. Some assume that social cognition is enabled by our implicit grasp of folk psychology. Supposing that folk psychology plays some such fundamental role, what does that tell us about the concepts of mind and mental states? Is a mental state a folk psychological construct? Are there aspects of mind that extend beyond the purview of folk psychology?

We welcome papers on this broad theme. Continue reading CFP: Special issue on Mind and Folk Psychology


Mind, Value and Mental Health: Philosophy and Psychiatry Summer School and Conference

Mind, Value and Mental Health: Philosophy and Psychiatry Summer School and Conference

23 – 25 July 2015: St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford

Two linked events exploring areas in which the philosophy of mind and ethics or the philosophy of value make contact with issues about mental health.  Continue reading Mind, Value and Mental Health: Philosophy and Psychiatry Summer School and Conference


CFA: Aegina Summer School of the Social Self

CFA: Aegina Summer School of the Social Self

Deadline for Applications: Monday 2nd March 2015

Further information and applications forms can be found here: 

“The social self: how social interactions shape body and self-representations”

An Interdisciplinary Summer School
June 21 – 27, 2015, Hotel Apollo, Aegina, Greece Continue reading CFA: Aegina Summer School of the Social Self


CFA: Ecological Perception: Amodal and Multimodal Trends

Ecological Perception: Amodal and Multimodal Trends


University of Edinburgh, May 29 & 30, 2015

This conference aims to bring together philosophers working on a broadly ecological approach to perception to address questions of multimodal sensory integration and the amodal perception of environmental information. Continue reading CFA: Ecological Perception: Amodal and Multimodal Trends


CFP: The Ontology of Conscious Experience

The Ontology of Conscious Experience

University of Leeds, 8th-9th July 2015

Keynote speakers

  • Matthew Soteriou (Warwick)
  • Helen Steward (Leeds)
  • Heather Logue (Leeds)

Work on consciousness has tended to overlook the ontological status and structure of experiences, focusing instead on whether they can be explained by reference to non-experiential processes or events. The aim of this workshop is to bring together researchers interested in the ontology of conscious experience, to establish which topics might be most fruitful as regards further research, and to outline an agenda for further work in this area. Continue reading CFP: The Ontology of Conscious Experience


CFP: Leuven PhilMed Conference 2015

Pathologizing Body and Mind
Leuven Philosophy of Medicine Conference 2015

The Centre for Analytic Philosophy at the University of Leuven (Belgium) will be organizing a conference on the philosophy of medicine that will take place on 15-16 October 2015 and we are now accepting abstract submissions.

This conference will focus on the rather controversial relation between mental and physical disease. Continue reading CFP: Leuven PhilMed Conference 2015


Call for Proposals: iCog 3

(via Mind Network)

iCog is a network of junior researchers – postgraduates and early-career researchers – working in cognitive science. The network aims to promote and encourage dialogue and collaboration between researchers in psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology and computational intelligence.

iCog has held two successful annual conferences, at the University of Sheffield in autumn 2013 and at the University of Edinburgh in autumn 2014. For details of these, see

iCog is now inviting proposals from junior researchers at UK universities to organize and host the third iCog conference, to take place by early 2016. Continue reading Call for Proposals: iCog 3


CFP: Workshop on Inner Speech

Inner Speech: Theories and Models

The aim of this workshop is to provide a forum for the discussion of different approaches to inner speech, bringing together a number of philosophers and psychologists with diverse stances on this topic. We invite researchers with relevant work on inner speech to submit a paper on any related topic.

Dates: July 1-3 2015

Venue: Carmen de la Victoria, University of Granada, Spain Continue reading CFP: Workshop on Inner Speech


CFP: Third PLM Conference, Oslo

Third PLM Conference

Philosophy of Language and Mind

Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature (CSMN)

University of Oslo

11-13 September 2015

Every two years PLM (see: organises a conference in the philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. The third PLM conference will take place at the CSMN in Oslo, 11-13 September 2015Continue reading CFP: Third PLM Conference, Oslo


Do we elicit a sense of agency by inferring that our intentions cause actions?

(X-post from idontknowwhatiam) It’s doubtful, is the short answer, but the long answer is more interesting. What I’m asking about today is the account of the sense of agency put forward by Daniel Wegner and various collaborators since the late ‘90’s (Aarts, Custers, & Wegner, 2005; Wegner, 2002; Wegner, Sparrow, & Winerman, 2004; Wegner & Wheatley, 1999). Their account can be read as either an alternative to or an addition to the comparator model account of the sense of agency which we have met in previous posts. Unlike the comparator model which hypothesises that the sense of agency is elicited by the same mechanisms that are responsible for action control, Wegner and colleagues’ account suggests that the sense of agency is elicited by an inference as to the internal causes of action. In its most basic form if I infer that one or other of mental states, usually on of my intentions, causes me to act in a certain way, then I experience a sense of agency for that action. But, that’s getting ahead of ourselves for the moment, so let’s remind ourselves what the sense of agency is. Continue reading Do we elicit a sense of agency by inferring that our intentions cause actions?


Philosophy & the Cognitive Sciences Workshop

Philosophy and the Cognitive Sciences
Pre-SSPP Workshop at Loyola University New Orleans
April 1, 2015

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Tad Zawidzki (George Washington), “Agent Neutral Interpretation”
  • Cameron Buckner (Houston), “Ravens Attribute Their Own Prior Visual Access to Unseen Competitors”
  • Berit Brogaard (Miami), “Phenomenal That’s-Allness”
  • Robert Briscoe (Ohio), “A Cartography of Multisensory Processes”
  • J.C. Berendzen (Loyola), “Motor Imagery and Spatial Reasoning”
  • Jacqueline Sullivan (Western Ontario), “Construct Stabilization and the Unity of Neuroscience”


Registration deadline: March 25, 2015
Department of Philosophy
Loyola University
6363 Saint Charles Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70118
Phone: 504-865-3940 | Fax: 504-865-3948

Email for registration & inquiries.

Continue reading Philosophy & the Cognitive Sciences Workshop


Early Career Fellowships in the Philosophy of Primate Cognition

The Centre for Advanced Studies in Göttingen, the Lichtenberg-Kolleg, invites applications for Early Career Fellowships for the period from October 2015 to July 2017 in a group of philosophers working on conceptual and foundational issues concerning primate cognition.

The group will be closely related to a newly established research cluster at the University of Göttingen and the German Primate Centre empirically investigating primate cognition and its neural foundations.

Fellowships are open to candidates who have received a doctorate within the last 6 years.

The deadline for applications is March 2, 2015.

For details, see the following links:


What is “within the mind”?

I’m delighted to be guest blogging here at Brains. My plan for my series of posts here is to introduce the set of questions at the center of my current project; shamelessly exploit the brilliant readers of this blog for my own purposes invite others to weigh in on these questions; and briefly present and motivate my own approach to answering them.

The set of questions at issue concern the mind-world boundary.

  •  Is there a profound, principled distinction between what is “within” the mind (mentality) and what lies outside minds (the non-mental)?
  • If so:

Continue reading What is “within the mind”?


Introducing Brie Gertler

I am happy to be introducing Brie Gertler, who will be guest-blogging as a featured scholar here at Brains beginning this week. Brie received her PhD from Brown University in 1997 and is currently Commonwealth Professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia. Her research interests are in the philosophy of mind, with a particular focus on self-knowledge, consciousness and mental content.

Continue reading Introducing Brie Gertler


Pleasant Touch

In my final post here, I would like to present some material from the final chapter of The First Sense on pleasant touch.

Perceptual experience is often more than merely descriptive or informational; it is also often evaluative and motivational. Offering an account of this component is critical to our understanding of touch, and perception generally. I will use the term “affect” to describe the felt pleasant and unpleasant aspects of an experience, and “affective touch” to refer to tactual experiences with a pleasant or unpleasant aspect.

There are (at least) two distinct ways that a perceptual experience can possess an affective character. In the first instance, a perceptual experience can cause a non-perceptual affective response in a subject. Call perceptual experiences of this kind “affect-causing.” Other perceptual experiences possess an affective character by presenting sensory features or objects as pleasant or unpleasant. Call these sorts of experiences “affect presenting.”

I don’t want to put too much stock in this distinction. It’s not as precise as it really needs to be, but it’s useful for now to rule out a certain class of cases from our explanatory target. Compare the following two cases:

Loaded Gun: Stan unexpectedly sees a loaded gun in his friend’s bag while at a playground filled with small children. This experience might create a strong affective response in Stan. However, feeling the gun in the bag or being told that a loaded gun was in the bag would have generated the same response. What was unpleasant about the experience wasn’t the way the gun *looked*. None of the visually salient properties of the gun were unpleasant. Rather, what was unpleasant was the information conveyed by the visual experience, and this information could have been attained in a variety of ways.

Bad smell: Nina comes home to find the garbage has been left sitting out, and its stench is filling her small apartment. Before she realizes not to, she inhales through her nose, filling it with the putrid, rotting air. She thereby comes to have a vivid olfactory experience of the garbage. And it smells bad. It causes immediate reactions in her, from covering her mouth and face with her arms to holding her breath until she is outside the room. She moves immediately to open the windows and tie up the trash bag, all while breathing as little as possible through her mouth. If asked, she would have preferred to avoid this experience entirely, and in all likelihood she will take immediate steps to prevent its recurrence.

I’m only interested here in the Bad Smell, affect-presenting type cases. Now, there is an important ambiguity remaining even in the affect presenting case. When the garbage smells awful, is it really the garbage that is perceived to be unpleasant, or is the unpleasantness a feature of how the garbage is experienced? Well, the answer is both, but I believe the experiential component is more fundamental, and grounds our affective experience of things in the world (the argument for this is discussed in more detail, though using slightly different terminology, in Aydede & Fulkerson 2014).

Empirical evidence, our affective judgments, and the phenomenology of affective perceptual experience strongly suggest that pleasant touch is not simply a nonsensory emotional reaction in us: when we have a pleasant touch experience, we often partly attribute the pleasant aspect to the sensory features of the object. It is the silk that feels good, the velvet that feels pleasant. However, it is also unlikely that the pleasantness is anything like a detected objective sensible property of the silk (that is, pleasantness is not among the basic tangibles we encounter when touching silk). Standard arguments from inter- and intrapersonal differences and the extreme context sensitivity of tactual affect, combined with their direct motivating influence on judgments and behavior, strongly suggest that affective qualities are highly relational, involving both a sensible quality and an experiential reaction. I suggest that the pleasant aspect of touch experience arises as incoming tangible signals are evaluated by a complex, subpersonal affective-motivational system associated with touch. Because this account reduces the felt qualities of affective touch to the functioning of this evaluative system, the view is a version of psychofunctionalism (the general version of this view has been developed and defended in recent and ongoing work with Murat Aydede).

Moving back to touch, there is one empirical roadblock that needs to be addressed. Much exciting work has been done recently on a newly discovered afferent channel that seems to mediate our awareness of pleasantness. This “C-tactile” (or CT) channel has many features that can make it seem like a genuine pleasantness detector.

Here is a description from Löken et al. (2009):

These results are, to the best of our knowledge, the first demonstration of a relationship between positive hedonic sensation and coding at the level of the peripheral afferent nerve, suggesting that C-tactile fibers contribute critically to pleasant touch. Soft brush stroking on hairy skin was perceived as most pleasant when it was delivered at velocities that were most effective at activating C-tactile afferents (1–10 cm/s), with a linear correlation between C-tactile impulse frequency and pleasantness ratings. In contrast, the response of myelinated afferents increased with faster velocities (30 cm/s) and showed no relationship with pleasantness ratings. The sweep of the brush over the skin surface activates a large number of tactile afferents and discharge of any given single unit is not sufficient for a pleasant percept. However, of all of the unit types tested, only the C-tactile afferent firing pattern correlated with average psychophysical ratings. In the palm, which lacks C-tactile afferents, we found no relationship between brush velocity and pleasantness ratings (p. 548).

One might conclude from this that affective touch does involve a channel that detects pleasantness. That is, one might think that CT fibers carry information about pleasantness and unpleasantness understood as sensible features of material objects. However, this would be a mistake. For one, it’s clear that some pleasant tactual experiences can be felt through the hands, lips, and genitals, where there are no CT fibers. So the CT system isn’t the whole story. But in addition, it isn’t at all clear that the CT system is carrying information about pleasantness understood as an objective sensory quality of external objects.

The correlation between CT activations and pleasant feelings is highly context sensitive and variable (as described in several other studies). There isn’t any single channel that simply detects and elicits experiences of tactual pleasures “out there.” While the correlations between gentle stroking and CT-fiber activations are strong in controlled laboratory settings, there is every reason to think that our feelings of pleasantness through touch are highly malleable complexes. This accords well with work on cutaneous pains, which seem to have both a sensory-discriminative component and an affective-motivational component. Affective touch also seems to essentially involve a discriminatory element (crucially, the A-delta fiber system must also be activated to generate pleasant experiences) combined with an affective-motivational component (likely mediated by CT activations). How exactly this system functions (and the kinds of affective experiences it generates) depends on the present and prior state of the overall tactual system, as well as on activations in other correlated systems involved in the evaluation of tactual inputs.

I will end by noting what an exciting time it is to be working on and thinking about non-visual modalities, multisensory interactions, and the affective richness of perceptual experience. There is so much good work coming out from so many overlapping fields, and there is a feeling of real progress being made.

I am again grateful to the brains behind Brains for inviting me to share some of my work in these areas.


Aydede, M., & Fulkerson, M. (2013). Affect: representationalists’ headache. Philosophical Studies. doi:10.1007/s11098-013-0206-7

Löken, L. S., Wessberg, J., Morrison, I., McGlone, F., & Olausson, H. (2009). Coding of pleasant touch by unmyelinated afferents in humans. Nature Neuroscience, 12(5), 547–548. doi:10.1038/nn.2312


Distal Touch, Exploratory Action, and the Use of Tools

Touch seems like a paradigm contact sense. In order to experience things through touch it seems necessary that we be in direct contact with them.

I argue that this is false. We can and often do experience things not in direct (or even apparent) contact with our bodies. We do this primarily by using tools and other intermediary devices that appropriately connect us to things in the distal world. I give many examples in the book to support this claim, and then describe several classes of distal touch.

Tactual Filling-In: Fanning your fingers apart, run your fingertips down a tabletop. You experience the unified and singular surface of the table as your hand moves. You do not feel the table only at the five points of contact; you experience one solid table.

Volume Touch: Volume touch was first discussed (as far as I know) by pioneering psychologist David Katz in 1925. Volume touch involves touching solid objects through thick mediating layers of cotton or other materials. Such experiences give the impression of a volume or space through which the distal object is perceived. The experience is distal, but occurs through some soft material which adds a sense of depth and space to our experience. A similar case is palpation. Doctors, therapists, and masseurs use palpation to sense such objects as tumors, cysts, and muscle knots which lie below the surface of the skin. In these cases there is an awareness of something not in direct contact with the body.

Indirect Touch: Similar to volume touch, indirect touch involves touching an object through a thin, non-spacious material, like a blanket or towel. We can touch a playful puppy hiding under a blanket, and determine its shape, size, location, and movements. In so doing, the blanket functions something like a medium through which we touch the puppy.

Tactual Projection: The paradigm case of distal touch.
Such cases involves experiences of objects and properties that are not in direct contact with the actual limits of our body, but are connected to us through an intervening tool.

We have these classes of distal touch, but many questions remain. Here I will discuss one: what are the constraints on distal touch? (Another, which I’ll save for another time, concerns the spatial content of distal touch). Touch can represent objects located some distance from the body, but only if those objects are connected to us in the appropriate way. I defend what I call the Connection Principle (CP): Tactual awareness of an object requires an appropriate tactual connection with the object, either directly or through some appropriate intermediary.

On my view, anything that appropriately transmits information about distal objects, and thereby allows us to have genuine tactual experiences of these objects, counts as a tangible medium. This will include various objects, tools, voluminous materials, and even organic substances such as fingernails.

What kinds of connections are appropriate? First, tactual media must transmit tangible properties, which include roughness, solidity, weight, elasticity, vibration, thermal properties, along with many others. Some tangible properties are more easily transmitted than others. These tend to be relatively sparse properties like roughness and smoothness that do not involve precise spatial resolutions. Other tangible properties, like fine texture, exact shape, contours, and part-whole relationships are more difficult to transmit, though some media exist that can transmit such information (thin gloves, for instance). Part of what makes a connection appropriate for touch then, is that tactual media must reliably transmit information about distal tangible features.

In addition, the connection seems to be closely related to exploration and control. Consider a simple case of distal thermal touch. With your eyes closed, you can experience the heat coming from a candle set before you. Even here, the exploratory actions you perform relative to the candle —- perhaps moving your palm around in front of you, feeling for the heat to increase or decrease —- seem crucial to your ability to experience the heat as coming from an external source, as located in a particular distal spot. So exploration is also important.

The same is true of distal touch involving tools. When we use a pencil or tongs to touch objects, we are able to move and manipulate the tools in different ways, allowing for coherent and stable representations of objects located away from the body. When we use such a tool, we are, in a sense, able to feel through them to the object on the other side. When we explore through touch we are able to ground and represent certain properties as located in certain places. The same is true of the use of tools for tactual projection, which occurs when the medium becomes, in a certain constrained sense, transparent.

We can say more about the constraint on exploration. Tactual media, I suggest, must mesh with our exploratory procedures (EPs). Lederman and Klatzky (1987) introduced this notion after discovering that subjects typically used a set of stereotypical exploratory movements when touching objects in an unconstrained setting. These EPs include movements like unsupported holding, pressing, and contour following that allow a subject to engage directly with objects in order to determine sets of tangible features. The use of tactual media must allow for the smooth incorporation and extension of these exploratory movements. That is, the actions we perform with tools and other tactual media must cohere with the kinds of EPs we would normally use when touching objects: we should be able to press and tap and slide tactual media across a surface, for instance. This explains why we can experience a distal surface with a pencil, but not with slack string: the string cannot transmit tangible features and we cannot perform any exploratory procedures with it.


Katz, D., & Krueger, L. E (trans). (1925). The world of touch. L. Erlbaum Associates.

Lederman, S. J., & Klatzky, R. L. (1987). Hand movements: A window into haptic object recognition. Cognitive Psychology, 19(3), 342–368.


Touch and Bodily Awareness

Active or haptic touch typically involves externally directed experiences of things in the world. We experience through touch tables, chairs, breezes, cups, dogs, microwaves, even other people. Such experiences are directed at ordinary material objects and their properties, just like vision is typically directed at external objects and their features (note that sometimes these ordinary objects are also parts of our own bodies). Touch also possesses another character, one directed not at external objects but at the body itself. This “body-directed” character seems to involve an awareness from the inside of the present state of our bodies (cf. Ratcliff, 2008). Press your hand against the table or some other object in front of you. Move your hand around. You will feel the table and its various features. But it seems, if you pay just the right kind of attention, that you can also feel the deformations and movements of your fingers as the table presses back against them. Or imagine the feeling of walking along the beach. You can feel the warm surf and soft, pliant sand as you walk along. But you can also feel the changes and alterations occurring to your feet at the same time. Continue reading Touch and Bodily Awareness


A group blog on topics in the philosophy and science of mind