Report from the Head to Head public workshops

Report by Dr Ema Sullivan-Bissett, Lecturer in Philosophy and researcher in the field of philosophy of mind, for the Head to Head public workshops.

On Saturday 16th September, together with Alisa Mandrigin I organized a Public Engagement event, sponsored by a British Academy grant for the Early Career Mind Network.

The day was split into three sessions, with each session have three twenty minute talks by leading philosophers in the field, and then a Q&A session with members of the public.

In the first session Making Sense of Our Senses, Louise Richardson (University of York) spoke on ‘How Many Senses Do We Have?’, and considered the idea that science shows that we have more than the five familiar senses, and presented some thoughts in favour of the notion that it doesn’t in fact show this. Next Alisa Mandrigin (IASH, University of Edinburgh/University of Stirling) gave a talk called ‘Rethinking the Senses: Multisensory Perception’ in which she discussed the ways the sensory systems interact, and suggested a challenge to the traditional conception of the senses in light of this. Laura Gow (University of Warwick) closed the session with her talk ‘Do Objects Have Colours?’, in which she discussed the scientific view that colours are properties of our experience, and the common-sense view that colours are out in the world.

The second session, Is Immoral Art Aesthetically Bad?, opened with Eileen John (University of Warwick) giving a talk entitled ‘Appreciating Artistic Immorality’ in which she argued that immoral content in art does not have a fixed way of contributing to artistic value – it can both count against, or add to, a work’s value. Next Maarten Steenhagen (University of Cambridge) gave his talk ‘Does HBO Corrupt the Youth?’ Maarten focused on the case of ‘Confederate’, a new HBO series currently in production. He sketched an argument for why the airing of the programme is problematic, and then moved to an aesthetic critique of the series. Peter Lamarque (University of York) closed the session with his talk ‘Values of Literature: The Ideological and the Aesthetic’. Peter reflected on the kinds of values sought in literary works, and in particular what underpins the so-called literary ‘canon’ of great works.

The final session of the day was Believing Badly, which opened with Kathy Puddifoot (University of Birmingham) giving a talk entitled ‘Tricked by Memory of Tricks of Memory?’ Kathy discussed how recent work in the cognitive sciences suggests that the cognitive mechanisms underpinning false and distorted memories are crucial to the production of true beliefs about the world. Next was Sam Wilkinson (University of Edinburgh) giving his talk ‘Bad Belief in the Bayesian Brain’. Sam talked about the formation of delusional beliefs. In particular, he suggested a view based on Bayesian approaches to brain function, according to which we cannot understand the beliefs of psychiatric patients, but that this is perfectly in keeping with normal belief formation. Finally, Anna Ichino (University of Antwerp/Bar Ilan) closed the session, and the event, with her talk ‘Wise Pens, Evil Cardigans, Powerful Reptiles, and Other Strange Things’. Anna discussed superstitious actions which we usually think of as accounted for by beliefs. Anna argued that most manifestations of superstitious thinking are best understood in terms of imaginings, specifically, cases in which we attempt to satisfy our real desires in imaginative ways.

Overall the event was a great success. Philosophers from around the UK were able to bring their research to a public audience, and in turn that audience were able to learn about recent work in many areas of academic philosophy.