Epistemic innocence of imperfect cognitions

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has awarded a 12-month Research Fellowship to Professor Lisa Bortolotti for this research project. Its main aim is to investigate whether delusional beliefs, distorted memories and confabulatory explanations can have epistemic benefits. Ema Sullivan-Bissett also works on this project.  

People diagnosed with psychiatric conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia have delusional beliefs and distorted memories. These symptoms are characterised by obvious epistemic faults. Delusions may be absurd in content and resistant to counterevidence, and autobiographical memories may be wildly inaccurate.

Professor Bortolotti is interested in whether these 'imperfect cognitions' have also epistemic benefits, that is, whether they contribute to the preservation or acquisition of knowledge in the context in which they occur. For instance, one may argue that having a distorted memory of an important autobiographical event for someone with serious memory deficits is better than having no memory at all of that event. Being able to remember something about one's past helps one maintain a sense of self which is instrumental to autonomous thought and action and effective communication with others.

In the project, Professor Bortolotti's aim is to explore a new way of looking at delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and even 'imperfect cognitions' occurring  in the non-clinical population, and develop the notion of 'epistemic innocence'. This is the idea that even a false belief, say, may be conducive to knowledge in some circumstances and have epistemic benefits that outweigh its epistemic faults.

For more information, visit the project website and the project blog.