Re-conceptualizing Mental "Illness": An Ongoing Dialogue Between Enactive Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Organising Committee
  1. Joel Parthemore
  2. Blay Whitby
Program Committee
  • Fred Cummins
  • Sanneke De Haan
  • Hanne De Jaegher
  • Dan Hutto
  • Marek McGann
  • Mark McKergow
  • Alexandra Perry
  • Göran Sonesson
Date: Thursday 3rd April and Friday 4th April Website: Description:
This symposium carries on from the highly successful three-day symposium organized at last year's AISB convention in Plymouth. Submissions for oral presentations are by full paper, for poster presentations by abstract. For those who took part last year, the focus will be even more on the payoff that enactive philosophy and theoretical cognitive science working together can bring to mental health practice. In the late 20th and early 21st Century, the dominant trend in philosophy of psychiatry and mental health has been toward pathologizing a wide range of mental phenomena under the headings of "disease", "illness", "disorder", or "disability" and treating the ones labeled "disease" or "illness" on a par with physical disease/illness, to be treated primarily by drug-based interventions: the so-called bio-psychiatric model. The terms "disorder" and "disability" are broader but still tend to stigmatize in unhelpful ways and are woefully underdefined. Meanwhile, recent trends in cognitive science and philosophy of mind - notably Andy Clark and Dave Chalmers' extended-mind hypothesis and the enactive school associated with Evan Thompson, Francisco Varela, and others - have challenged the familiar equating of the boundaries of the physical body with those of the mind. While the various approaches differ at key points, all agree that, although the mind must be physically realized, it extends in substantive ways into the environment, its boundaries subject to constant negotiation and re-negotiation. As such extended-mind critics as Robert Rupert point out, re-conceptualizing the boundaries of mind and world in this way can only be justified if there is some empirical payoff. A small but increasingly vocal group within the extended-mind/enactive community believe that one of the best places to look for such payoff is in the field of mental health. They suggest moving away from a model based on physical illness towards one that emphasizes each person's history and embedding in a social context: such identified conditions as Asperger Syndrome and high-functioning autism are better understood as instances of cognitive diversity rather than impairment; while conditions such as schizophrenia or manic-depressive disorder must be understood, and treated, as problems of the patient's immediate community and not just the patient herself. Furthermore, they must be understood, and treated, in light of the patient's history of interactions with her environment and not just the presenting symptoms. The risk of much contemporary treatment is that, like aspirin, it treats the symptoms and does not address the underlying issues. As an emerging community and not just a scattered collection of "lone voices", the field is brand new, and it is cutting edge. It touches on the nature of the mind and its relationship to environment, the possibilities for computer models of mind that draw on exciting new paradigms, and the breadth of cognitive science from theoretical explorations in philosophy of mind to concrete applications and new directions in treatment. The two-day symposium will look both at the movement towards re-conceptualizing mental health and at its ethical consequences, along with ways it might most fruitfully employ the new perspectives and computer modeling tools of the wider cognitive science community.