Institut Jean Nicod

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The Experimental Philosophy Group

Groupe de travail  "Philosophie Expérimentale"


Vendredi/Friday 16:00 - Institut Jean-Nicod. ENS, Pavillon Jardin, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris

Contact: Brent Strickland


The Experimental Philosophy group at Jean Nicod will be having its first official meeting this coming Wednesday, November 20th. We will be meeting weekly from there on out. The group looks at philosophically interesting notions like causality, intentionality, reference, and mental files from an empirical angle. The ultimate goal is to get a better understanding of how the mind actually represent these things.

The meetings are composed of philosophers, psychologists, linguists, and sociologists, and many of the groups members are just making their first steps in to experimentation. We hope to build an interdisciplinary group which is asking a lot of original and theoretically rich questions, using solid experimental methods. So if you are a philosopher (or linguist, anthropologist, etc...) and want to learn how to run experiments or are a psychologist and want to think about some new and unfamiliar topics, please join us.




Passed Sessions:

November 20th, 6:30 pm
In our first meeting, we will hear from Jonas Ackerman on people's naive intuitions of "what is said". He will be looking at scenarios in which a person is pointing to an object, but mistakenly think that they are pointing at another object. For example, if a professor thinks they are pointing at a picture of George Washington but are in fact pointing at a picture of Charles de Gaulle, and they say to their class "Buy the book about him," what did they say in that case? Naive speaker intuitions may differ from some standard models in philosophy of language in these cases.

December, 4, 6:30 pm
Cathal O'Madagain will be presenting some new work on "indexical pointing" (i.e. referring to an object by pointing to it). This presentation should be lots of fun, and very accessible to those of you who aren't familiar with the topic.

Cathal wants to know what "visual rules" determine the direction you have to point your finger in in order to refer to an object. Do you have to point right at it, or just close to it? If the latter, how close? His really interesting idea is that people implicitly treat the tip of the finger like an eyeball, and this determines the range of things that a finger point can pick out. I'd also like to add that in looking at his stimuli and chatting with people informally about this, Cathal's initial project seems like one that could generate lots of fascinating follow-up studies. So new ideas and input would be welcome!

December, 11, 6:30 pm
Katherina Helming (a Phd student at Jean Nicod) will be telling us about a new experiment she is running asking whether the group that someone else is in may have an automatic and relatively reflexive influence on whether we want to be generous or stingy with that person. In addition to asking a really cool theoretical question, the method that Katherina has developed for assigning people to "minimal groups" over the internet is also original and likely to be of some interest. Like many of the presentations in our group, this should be comprehensible and accessible even to those people working in totally different areas.

December, 18, 6:30 pm
Anouch Bourmayan (IJN)

Anouch Bourmayan will be presenting some new projects which look at the cognitive differences between explicitly stating a logically required direct object (as in "John lost it"), and leaving this implicit (as in "John lost."). Anouch's idea is that using the word "it" elicits contrast sets that aren't elicit when it is left off. So in the former example, but not the latter, a listener may be inclined to compare what John lost with all of the other things that John could have lost but didn't (this is the contrast set evoked by "it"). She is looking at this idea by way of memory effects, counterfactual reasoning, and speech production.

February, 7 from 4pm to 5:30 pm
Erin Zaroukian (LSCP)
"Testing for modal concord with rising intonation"

Abstract: Speakers can use rising intonation in their responses to questions to indicate uncertainty (A: What's John's favorite color? B: Blue?), but current analyses of rising intonation predict the wrong interpretation when such responses contain an epistemic adverb like "maybe" (... B: Maybe blue?). I provide a new analysis of rising intonation, one which assigns it semantic content, that allows for the available interpretations. I am currently running surveys to test the predictions of my analysis, which, while emphasizing the flexibility in interpretations of rising intonation, do not provide strong support for my analysis

February, 14, 4:00-5:30 pm
Jeremy Zehr (Institut Jean Nicod)
"Non-classical truth-judgments: vagueness and presuppositions"

Abstract: One classically judges sentences either "true'' or "false''. But some sentences seem to resist this binary judgment. I focus on vague sentences (a) and presuppositional sentences (b).
    a.    The oven is hot
    b.    The oven has stopped buzzing
When faced with an oven at a moderate temperature, speakers might judge (a) "neither true nor false''. Literature on presuppositions usually describes (b) as "neither true nor false'' in cases where the oven has never been buzzing.
I collected truth-judgments about these two types of sentences in critical situations: my predictions are that speakers won't judge any of the two "completely true'' nor "completely false'', but that they still won't give the exact same judgments for the two.
I then plan to conduct further experiments to look at what I call "hybrid sentences'', e.g. (c) in cases where the oven was at a moderate temperature before cooling down:
    c.    The oven has stopped being hot

February 21, 2:30-4 pm
Hugo Mercier (CNRS-L2C2/University of Neuchatel)
"Using the choice blindness paradigm to investigate cognitive biases"

Abstract: In choice blindness experiments people typically answer a series of questions and are then asked to justify these answers. However, some of these answers have been manipulated so that the answers that participants are asked to justify are in fact the opposite of their actual answers. Most people do not detect these inversions and happily justify the answer that they believe to be theirs. I will briefly review some of this literature to show that it offers the best demonstration to date of the myside bias, the tendency to find arguments for one's side rather than against it (also know, somewhat improperly, as the confirmation bias). I will then present the results of new experiments conducted with Emmanuel Trouche and Petter Johansson that used the same paradigm to demonstrate two other biases: asymmetric argument evaluation -- people are much more lenient towards their own arguments than towards others' arguments -- and egocentric discounting -- people have a fundamental bias to favor their own opinion when it clashes with someone else's.

March, 7
Amit Almor (University of South Carolina),
"The interaction between dialogue and visuospatial task performance"

The simultaneous performance of a linguistic task together with a visual, spatial, and/or motor task is of special importance for researchers interested in the connection between language and other cognitive systems. According to modular approaches, there should be little interference between different modalities, and, to the extent that interference occurs, it should occur across the board and not differ between processes within each domain. One particularly salient example of such interference occurring is talking on the phone while driving. While there has been much work on this topic, none of the research thus far has considered the specific question of why such interference occurs and whether and how it is related to the intricate dynamics of conversation. Identifying and differentiating between the specific aspects of conversation that affect performance on other tasks is necessary for the understanding of both why and when language interferes. I will present three studies that we conducted in order to examine the subtle dynamics of conversation and its effects on a concurrent visuomotor task. Our results show that the difficulty of the visual motor task, the type of conversational turn (speaking vs. listening vs. planning what to say next), the familiarity with the interlocutor, and the spatial direction from which the voice of the interlocutor is heard all modulate the amount of interference. I will discuss the implications of these findings for theories of language and spoken dialogue.

March, 14
Markus Kneer
(Institut Jean Nicod),
"Knowledge and Perspective in Action"

The talk will focus on preliminary empirical results regarding knowledge in action and the impact of perspective on the side-effect effect.

According to Anscombe, acting intentionally entails acting knowingly. Davidson objected to such an account of intentional action with his famous carbon-copier example: A man might try to make ten carbon copies yet not believe – and hence not know – that he will succeed. If he does succeed, however, his action will be deemed intentional and Anscombe stands refuted. I’ll sketch a quasi-externalist conception of knowledge that leaves Anscombe’s thesis in tact. Preliminary empirical evidence suggests that this conception is indeed at work in knowledge attributions regarding intentional action.

Folk intuitions are frequently observed to vary with perspective. For instance, what is deemed morally permissible in moral dilemma scenarios (trolleys and the like) depends crucially on whether the subject is asked to assume the perspective of the actor or merely that of a bystander. I’ll report the results of two studies concerning the question whether perspective has an impact on the side-effect effect (or ‘Knobe effect’).

April 4, 5pm-6:30 pm - Salle de réunion du DEC
Brent Strickland (IJN)
"Deep-seated cognitive biases distort science: Problems of production and consumption"

While it has clearly had its historical successes, science is currently in a state of crisis both in terms of how it is produced and how it is consumed. On the production side, it has recently (and quite dramatically) come to light that an uncomfortably large proportion of reported findings are false. In the medical field, Ioannidis (2005) has estimated that as many as 1/3 of all findings are non-replicable, but similar problems arise across a wide range of scientific domains including psychology (Rosenthal & Rubin, 1978; Reproducibility Project), economics (Ioannidis & Doucouliagos, 2013), software engineering (Robles, 2010), and biology (Pfeiffer & Hoffman, 2009). On the consumption side, people systematically reject scientific findings that would clearly be in their best interest to adopt. For example certain groups of people regularly deny climate change (Washington, 2013; Kahan et al., 2012), the theory of evolution (Miller, 2007), and the usefulness of vaccination (Kahan, 2010).

Many contributing elements have likely helped bring about these problems. Here, I focus on what may be the most central of these: our own psychology. In particular, I argue that that deep-seated cognitive biases, which are present cross-culturally and early in human development, systematically deform both the production and consumption of science. Thus by understanding the most fundamental aspects of human reasoning, we can gain crucial insight into how to best fix current problems with the scientific process.

April, 11, 4 pm-5:30 pm
Florian Cova (University of Geneva),
"Moral asymmetries in judgments about intentional action: Three linguistic accounts"

Abstract: The Knobe Effect is the observation that judgments about whether an agent intentionally brought about a given outcome are influenced by moral informations. Some think that this effect reveals something deep about folk psychology and our theory-of-mind, while other think the effect operates at a much more superficial level. Among the latter kind of accounts are accounts that consider the Knobe Effect to be mainly a linguistic phenomenon. I will present and discuss three different linguistic accounts of the Knobe Effect. After rejecting two pragmatic accounts of the effect, I will argue for a semantic account of the Knobe Effect, and will draw a parallel between the semantics of "intentionally" and the semantics of the quantifier "many."

April, 18, 4 pm - 5:30 pm
Branden Thornhill-Miller (University of Oxford and Paris)
"Rationality, Cognitive Biases, and Supernatural Beliefs"

Our research on this topic is the result of an interdisciplinary dialogue focused on the nature of supernatural beliefs and the limits of rational justifications currently available for them.  Based upon a novel combination of revisions to Humean logic integrated with several important new bodies of empirical research (e.g. cognitive science of religion and cognitive bias research) we have proposed a ‘Common-core/Diversity Dilemma’ (CCDD), which suggests a particular incompatibility between the diversity of supernatural claims and empirical commonalities of many kinds of supernatural belief systems.  From the vantage point of the CCDD, this talk highlights several strands of recent empirical research concerning intercessory prayer, religious experience, near death experiences and afterlife beliefs, hyperactive agency detection, theory of mind, and cognitive biases, as well as some complementary anthropological, and evolutionary perspectives.  Together this material suggests that many kinds of supernatural belief systems are mutually exclusive while some others remain rational possibilities that might be considered in light of preferences concerning parsimony.  Related empirical research now also suggests the importance of what might be called the ‘Normal/Objective Dilemma’ (NOD), which requires a deceptively simple choice between a rational, objective perception of reality and a more humanly normative one.  Finally, we offer the ‘Maxim of the Moon’ (Thornhill-Miller, 2007) as a potential metaphor for the human predicament concerning bias and belief—one that suggests a possible way forward for rational argument and progress in the naturalism/supernaturalism and science/religion debates.

June, 5, 5pm - Département d'études Cognitives, Salle de réunion
Abdellah Fourtassi (LSCP, ENS),
"Syntactic biases in intentionality judgments"

Do syntactic categories automatically influence intentionality judgments? Strickland et al (2014) demonstrated that, indeed, under time pressure people tend to treat the grammatical subject of a sentence as acting more intentionally than the object (while when not under time pressure, no such influences operate). In this work, we explore whether this bias is only a matter of a sentence's surface form or if it is linked to its deep syntactic structure. To test this question, we conducted an in-lab and an online experiment. In both experiments, participants were asked to judge the intentionality of the argument of unaccusative and ergative verbs in French.  The preliminary results show that participants tend to treat the argument of unergative verbs (deep subject) as acting more intentionally than the argument of unaccusative verbs (deep object). Interestingly, when under time pressure, the effect appears more clearly in terms of accuracy in the first experiment and in terms of reaction time in the online experiment.

June, 10 - Institut Nicod - Salle de réunion, RDC
10-11:30 Eric Mandelbaum (Harvard University),
"Attitude, Inference, Association: On the Propositional Structure of Implicit Bias"

The overwhelming majority of those who theorize about implicit biases posit that these biases are caused by some sort of association. However, what exactly this claim amounts to is rarely specified. In this paper, I distinguish between different understandings of association, and I argue that the crucial senses of association for elucidating implicit bias are the cognitive structure and mental process senses. A hypothesis is subsequently derived: if associations really underpin implicit biases, then implicit biases should be modulated by counterconditioning or extinction but should not be modulated by rational argumentation or logical interventions. This hypothesis appears to be false; implicit biases are not predicated on any associative structures or associative processes but instead arise because of unconscious propositionally structured beliefs. I conclude by discussing how the case study of implicit bias illuminates problems with popular dual process models of cognitive architecture.

11:30-13 Shaun Nichols (University of Arizona),
"Rational Learners and Non-Utilitarian Rules"

June, 13, 4 pm - 5:30 pm
Nat Hansen (Reading University),
"Color Adjectives and Absolute Standards: Experimental Evidence"

Abstract: version PDF