Drawing on the latest work in cognitive neuroscience, a philosopher proposes that delusions are narrative models that accommodate anomalous experiences.
In The Measure of Madness, Philip Gerrans offers a novel explanation of delusion. Over the last two decades, philosophers and cognitive scientists have investigated explanations of delusion that interweave philosophical questions about the nature of belief and rationality with findings from cognitive science and neurobiology. Gerrans argues that once we fully describe the computational and neural mechanisms that produce delusion and the way in which conscious experience and thought depend on them, the concept of delusional belief retains only a heuristic role in the explanation of delusion.
Gerrans proposes that delusions are narrative models that accommodate anomalous experiences. He argues that delusions represent the operation of the Default Mode Network (DMN)-the cognitive system that provides the raw material for humans' inbuilt tendency to provide a subjectively compelling narrative context for anomalous or highly salient experiences-without the "supervision" of higher cognitive processes present in the nondelusional mind. This explanation illuminates the relationship among delusions, dreams, imaginative states, and irrational beliefs that have perplexed philosophers and psychologists for over a century.
Going beyond the purely conceptual and the phenomenological, Gerrans brings together findings from different disciplines to trace the flow of information through the cognitive system, and applies these to case studies of typical schizophrenic delusions: misidentification, alien control, and thought insertion. Drawing on the interventionist model of causal explanation in philosophy of science and the predictive coding approach to the mind influential in computational neuroscience, Gerrans provides a model for integrative theorizing about the mind.
Philip Gerrans is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Adelaide. Robert A. Wilson is Professor of Philosophy at La Trobe University, the author of Genes and the Agents of Life, and coeditor of The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences and of Explanation and Cognition (MIT Press). He directed the project that built EugenicsArchive.ca and is a director and the executive producer of the documentary Surviving Eugenics. Kim Sterelny is Professor of Philosophy at Australian National University and Victoria University of Wellington. His books include Language and Reality (with Michael Devitt; second edition, MIT Press).