Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Artificial Intelligence, Humanistic Ethics

John Tasioulas
AI & Society
Spring 2022


Ethics is concerned with what it is to live a flourishing life and what it is we morally owe to others. The optimizing mindset prevalent among computer scientists and economists, among other powerful actors, has led to an approach focused on maximizing the fulfillment of human preferences, an approach that has acquired considerable influence in the ethics of AI. But this preference-based utilitarianism is open to serious objections. This essay sketches an alternative, “humanistic” ethics for AI that is sensitive to aspects of human engagement with the ethical often missed by the dominant approach. Three elements of this humanistic approach are outlined: its commitment to a plurality of values, its stress on the importance of the procedures we adopt, not just the outcomes they yield, and the centrality it accords to individual and collective participation in our understanding of human well-being and morality. The essay concludes with thoughts on how the prospect of artificial general intelligence bears on this humanistic outlook.


I have mainly focused on narrow AI, conceived as AI-powered technology that can perform limited tasks (such as facial recognition or medical diagnosis) that typically require intelligence when performed by humans. This is partly because serious doubt surrounds the likelihood of artificial general intelligence emerging within any realistically foreseeable time frame, partly because the operative notion of “intelligence” in discussions of AGI (artificial general intelligence) is problematic, and partly because a focus on AGI often distracts us from the more immediate questions of narrow AI.

With these caveats in place, however, one can admit that thought experiments about AGI can help bring into focus two questions fundamental to any humanistic ethic: What is the ultimate source of human dignity, understood as the inherent value attaching to each and every human being? And how can we relate human dignity to the value inhering in nonhuman beings? Toward the end of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Klara and the Sun, the eponymous narrator, an “Artificial Friend,” speculates that human dignity–the “human heart” that “makes each of us special and individual”–has its source not in something within us, but in the love of others for us. But a threat of circularity looms for this boot-strapping humanism, for how can the love of others endow us with value unless those others already have value? Moreover, if the source of human dignity is contingent on the varying attitudes of others, how can it apply equally to every human being? Are the unloved bereft of the “human heart”?

Monday, May 30, 2022

Free will without consciousness?

L. Mudrik, I. G. Arie, et al.
Trends in Cognitive Sciences
Available online 12 April 2022


Findings demonstrating decision-related neural activity preceding volitional actions have dominated the discussion about how science can inform the free will debate. These discussions have largely ignored studies suggesting that decisions might be influenced or biased by various unconscious processes. If these effects are indeed real, do they render subjects’ decisions less free or even unfree? Here, we argue that, while unconscious influences on decision-making do not threaten the existence of free will in general, they provide important information about limitations on freedom in specific circumstances. We demonstrate that aspects of this long-lasting controversy are empirically testable and provide insight into their bearing on degrees of freedom, laying the groundwork for future scientific-philosophical approaches.

  • A growing body of literature argues for unconscious effects on decision-making.
  • We review a body of such studies while acknowledging methodological limitations, and categorize the types of unconscious influence reported.
  • These effects intuitively challenge free will, despite being generally overlooked in the free will literature. To what extent can decisions be free if they are affected by unconscious factors?
  • Our analysis suggests that unconscious influences on behavior affect degrees of control or reasons-responsiveness. We argue that they do not threaten the existence of free will in general, but only the degree to which we can be free in specific circumstances.

Concluding remarks

Current findings of unconscious effects on decision-making do not threaten the existence of free will in general. Yet, the results still show ways in which our freedom can be compromised under specific circumstances. More experimental and philosophical work is needed to delineate the limits and scope of these effects on our freedom (see Outstanding questions). We have evolved to be the decision-makers that we are; thus, our decisions are affected by biases, internal states, and external contexts. However, we can at least sometimes resist those, if we want, and this ability to resist influences contrary to our preferences and reasons is considered a central feature of freedom. As long as this ability is preserved, and the reviewed findings do not suggest otherwise, we are still free, at least usually and to a significant degree.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Unemployment, Behavioral Health, And Suicide

R. Ramchand, L. Ayer, & S. O'Connor
Health Affairs
Originally posted 7 APR 22

Key Points:
  • A large body of research, most of which is ecological, has investigated the relationship between job loss or unemployment rates and mental health, substance use, and suicide.
  • Groups historically experiencing health disparities (for example, Black and Hispanic populations and those without a high school or college degree) have been differently affected by unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, preliminary evidence from three states suggests that suicide has disproportionately affected Americans who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups over the course of the pandemic.
  • COVID-19 has affected the workforce in unique ways that differentiate the pandemic from previous economic downturns. However, previous research indicates that increases in suicide rates associated with economic downturns were driven by regional variation in unemployment, availability of unemployment benefits, and duration and magnitude of changes in unemployment.
  • Policy mitigation strategies may have offset the potential impact of unemployment fluctuations on suicide rates during the pandemic. Policies include expanded unemployment benefits and food assistance, as well as tax credits and subsidies that reduced child care and health care costs.
  • Research is needed to disentangle which populations experienced the most benefit when these strategies were present and which had the greatest risk when they were discontinued.
  • Evidence-based strategies that expand the mental health workforce and integrate mental health supports into employment and training settings may be promising ways to help workers as they navigate persistent changes to workforce demands.

Suicide In The United States

A recent Health Affairs Health Policy Brief provides an overview of suicide in the United States. In 2019, 47,511 Americans intentionally ended their lives, making suicide the tenth leading cause of death. This is likely an underestimate—in 2019, 75,795 Americans died of poisonings, the majority of which were drug poisonings categorized as unintentional, although some were likely suicide overdoses that were misclassified.

Suicide is a growing national concern despite the fact that the national suicide rate decreased between 2018 and 2019 and again in 2020. This decrease comes after nearly twenty years of the national suicide rate increasing annually, and it was not observed in some minority racial and ethnic groups. In addition, although suicide rates decreased between 2018 and 2020, the drug overdose death rate increased.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The “Equal-Opportunity Jerk” Defense: Rudeness Can Obfuscate Gender Bias

Belmi, P., Jun, S., & Adams, G. S. (2022). 
Psychological Science, 33(3), 397–411.


To address sexism, people must first recognize it. In this research, we identified a barrier that makes sexism hard to recognize: rudeness toward men. We found that observers judge a sexist perpetrator as less sexist if he is rude toward men. This occurs because rudeness toward men creates the illusion of gender blindness. We documented this phenomenon in five preregistered studies consisting of online adult participants and adult students from professional schools (total N = 4,663). These attributions are problematic because sexism and rudeness are not mutually exclusive. Men who hold sexist beliefs about women can be—and often are—rude toward other men. These attributions also discourage observers from holding perpetrators accountable for gender bias. Thus, rudeness toward men gives sexist perpetrators plausible deniability. It protects them and prevents the first perceptual step necessary to address sexism.

Statement of Relevance

Sexism can be challenging to identify and eventually root out. However, we contend that even blatant forms of sexism are sometimes difficult to recognize. In this research, we demonstrated how rudeness can makes blatant forms of sexism harder to identify. We found that a man does not seem sexist if he treats everyone—both men and women—poorly. This is problematic because sexism and rudeness are not mutually exclusive.  Men who are sexist can be—and often are—rude toward other men. We found that rudeness obscures the recognition of sexism by creating the perception that the sexist perpetrator does not
notice or pay attention to gender when dealing with other people. This misleads observers into thinking that an intervention such as gender-bias training is less necessary. Rudeness can therefore protect sexist perpetrators, making their prejudice harder to recognize and correct.

From the Discussion

It has been noted that overtly discriminatory conduct—characterized by blatant antipathy, antiquated
beliefs about women, and endorsement of pejorative stereotypes—is becoming less common because of
sweeping changes in antidiscrimination laws, practices, and ideologies in the United States (Brief et al., 1997; Dovidio & Gaertner, 1998; Swim et al., 1995). However, blatant, unambiguous, and obvious forms of sexist conduct continue to exist in society (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1998) and within organizations in particular (e.g., Cortina, 2008). Our findings suggest that one reason for their persistence is that observers may not recognize that everyday acts of rudeness can serve as a convenient mask for bias against women (Cortina, 2008). This has an important practical implication: When a sexist manager is rude toward men, it may appear as though he is not sexist. Thus, women victimized by his behavior will have a more difficult time proving that he is sexist. Rudeness can therefore protect perpetrators.

Friday, May 27, 2022

What to Do If Your Job Compromises Your Morals

R. Carucci and L. N. Praslova
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted 29 APR 22

Here are two excerpts:

The emerging scholarship on reconciling the various terms used to describe responses to moral events points toward a continuum of moral harm. Of course, the complexity and variety of moral situations make any classification imperfect. Situations involving committing moral transgressions are more likely to lead to shame and guilt, while being a victim of betrayal is more likely to result in anger or sadness. In addition, there are also individual differences in sensitivity to morally distressing events, which can be determined by both biology and experience. Nevertheless, here is a useful summary:

  • Moral challenges are isolated incidents of relatively low-stakes transgressions. For example, workers might be instructed to use lower-quality materials in creating a product (e.g., substituting a non-organic product when running out of organic). A manager may require an employee to stay late, as a rare exception. This may result in a somewhat distressing but transitory “moral frustration,” with moderate levels of anger or guilt.
  • Moral stressors can lead to more significant moral distress. This may involve more substantial and/or regular moral transgressions — for example, a manager pushing employees to stay late several times every month, or an HR professional administering a morale survey knowing that the results will never be used, just like all the previous surveys. A dental practice may upsell patients on unnecessary, but not harmful treatments. This may result in negative moral emotions that are bothersome and might be lasting, but do not interfere with daily functioning. (However, in some nursing research, the experience referred to as “moral distress” is seen as very intense, possibly meeting the criteria for moral injury).
  • Injurious events are the most egregious. Executives could pressure a manager into manipulating burned-out employees to regularly sacrifice their time off and well being, while the organization intentionally keeps positions open for months. A health care worker might be required to provide medical treatments that are likely to lead to more treatments even though a cure is available. Situations like these could result in a highly distressing moral injury in which negative moral emotions are sufficiently intense and frequent to interfere with daily functioning. In particular, a person may experience intense shame leading to self-isolation or self-harm, or may quit their job in disgust. This level of moral stress response is similar to and at least partially overlaps with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Moral injuries can leave lasting impacts on our psyche, but they don’t have to remain debilitating. Like other trauma and hurt, we can grow from them. We can find the resilience we need to rise above the injury and restore our moral centers. Sometimes we’re able to take the environments along on that journey, and sometimes we have to leave them. Either way, if you’re carrying the weight of moral injury, don’t wait until it overtakes your whole outlook on life, and yourself. Find the courage to face what you’ve experienced and done, and with it, reclaim the values you hold most dear.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Do You Still Believe in the “Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Illness”?

Bruce Levine
Originally published 29 APR 22

Here are two excerpts:

If you knew that psychiatric drugs—similar to other psychotropic substances such as marijuana and alcohol—merely “take the edge off” rather than correct a chemical imbalances, would you be more hesitant about using them, and more reluctant to give them to your children? Drug companies certainly believe you would be less inclined if you knew the truth, and that is why we were early on flooded with commercials about how antidepressants “work to correct this imbalance.”

So, when exactly did psychiatry discard its chemical imbalance theory? While researchers began jettisoning it by the 1990s, one of psychiatry’s first loud rejections was in 2011, when psychiatrist Ronald Pies, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the Psychiatric Times, stated: “In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.” Pies is not the highest-ranking psychiatrist to acknowledge the invalidity of the chemical imbalance theory.

Thomas Insel was the NIMH director from 2002 to 2015, and in his recently published book, Healing (2022), he notes, “The idea of mental illness as a ‘chemical imbalance’ has now given way to mental illnesses as ‘connectional’ or brain circuit disorders.” While this latest “brain circuit disorder” theory remains controversial, it is now consensus at the highest levels of psychiatry that the chemical imbalance theory is invalid.

The jettisoning of the chemical imbalance theory should have been uncontroversial twenty-five years ago, when it became clear to research scientists that it was a disproved hypothesis. In Blaming the Brain (1998), Elliot Valenstein, professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan, detailed research showing that it is just as likely for people with normal serotonin levels to feel depressed as it is for people with abnormal serotonin levels, and that it is just as likely for people with abnormally high serotonin levels to feel depressed as it is for people with abnormally low serotonin levels. Valenstein concluded, “Furthermore, there is no convincing evidence that depressed people have a serotonin or norepinephrine deficiency.” But how many Americans heard about this?


Apparently, authorities at the highest levels have long known that the chemical imbalance theory was a disproven hypothesis, but they have viewed it as a useful “noble lie” to encourage medication use.

If you took SSRI antidepressants believing that these drugs helped correct a chemical imbalance, how does it feel to learn that this theory has long been disproven? Will this affect your trust of current and future claims by psychiatry? Were you prescribed an antidepressant not from a psychiatrist but from your primary care physician, and will this make you anxious about trusting all healthcare authorities?

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Illusory Feelings, Elusive Habits: People Overlook Habits in Explanations of Behavior

Mazar, A., & Wood, W. (2022).
Psychological science, 33(4), 563–578


Habits underlie much of human behavior. However, people may prefer agentic accounts that overlook habits in favor of inner states, such as mood. We tested this misattribution hypothesis in an online experiment of helping behavior (N = 809 adults) as well as in an ecological momentary assessment (EMA) study of U.S. college students' everyday coffee drinking (N = 112). Both studies revealed a substantial gap between perceived and actual drivers of behavior: Habit strength outperformed or matched inner states in predicting behavior, but participants' explanations of their behavior emphasized inner states. Participants continued to misattribute habits to inner states when incentivized for accuracy and when explaining other people's behavior. We discuss how this misperception could adversely influence self-regulation.

General Discussion

In two studies, participants’ attributions overemphasized inner states and underemphasized habit. Participants’ actual willingness to donate time in a laboratory task as well as their everyday coffee drinking were determined as much or more by habits than by inner states (mood and fatigue, respectively). However, participants’ attributions for why they acted the way they did emphasized inner states more than habit. Thus, participants appear to be both undervaluing habit compared with its actual influence on behavior and overvaluing inner states such as mood and fatigue. This pattern is understandable given the  disproportionate value people place on personal introspections (Pronin, 2009) as well as general information- and motivation-based tendencies to interpret actions as goal-directed (Rosset, 2008). Through these forces, people may form socially-shared lay theories about behavior that inform their attributions. This lure of phenomenology not only biases lay theories but also may have oriented psychological theories to overvalue salient, motivational determinants of behavior (Duckworth et al., 2016).

The combination of experimental manipulation in Study 1 and naturalistic observation in Study 2 provides evidence for the causal role of habits as well as the relevance of this attribution bias in everyday settings. Furthermore, the results replicated across the different measures of habit strength appropriate in these different tasks: Study 1’s manipulation of practice along with a reaction time measure; Study 2’s self-report measures of behavioral repetition in a given context (a determinant of habit formation) and experienced automaticity (a consequence of habit formation); and Study 2’s exploratory within-person, context-specific habit measure tapping participants’ history of repetition in specific situations.  

Editor's note: Important data with direct implications for psychotherapy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Bombshell 400-page report finds Southern Baptist leaders routinely silenced sexual abuse survivors

Robert Downen and John Tedesco
Houston Chronicle
Originally posted 22 MAY 22

For 20 years, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention — including a former president now accused of sexual assault — routinely silenced and disparaged sexual abuse survivors, ignored calls for policies to stop predators, and dismissed reforms that they privately said could protect children but might cost the SBC money if abuse victims later sued.

Those are just a few findings of a bombshell, third-party investigation into decades of alleged misconduct by Southern Baptist leaders that was released Sunday, nearly a year after 15,000 SBC church delegates demanded their executive committee turn over confidential documents and communications as part of an independent review of abuse reports that were purportedly mishandled or concealed since 2000.

The historic, nearly 400-page report details how a small, insular and influential group of leaders “singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations” to prevent abuse. The report was published by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm that conducted 330 interviews and reviewed two decades of internal SBC files in the seven-month investigation.

“Survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its (structure) — even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” Guidepost’s report concluded.

Guidepost investigated the SBC’s 86-member executive committee, the convention’s highest governing entity. The firm’s investigators had unprecedented access to the SBC’s leadership and reviewed thousands of internal documents — including previously confidential communications between SBC lawyers.

The investigation sheds new and unprecedented light on the backroom politicking and deceit that has stymied attempts at reforms and allowed for widespread mistreatment of child sexual abuse victims. And it exhaustively corroborates what many survivors have said for decades: that Southern Baptist leaders downplayed their own abuse crisis and instead prioritized shielding the SBC – and its hundreds of millions of dollars in annual donations — from lawsuits by abuse victims.

Among the findings:

A small group of SBC leaders routinely misled other members of the SBC’s executive committee on abuse issues, and rarely mentioned the frequent and persistent warnings and pleas for help from survivors.
  • Fearing lawsuits, leaders similarly failed to inform the SBC’s 15 million members that predators and pedophiles were targeting churches.
  • Longtime SBC leaders kept a private list of abusive pastors and ministers despite claiming for years that such an idea was impractical for stopping predators and impossible to adopt because of the SBC’s decentralized structure. Compiled since 2007, the roster contained the names of 703 offenders, most with an SBC connection. A few still work at churches in the SBC or other denominations.
  • Former SBC President Johnny Hunt is accused of sexually assaulting a woman weeks after his presidential tenure ended in 2010. The woman said Hunt manipulated her into silence by saying a disclosure of the incident would harm the SBC’s churches. Four other people corroborated much of the woman’s allegations to Guidepost. Hunt denied the allegations, but resigned from the SBC’s North American Mission Board days before the report was published.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Recognizing and Dismantling Raciolinguistic Hierarchies in Latinx Health

Ortega, P., et al.
AMA J Ethics. 2022;24(4):E296-304.
doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2022.296.


Latinx individuals represent a linguistically and racially diverse, growing US patient population. Raciolinguistics considers intersections of language and race, prioritizes lived experiences of non-English speakers, and can help clinicians more deftly conceptualize heterogeneity and complexity in Latinx health experiences. This article discusses how raciolinguistic hierarchies (ie, practices of attaching social value to some languages but not others) can undermine the quality of Latinx patients’ health experiences. This article also offers language-appropriate clinical and educational strategies for promoting health equity.


Hispanic/Latinx (hereafter, Latinx) individuals in the United States represent a culturally, racially, and linguistically diverse and rapidly growing population. Attempting to categorize all Latinx individuals in a single homogeneous group may result in inappropriate stereotyping,1 inaccurate counting,2, 3 ineffective health interventions that insufficiently target at-risk subgroups,4 and suboptimal health communication.5 A more helpful approach is to use raciolinguistics to conceptualize the heterogeneous, complex Latinx experience as it relates to health. Raciolinguistics is the study of the historical and contemporary co-naturalization of race and language and their intertwining in the identities of individuals and communities. As an emerging field that grapples with the intersectionality of language and race, raciolinguistics provides a unique perspective on the lived experiences of people who speak non-English languages and people of color.6 As such, understanding raciolinguistics is relevant to providing language-concordant care7 to patients with limited English proficiency (LEP), who have been historically marginalized by structural barriers, racism, and other forms of discrimination in health care.

In this manuscript, we explore how raciolinguistics can help clinicians to appropriately conceptualize the heterogeneous, complex Latinx experience as it relates to health care. We then use the raciolinguistic perspective to inform strategies to dismantle structural barriers to health equity for Latinx patients pertaining to (1) Latinx patients’ health care experiences and (2) medical education.



A raciolinguistic perspective can inform how health care practices and medical education should be critically examined to support Latinx populations comprising heterogeneous communities and complex individuals with varying and intersecting cultural, social, linguistic, racial, ancestral, spiritual, and other characteristics. Future studies should explore the outcomes of raciolinguistic reforms of health services and educational interventions across the health professions to ensure effectiveness in improving health care for Latinx patients.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Is there a relationship between spirituality/religiosity and resilience? A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies

Schwalm, S.D., Zandavalli, R. B., et al.
J Health Psychol. 2022 
doi: 10.1177/1359105320984537.


Resilience is the ability to recover or cope with adverse situations. Spiritual and religious beliefs may be associated with important "resilience resources." To investigate whether there is a relationship between spirituality/religiosity (S/R) and resilience. This is a systematic review (observational studies) with meta-analysis following the PRISMA guidelines. From a total of 2468 articles, 34 observational studies were included. We identified a moderate positive correlation between S/R and resilience (r = 0.40 (95% CI, 0.32-0.48], p < 0.01). When only high-quality articles were included, the results were maintained. Conclusion: A moderate positive correlation was found between S/R and resilience.


The results presented in this review showed a moderate correlation between S/R and resilience, and these findings were maintained even when only high-quality studies were included in the meta-analysis. In addition, subgroup analyses revealed that spirituality measures seem to be strongly correlated with resilience as compared to religiosity measures. Understanding this association can help researchers, health professionals, and administrators to develop preventive strategies to stimulate resilience in their patients and to design future studies in this area.

Many studies have evaluated the association between S/R and resilience presenting similar results. Fangauf (2014), evaluated 343 persons from three different ethnicities and found a correlation of 0.53; Han et al. (2016) measured this association in 898 Chinese volunteers after the 2008 Qiang earthquake and found a correlation of 0.40, and Howel and Miller-Graff (2014) assessed 321 American students who were victims of childhood violence, finding a correlation of 0.38. Despite the fact that there is a wide array of evidence linking S/R and resilience, so far we have not identified systematic reviews on the topic. These previous studies corroborate our meta-analysis, which found a moderate correlation between S/R and resilience, even when including only high-quality studies.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Cross-Cultural Variation in Cooperation: A Meta-Analysis

Spadaro, G., Graf, C., et al. (2022). 
Journal of personality and social psychology.
Advance online publication. 


Impersonal cooperation among strangers enables societies to create valuable public goods, such as infrastructure, public services, and democracy. Several factors have been proposed to explain variation in impersonal cooperation across societies, referring to institutions (e.g., rule of law), religion (e.g., belief in God as a third-party punisher), cultural beliefs (e.g., trust) and values (e.g., collectivism), and ecology (e.g., relational mobility). We tested 17 pre-registered hypotheses in a meta-analysis of 1,506 studies of impersonal cooperation in social dilemmas (e.g., the Public Goods Game) conducted across 70 societies (k = 2,271), where people make costly decisions to cooperate among strangers. After controlling for 10 study characteristics that can affect the outcome of studies, we found very little cross-societal variation in impersonal cooperation. Categorizing societies into cultural groups explained no variance in cooperation. Similarly, cultural, ancestral, and linguistic distance between societies explained little variance in cooperation. None of the cross-societal factors hypothesized to relate to impersonal cooperation explained variance in cooperation across societies. We replicated these conclusions when meta-analyzing 514 studies across 41 states and nine regions in the United States (k = 783). Thus, we observed that impersonal cooperation occurred in all societies – and to a similar degree across societies – suggesting that prior research may have overemphasized the magnitude of differences between modern societies in impersonal cooperation. We discuss the discrepancy between theory, past empirical research and the meta-analysis, address a limitation of experimental research on cooperation to study culture, and raise possible directions for future research.

From the Discussion

In the present meta-analysis, we found little variation in impersonal cooperation across 70 societies and 8 cultural groups. In fact, we found no significant differences in cooperation between cultural groups, which suggests there is little variation both within and between cultures. Moreover, linguistic and cultural distance between each pair of societies were only weakly related to differences in cooperation between societies, and genetic distance was not significantly associated with cooperation. If there existed substantial, systematic differences between societies in impersonal cooperation, we would expect a strong association between cultural distance and cooperation. Furthermore, we gathered all the societal indicators that have been hypothesized to explain cross-societal variation in impersonal cooperation and found that none of these were associated with cooperation. We also analyzed variation in cooperation across U.S. states and regions and found mixed evidence for variation in cooperation across the US. Contrary to what we observed within the global data, we found some variation in cooperation across U.S. regions, but only in one out of eight comparisons (i.e., South Atlantic region vs. East North Central region). That said, we did not find evidence for any between-state variation in cooperation.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Copy the In-group: Group Membership Trumps Perceived Reliability, Warmth, and Competence in a Social-Learning Task

Montrey, M., & Shultz, T. R. (2022). 
Psychological Science, 33(1), 165–174.


Surprisingly little is known about how social groups influence social learning. Although several studies have shown that people prefer to copy in-group members, these studies have failed to resolve whether group membership genuinely affects who is copied or whether group membership merely correlates with other known factors, such as similarity and familiarity. Using the minimal-group paradigm, we disentangled these effects in an online social-learning game. In a sample of 540 adults, we found a robust in-group-copying bias that (a) was bolstered by a preference for observing in-group members; (b) overrode perceived reliability, warmth, and competence; (c) grew stronger when social information was scarce; and (d) even caused cultural divergence between intermixed groups. These results suggest that people genuinely employ a copy-the-in-group social-learning strategy, which could help explain how inefficient behaviors spread through social learning and how humans maintain the cultural diversity needed for cumulative cultural evolution.


Although previous studies have found an apparent in-group bias in social learning, they have failed to resolve whether this constitutes a genuine social-learning strategy or a mere confluence of other factors (Buttelmann et al., 2013; Howard et al., 2015). Our study disentangled group membership from similarity and familiarity by assigning group membership at random. We found that rather than eliminating the preference for in-group members, this approach resulted in a robust in-group-copying bias, which (a) was bolstered by a tendency to observe in-group members, (b) overrode participants’ stated beliefs, (c) grew stronger when social information was scarce, and (d) even caused cultural divergence between intermixed groups. Taken together, our findings suggest that people genuinely employ a copy-the-in-group strategy and that group membership has both a direct and indirect effect on copying.

Why might a copy-the-in-group strategy have evolved in the first place? One reason could be that it allowed humans to rapidly adopt and vigorously maintain group norms that enhance coordination (McElreath et al., 2003) or promote cooperation (Boyd & Richerson, 2009). Another reason could be that social learning is useful only to the extent that adopting other people’s behavior yields similar payoffs (Laland, 2004). For example, copying out-group members could be less efficient or even counterproductive if groups differ in terms of what behavior is punished or rewarded. Finally, such a strategy could also have evolved because it minimized the risk of deception. Because social learning is essentially information scrounging (Kameda & Nakanishi, 2002), in which the copier benefits from other people’s knowledge without incurring the same costs, knowledgeable individuals have an incentive to mislead others. However, this incentive is minimized when observed individuals have a vested interest in the copier’s success. This holds true in kin relationships (Laland, 2004) and likely generalizes to other settings, such as intergroup competition.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

“Google Told Me So!” On the Bent Testimony of Search Engine Algorithms.

Narayanan, D., De Cremer, D.
Philos. Technol. 35, 22 (2022).


Search engines are important contemporary sources of information and contribute to shaping our beliefs about the world. Each time they are consulted, various algorithms filter and order content to show us relevant results for the inputted search query. Because these search engines are frequently and widely consulted, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the distinctively epistemic role that these algorithms play in the background of our online experiences. To aid in such understanding, this paper argues that search engine algorithms are providers of “bent testimony”—that, within certain contexts of interactions, users act as if these algorithms provide us with testimony—and acquire or alter beliefs on that basis. Specifically, we treat search engine algorithms as if they were asserting as true the content ordered at the top of a search results page—which has interesting parallels with how we might treat an ordinary testifier. As such, existing discussions in the philosophy of testimony can help us better understand and, in turn, improve our interactions with search engines. By explicating the mechanisms by which we come to accept this “bent testimony,” our paper discusses methods to help us control our epistemic reliance on search engine algorithms and clarifies the normative expectations one ought to place on the search engines that deploy these algorithms.


We have argued here that search engine algorithms provide us with a kind of testimony when they bring to fore some pieces of content for us to engage with and push behind others. This testimony is “bent,” because: 

(1) We treat these algorithms as if they are recommending to us the content that they feature at the top of a search results list, trusting that this content is more likely to contain true claims.

(2) There are disputed norms of communication about whether the recommendation of a piece of content counts as an assertion of its claims.

An understanding of this mechanism of bent testimony shows us how to control our reliance on it, if we so desired. Decreasing our reliance on this bent testimony entails decreasing our credence in the belief that the content ordered at the top of a search engine is any likelier to contain true claims. Further, we have argued that we ought to treat search engines as if they were testifiers. By having comparable expectations between search engines and ordinary testifiers, we would be able to pursue policy and legal interventions that befit the outsized role that these search engines seem to play when we acquire beliefs online.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Tragic Choices and the Virtue of Techno-Responsibility Gaps

John Danaher
Philosophy and Technology 
35 (2):1-26 (2022)


There is a concern that the widespread deployment of autonomous machines will open up a number of ‘responsibility gaps’ throughout society. Various articulations of such techno-responsibility gaps have been proposed over the years, along with several potential solutions. Most of these solutions focus on ‘plugging’ or ‘dissolving’ the gaps. This paper offers an alternative perspective. It argues that techno-responsibility gaps are, sometimes, to be welcomed and that one of the advantages of autonomous machines is that they enable us to embrace certain kinds of responsibility gap. The argument is based on the idea that human morality is often tragic. We frequently confront situations in which competing moral considerations pull in different directions and it is impossible to perfectly balance these considerations. This heightens the burden of responsibility associated with our choices. We cope with the tragedy of moral choice in different ways. Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking the choices we make were not tragic ; sometimes we delegate the tragic choice to others ; sometimes we make the choice ourselves and bear the psychological consequences. Each of these strategies has its benefits and costs. One potential advantage of autonomous machines is that they enable a reduced cost form of delegation. However, we only gain the advantage of this reduced cost if we accept that some techno-responsibility gaps are virtuous.


In summary, in this article I have defended an alternative perspective on techno-responsibility gaps. Although the prevailing wisdom seems to be against such gaps, and the policy proposals tend to try to find ways to plug or dissolve such gaps, I have argued that there may be reasons to welcome them. Tragic choices — moral conflicts that leave ineliminable moral remainders — are endemic in human life and there is no easy way to deal with them. We tend to cycle between different responses: illusionism, delegation and responsibilisation. Each of these responses has its own mix of benefits and costs. None of them is perfect. That said, one potential advantage of advanced autonomous machines is that they enable a form of delegation with reduced moral and psychological costs. Thus they can shift the balance of strategies in favour of delegation and away from responsibilisation. This is only true, however, if we embrace the resultant techno-responsibility gaps. I am fully aware that this position goes against the grain and is contrary to emerging law and policy on autonomous systems. I offer it as a moderate corrective to the current consensus.  Responsibility gaps are not always a bad thing. Delegation to machines, particularly in the case of difficult tragic choices, might sometimes be a good thing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Why it’s so damn hard to make AI fair and unbiased

Sigal Samuel
Originally posted 19 APR 2022

Here is an excerpt:

So what do big players in the tech space mean, really, when they say they care about making AI that’s fair and unbiased? Major organizations like Google, Microsoft, even the Department of Defense periodically release value statements signaling their commitment to these goals. But they tend to elide a fundamental reality: Even AI developers with the best intentions may face inherent trade-offs, where maximizing one type of fairness necessarily means sacrificing another.

The public can’t afford to ignore that conundrum. It’s a trap door beneath the technologies that are shaping our everyday lives, from lending algorithms to facial recognition. And there’s currently a policy vacuum when it comes to how companies should handle issues around fairness and bias.

“There are industries that are held accountable,” such as the pharmaceutical industry, said Timnit Gebru, a leading AI ethics researcher who was reportedly pushed out of Google in 2020 and who has since started a new institute for AI research. “Before you go to market, you have to prove to us that you don’t do X, Y, Z. There’s no such thing for these [tech] companies. So they can just put it out there.”

That makes it all the more important to understand — and potentially regulate — the algorithms that affect our lives. So let’s walk through three real-world examples to illustrate why fairness trade-offs arise, and then explore some possible solutions.

How would you decide who should get a loan?

Here’s another thought experiment. Let’s say you’re a bank officer, and part of your job is to give out loans. You use an algorithm to help you figure out whom you should loan money to, based on a predictive model — chiefly taking into account their FICO credit score — about how likely they are to repay. Most people with a FICO score above 600 get a loan; most of those below that score don’t.

One type of fairness, termed procedural fairness, would hold that an algorithm is fair if the procedure it uses to make decisions is fair. That means it would judge all applicants based on the same relevant facts, like their payment history; given the same set of facts, everyone will get the same treatment regardless of individual traits like race. By that measure, your algorithm is doing just fine.

But let’s say members of one racial group are statistically much more likely to have a FICO score above 600 and members of another are much less likely — a disparity that can have its roots in historical and policy inequities like redlining that your algorithm does nothing to take into account.

Another conception of fairness, known as distributive fairness, says that an algorithm is fair if it leads to fair outcomes. By this measure, your algorithm is failing, because its recommendations have a disparate impact on one racial group versus another.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Exploring the Association between Character Strengths and Moral Functioning

Han, H., Dawson, K. J., et al. 
(2022, April 6). PsyArXiv


We explored the relationship between 24 character strengths measured by the Global Assessment of Character Strengths (GACS), which was revised from the original VIA instrument, and moral functioning comprising postconventional moral reasoning, empathic traits and moral identity. Bayesian Model Averaging (BMA) was employed to explore the best models, which were more parsimonious than full regression models estimated through frequentist regression, predicting moral functioning indicators with the 24 candidate character strength predictors. Our exploration was conducted with a dataset collected from 666 college students at a public university in the Southern United States. Results showed that character strengths as measured by GACS partially predicted relevant moral functioning indicators. Performance evaluation results demonstrated that the best models identified by BMA performed significantly better than the full models estimated by frequentist regression in terms of AIC, BIC, and cross-validation accuracy. We discuss theoretical and methodological implications of the findings for future studies addressing character strengths and moral functioning.

From the Discussion

Although the postconventional reasoning was relatively weakly associated with character strengths, several character strengths were still significantly associated with it. We were able to discover its association with several character strengths, particularly those within the domain of intellectual ability.One possible explanation is that intellectual strengths enable people to evaluate moral issues from diverse perspectives and appreciate moral values and principles beyond existing conventions and norms (Kohlberg, 1968). Having such intellectual strengths can thus allow them to engage in sophisticated moral reasoning. For instance, wisdom, judgment, and curiosity demonstrated positive correlation with postconventional reasoning as Han (2019) proposed.  Another possible explanation is that the DIT focuses on hypothetical, abstract moral reasoning, instead of decision making in concrete situations (Rest et al., 1999b). Therefore, the emergence of positive association between intellectual strengths and postconventional moral reasoning in the current study is plausible.

The trend of positive relationships between character strengths and moral functioning indicators was also reported from best model exploration through BMA.  First, postconventional reasoning was best predicted by intellectual strengths, curiosity, and wisdom, plus kindness. Second, EC was positively predicted by love, kindness, and gratitude. Third, PT was positively associated with wisdom and gratitude in the best model. Fourth, moral internalization was positively predicted by kindness and gratitude.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

A False Sense of Security: Rapid Improvement as a Red Flag for Death by Suicide

Rufino, K., Beyene, H., et al.
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 
Advance online publication.

Postdischarge from inpatient psychiatry is the highest risk period for suicide, thus better understanding the predictors of death by suicide during this time is critical for improving mortality rates after inpatient psychiatric treatment. As such, we sought to determine whether there were predictable patterns in suicide ideation in hospitalized psychiatric patients. 

We examined a sample of 2,970 adult’s ages 18–87 admitted to an extended length of stay (LOS) inpatient psychiatric hospital. We used group-based trajectory modeling via the SAS macro PROC TRAJ to quantitatively determine four suicide ideation groups: nonresponders (i.e., high suicide ideation throughout treatment), responders (i.e., steady improvement in suicide ideation across treatment), resolvers (i.e., rapid improvement in suicide ideation across treatment), and no-suicide ideation (i.e., never significant suicide ideation in treatment). Next, we compared groups to clinical and suicide-specific outcomes, including death by suicide. 

Resolvers were the most likely to die by suicide postdischarge relative to all other suicide ideation groups. Resolvers also demonstrated significant improvement in all clinical outcomes from admission to discharge. 

There are essential inpatient psychiatry clinical implications from this work, including that clinical providers should not be lulled into a false sense of security when hospitalized adults rapidly improve in terms of suicide ideation. Instead, inpatient psychiatric treatment teams should increase caution regarding the patient’s risk level and postdischarge treatment planning.

Impact Statement

As postdischarge from inpatient psychiatry is the highest risk period for suicide, better understanding the predictors of death by suicide during this time is critical for improving mortality rates after inpatient psychiatric treatment. Clinical providers should not be lulled into a false sense of security when hospitalized adults rapidly improve in terms of suicide ideation, instead, increasing vigilance regarding the patient’s risk level and postdischarge treatment planning. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Suicides of Psychologists and Other Health Professionals: National Violent Death Reporting System Data, 2003–2018

Li, T., Petrik, M. L., Freese, R. L., & Robiner, W. N.
(2022). American Psychologist. 
Advance online publication.


Suicide is a prevalent problem among health professionals, with suicide rates often described as exceeding that of the general population. The literature addressing suicide of psychologists is limited, including its epidemiological estimates. This study explored suicide rates in psychologists by examining the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data set of U.S. violent deaths. Data were examined from participating states from 2003 to 2018. Trends in suicide deaths longitudinally were examined. Suicide decedents were characterized by examining demographics, region of residence, method of suicide, mental health, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior histories. Psychologists’ suicide rates are compared to those of other health professionals. Since its inception, the NVDRS identified 159 cases of psychologist suicide. Males comprised 64% of decedents. Average age was 56.3 years. Factors, circumstances, and trends related to psychologist suicides are presented. In 2018, psychologist suicide deaths were estimated to account for 4.9% of suicides among 10 selected health professions. As the NVDRS expands to include data from all 50 states, it will become increasingly valuable in delineating the epidemiology of suicide for psychologists and other health professionals and designing prevention strategies. 

From the Discussion

Between 2003 and 2018, 159 cases of psychologist death by suicide were identified in the NVDRS, providing a basis for examining the phenomenon rather than clarifying its true incidence. Suicide deaths spanned all U.S. regions, with the South accounting for the most (35.8%) cases, followed by the West (24.5%), Midwest (20.1%), and Northeast (19.5%). It is unclear whether this is due to the South and West actually having higher suicide rates among psychologists or if these regions have greater representation due to inclusion of more reporting states. It should also be noted that these regions make up different proportions of the population for the entire United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (n.d.), the proportion of each region’s population as compared to the entire U.S. population for the year 2019 was South (38.3%), West (23.9%), Midwest (20.8%), and Northeast (17.1%). This could have affected the number of cases seen within each region, as could other factors, such as the trend for gun ownership to be more than twice as common in the South than in the Northeast (Pew Research Center, 2017). The 2003–2018 psychologist suicide deaths were more than 13 times higher than NVDRS-identified psychologist homicide deaths (n = 12) for that same period (Robiner & Li, 2022).

The number of psychologist suicides identified in the NVDRS generally increased longitudinally. It is not clear whether this might signal an actual increasing incidence, and if so what factors may be contributing, or how much it is an artifact of the increasing number of NVDRS-reporting states. Starting in 2020, the data will more clearly reveal temporal patterns, with variation reflecting changes in suicide incidence rather than how many states reported. In the future, we anticipate longitudinal trends will not be confounded by variation in the number of reporting states.

Most psychologist suicide decedents were White (92.5%). Smaller percentages were Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC): Black (2.5%), Asian or Pacific Islander (1.9%), and two or more races (3.1%). These proportions align largely with the racial/ethnic makeup of the psychologist workforce in APA’s Survey of Psychology Health Service Providers for White (87.8%), Black (2.6%), Asian (2.5%), and multiracial/multiethnic psychologists (1.7%; Hamp et al., 2016). The data are generally consistent with earlier findings of psychologist suicide (Phillips, 1999) that most psychologist suicide decedents are White and reveal slightly greater diversification within the field. CDC data from 2019 reveals rates in the general population of suicide per 100,000 are greatest in Whites (29.8 male, 8 female), followed by Blacks (12.4 male, 2.9 female), Asians (11.2 male, 4.0 female), and Hispanics (11.3 male, 3.0 female; NIMH, 2021). There were no cases of Hispanic psychologist suicide in this sample, which is generally consistent with the relatively lower numbers of suicides reported for Hispanics by the CDC. The relatively small numbers of suicides within subgroups limit the certainty of inferences that can be drawn about the association of ethnicity, and potentially other demographics, and suicide incidence. As the demographic composition of the field diversifies, the durability of the present findings for subgroups remains to be seen.

Friday, May 13, 2022

How Other- and Self-Compassion Reduce Burnout through Resource Replenishment

Kira Schabram and Yu Tse Heng
Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 65, No. 2


The average employee feels burnt out, a multidimensional state of depletion likely to persist without intervention. In this paper, we consider compassion as an agentic action by which employees may replenish their own depleted resources and thereby recover. We draw on conservation of resources theory to examine the resource-generating power of two distinct expressions of compassion (self- and other-directed) on three dimensions of burnout (exhaustion, cynicism, inefficacy). Utilizing two complementary designs—a longitudinal field survey of 130 social service providers and an experiential sampling methodology with 100 business students across 10 days—we find a complex pattern of results indicating that both compassion expressions have the potential to generate salutogenic resources (self-control, belonging, self-esteem) that replenish different dimensions of burnout. Specifically, self-compassion remedies exhaustion and other-compassion remedies cynicism—directly or indirectly through resources—while the effects of self- and other-compassion on inefficacy vary. Our key takeaway is that compassion can indeed contribute to human sustainability in organizations, but only when the type of compassion provided generates resources that fit the idiosyncratic experience of burnout.

From the Discussion Section

Our work suggests a more immediate benefit, namely that giving compassion can serve an important resource generative function for the self. Indeed, in neither of our studies did we find either compassion expression to ever have a deleterious effect. While this is in line with the broader literature on self-compassion (Neff, 2011), it is somewhat surprising when it comes to other-compassion. Hobfoll (1989) speculated that when people find themselves depleted, giving support to others should sap them further and such personal costs have been identified in previously cited research on prosocial gestures (Bolino & Grant, 2016; Lanaj et al., 2016; Uy et al., 2017). Why then did other-compassion serve a singularly restorative function? As we noted in our literature review, compassion is distinguished among the family of prosocial behaviors by its principal attendance to human needs (Tsui, 2013) rather than organizational effectiveness, and this may offer an explanation. Perhaps, there is something fundamentally more beneficial for actors about engaging in acts of kindness and care (e.g. taking someone who is having a hard time out for coffee) than in providing instrumental support (e.g. exerting oneself to provide a friendly review). We further note that our study also did not find any evidence of ‘compassion fatigue’ (Figley, 2013), identified frequently by practitioners among the social service employees that comprised our first sample. In line with the ‘desperation corollary’ of COR (Hobfoll et al., 2018), which suggests that individuals can reach a state of extreme depletion characterized by maladaptive coping, it may be that there exists a tipping point after which compassion ceases to offer benefits. If there is, however, it must be quite high to not have registered in either the longitudinal or diary designs. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Human Vision Reconstructs Time to Satisfy Causal Constraints

Bechlivanidis, C., Buehner, M. J., et al.
Psychological Science, 33(2), 224–235.


The goal of perception is to infer the most plausible source of sensory stimulation. Unisensory perception of temporal order, however, appears to require no inference, because the order of events can be uniquely determined from the order in which sensory signals arrive. Here, we demonstrate a novel perceptual illusion that casts doubt on this intuition: In three experiments (N = 607), the experienced event timings were determined by causality in real time. Adult participants viewed a simple three-item sequence, ACB, which is typically remembered as ABC in line with principles of causality. When asked to indicate the time at which events B and C occurred, participants’ points of subjective simultaneity shifted so that the assumed cause B appeared earlier and the assumed effect C later, despite participants’ full attention and repeated viewings. This first demonstration of causality reversing perceived temporal order cannot be explained by postperceptual distortion, lapsed attention, or saccades.

Statement of Relevance

There are two sources of information on the temporal order of events: the order in which we experience them and their causal relationships, because causes precede their effects. Intuitively, direct experience of order is far more dependable than causal inference. Here, we showed participants events that looked like collisions, but the collided-on object started moving before the collision occurred. Surprisingly, participants indicated in real time that they saw events happening significantly earlier or later than they actually did, at timings compatible with causal interpretations (as if there were indeed a collision). This is evidence that perceived order is not the passive registration of the sequence of signals arriving at the observer but an active interpretation informed by rich assumptions.

General Discussion

Collectively, our findings constitute the first demonstration of a unisensory perceptual illusion of temporal order induced by causal impressions, indicating that the visual system generates the experienced order through a process of interpretation (Grush, 2016; Holcombe, 2015).  Participants were given precise instructions and sufficient time to repeatedly view the sequences, they attended to the critical events using the same modality, and they synchronized object motion with a nonlocalized flash.  We can thus confidently rule out alternative explanations based on inattentional blindness, multimodal integration, flash lag, and motion aftereffects. Because stimulus presentation was free and unconstrained relative to the time of saccades, our results cannot be accounted for by transient perisaccadic mislocalization, either (Kresevic et al., 2016; Morrone et al., 2005). Although in this case we examined the effect only with an adult population recruited from a crowdsourcing platform, previous research suggests that children as young as 4 years old are also susceptible to causal reordering, at least when asked to make post hoc reports (Tecwyn et al., 2020).  More research needs to be carried out to study the degree of perceptual shift and, more broadly, the generalizability of the current results.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Bias in mental health diagnosis gets in the way of treatment

Howard N. Garb
Originally posted 2 MAR 22

Here is an excerpt:

What about race-related bias? 

Research conducted in the US indicates that race bias is a serious problem for the diagnosis of adult mental disorders – including for the diagnosis of PTSD, depression and schizophrenia. Preliminary data also suggest that eating disorders are underdiagnosed in Black teens compared with white and Hispanic teens.

The misdiagnosis of PTSD can have significant economic consequences, in addition to its implications for treatment. In order for a US military veteran to receive disability compensation for PTSD from the Veterans Benefits Administration, a clinician has to diagnose the veteran. To learn if race bias is present in this process, a research team compared its own systematic diagnoses of veterans with diagnoses made by clinicians during disability exams. Though most clinicians will make accurate diagnoses, the research diagnoses can be considered more accurate, as the mental health professionals who made them were trained to adhere to diagnostic criteria and use extensive information. When veterans received a research diagnosis of PTSD, they should have also gotten a clinician’s diagnosis of PTSD – but this occurred only about 70 per cent of the time.

More troubling is that, in cases where research diagnoses of PTSD were made, Black veterans were less likely than white veterans to receive a clinician’s diagnosis of PTSD during their disability exams. There was one set of cases where bias was not evident, however. In roughly 25 per cent of the evaluations, clinicians administered a formal PTSD symptom checklist or a psychological test to help them make a diagnosis – and if this additional information was collected, race bias was not observed. This is an important finding. Clinicians will sometimes form a first impression of a patient’s condition and then ask questions that can confirm – but not refute – their subjective impression. By obtaining good-quality objective information, clinicians might be less inclined to depend on their subjective impressions alone.

Race bias has also been found for other forms of mental illness. Historically, research indicated that Black patients and sometimes Hispanic patients were more likely than white patients to be given incorrect diagnoses of schizophrenia, while white patients were more often given correct diagnoses of major depression and bipolar disorder. During the past 20 years, this appears to have changed somewhat, with the most accurate diagnoses being made for Latino patients, the least accurate for Black patients, and the results for white patients somewhere in between.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Consciousness Semanticism: A Precise Eliminativist Theory of Consciousness

Anthis, J.R. (2022). 
In: Klimov, V.V., Kelley, D.J. (eds) Biologically 
Inspired Cognitive Architectures 2021. BICA 2021. 
Studies in Computational Intelligence, vol 1032. 
Springer, Cham. 


Many philosophers and scientists claim that there is a ‘hard problem of consciousness’, that qualia, phenomenology, or subjective experience cannot be fully understood with reductive methods of neuroscience and psychology, and that there is a fact of the matter as to ‘what it is like’ to be conscious and which entities are conscious. Eliminativism and related views such as illusionism argue against this. They claim that consciousness does not exist in the ways implied by everyday or scholarly language. However, this debate has largely consisted of each side jousting analogies and intuitions against the other. Both sides remain unconvinced. To break through this impasse, I present consciousness semanticism, a novel eliminativist theory that sidesteps analogy and intuition. Instead, it is based on a direct, formal argument drawing from the tension between the vague semantics in definitions of consciousness such as ‘what it is like’ to be an entity and the precise meaning implied by questions such as, ‘Is this entity conscious?’ I argue that semanticism naturally extends to erode realist notions of other philosophical concepts, such as morality and free will. Formal argumentation from precise semantics exposes these as pseudo-problems and eliminates their apparent mysteriousness and intractability.

From Implications and Concluding Remarks

Perhaps even more importantly, humanity seems to be rapidly developing the capacity to create vastly more intelligent beings than currently exist. Scientists and engineers have already built artificial intelligences from chess bots to sex bots.  Some projects are already aimed at the organic creation of intelligence, growing increasingly large sections of human brains in the laboratory. Such minds could have something we want to call consciousness, and they could exist in astronomically large numbers. Consider if creating a new conscious being becomes as easy as copying and pasting a computer program or building a new robot in a factory. How will we determine when these creations become conscious or sentient?  When do they deserve legal protection or rights? These are important motivators for the study of consciousness, particularly for the attempt to escape the intellectual quagmire that may have grown from notions such as the ‘hard problem’ and ‘problem of other minds’. Andreotta (2020) argues that the project of ‘AI rights’,  including artificial intelligences in the moral circle, is ‘beset by an epistemic problem that threatens to impede its progress—namely, a lack of a solution to the “Hard Problem” of consciousness’. While the extent of the impediment is unclear, a resolution of the ‘hard problem’ such as the one I have presented could make it easier to extend moral concern to artificial intelligences.

Monday, May 9, 2022

C.I.A. Captive Was Too Small for Waterboard, Interrogator Testifies

Carol Rosenberg
The New York Times
Originally posted 3 MAY 22

The psychologist who for the C.I.A. waterboarded a prisoner accused of plotting the U.S.S. Cole bombing testified this week that the Saudi man broke quickly and became so compliant that he would crawl into a cramped crate even before guards ordered him inside.

The psychologist, James E. Mitchell, also told a military judge that the prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was so scrawny that Dr. Mitchell and his interrogation partner, [psychologist] John Bruce Jessen, stopped waterboarding him after the third session at a secret site in Thailand in 2002 because they feared he might be hurt.

In that instance, they put him in a neck brace and strapped him to a gurney that served as the board. But when they tilted the board up to let him breathe after a “40-second pour,” the 5-foot-5, 120-pound prisoner nearly slid out of the straps to the floor, Dr. Mitchell said.

“He was snorting and blowing water out of his nose,” Dr. Mitchell testified. 

A former career military psychologist..., Dr. Mitchell said the waterboarding episodes were so long ago that he could not recall whether the prisoner actually cried.

Defense lawyers for Mr. Nashiri questioned Dr. Mitchell on Monday and Tuesday about what went on for several weeks in the black site in November 2002. 

His testimony was meant to offer an account of what may have been on videotapes that senior C.I.A. leaders destroyed at a time when the Senate Intelligence Committee was investigating the black site activities.


For Mr. Nashiri, it was the fourth stop on what would become a four-year odyssey of C.I.A. detention through 10 secret overseas sites.

The episodes Dr. Mitchell described included:
  • A member of an interrogation team used a belt to strap Mr. Nashiri’s arms behind his back and lift him up from behind to “his tiptoes,” Dr. Mitchell said. The prisoner howled, and Dr. Mitchell said he protested, fearing Mr. Nashiri’s shoulders would be dislocated. The treatment continued.
  • Guards forced a shackled Mr. Nashiri onto his knees then bent him backward, with a broomstick placed behind the prisoner’s knees.
  • The chief interrogator, ostensibly seeking to train Mr. Nashiri to address him as “sir,” used a stiff bristle brush to give Mr. Nashiri a cold-water bath, then scraped the brush from the prisoner’s anus to his face and mouth.
Dr. Mitchell said he learned only in recent days — from case prosecutors — that Mr. Nashiri had been subjected to “rectal feeding,” a procedure he said was mostly handled by C.I.A. doctors for medical reasons, except when the chief interrogator in Afghanistan chose to use it.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

MAID Without Borders? Oregon Drops the Residency Requirement

Nancy Berlinger
The Hastings Center: Bioethics
Originally posted 1 APR 22

Oregon, which legalized medical aid-in-dying (MAID) in 1997, has dropped the requirement that had limited MAID access to residents of the state. Under a settlement of a lawsuit filed in federal court by the advocacy group Compassion & Choices, Oregon public health officials will no longer apply or enforce this requirement as part of eligibility criteria for MAID.  The lawsuit was filed on behalf of an Oregon physician who challenged the state’s residency requirement and its consequences for his patients in neighboring Washington State.

In Oregon and in nine other jurisdictions – California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington – with Oregon-type provisions (Montana has related but distinct case law), MAID eligibility criteria include being an adult with a life expectancy of six months or less; the capacity to make a voluntary medical decision; and the ability to self-administer lethal medication prescribed by a physician for the purpose of ending life. Because hospice eligibility criteria also include a six-month prognosis, all people who are eligible for MAID are already hospice-eligible, and most people who seek to use a provision are enrolled in hospice.

The legal and practical implications of this policy change are not yet known and are potentially complex. Advocates have called attention to potential legal risks associated with traveling to Oregon to gain access to MAID. For example, a family member or friend who accompanies a terminally ill person to Oregon could be liable under the laws of their state of residence for “assisting a suicide.”

What are the ethical and social implications of this policy change? Here are some preliminary thoughts:

First, it is unlikely that many people will travel to Oregon from states without MAID provisions. MAID is used by extremely small numbers of terminally ill people, and Oregon’s removal of its residency requirement did not change the multistep evaluation process to determine eligibility. To relocate to another state for the weeks that this process takes would not be practicable or financially feasible for many terminally ill, usually older, adults who are already receiving hospice care.