Mind-Reading: From Functional Neuroimaging to the Philosophy of Mind

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Social Sciences

Abstract

In the last decade, functional neuroimaging has gone from being a relatively minor component of the sciences of the mind to being one of their central resources. Not only is neuroimaging being used to uncover the information-processing structure of the mind, it is now also being used as a 'mind-reading' technique. In neural mind-reading (or 'brain decoding') studies, information about an individual's brain states is used to ascribe mental states -- such as thoughts, intentions, and conscious experiences -- to an individual. The aim of this project is to examine the methodology, scope and philosophical implications of neuroimaging-based mind-reading.

Mind-reading raises three important questions that fall at the interface between neuroscience and the philosophy of mind. The first question concerns its methodology. Current mind-reading studies employ a correlational method that involves the use of previously established correlations between neural states and mental states. However, as yet there is no systematic analysis of the use of neural-mental correlations to attribute mental states. One of the central objectives of this project is to engage in a conceptually rigorous examination of the correlational method so as to place mind-reading research on a firm methodological foundation.

A second question concerns the potential scope of mind-reading research. Thus far mind-reading studies have targeted only a very limited range of mental states and have been restricted to highly-constrained laboratory environments. It is unclear whether mind-reading research can overcome these limitations. With a few notable exceptions, mind-reading research has also been restricted to neurologically unimpaired individuals. We will examine the prospects of extending mind-reading techniques so that they might include a broad range of mental states, individuals who are in natural behavioural environments, and human beings with serious neurological impairments or even the members of other species.

A third question raised by mind-reading research concerns its implications for philosophical accounts of the nature of, and our access to, mental states. With respect to the nature of mental states, developments in mind-reading have the potential to inform accounts of the relationship between mental states and brain states. For example, the successful of mind-reading initiatives would undermine conceptions of the mind which hold that there are no stable and systematic relations between neural states and mental states. With respect to our access to mental states, mind-reading threatens to undermine the authority that has traditionally been assigned to introspection and behaviour as sources of knowledge about an individual's mind. One of the central objectives of this project is to evaluate the potential impact of mind-reading on the use of introspection and behaviour to ascribe mental states to individuals, and to develop a framework in which information derived from neuroimaging can be integrated with that derived from introspection and behavior.

To date, these challenges have been addressed and these implications evaluated only in a piecemeal way by cognitive neuroscientists and philosophers working largely in isolation from each other. The series of workshops and research visits that we have planned will put an end to that unhappy state of affairs by providing a research context in which leading cognitive neuroscientists and philosophers of mind can work together to respond to the challenges facing mind-reading and explore its implications. In sum, this initiative has the potential to provide the nascent science of mind-reading with the conceptual foundations that it requires, and to provide a much-needed assessment of its prospects and perils.

Planned Impact

Mind-reading research has already attracted a significant amount of attention in journals devoted to the intersection of law, medical ethics, and public policy. It is expected that this interest will be heightened with the expansion of mind-reading due to improvements in the resolution of neuroimaging methods and data analysis.

Four broad areas of legal and ethical concerns can be identified. Firstly, there are questions about the conditions under which mind-reading might infringe an individual's right to privacy. A person's thoughts have traditionally been their domain alone, but with the advent of neuroimaging-based mind-reading comes the prospect that we might be able to determine the contents of a person's mind without their permission. Secondly, there are questions about the use of mind-reading technologies for the detection of deception, especially in legal contexts. Although neuroimaging-based lie detectors are not yet a reality, a number of research groups are exploring their possible development. Clearly any forensic applications of mind-reading technology would require that mind-reading itself be placed on firm conceptual and methodological foundations. Thirdly, there are questions about the legal and moral implications of mind-reading for the treatment of individuals -- such as brain-damaged patients -- who may show signs of mental activity on the basis of neuroimaging data. How should these signs of mental activity affect our treatment of these patients? Fourthly, there are questions about the uses to which the results of mind-reading research might be put.

Given these legal and ethical concerns, professional bodies, bioethics committees and both governmental and non-governmental organizations will be called upon for guidelines concerning the conduct and application of mind-reading research. But none of these important policy questions can be resolved while it remains unclear what mind-reading might tell us about the human mind. For this reason, the results of the research that we propose to conduct will be vital in providing bioethicists and policy makers with the conceptual foundations that their work requires. With these considerations in mind, we will invite leading legal and medical bodies to send representatives to the mind-reading workshops that we will hold, and we will disseminate the results of our work, in the form of published papers, to this audience.

The proposed research will also have an impact on public understanding of the nature of the mind and its relationship to the brain. Understandably, this is a subject of much interest to lay readers, with such books as Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works" and Daniel Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" appearing regularly on non-fiction best-seller lists. More specifically, research on the use of neuroimaging to ascribe mental states to individuals -- particularly those who may be in a coma or vegetative state -- has been given prominent media coverage in recent years. We will provide the public with access to our research by inviting science journalists to the proposed workshops. Subject to permission being granted by the speakers, we will also make podcasts of the workshop presentations available on the University of Oxford's Faculty of Philosophy website and on the University of Oxford's iTunes site.

Publications

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Bayne T (2014) Global disorders of consciousness. in Wiley interdisciplinary reviews. Cognitive science

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Bayne T (2013) Thought in New Scientist

 
Description The aim of this project was to examine the methodology, scope and philosophical implications of neuroimaging-based 'mind-reading' (that is, the ascription of mental states to other people). We have made progress on each of these fronts.

An early insight was the realization that there is a crucial distinction between two ways in which neuroimaging might impact on mind-reading. 'Traditional' mindreading aims to justify the ascription of a familiar psychological state of process to an individual, whereas 'revolutionary' mindreading, the aim of which is to generate new information about the types of psychological categories that characterize human cognition. We have explored the conceptual and methodological foundations of both traditional and revolutionary mindreading.

With respect to the traditional mindreading, we have distinguished between direct and indirect methods. In the former, the ascription of the target mental state is justified on the basis of a direct inference from neuroimaging data, whereas in the latter the ascription of the target mental state is justified via an alleged connection between the target mental state and some other kind of mental process, the ascription of which is justified on the basis of the neuroimaging data.

With respect to revolutionary mindreading we have distinguished between a negative project and the positive project. The negative project involves the use of neuroimaging to ascertain whether currently recognized psychological categories are valid, whereas the positive project involves the use of neuroimaging to identify psychological categories that heretofore have not been recognized. There are various challenges to both projects from the philosophy of mind, and we are currently exploring ways in which these challenges might be met.

The second focus of this project concerned the potential scope of mind-reading. Here we have focused on how mind-reading methods might be appropriately applied to individuals suffering from post-comatose brain-damage, such as those in the Vegetative State (VS) or Minimally Conscious State (MCS). In such cases, direct inferences (see above) are likely to be problematic, for the background assumptions that typically licence such inferences are unlikely to hold. Thus, mind-reading in this cohort of individuals may require indirect methods. Given that we are particularly interested in the attribution of conscious mental states to these patients, evaluating such methods will require an account of the functional role of consciousness. Thus, much of our research has focused on that issue.

The potential implication of this project on which we have directed most of our energy has been with the taxonomy of consciousness. Most theorists in this field work with a distinction between the contents of consciousness and levels of consciousness, where a creature's level of consciousness is identified with the degree to which it is conscious. We have argued that the notion of a level of consciousness is confused, and should be replaced with a notion of multidimensional states of consciousness. We have begun to explore ways in which the dimensions of these states might be identified, and to consider the implications of this approach for ways of taxonomizing post-comatose disorders of consciousness.

Finally, this grant has fostered the establishment of a network of philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists who are collectively engaged in an inter-disciplinary effort to understand the bearing of research in neuroscience on the categories of psychology. This network includes Adina Roskies (Dartmouth, Philosophy), Jacqueline Sullivan (University of Western Ontario, Philosophy), Michael Anderson (Psychology, Franklin & Marshall, Psychology), Russell Poldrack (Stanford, Neuroscience), Nicholas Shea (KCL) and Colin Klein (Macquarie University).
Exploitation Route There are two ways in which this research might be taken forward. Philosophically, the main task is to evaluate the challenges to the negative and positive projects (outlined above) from the point of view of the metaphysics of mind. Here, the bearing of accounts of the nature of mental states (e.g., identity theory, psychofunctionalism) on the negative project needs to be considered, and the bearing of holistic accounts of mental states (and in particular mental content) on the positive project needs to be explored. Empirically, what is now needed is an investigation into the nature of the dimensions that structure the distinction between various abnormal 'levels' of consciousness associated (e.g., VS, MCS).

It is envisaged that the philosophical questions will be taken forward in future meetings of the network identified above, which are scheduled to take place at
the University of Western Ontario (April 15-17, 2016) and Macquarie University (June 9-10, 2016). The empirical questions will, it is hoped, by taken forward by clinicians and cognitive neuroscientists working in the field of post-comatose disorders of consciousness. Bayne and his collaborators have a paper under review at Trends in Cognitive Science that urges the research community to take on this task.
Sectors Healthcare,Other

 
Description The science of mind-reading is still in its infancy, and many of the momentous social implications that many hope for (or fear of) this research-e.g., the use neuroimaging in legal contexts to ascertain guilt-remain a distant promise. The more immediate use of this research has been to guide research into post-comatose disorders of consciousness, such as the vegetative state and the minimally conscious state. At present we have a poor understanding of the distribution of consciousness in these conditions. By providing the conceptual and methodological foundations for mindreading research, this research has generated new research questions for the clinically-related science of consciousness, and will lead to the development of better tools for detecting consciousness in brain-damaged individuals. It is also envisaged that such tools might, in time, lead to the development of better techniques for identifying consciousness in other contexts, such as cognition in neonates and non-human animals. The research has contributed to an understanding of the mind and its place in nature, which is a matter of abiding intellectual interest and concern.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Healthcare,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

 
Description Future Fellowship Scheme
Amount $888,954 (AUD)
Funding ID 150100266 
Organisation Australian Research Council 
Sector Public
Country Australia
Start 09/2016 
End 08/2020
 
Description Cognitive Ontology at Macquarie 
Organisation Macquarie University
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project is directed by Colin Klein, a lecturer in the department of Philosophy and an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow. The focus of the project is to examine the ways in which advances in cognitive neuroscience--and in particular functional imaging--might motivate reconceptualizing the basic categories of psychology. We have a particular interest in the ways in which the taxonomy of post-comatose disorders might need be reconceptualized in light of neuroscience research. Current taxonomy distinguishes between the Vegetative State (VS), the Minimally Conscious State and the Emerged from Minimally Consciousness State. My paper "The vegetative state and the science of consciousness, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 61: 459-84, 2010) was one of the first to examine the implications of neuroimaging studies of post-comatose patients from a philosophical perspective, and in more recent work ( Bayne, T. & Hohwy, J. 2016. Modes of consciousness. In W. Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.) Finding Consciousness: The Neuroscience, Ethics and Law of Severe Brain Damage. New York: OUP, pp. 57-80; Bayne, T & Hohwy, J. 2014. Global disorders of consciousness. WIRE's Cognitive Science, 5: 129-138) I have extended that analysis to consider the question of how best to conceptualize the notion of a "level of consciousness" that is used in this literature.
Collaborator Contribution Klein is a leading figure in the philosophical implications of neuroimaging, and has made a number of important contributions to our understanding of what neuroimaging might tell us about the mind (e.g., "The Brain At Rest: What It's doing and why that Matters" (2014) Philosophy of Science. 81(5): 974-985; "Cognitive Ontologies and Region- versus Network-Oriented Analyses" (2012) Philosophy of Science 79(5): 952-960). He has brought this expertise to the project, and also a particular expertise in the analysis of disorders of consciousness ("Consciousness, Intention, and Command Following in the Vegetative state," forthcoming in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science; and "Variability, convergence and dimensions of consciousness" (2015), In Behavioral Methods in Consciousness ed. Morten Overgaard, OUP). In addition to his intellectual contributions, Klein is also providing a practical contribution in the form of organizing two workshops at Macquarie University, each of which are structured around this project.
Impact This collaboration begin with a workshop at Macquarie University (7 Feb, 2015), and will continue with a second workshop at Macquarie University (9-10 June, 2016).
Start Year 2015
 
Description Rethinking the Taxonomy of Psychology 
Organisation Western University
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project involves a collaboration between myself, Jacqueline Sullivan (Philosophy, University of Western Ontario) and Michael Anderson (Psychology, Franklin and Marshall). The aim of the project is to explore ways in which the taxonomy of psychology should be reconceptualized in light of neuroscientific investigations, and in particular in light of neuroimaging research and the fact that many areas of the brain seem to be 'pluripotent' (that is, are involved in many different aspects of cognition). My contribution to the project involves drawing on my expertise regarding the nature of the categories of folk psychology (for example, the degree to which they involve dispositional as opposed to occurrent properties) and the conceptual issues raised by various forms of eliminativism. I am also drawing on my expertise in the philosophy of psychiatry regarding the structure and validity of the constructs used in psychiatry (such as delusional belief), as one of the key areas in which the taxonomy of psychology may need to be reconceptualized is that of mental illness. Because our self-understanding is deeply informed by psychological concepts, any challenge to these foundations would appear to promise an impending shift in the way we view ourselves. It is thus important to both understand and to reflect carefully on these developments, from multiple disciplinary perspectives. Many questions remain about these empirical constructs: exactly how robustly predictive are they? Can they be given a plausible psychological, intentional or semantic interpretation? Are they purely neural states, or are they neural states that bear some intimate relationship-such as realization, constitution, or even identification-with representational states? If so, will they eliminate or merely enhance our current psychological vocabulary? These questions and many others will be investigated.
Collaborator Contribution My two partners in this project are Jacqueline Sullivan (Philosophy, University of Western Ontario) and Michael Anderson (Psychology, Franklin and Marshall). Sullivan is an expertise in the philosophy of neuroscience, and has worked extensively on the construct validity of psychiatric categories. In order to fund this project and the workshop that is associated with it (see below), Sullivan secured a Connection Grant ("Rethinking the Taxonomy of Psychology") from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (). Anderson is a leading figure in the cognitive ontology literature, with an influential target article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences on the topic ("Neural reuse: A fundamental organizational principle of the brain", 2010) a book published with MIT ("After Phrenology", 2014). He is contributing to the project his expertise on the meta-analysis of neuroimaging data and his "neural reuse" approach to the taxonomy of psychology.
Impact The central focus of this research collaboration is the workshop "Rethinking the Taxonomy of Psychology", which will be held at the University of Western Ontario, April 15-17 2016. This workshop will focus on an emerging research project in the cognitive neurosciences wherein the traditional scientific approach of using psychological investigations to enhance our understanding of the brain has been flipped, and instead scientists are using neuroscientific investigations to challenge and change the conceptual foundations of psychology. The event will feature 10 speakers, drawn from Philosophy, Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience.
Start Year 2016
 
Description "Questions of Cognitive Ontology: The Impact of Neuroscience on Psychological Categories", University of Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event was a two-day workshop dedicated to exploring the impact of neuroimaging research on the categories employed in psychology, with a particular emphasis on the perspective provided by philosophers. The speakers included Michael Anderson (Franklin & Marshall); Carrie Figdor (University of Iowa): Tim Shallice (UCL); Nicholas Shea (KCL); Russell Poldrack (University of Texas at Austin) and myself. The audience comprised about 35 philosophers and psychologists from around the UK, including about 15 post-graduate students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description 'The Experimental Philosophy of Free Will and Cognitive Ontology', Berlin School of Mind and Brain (Humboldt University) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event was a two-day workshop, with one day dedicated to exploring the experimental philosophy of free will and a second day dedicated to neuromaging and cognitive ontology. I organized it conjunction with Michael Pauen (philosopher) and John-Dylan Haynes (both at the Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt University). The participants included a number of leading neuroscientists (e.g., Russ Poldrack, Stanford) and philosophers (e.g., Colin Klein, Macquarie University), together with a small number of graduate students who are working in this field, including Jessey Wright (University of Western Ontario) and Joseph McCaffrey (Pittsburgh).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description 26 May 2015: Implicit Cognition in the VeThe Implicit Mind: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives on Implicit Cognition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event was a two-day workshop on the nature of implicit cognition, organized by the Institute for Futures Studies (Stockholm). I presented a paper entitled "Implicit Cognition in the Vegetative State". There were about 50 people in the audience, most of whom were philosophers. The event was recorded, and a recording is available on youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tm9HtS1bgCw
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tm9HtS1bgCw
 
Description Conference on Dimensions of Intentionality, Ruhr-Universit├Ąt Bochum (1 Oct 2014) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I presented a talk entitled "Beyond Eliminativism?: Functional Neuroimaging and the Future of Intentionality" at a conference entitled "Dimensions of Intentionality" at Ruhr-Universität Bochum. The talk generated an excellent discussion, particularly from the graduate students in attendance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Manchester Philosophy and Literature Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This event was a public talk (1 hour duration) to the Manchester Philosophy and Literature Society (20 January 2015). Using the title 'Mindreading', I examined the used of neuromaging to ascribe mental states to people. There was a lively discussion following the talk of about 45 minutes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Symposium at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASS), Paris July 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The annual meeting of the ASSC is the leading conference in the field of consciousness studies, with between 400-500 attendees. This event was a keynote symposium on the notion of a level of consciousness that I organized and chaired, and which featured talks by Lisa Mirrachi (Philosophy, NYU) Hal Blumenfeld (Yale, Neurology), Adrian Owen (Neuroscience, University of Western Ontario) and Nico Schiff (Cornell Medicine). As a result of this collaboration Adrian Owen and I (together with Jakob Hohwy, Monash) have written an opinion paper which is currently under review at Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.theassc.org/assc_19
 
Description Symposium on Consciousness in the Vegetative State, Towards a Science of Consciousness, Helsinki 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event was a symposium on Post-Comatose Disorders of Consciousness, which was organized in connection with the "Towards a Science of Consciousness" (Helsinki, 13 June 2015). In addition to myself, the speakers included: Charles Weijer (University of Western Ontario, Rotman Institute of Philosophy), Raechelle Gibson (University of Western Ontario, Brain and Mind Institute) and Lisa Miracchi (NYU, Philosophy). The audience consisted of individuals from a wide range of perspectives (including a number of physicians), and the resulting discussion was excellent.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.helsinki.fi/tsc2015/
 
Description Workshop on the Philosophical Implications of Neuroimaging, Institute of Philosophy, The University of London 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a 1-day workshop that I organized in connection with Ophelia Deroy and Barry Smith, both at the Institute of Philosophy at the University of London. In addition to myself ("Neuroimaging and the Philosophy of Mind: From Reverse Inference to the New Eliminativism"), the event featured talks by Phillip Gerrans (Adelaide), Lisa Claydon (Open University), Lasana Harris (Leiden University) and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke). There were about 40 people in attendence from a range of backgrounds (law, neuroscience, philosophy).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015