Conference Schedule

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Postgraduate Talk 5: Büşra Telli

Marmara University (Turkey)

Onset of mind-wandering as its distinguishing feature




Postgraduate Talk 1: Thomas Szubart

Jagiellonian University (Poland)

Mind wandering and musical meaning

Postgraduate Talk 3: Valentina Martinis

Central European University (Austria)

The phenomenology of attitudes and the irreducibility of imagination


Coffee Break

Keynote Talk 2: Dr Zachary Irving

University of Virginia (US)

Demystifying the Wandering Mind


Coffee Break


Keynote Talk 1: Dr Thomas Andrillon

Paris Brain Institute (France)

Predicting lapses of attention, mind wandering and mind blanking with sleep-like slow waves

Keynote Talk 2: Prof Amy Kind

Claremont McKenna College (US)

Why We Need Imagination


Coffee Break

Postgraduate Talk 6: Helgi Clayton McClure (co-authored with Scott Cole)

York St John University (UK)

Putting the horse first: Mind-wandering as a methodological lens, not an empirical prize


Coffee Break


Postgraduate Talk 2: Felipe Morales Carbonell

Independent Researcher (Chile)

The dynamics of mind-wandering in a ballistic model

Postgraduate Talk 4: Preston Lennon

The Ohio State University (US)

Aphantasia and Conscious Thought


Closing remarks


Attendance is free and open to all, but registration is required to receive the link to the zoom call:

Registration closes by midnight (BST) Monday 21st June

On Wednesday and Thursday evening, we will be having a social on Gathertown between 6pm-8pm (BST). More information about the social, as well as link to Gathertown, will be sent to attendees


Wednesday 23rd June

Postgraduate Talk 1: Tomasz Szubart (Jagiellonian University, Poland)

Mind wandering and musical meaning

Quite often listeners of music catch themselves mind wandering. It is a widely accepted view that music can induce imagination, but its function is not well identified within cognitive sciences or evolutionary psychology.In philosophy of music, several ideas regarding musical imagination have been proposed, often referring to the concept of “musical meaning” (both in terms of its structure and “semantics”). Accepting some form of musical meaning could help to explain the functioning of musical imagination within the representational view of music (or, at least, to explain processing some form of representations evoked by music, Nussbaum, 2007). It’s not clear however, how can the concept of musical representation be useful in explaining musical imagination and “musical-wandering” and how can its functioning be functionally explained within broadly understood mind-architecture

In this paper, by proposing an account of musical meaning as operating within a representational framework, understood in terms of Millikan’s teleosemantics (1995), I am trying to answer this question. Relating to Koelsch’s (2012) neurocognitive theory of musical meaning, I am suggesting that “musicogenic musical meaning” might have qualities related to “mind-wandering” and could share some of its cognitive mechanisms. Musical meaning triggers emotional, expressive, and semantic mechanisms in the mind, but can also lead to unexplainable and not fully controllable trains of thoughts, self-related thoughts, or even trance-like experiences (and its representations). I am suggesting (drawing from Kendall 1994) that it might be a case that following the hierarchical-structural representations in music primes such musical imaginations or “trips”. I am arguing that such imaginations have representational content however, and it can be explained in terms of teleosemantic mental representation theory.Finally, I am trying to incorporate these ideas into the evolutionary frameworks of musical meaning roots, suggesting that the capability of music to evoke imagination and “mind-wandering” could have been advantageous, as imagination could result in higher creativity and might be applied as emotion and consciousness modulator.

Tomasz is a PhD candidate at the Philosophy Institute of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He's preparing his dissertation in the philosophy of cognitive sciences, concentrating on the problem of musical meaning

Keynote Talk 1: Dr Thomas Andrillon (Paris Brain Institute, France)

Predicting lapses of attention, mind wandering and mind blanking with sleep-like slow waves

Attentional lapses are ubiquitous and can negatively impact performance. They correlate with mind wandering, or thoughts that are unrelated to ongoing tasks and environmental demands. In other cases, the stream of consciousness itself comes to a halt and the mind goes blank. What is happening in the brain that leads to these mental states?

To understand the neural mechanisms underlying attentional lapses, we cross-analysed the behaviour, subjective experience and neural activity of healthy participants performing a task. Random interruptions prompted participants to indicate their mental states as task-focused, mind-wandering or mind-blanking. High-density electroencephalography revealed the occurrence of spatially and temporally localized slow waves, a pattern of neural activity characteristic of the transition toward sleep. These slow waves accompanied behavioural markers of lapses and preceded reports of mind wandering and mind blanking. Furthermore, the location of slow waves distinguished sluggish versus impulsive behaviours, mind wandering versus mind blanking. Our results suggest attentional lapses share a common physiological origin: the emergence of local sleep-like activity within the awake brain. We replicated these findings in a population of adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Furthermore, the increase in the number of slow waves in ADHD adults compared to non-ADHD adults suggest that attentional deficits in ADHD could be partially explained by an increase in sleepiness and sleep-like activity during the day. Finally, pharmacological interventions in healthy adults indicate that attention and vigilance might share mutual neuromodulatory pathways.

Dr Andrillon graduated from the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris in 2016, where he studied to which extent the sleeping brain can remain connected to its environment and process complex auditory stimuli. In parallel, he investigated the physiology of sleep using intracranial recordings in humans. Dr Andrillon moved in Australia in 2017, where investigated this time wakefulness and how sleep intrusions during waking could explain the fluctuations of attention and trigger mind wandering. In March 2021, he joined his current institution, the Paris Brain Institute, where he plans to investigate the relationship between local aspects of sleep, attention, consciousness and mind wandering.

Postgraduate Talk 2:Felipe Morales Carbonell (Independent, Chile)

The dynamics of mind-wandering in a ballistic model

We should distinguish between content-based and dynamics-based characterizations of daydreaming or mind-wandering (Christoff et al (2016)). Content-based definitions refer to properties of the content of the relevant mental states; the most common characterization of mind-wandering of this kind is that they are imaginings that are not task-oriented (or 'task-unrelated'). Langlang-Hassan (2020), to give a recent example from the philosophical literature, seems to endorse a view of this type: > daydreams are [attitude]-imaginings that, at least typically, involve mental imagery, and which serve no immediate practical goal. (p. 88)

In general, relevance to ongoing tasks can be understood as a property of the content of the imaginings. Dynamics-based characterizations focus rather on the causal profiles of the relevant mental processes. Christoff et al's dynamics-based view focuses on the kinds of contraints that act upon wandering thought:> Mind-wandering is a special case of spontaneous thought that tends to be more deliberately constrained than dreaming, but less deliberately-constrained than creative thinking and goal-directed thought ... [and] less automatically-constrained than rumination. (p. 2)

Here, I want to adopt the dynamics perspective to offer an alternative characterization of daydreaming. In the proposed view, daydreaming and other mind-wandering states are characterized in terms of the patterns of possible chains of mental states that constitute the relevant imaginings. By taking a dynamic and diachronic picture of imaginings, we can capture patterns where daydreams connect to other mental processes, such as rumination and deliberate creative thought. I will argue that this is crucial to understand the place of mind-wandering in our cognitive lives.The proposed model itself builds on both content- and dynamics-based approaches. From the former, it takes task-relevance as an important index to assess the mental states in question. It describes an imagining as a series of contents over time with different values of task relevance. Each point in the series can be either the tail or head of a vector depending on whether the content at a point was reached by a process that increased, maintained or decreased task-relevance. In this way, the model describes the 'ballistic' trajectories of chains of mental events (we take 'ballistics' in a different sense as Strawson (2003)). The 'direction' and other properties of these vectors (such as their capacity to become task-relevant, or 'spread') are a function of the available constraints, as in Christoff et al's model. Mind wandering properly speaking is the pattern of vectors that decrease task-relevance. Daydreaming is the pattern of vectors that, starting from a point of low task-relevance, do not come to be definitely on-task and have a generally wide 'spread' due to low deliberate constraints. Rumination differs from daydreaming because it tends to have a low 'spread' due to high automatic constraints. Finally, creative thought might dynamically become more or less on-topic by relaxing deliberate constraints.

Felipe is a PhD in philosophy, originally from Chile, where he did his BA and MA at Universidad de Chile. Later, he did an MPhil and PhD at KU Leuven's Institute of Philosophy in Belgium. His thesis was on the structure and function of modal thought, and more specifically, on the importance and nature of agentive modality. Currently he's connecting this work with issues in the philosophy of action. He mainly work in topics related to the philosophy of modality, in particular its epistemology and metaphysics, but he's interested in philosophy of science, philosophical logic and philosophy of mind.

Thursday 24th June

Postgraduate Talk 3: Valentina Martinis (CEU, Austria)

The phenomenology of attitudes and the irreducibility of imagination

In this paper, I argue for the existence of a distinctive phenomenology of imagination, non-reducible to other more basic kinds of phenomenology, such as perceptual phenomenology.I begin by clarifying what imagination is not. I reject the idea, as laid out by Mike Martin (2002), that “visualizing [is] the imagining of seeing” (407). Martin claims that imagination is a state that takes a state of seeing as its object, thereby inheriting the committal nature of the latter. Imagining, that is, involves a commitment to the imagined situation being a certain way. When imagining a blue expanse of water, for instance, such imagining is non-neutral with respect to the actual environment, and this can have consequences on what one believes is possible.I argue that Martin’s position rests on a categorical mistake. Perception is not a genus of which seeing and imagining are two species (Ryle 1949) and thus it does not inherit its committal nature. I claim that imaginative experiences do not aim to accurately represent reality, and this sets them apart from both perception and belief. I thus side with Dorsch (2016), who claims that imagining is not determined by epistemic but (at least partly) by practical reasons.Lastly, I use Husserl’s Logical investigations for a phenomenological description of imaginative attitudes as a unified phenomenal kind. I conclude by arguing that such distinctive phenomenal character explains the non-committal, non-epistemic role of imagination individuated in the first part of the paper.

Valentina is a 3rd year Ph.D. student at the Central European University of Vienna. She received her BA in Philosophy at the University of Turin (Italy) in 2015 and in 2017 her MA, also in Philosophy, at the University of Milan-San Raffaele (Italy). She currently works under the supervision of Tim Crane and Katalin Farkas. Her research project investigates the contrast between the phenomenology of perception and the phenomenology of cognition. She begins by defending the phenomenological datum that paradigmatically perceptual states have a distinctive kind of phenomenology that marks them from paradigmatically cognitive states, and vice versa – and such contrast is manifest to the subject. Then, the discussion divides into two parts. The first half is a criticism of those theories that draw the perception/cognition divide based on some content-level differences between perceptual and cognitive states. She argues that such content-level differences, even when true, do not explain the phenomenological datum. In the second she argues that the phenomenological datum can be explained by a contrast between different attitudes. Inspired by Husserl, she argues that a phenomenal state is individuated (at least partly) by its attitude, i.e., the phenomenal ‘manner’ of presentation of its objects. This phenomenology criterion can be used to draw the cognition/perception divide.

Keynote talk 2: Prof Amy Kind (Claremont McKenna College, US)

Why We Need Imagination

Traditionally, imagination has been considered to be a primitive mental state type (or group of types), irreducible to other mental state types. In particular, it has been thought to be distinct from other mental states such as belief, perception, and memory, among others. Recently, however, the category of imagination has come under attack, with challenges emerging from a multitude of different directions. Some philosophers have argued that we should not recognize belief and imagination as distinct states but rather on a continuum, whereas other philosophers have argued something similar with respect to belief and memory. And some philosophers have suggested that we can reduce imagination to other mental states, whether mental imagery, belief, supposition, or some combination. In this paper, I address some of these challenges in an attempt to show we need to maintain imagination as a distinct – and indeed, robust – category in our taxonomy of mind.

Prof Kind is Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies at Claremont McKenna College. Prof Kind works on philosophy of mind, with a special focus on imagination and phenomenal consciousness. Prof Kind's research

Postgraduate Talk 4: Preston Lennon (Ohio State University,US)

Aphantasia and Conscious Thought

Conscious thoughts make up a significant part of our waking mental lives: when I wonder what to make for dinner, judge that a dime and a quarter give me thirty-five cents, or suddenly realize that today is a friend’s birthday, I am having a conscious thought. Despite its ubiquity, the nature of conscious thought within the philosophy of mind is controversial. Some philosophers (Lormand 1996, Wilson 2003, Prinz 2007, 2011) argue that thoughts are conscious only if they are encoded or “arrive” in a sensory medium. For example, when I have the conscious thought that snow is white, this thought might be conscious only in the sense that I have some visual mental imagery of a snowy expanse, or have the English words “snow is white” run through my inner monologue. Other philosophers argue that conscious thoughts need not by accompanied by visual or auditory mental imagery—that sometimes our conscious thoughts can be “unsymbolized” (Siewert 1998).

In this paper, I aim to make progress on this philosophical debate by marshalling empirical work from psychology. In particular, I will show that the recently discovered phenomenon of aphantasia has clear implications for the nature of conscious thought. Aphantasia is a psychological disorder in which subjects report the complete lack of visual mental imagery (Zeman et. al 2010, 2015, 2016, 2020). For instance, when asked to count the number of windows in one’s kitchen, most people report that they answer this question by conjuring a rough mental image of their kitchen and then counting the windows. Aphantasic subjects, however, are able to complete this and similar tasks while reporting having no visual imagery at all. In addition to these psychometric studies, psychologists have studied the brains of aphantasic subjects through use of functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques. These studies suggest that people with aphantasia recruit different parts of the brain when completing tasks typically thought to require mental imagery. In addition to this visual imagery deficit, many with aphantasia report not having an “inner monologue.” This suggests that aphantasic subjects can sometimes have conscious thoughts—for example, the thought that “there are three windows in my kitchen”—without any visual or verbal mental imagery. The presence of aphantasia thus stands as a novel challenge for those philosophers of mind arguing that conscious thought must be sensory in nature. I close by considering a variety of objections to my case against the sensory constraint on conscious thought: might variances in reported mental imagery moreso reflect people’s different criteria for reporting it? Might aphantasic subjects be confabulating, such that it only seems as if nothing sensory is cuing their self-attributions of thought (a la Carruthers 2011, 2015)? I consider these objections in detail and offer responses to them.

Preston is a graduate student in philosophy at The Ohio State University working in philosophy of mind. At the moment, he's writing a dissertation on the relationship between the phenomenal and intentional features of thought. Preston also has interests in ethics, metaphysics, and philosophy of sport.

Preston is a graduate student in philosophy at The Ohio State University working in philosophy of mind. At the moment, he's writing a dissertation on the relationship between the phenomenal and intentional features of thought. Preston also has interests in ethics, metaphysics, and philosophy of sport.

Friday 25th June

Postgraduate Talk 5: Büşra Telli (Marmara University,Turkey)

Onset of mind-wandering as its distinguishing feature

Most of the accounts define mind-wandering by comparing the content of thoughts right before and during mind-wandering (Antrobus, 1968; Teasdale, Lloyd, Proctor, & Badgeley, 1993; Teasdale, Segal, & Williams, 1995; Giambra, 1995; Smallwood, Baracaia, Lowe, & Obonsawin, 2003; Smallwood, O’Connor, Sudberry, & Ballantyre, 2004). I argue that the content is important but not an essential feature of mind-wandering to distinguish it from other spontaneous thoughts such as daydreaming. Rather it is its initiation. Some have argued that mind wandering can be intentional (Giambra, 1995; Dorsch, 2015; Seli et al., 2016) however I find the qualification of an episode of mind wandering as intentional to involve serious inconsistencies. I argue that a mind-wandering episode cannot start with intention but can have a meta-awareness at some point in its duration. Metzinger (2013) argues that mind-wandering lacks meta-awareness and veto control. Irving and Thompson (2018) give a novel account that defines mind-wandering as unguided thinking which is being unable to feel pulled back to the topic of the thought before the distraction from that thought. Unlike Metzinger, they propose that mind-wandering can unfold with or without meta-awareness. According to a description of mind wandering which involves “tuning out”, when one’s mind wanders, she is aware that her mind has drifted, but for whatever reason, she continues on with her current task (Smallwood et al., 2007)

I agree that mind-wandering can have meta-awareness at some point in its duration. In the “tuning out”, the individual continues on with her task for whatever reason whereas in being “pulled back” she continues because she feels pulled back. I find Irving and Thompson’s view that mind-wandering doesn't always occur without meta-awareness questionable. Their account cannot differentiate mind-wandering from daydreaming because both can have meta- awareness in their duration. Therefore, while meta-awareness may not be a distinguishing feature of mind-wandering when one focuses on the duration of these mental episodes, its onset can be the distinguishing feature because daydreaming initiates with an intention (Dorsch, 2015), whereas mind-wandering does not initiate with an intention. For instance, a college student as she is studying for her last final exam may start to think about her graduation ceremony - which might be considered as daydreaming. This may motivate herself to further study. However, as she thinks about the graduation ceremony, her thoughts might drift to what she will wear on that day, where to buy the dress, and how much money she has to spend on it. These latter episodes are more like mind wandering. I suggest that it is the presence or absence of intention in the onset of these two thinking episodes that classify one as daydreaming and the other as mind wandering

Büşra is a Master’s student in Philosophy at Marmara University. She is at the stage of writing her thesis on mind-wandering. She received her BA in Psychology and Philosophy at İstanbul Şehir University (Turkey). During her psychology major she studied mind-wandering for a research project. The study used the experience sampling method to investigate the content of the thoughts of neurotic people during mind-wandering episodes. The results showed that people high in neuroticism had more negative and past-related thoughts than people low in neuroticism.

Keynote talk 3: Dr Zachary Irving (University of Virginia, US)

Demystifying the Wandering Mind

Philosophers have long been fascinated by the stream of consciousness––thoughts, images, and bits of inner speech that dance before the mind. Yet for centuries, such “mind-wandering” was deemed essentially private and thus resistant to empirical investigation. My talk will synthesize my philosophical and scientific work on mind-wandering. My philosophical work examines how mental actions shape the stream of consciousness. I distinguish between three modes of thinking: directed, affective, and mind-wandering. I argue that directed and affective thinking are mental actions, insofar as the agent uses goals or emotions to guide her thoughts to remain on topic. Mind-wandering is unguided and so free to drift between topics unchecked. My second project lays philosophical foundations for the science of mind-wandering. Specifically, I ask three empirical questions. How are directed, sticky, and wandering modes of thinking realized in the brain? How can you measure them? And how do they relate to the folk view of mind-wandering? In summarizing my empirical work on these questions, I aim to show that philosophy can not only be informed by science, but also generate new ways to study the mind scientifically.

Dr Irving is an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia's Corcoran Department of Philosophy, where he works in the philosophy of cognitive science. His recent work has focused on the philosophy of mind wandering and he has carried out several collaborations with cognitive scientists on this topic. Dr Irving's research

Postgraduate Talk 6: Helgi Clayton McClure and Scott Cole (York St John University, UK)

Putting the horse first: Mind-wandering as a methodological lens, not an empirical prize

Contemporary philosophers of mind-wandering question the tendency for empirical researchers to focus on momentary thought contents, neglecting the unfolding of thought over time (Irving & Thompson, 2018; Irving, 2016). Laying bare the contradictions of task-unrelatedness and stimulus-independence (Smallwood & Schooler, 2015; Antrobus, 1968), these theorists instead define mind-wandering in terms of its dynamic properties (e.g. guidance, Irving & Thompson, 2018; cf. veto control, Metzinger, 2013). Irving and Thompson (2018) advertise their guidance-based conception of mind-wandering as ‘empirically tractable’ due to its simple, principled formulation; yet by their own admission, guidance must be assessed counterfactually, so cannot be determined directly for given thought segments (concretely, a subject probed for thought content X at moment T cannot necessarily tell whether this was a guided thought, i.e. whether their attention would have been ‘pulled back’ to X had they strayed to Y at moment T + 1). On the other hand, subjects can reliably follow instructions to report only unintentional thoughts (e.g. Cole et al., 2016; Barzykowski & Staugaard, 2018); or to report their level of intention when experiencing each thought (Jordão et al., 2019; Barzykowski & Niedźwieńska, 2016). Such approaches, combining a focus on specific thought contents (cf. Smallwood & Schooler, 2015) with respect for the cognitive dynamics of thought (Irving & Thompson, 2018; Christoff et al., 2016), are already commonplace in the mental time travel (MTT) literature (see Kvavilashvili & Rummel, 2020 and Berntsen, 2019 for reviews). MTT research takes an a priori interest in certain types of thought (e.g. memories, future projections) and captures them selectively via targeted reporting protocols. Mind-wandering in this context functions as a methodological heuristic, enabling access to specifically defined objects of enquiry, rather than an empirical phenomenon in itself. By placing subjects in a ‘mind-wandering state’, phenomena of interest can be sampled in relation to relevant cognitive factors – both static (e.g. different age groups; Jordão et al., 2019) and dynamic (e.g. the influence of verbal cues at specific points in a task; Plimpton et al., 2015; Vannucci et al., 2015, 2017).

Against this backdrop, we outline a project investigating whether spontaneous future thoughts can be traced to specific representations formed at an earlier point in time: a novel test of the ‘memories of the future’ hypothesis (Ingvar, 1985; Cole & Kvavilashvili, 2019). This requires a conventional episodic construction task followed by a carefully calibrated mind-wandering task sampling only spontaneous (unintentional) thoughts; thus, mind-wandering is used as a conduit through which to investigate causal influences on the occurrence of specific types of thought. This application of the concept shifts the focus away from definitional disputes, instead emphasising the methodological value of the mind-wandering state in explaining a range of spontaneous cognitive phenomena. Christoff et al. (2018), in defending a rather narrow conception of mind-wandering, caution researchers to provide “explicit definitions of the specific types of thought under investigation” (p. 958); our contention is that this objective is best served by loosening constraints on what mind-wandering may be, and instead employing it as a paradigmatic lens through which to illuminate the specific mechanisms of spontaneous cognition.

Helgi Clayton McClure is a final-year PhD student in cognitive psychology at York St John University whose research spans spontaneous thought and goal pursuit (for example, how people plan and achieve future aspirations).