Sunday, November 26, 2017

Reminiscence group session diaries: Part 1

The project I am currently involved in examines the impact of reminiscence (via group participation) on autobiographical memory and learning of new information (as well as other factors such as executive function and mood) in older adults. The first group is currently running at a single location-in 2018 we plan to have groups running in multiple sites.

Halloween 2017. The first session got off to a slow start, with a low attendance (perhaps given the day that was in it). Nonetheless, we had an interesting discussion provoked by an activity of drawing a map of one's route to primary school as a child. Most lived quite close to their school, but in a way this allowed for a more detailed discussion of the buildings passed on the way to school. It was interesting to note that one might think one had forgotten these things until they are recalled.

The first few weeks are more focused on personal autobiography, although we are also interested in people's memory of historical events. (I'll cover this more historical content in the next post on this topic next month!) Thinking of the functions of reminiscence, maintaining one's sense of identity and giving an illustrative lesson to others have been identified as two positive reasons for using reminiscence. These two functions seem to come together when people think of their kids; they seem to draw on their own experience as young adults as a means of advising their young adult children. But older adults in turn identify with their children, and perhaps often see them as an extension of themselves.

One of the biggest influences on the content of the sessions is "remembering yesterday, caring today", which was devised for work in patients with dementia, but is actually quite easily adaptable to healthy older adults as well. I'm also currently reading the book "Working more creatively with groups" by Jarleth Benson. He takes quite a psychoanalytic approach to groupwork (a lot of references transference and counter-transference). A lot of the anecdotal material in the book seems to be based on work with clients experiencing mental health problems (often anxiety or depression), but with this caveat in mind there's quite a bit of practical advice with broad applicability too. For example, a number of chapters dedicated to the different stages of the life of a group. With this 6-week group already nearing its end, I need to re-read to chapter on bringing a group to a close. This in particular is important, as we want to do follow-up visits with participants after the group has ended.

The participants so far in this first group do seem to be enjoying the process, and discussing memories in a group with people of a similar age. If you're interested in this project, you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook at @RecallEire. The website should be live very soon-watch this space!

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Aesthetics and the psychology of creativity

I have misgivings about the autonomy of aesthetics and the philosophy of mind

Joseph Margolis, The Cultural Space of the Arts (2010)

Given my interest in the psychology of creativity as well as in philosophy (specifically philosophy of mind), it has been remiss of me up until now not to have more of an interest in the area of philosophy known as aethetics. Having recently developed a curiosity for it, I sketch a few initial thoughts and aesthetics and psychology below.

In his Critique of Judgment, Kant argued that beauty is in the eye of the beholder (if I understand Kant's argument correctly). We do not/should not refer to the object itself in trying to discern its beauty, but rather the subject who is observing the object and their subjective appraisal thereof.

In an influential paper, Beardsley and Wimsatt posited that there is an "intentional fallacy"; although we may assume that the intention of the author can be read from a literary text, this is not the case. They rightly pointed out that the poet (for example)'s intention should not be the key yardstick for judging a piece's quality, and furthermore if the intention is not clear in the poem itself, the critic will look for information outside of the poem (e.g. an interview with the poet, a critic's or teacher's appraisal of the work). The poem does not simply belong to the poet, the critic, or both, but rather to the public at large.

Running these ideas together, we cannot assume that artists put their creativity "into" their work, which then "holds" this creativity until someone "unlocks" this creativity from the finished piece sitting in a gallery, on a bookshelf etc.

A question of interest to me, then, is whether an aesthetic sense (by which I mean the ability to have an aesthetic reaction to some creative work) is necessary for creative cognition. In stage theories of creative thinking, one of the latter stages involves appraising a creative product (this contrasts somewhat with Beardsley and Wimsatt's separation of judgement and production of creative work). Without aesthetic appreciation, is such a process possible?

This is a pressing question for artificial intelligence (AI) approaches to creative cognition. If a particular domain (say, musical notation) can be mapped out in conceptual space, then AI with good memory, rule-learning and a random output generator can generate outputs which it can compare against its memory for novelty and against certain criteria for a genre/form etc. Nonetheless, is there any reason we should think that AI has a subjective reaction to creative work? How can AI distinguish competent musical composition from a really great or deeply moving piece of music, or at least that which is deeply moving to a human?

For a broad overview of philosophical issues surrounding creativity and how they intersect with psychology, I would recommend the article linked below:

Gaut, B. (2010). The philosophy of creativity. Philosophy Compass, 5(12), 1034-1046. 

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