Daniel Williams

Daniel Williams
University of Cambridge | Cam · Faculty of Philosophy

PhD

About

27
Publications
23,239
Reads
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322
Citations
Introduction
I’m a Junior Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge. Before this, I was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Philosophical Psychology at the University of Antwerp. I completed my PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2018 under the supervision of Richard Holton and Huw Price. I work mostly in the philosophy of mind and psychology. My primary research interest at the moment is on how various forms of irrationality and bias are socially adaptive, enabling individuals to achieve social goals that are in conflict with epistemic goals.
Additional affiliations
October 2019 - October 2023
University of Cambridge
Position
  • Fellow
Education
September 2015 - August 2018
University of Cambridge
Field of study
  • Philosophy

Publications

Publications (27)
Preprint
Full-text available
When membership of a community depends on commitment to shared beliefs, the community is a belief-based coalition, and the beliefs are identity-defining beliefs. Belief-based coalitions are pervasive features of human social life and routinely drive motivated cognition and epistemically dysfunctional group dynamics. Despite this, they remain surpri...
Article
Full-text available
Two striking claims are advanced on behalf of the free energy principle (FEP) in cognitive science and philosophy: (i) that it identifies a condition of the possibility of existence for self-organising systems; and (ii) that it has important implications for our understanding of how the brain works, defining a set of process theories—roughly, theor...
Article
Full-text available
Recent work in economics has rediscovered the importance of belief-based utility for understanding human behaviour. Belief ‘choice’ is subject to an important constraint, however: people can only bring themselves to believe things for which they can find rationalizations. When preferences for similar beliefs are widespread, this constraint generate...
Article
Full-text available
When the costs of acquiring knowledge outweigh the benefits of possessing it, ignorance is rational. In this paper I clarify and explore a related but more neglected phenomenon: cases in which ignorance is motivated by the anticipated costs of possessing knowledge, not acquiring it. The paper has four aims. First, I describe the psychological and s...
Article
Full-text available
Why do well‐functioning psychological systems sometimes give rise to absurd beliefs that are radically misaligned with reality? Drawing on signalling theory, I develop and explore the hypothesis that groups often embrace beliefs that are viewed as absurd by outsiders as a means of signalling ingroup commitment. I clarify the game‐theoretic and psyc...
Preprint
Full-text available
Why do well-functioning psychological systems sometimes give rise to absurd beliefs that are radically misaligned with reality? Drawing on signalling theory, I develop and explore the hypothesis that groups often embrace beliefs that are viewed as absurd by outsiders as a means of signalling ingroup commitment. I clarify the game-theoretic and psyc...
Preprint
Full-text available
A large and growing body of research in computational psychiatry draws on Bayesian modelling to illuminate the dysfunctions and aberrations that underlie psychiatric disorders. After identifying the chief attractions of this research programme, we argue that its typical focus on abstract, domain-general inferential processes is likely to obscure ma...
Preprint
Full-text available
An influential body of research in neuroscience and the philosophy of mind asserts that the brain is an organ for prediction error minimization. I clarify how this hypothesis should be understood, and I consider a prominent attempt to justify it, according to which prediction error minimization in the brain is a manifestation of a more fundamental...
Article
Full-text available
I clarify and defend the hypothesis that human belief formation is sensitive to social rewards and punishments, such that beliefs are sometimes formed based on unconscious expectations of their likely effects on other agents – agents who frequently reward us when we hold ungrounded beliefs and punish us when we hold reasonable ones. After clarifyin...
Article
Full-text available
Predictive processing has recently been advanced as a global cognitive architecture for the brain. I argue that its commitments concerning the nature and format of cognitive representation are inadequate to account for two basic characteristics of conceptual thought: first, its generality--the fact that we can think and flexibly reason about phenom...
Preprint
Full-text available
When the costs of acquiring knowledge outweigh the benefits of possessing it, ignorance is rational. In this paper I clarify and explore a related but more neglected phenomenon: cases in which ignorance is motivated by the anticipated costs of possessing knowledge, not acquiring it. The paper has four aims. First, I describe the psychological and s...
Article
Full-text available
An influential body of research in neuroscience and the philosophy of mind asserts that the brain is an organ for prediction error minimization. I clarify how this hypothesis should be understood, and I consider a prominent attempt to justify it, according to which prediction error minimization in the brain is a manifestation of a more fundamental...
Article
Full-text available
A large and growing body of research in computational psychiatry draws on Bayesian modelling to illuminate the dysfunctions and aberrations that underlie psychiatric disorders. After identifying the chief attractions of this research programme, we argue that its typical focus on abstract, domain-general inferential processes is likely to obscure ma...
Preprint
Full-text available
I outline and defend the hypothesis that human belief formation is sensitive to social rewards and punishments, such that beliefs are sometimes formed based on unconscious expectations of their likely effects on other agents - agents who frequently reward us when we hold ungrounded beliefs and punish us when we hold reasonable ones. After clarifyin...
Article
Full-text available
A large body of research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience draws on Bayesian statistics to model information processing within the brain. Many theorists have noted that this research seems to be in tension with a large body of experimental results purportedly documenting systematic deviations from Bayesian updating in human belief formation....
Article
Full-text available
Recent research in cognitive and computational neuroscience portrays the neocortex as a hierarchically structured prediction machine. Several theorists have drawn on this research to challenge the traditional distinction between perception and cognition – specifically, to challenge the very idea that perception and cognition constitute useful kinds...
Article
Full-text available
Predictive processing and its apparent commitment to explaining cognition in terms of Bayesian inference over hierarchical generative models seems to flatly contradict the pragmatist conception of mind and experience. Against this, I argue that this appearance results from philosophical overlays at odd with the science itself, and that the two fram...
Article
Full-text available
We evaluate a growing trend towards anti-representationalism in cognitive science in the context of recent research into the development and maintenance of anorexia nervosa in cognitive neuropsychiatry. We argue two things: first, that this research relies on an explanatorily robust concept of representation—the concept of a long-term body schema;...
Thesis
Full-text available
I outline and defend a theory of mental representation based on three ideas that I extract from the work of the mid-twentieth century philosopher, psychologist, and cybernetician Kenneth Craik: first, an account of mental representation in terms of idealised models that capitalize on structural similarity to their targets; second, an appreciation o...
Preprint
Full-text available
We evaluate a growing trend towards anti-representationalism in cognitive science in the context of recent research into the development and maintenance of anorexia nervosa in cognitive neuropsychiatry. We argue two things: first, that this research relies on an explanatorily robust concept of representation-the concept of a long-term body schema;...
Article
Full-text available
Abstract. I identify three lessons from Kenneth Craik’s landmark book “The Nature of Explanation” for contemporary debates surrounding the existence, extent, and nature of mental representation: first, an account of mental representations as neural structures that function analogously to public models; second, an appreciation of prediction as the c...
Article
Full-text available
We argue that one important aspect of the “cognitive neuroscience revolution” identified by Boone and Piccinini (Synthese 193(5):1509–1534. doi:10.1007/s11229-015-0783-4, 2015) is a dramatic shift away from thinking of cognitive representations as arbitrary symbols towards thinking of them as icons that replicate structural characteristics of their...
Article
We argue that one important aspect of the "cognitive neuroscience revolution" identified by Boone and Piccinini (2015) is a dramatic shift away from thinking of cognitive representations as arbitrary symbols towards thinking of them as icons that replicate structural characteristics of their targets. We argue that this shift has been driven both "f...
Article
Full-text available
Researchers in the field of computational psychiatry have recently sought to model the formation and retention of delusions in terms of dysfunctions in a process of hierarchical Bayesian inference. I present a systematic review of such models and raise two challenges that have not received sufficient attention in the literature. First, the characte...
Article
Full-text available
Clark has recently suggested that predictive processing advances a theory of neural function with the resources to put an ecumenical end to the “representation wars” of recent cognitive science. In this paper I defend and develop this suggestion. First, I broaden the representation wars to include three foundational challenges to representational c...
Article
Full-text available

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Projects

Projects (3)
Project
This project aims to explore the way in which social identities and group attachments distort how people think and reason about the world.
Project
To evaluate the utility of the Bayesian brain hypothesis for illuminating psychiatric disorders
Project
To outline a framework for understanding mental representation based on a conception of the neocortex as a general-purpose predictive modelling engine