Self-Deception and the Riddle of Confabulation
AUTHOR: Hirstein, William
PUBLISHER: MIT Press
Also available at Amazon.com
Some neurological patients exhibit a striking tendency to confabulate -- to constructfalse answers to a question while genuinely believing that they are telling the truth. A strokevictim, for example, will describe in detail a conference he attended over the weekend when in facthe has not left the hospital. Normal people, too, sometimes have a tendency to confabulate; ratherthan admitting "I don't know," some people will make up an answer or an explanation and express itwith complete conviction. In Brain Fiction, William Hirstein examinesconfabulation and argues that its causes are not merely technical issues in neurology or cognitivescience but deeply revealing about the structure of the human intellect.
Hirsteindescribes confabulation as the failure of a normal checking or censoring process in the brain -- thefailure to recognize that a false answer is fantasy, not reality. Thus, he argues, the creativeability to construct a plausible-sounding response and some ability to check that response areseparate in the human brain. Hirstein sees the dialectic between the creative and checking processes-- "the inner dialogue" -- as an important part of our mental life. In constructing a theory ofconfabulation, Hirstein integrates perspectives from different fields, including philosophy,neuroscience, and psychology to achieve a natural mix of conceptual issues usually treated byphilosophers with purely empirical issues; information about the distribution of certain bloodvessels in the prefrontal lobes of the brain, for example, or the behavior of split-brain patientscan shed light on the classic questions of philosophy of mind, including questions about thefunction of consciousness. This first book-length study of confabulation breaks ground in bothphilosophy and cognitive science.
PUBLICATION DATE: 12/1/2004