"Confabulation, explanation and narrative," Address to the Metaphysical Society of Trinity College Dublin

  • Sophie Stammers (Invited speaker)

Activity: Academic and Industrial eventsGuest lecture or Invited talk


Confabulation, where a person gives an inaccurate or false report, without any intention to deceive, presents in a number of psychiatric conditions (Berios, 1998; Hirstein 2005). Originally, confabulatory reports were thought to indicate neurological dysfunction, and, in unintentionally communicating false information, to serve no purpose. However, numerous studies show that confabulation is widespread in the non-clinical population, in the absence of neurological dysfunction. In this talk I demonstrate that attention to the thematic elements of confabulations in both the clinical and non-clinical populations reveals that these reports exhibit a high level of narrative cohesion and center features which bear notable personal significance to the relevant individuals. I argue that confabulation should therefore be thought of as the output of a more general narrative faculty that itself has a number of beneficial functions, both psychologically – and epistemically – speaking. The upshot is that interventions designed to promote epistemic functioning by limiting the false narratives arrived at in confabulation must proceed cautiously. Should these interventions operate by impairing our narrative faculty, then proceeding will incur epistemic costs, as well as epistemic benefits, which need to be factored into the analysis of whether such interventions are, epistemically speaking, worthwhile.

From organisers "The Metaphysical Society, founded in 1929 by A. A. Luce, is the Philosophy Society of Trinity College as well as a home for inter-disciplinary debate and discussion in the University. The Metafizz has hosted guest speakers from a range of academic disciplines and other walks of public life. Some guests who have addressed the society in the past include: philosophers (Gilbert Ryle, David Papineau, Volker Halbach, Robin le Poidevin, Timothy Williamson, David Chalmers, Ray Monk, Helen Beebee, J. L. Austin, John Mackie, Antony Flew, Graham Priest, Daniel Dennett, A. C. Grayling, and Richard Swinburne), scientists (Erwin Schrodinger, Rupert Sheldrake, Susan Greenfield, Susan Blackmoor, and Lawrence Krauss), political scientists (Norman Finkelstein and Eoin O'Malley), artists (Anne Enright, Cynthia Macdonald, Graham Linehan, and Lenny Abrahamson), politicians (Minister Ruairi Quinn and Senator Ivana Bacik), and journalists (Patsy McGarry and Peter Hitchens), as well as theologians, geneticists, economists, lawyers, and activists of many stripes."
Period6 Feb 2018
Held atTrinity College Dublin, Ireland