Describing inner experience? : proponent meets skeptic

Describing Inner Experience?: Proponent Meets Skeptic
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Hurlburt has devoted his life to catching bits of consciousness, snagging them with his beeps as they flit by. But Schwitzgebel says, just look more closely and you'll notice: They're already gone. At the beginning of the book's central section, Hurlburt and Schwitzgebel meet their volunteer. Her pseudonym is Melanie.

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She is in her 20s, and she has an interest in psychology but no experience in these debates. Hurlburt explains the rules to her: She will simply tell them what was on her mind just before each beep, and they will try to figure out if her reports are accurate. Hurlburt handles the direct questioning, then turns her over to Schwitzgebel for cross-examination.

They have six sessions, each about an hour long. And over the course of these sessions, something unexpected happens, a novelistic twist that is subtle, hilarious and hard to describe. A battle for interpretive credibility emerges, as the doubt Schwitzgebel casts upon Melanie's self-understanding rebounds upon himself. Typically, in these sessions Melanie makes a report, and Hurlburt helps her flesh it out. Hurlburt does not trust everything his subjects say about their thoughts. His focus is on clarifying their language, focusing their attention upon the proper moment just before the beep, and warning them against false generalizations that might distort the inner view.

Schwitzgebel's attacks are quite different. In one of their sessions, Melanie reports that she was reading a book when the beep went off, and visualizing a scene. She had a picture in her mind of a woman and soldier talking by the side of the road. She reports that the picture was somewhat incomplete -- she couldn't say anything, for instance, about how his legs were positioned.

Melanie tells them that she just wasn't concentrating on this part of the image. Schwitzgebel asks her if the feet she didn't see were occluded by a bush. And in the middle of his questions, she laughs. Schwitzgebel's expert process of interrogation is supposed to reduce Melanie's confidence, and as the sessions go on she indeed becomes more skeptical -- of Schwitzgebel.

Schwitzgebel and Hurlburt have put the audiotapes of their sessions online. I have listened to them. Schwitzgebel doubts Melanie. She doubts him right back. She laughs, is skeptical, tells him she's not sure what he means. His questions, sensible in form and structure, often seem ridiculous by the time they are spoken out loud. It is not that Melanie is incorrigible.

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She is perfectly willing to doubt. It is just that she is a participant as well as a subject here. She can't help collaborating in examining her mind. Often, Melanie reports that at the beep she was not only having an inner experience -- of words, or an image, or a bodily sensation -- but also that she was aware of having this experience. She is simultaneously feeling or thinking, and noticing her feelings or thoughts.

Schwitzgebel is skeptical of these multiple levels of experience. In a side discussion with Hurlburt, Schwitzgebel remarks: "If she is wondering now whether she is generally self-analytical, that may itself create a presently occurring self-analyticity that seems to confirm her theory. Is Melanie giving herself extra self-awareness, after the fact? Maybe she is.


But the "tuning up" of self-reflection under conditions of random beeping is only a problem for those seeking purity in introspective report. For the rest of us it is a chief interest of Hurlburt's method. The random beep is a call to self-awareness.

And self-awareness, for the lay reader, is not an artifact but a goal. The discipline of Zen is somewhat foreign to our sensibility now, but perhaps Hurlburt's lowly beeper, accompanied by an uninhibited skepticism and taste for the comic, can perform some of the same work as the old style of ritual contemplation. Melanie, who begins as the subject of these experiments, promotes herself to co-investigator.

If, in reading these conversations, you can be seduced into following along, you will naturally become a co-investigator, too, suddenly aware both of the unexpected contents of your mind, and of how much of yourself is not really there. Buy Now, Pay Later. Already a Subscriber?

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Can conscious experience be described accurately? The two authors of Describing Inner Experience disagree on the answer: Proponent Meets Skeptic . Can conscious experience be described accurately? Can we give reliable accounts of our sensory experiences and pains, our inner speech and imagery, our.

The Spy: Sacha Baron Cohen gets serious. Trending Another blue wave? It just might happen. First-person experiments hence have a clearly distinguishable subject matter from third-person experiments. In particular, the target of the judgement differs between third-person and first-person experiments.

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This judgement does not explicitly refer to visual experience. If colours are considered to be mind-dependent then the judgement would be about the way the world normally looks under certain conditions, as opposed to the world of physics, hence the distinction between phenomenal and perceptual judgements would break down. Since he assumed that the disc was present at all times, his thought cannot have been about the presence or absence of the disc.

Russell T. Hurlburt and Eric Schwitzgebel: Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic

Neither was he interested in whether he unconsciously saw the disc, otherwise his test would have been inconclusive. Rather he was interested in whether he consciously visually experienced a disc or not at all distances of observation. Hence, even if Mariotte had not explicitly made a judgement about whether he seemed to see a disc or not, that it was intended to be a phenomenal judgement can be reconstructed from his other assumptions. A problem with the above characterisation is that it is too unconstrained.

If I imagine a house and then make a judgement about it, this will fit the criteria for being a first-person experiment. The mere act of imagining changes experience in that there is now a visual image where before there was not, and hence involves an intervention upon experience.

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An experiment needs to include an effort to manipulate some properties, while keeping others fixed. The independent variable was the distance at which he viewed disc. He held fixed other factors such as binocular vision by closing one eye, and the direction of focus by fixating on the small disc. The example of imagining a house by contrast does not involve the manipulation of any independent variables. Such first-person experiments can be distinguished from experiments in which the subject plays a more passive role. For example subjects may rate the vividness of their mental images in high working memory load and low working memory load conditions.

The experimenter will then typically test the hypothesis about how the vividness of mental imagery interacts with working memory load by statistical methods. These are the types of experiments that I will focus on here. Further Examples of First-Person Experiments 4. These experiments provide a systematic investigation of how context changes experience. Using the depicted images in Figure 2, one can test the hypothesis that changes in spatial organisation can lead to emergent phenomenal character.

The images in A and B show two groups of black pie-shapes. The only difference between the A group and B group is the spatial orientation of the shapes the independent variable. There is an additional type of phenomenal character in experiencing B which is not present in experiencing A, that of seeing a triangle the dependent variable. I see lines connecting the shapes where there are none.

Subjective Contours. A phenomenal contrast between A and B demonstrates that changes in spatial organisation can lead to emergent shape phenomenology, in particular a triangle in B but not in A. Subjective contours also occur with a black background in C and D, and non-straight contours in D.

This experiment supports the hypothesis that changes in spatial organisation can lead to emergent or gestalt phenomenology. Further questions arise such as whether such phenomenal shapes occur with different coloured backgrounds and pie- shapes. This can be explored by manipulating these variables.

Thus for instance, it is found that subjective contours also occur when the background is black as in C, and that the apparent lines do not need to be straight as in D.