Re: Introspection and Explanation

From: Harnad, Stevan (
Date: Wed Feb 12 1997 - 14:31:19 GMT

> From: Dunsdon, Graham <>
> > What we need to do now is EXPLAIN (not define) how
> > the mind works: How does the brain manage to do all the things we do
> > with our minds? We won't get very far in trying to explain how the
> > brain manages to FEEL, but we can make some headway in trying to
> > explain what it can DO.'
> In attempting to explain how the mind works by trying to explain what
> it can do, you suggest (I think) that we should consider our awareness
> - because 'our awareness is what it is to be a mind'. What is the
> distinction between awareness and introspection?

If I am aware of a red chair in front of me, what I am aware of is the
red chair! What is it to be aware of a red chair? Well, we all know
exactly what it FEELS like to be aware of a red chair, because we have
minds. In fact, as I said, to have a mind is to be able to feel
something -- anything at all; as opposed to what it feels like to feel
nothing at all: That's what it is to be, say, a rock, or a computer. It
feels like nothing to be a rock, hence a rock does not have a mind.

Feelings can be anything from what an axolotl (a worm like creature that
is somewhere between being an invertebrate and vertebrate) feels when
when you pinch it to the "Eureka" feeling of scientist when he
discovers something new about the world -- or rather when he THINKS he
has discovered something new, because feedings can be misleading. You may
just have hallucinated the red chair; it may not be there at all.

So if seeing a red chair is an experience, a feeling, we could call that
"EXTRAspection" because we are aware of something OUTside our bodies
and our minds. "INTROspection" is what we do when we are aware of
what is going on INside our minds, for example, when we imagine a pink

All feelings are actually taking place in our minds, of course,
rather than out in the world. The hallucinated red chair is an
example: What it feels like to see a red chair is the same when there
really is a red chair you are looking at and when you just hallucinate
the chair. It FEELS the same, and feelings are in the head. We
understand this, and we understand the difference between seeing a real
red chair and hallucinating one. The difference between the two cases
is something we arrive at by introspection, by reflecting on what's
going on in our mind.

Unfortunately, introspection -- reflecting on what's going on in our
mind -- does not explain how our minds work. You need to take a cogsci
course for that; sitting in an armchair reflecting on your experiences
won't tell you!

That's why introspection is not the way to explain the mind.

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