Re: Introspection: The Science of Experience

From: LIZ LEE (
Date: Fri Oct 27 1995 - 10:26:08 GMT

Dear Stevan,

            Introspection: The Science of Experience

I've read through your summary over and over, I think I must be
missing the point somewhere, either that or I just don't understand
the subject matter. I can see that introspection is necessarily
subjective, and that it is hard to demonstrate someone else's
subjective experience, but if it can be done for some things (pain,
for instance) why not for others? Surely by asking a combination of
the right questions it would be possible to gain an insight into
people's thoughts?

> So how do I confirm your psychological observation that when you think
> of heights, it makes you feel nervous? Well, perhaps I could think of
> heights too, and see whether it makes ME nervous. There are a few
> problems with this, though. Supposing it DIDN'T make me nervous to
> think of heights? You might say, ok, it's not always true that thinking
> of heights makes you nervous. But that begins to sound like hedging.

Just because thinking of heights makes me nervous why should I
assume that it is going to affect everyone else in the same way? It's
certainly true that it makes many people nervous, and that there are
vast differences amoungst us, so there should be no surprise if a
subjected experience is perceived differently.

> Ah, you say, it may not give me any clues in these simple cases, but
> once it comes to something complex -- and I mean something REALLY
> complex, psychologically complex -- then introspection, if it cannot
> reveal, can at least CONFIRM what someone else -- a professional
> psychologist, for example -- has revealed. Take the famous Freudian
> slips: I say something other than what I intended to say -- "I'll need
> her at four-thirty" instead of "I'll meet her at four-thirty." Why did
> I say that? "Because you are unconsciously falling in love with her,"
> says your therapist. "You're right, come to think of it," I reply.
> If you had asked me where the "need" came from I couldn't have told you,
> but now that you point it out to me, I can confirm, introspectively,
> that I am indeed beginning to feel pretty attracted to her."

I think Freud has a lot to answer for!

> So maybe this is how it goes: Things happen unconsciously, so
> introspection does not reveal them directly, but the psychologist,
> trained in the ways of the unconscious, can detect them, and then he
> tells you, brings it to your consciousness, and then you can confirm
> it. The trouble with this is the Hamlet/Polonius example I described (I
> think) during our tutorial (unless it was in another tutorial: who
> keeps these memories sorted for me?): Hamlet points to a cloud and asks
> Polonius "Doesn't that cloud look to you like a camel?" And Polonius
> replies: "You're right, there, I see the first hump, and the second..."
> "But wait, Polonius, says, doesn't it look more like a weasel?" "You're
> right, it's drawn up in the weasel crouch, and there are the eyes..."
> "Or like a whale?" "Yup, there's the tailfin, the blowhole..."

Is this a little like Donaldson's idea of understanding or
interpreting the intention of the questioner? I answer what I think
you meant to ask me?
>So could it be that even though experiences are what make psychology
special, there is no way to study experiences directly?

I do hope you're going to give me a little more idea of how I'm
supposed to answer/question this!


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