Re: Introspection: The Science of Experience

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Fri Oct 27 1995 - 22:02:25 GMT

ll> From: "LIZ LEE" < >
ll> Date: Fri, 27 Oct 1995 10:26:08 GMT

ll> I can see that introspection is necessarily
ll> subjective, and that it is hard to demonstrate someone else's
ll> subjective experience, but if it can be done for some things (pain,
ll> for instance) why not for others? Surely by asking a combination of
ll> the right questions it would be possible to gain an insight into
ll> people's thoughts?

Why do you think one can demonstrate someone else's experience of pain?
Sure you can ask someone whether they're in pain, and chances are that
if they say they are, they are, but where's the demonstration, or even
the observation? And what about the hard cases? In a coma they can't
tell you, but do they feel pain? In hypnosis they tell you they don't
-- but do they, really? How would you check? Besides, if someone tells
you they're in pain, THEY're the one doing the introspection, not you.
What you're inspecting is their behaviour. Seeking insight into
people's thoughts by asking them questions is interrogation, not
introspection. People can only introspect their own thoughts.

If introspection really allowed us to study experience, the way
geologists study rocks and botanists study plants, then you ought to be
able to replicate my observations about my experience. But you can only
make observations about your own experience, not mine.

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

There's no problem with people reporting different experiences and many
people reporting similar ones. But those are regularities in their
REPORTS. How do you test whether there are regularities in their

The idea of the same "experience [being] perceived differently" doesn't
seem to make sense, because the perception IS the experience (would you
say the same experience could be experienced differently?).

  sh> So could it be that even though experiences are what make psychology
  sh> special, there is no way to study experiences directly?

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


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