Re: Introspection: The Science of Experience

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Sat Oct 28 1995 - 13:54:08 GMT

> From: "Nicholas Bollons" <>
> Date: Fri, 27 Oct 1995 11:08:15 GMT
> i found the time both informative and interesting
> (though sometimes a little bewildering as to the ideology of certain
> aspects ie the questioning of nearly all mental process)

We're itemising the blind alleys before we pick our path toward
psychological thinking...

> Basic difference between Nomothetic and Ideographic schools of
> philosophical and scientific thought.

What do you mean? Define the two and what you think they correspond to
in the discussion so far.

> Do you really need to check my introspection ? is'nt the whole idea
> of " looking inward " to find out about the self not other people ?
> Then it stops becoming introspection .

Sure, but how do you know you're RIGHT about what you find out about
the "self." We know from Descartes that you can't be wrong about the
fact that experiences are going on -- but when it comes to any of the
details of what the experience seems to be ABOUT, how is introspection
supposed to tell you whether the way things SEEM (because experiences,
after all, are only the way things seem) are the way they really ARE? I
look at a screen, and I think I see green; my experience is that I am
seeing a green screen. But actually, the screen is white, and I am
experiencing an afterimage of what was on the screen just before, when
it was all red, which causes a green afterimage. Could introspection
have told me that? No, someone else (or a machine) had to detect that
the screen was really white, not green. Introspection alone would have
left me believing something that was in fact not true.

Well then how can it be any more accurate about the "self"? If you want
to know how things really are, as opposed to how they seem, you will
have to turn elsewhere, someplace where the findings can be checked by
anyone, not just by you. Your experiences are not that sort of publicly
checkable thing.

> sh> and I asked you to introspect about how you chose
> sh> whether to pick the left pencil or the right one, and you replied that
> sh> it was because you felt like it (and you could have done the opposite
> sh> if you wanted to), you had to confess that if you introspected close
> sh> enough, you could not really pinpoint the cause of your choice: In the
> sh> end it was just a spontaneous choice. That's not very helpful.
> Maybe it was personal preferece ; i liked the colour of that pencile,
> so i chose it . Introspection could easily be verified as it is easy to
> ask someone what there favourite colour is.

And why did you like that colour better? Did you choose to prefer it?
As we discussed in seminar, no matter how satisfying a picture the
free-will, I'm-in-charge story paints for you, as soon as you look at
it closely, it falls apart and reduces to impulses about whose true
cause you haven't the faintest idea, no matter how sure you are, when
the picture is again blurred and put back together, that "you" are the

> Isn't the basis for Introspection the analysis of individual
> memory and our emotional relationship to them ?

I'm not sure why you say that, but how could the accuracy of a memory be
checked by introspection?

> Confirmation of an individual experience is pretty difficult to
> do . Though to a certain degree we all share certain innate
> characteristics and it is to these that the Psychologist can base his
> analysis.

Well, if there had been a video tape of OJ killing his wife, that would
confirm that his report that he didn't kill her was false; but what can
experience itself confirm, be it ever so innate and shared by all
members of our species?

> Mankind's drive to explain all things sometimes makes him create a
> theory or reasoning just to solve the problem.

Sounds like a good reason to create a theory. The rest is just about
which problems you consider worth solving. Sometimes you choose them,
sometimes they choose you...

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 13 2001 - 16:24:13 GMT