Re: Introspection: The Science of Experience

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Tue Oct 31 1995 - 21:32:38 GMT

> From: "Alexandra Bilak" <>
> Date: Mon, 30 Oct 1995 11:53:54 GMT
> sh> First let's go back and look at how other sciences inspect their subject
> sh> matter: They do experiments and observe and record the results. Fine,
> sh> can we do that with experience? Well, we can, for example, imagine
> sh> being at a very great height, and we can note that this makes us feel
> > nervous. That's an experimental observation, isn't it?
> I think that it is interesting to note another difference between
> introspection and other sciences. Nowadays when a scientific experiment
> is conducted, the circumstances in which it takes place are known and
> controlled (e.g. temperature,atmospheric pressure,etc...). On the
> contrary, when we "inspect our experiences", we neither know nor control
> the "circumstances" in which it occurs. The inspection can indeed be
> influenced by our present state of mind (which we rarely choose, do we
> ?) , by our unconscious (which is a complex and obscure element), etc...
> When thinking about heights, we may in fact note that we feel nervous
> simply because something else makes us nervous.

All good points, suggesting that introspection may not be a suitable
method. But surely the biggest problem with it is that it is private,
and not publicly repeatable. After all, that's why we want experiments
to be controlled: So you can repeat the essentials exactly, and leave
out the irrelevant part (or show it has no effect). You can't do that
with introspection, as you say.

> Another difference between "usual" sciences and introspection which
> wasn't pointed out is that scientists inspect external subject
> matters, whereas when we inspect OUR experiences we are both the
> observer and the "observed", both judge and party. Our subjectivity can
> therefore interfere with our observation; our observation can be
> influenced by our self love...

True too, but if it were publicly repeatable and confirmable, as in
other areas, then perhaps there would be clever ways of filtering these
factors out, or of inferring their contribution. But of course the fact
that we are both the observer and the observed in introspection is at
the heart (or mind!) of it: That's what makes it unique, private, and
hence untestable by anyone else.

> By the way, Stevan, I don't quite understand your definition of
> introspection... "science of experience"???

It WOULD HAVE BEEN the science of experience if it had not had this
little methdological problem, that no one could ever check and confirm
your observations...

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