Re: Introspection: The Science of Experience

From: Judy Chatwin (
Date: Mon Oct 30 1995 - 12:09:04 GMT

> Well, since each of us has experiences, why can't we just inspect our
> own? "Introspection" is just inward inspection.

Maybe this could be done but it would only be one person's inspection
of one person's experiences and would give absolutely no indication
of what others were feeling or experiencing. There would be no way
that the results of such an inspection could be confirmed or denied.
> First let's go back and look at how other sciences inspect their subject
> matter: They do experiments and observe and record the results. Fine,
> can we do that with experience? Well, we can, for example, imagine
> being at a very great height, and we can note that this makes us feel
> nervous. That's an experimental observation, isn't it?

Yes, it is an observation but a single one that would rely on
complete faith and belief in the observer as there is no known way of
confirming what they say. They may communicate their feelings to you
through language but you cannot get inside their head to see for

> Supposing I doubt your experimental report. You might reply: Try the
> experiment yourself, and you'll see. That's certainly how it goes in
> other sciences. If I did an experiment and reported the result, but no
> one else could confirm it, it wouldn't be a scientific finding.

You could not do the same experiment youself as you are a different
person comprised of different experiences so you could not replicate
the situation in exactly the same way.

> Could Newton say it's not always true that apples fall? At the very least, we
> would need an explanation of the exceptions, and some way of predicting
> when the relationship (apple/falling, heights/nervousness) holds and
> when it doesn't.

Apples always fall because the pull of gravity remains constant.
Heights will not always create nervousness because people are all
different, no two are the same, therefore the relationship cannot be
generalised in the same way.

> We'll trust the unverifiable accuracy of your introspective
> observations, and we'll trust in the similarities we share as a species
> so that when I confirm your report about YOUR experience with my
> observation on MY experience, we're still talking about roughly the same
> thing.

Surely we are now doing what we have just said we can't do, i.e.

> So let's pick another example: You're not making an arbitrary choice
> between identical pencils on your right and left, you're doing some
> arithmetic. Let's do it right now: I give you two numbers (9, 6)
> and I ask you to add them, and you say "15." Where did that come from?
> How did you do that? Don't reply "I remembered; I had memorised it
> once, and I recalled it now," because I will ask you the same question:
> How did you remember? Can introspection answer that question?

This is a tricky one, I know that if I add 6 and 9 together I will
get 15 because I have been told that these 2 numbers when added
together make the sum of 15. I can repeat the same test over and
over again and the result will always be the same and if I ask anyone
else to add the numbers together they also will get the same answer.
This works on the assumption that all the people involved in the test
have been told or taught the same numbering sequence as I have. I
suppose you could question who told you in the first place and why
did you believe them? I would have to answer that majority rules in
theis case and no doubt someone will have a reply to that!

> Well, first of all, it's more like showing them how rather than teaching
> them how. And even then, once you take it apart, introspection breaks
> down completely when it comes to "how" questions: "Shift your weight
> to the other side every time you push the pedal down." Fair enough,
> but how do you understand what that means, and even if you somehow do,
> how do you turn it into action? Does introspection give you any clue?

I would have to say no here but I also feel that I am foundering a
little in understanding the "how" questions.

> 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.

Isn't this the easy way out?

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

I would have to agree that there is no way to study experiences
directly and that we are back to where we started, which, no doubt
was the intention all along!

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