Re: Introspection: The Science of Experience

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Thu Nov 02 1995 - 21:33:35 GMT

> From: "Judy Chatwin" <>
> Date: Mon, 30 Oct 1995 12:09:04 GMT
> sh> We'll trust the unverifiable accuracy of your introspective
> sh> observations, and we'll trust in the similarities we share as a species
> sh> so that when I confirm your report about YOUR experience with my
> sh> observation on MY experience, we're still talking about roughly the same
> sh> thing.
> Surely we are now doing what we have just said we can't do, i.e.
> generalise?

That's right. In fact your commentary shows that you got every single
one of the points made in the summary. Your objection here was exactly
the one you were meant to make. But the point here was that EVEN IF we
discount these objesctions, we still get in trouble.

> 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!

Even simpler than that: You memorised the one-digit addition tables long
ago, and the answers come to you automatically: Automatically, that
already shows you not only don't know how you access those numbers, but
in a very profound sense, it's not even you who do the work: You are
just the magic recipient of the results.

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

The point was: You don't know how you add 6 + 9 or how you ride a bike;
yet these are surely the most elementary things you do. If introspection
does not tell you the answer here, what CAN it tell you (this is the
trouble you get into even if you set aside the earlier objections,

> sh> So could it be that even though experiences are what make psychology
> sh> 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!

That's how the Socratic method goes, except Socrates wanted to persuade
you that you know what you know by "remembering," whereas psychology
will tell you that's just question-begging: HOW do you remember?

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