How well do you know your own feelings? Is our ability to know this about ourselves less reliable than what we know about the outside world around us? Is there anything we can do to make ourselves less "naive" and improve the reliability of introspection about conscious experiences?
Links and Resources
- Eric Schwitzgebel
- The Paper
- The Splintered Mind
- Alison Gopnik
- Edward Titchener
- Introspective Training Apprehensively Defended: Reflections on Titchener's Lab Manual
Descartes, I think, had it quite backwards when he said the mind—including especially current conscious experience—was better known than the outside world. The teetering stacks of paper around me, I’m quite sure of. My visual experience as I look at those papers, my emotional experience as I contemplate the mess, my cognitive phenomenology as I drift in thought, staring at them—of these, I’m much less certain. My experiences flee and scatter as I reflect. I feel unpracticed, poorly equipped with the tools, categories, and skills that might help me dissect them.
They are gelatinous, disjointed, swift, shy, changeable. They are at once familiar and alien.
I know better what’s in the burrito I’m eating than I know my gustatory experience as I eat it. I know it has cheese. In describing my experience, I resort to saying, vaguely, that the burrito tastes “cheesy,” without any very clear idea what this involves. Maybe, in fact, I’m just— or partly—inferring: The thing has cheese, so I must be having a taste experience of “cheesiness.” Maybe also, if I know that the object I’m seeing is evenly red, I’ll infer a visual experience of uniform “redness” as I look at it. Or if I know that weeding is unpleasant work, I’ll infer a negative emotion as I do it. Indeed, it can make great sense as a general strategy to start with judgments about plain, easily knowable facts of the outside world, then infer to what is more foreign and elusive, our consciousness as we experience that world. I doubt we can fully disentangle such inferences from more “genuinely introspective”