Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to Study Our Inner Selves

Eric Schwitzgebel has co-authored a thought-provoking paper on inner thoughts (that is, consciousness) which is examined in this NYTimes article. The methodology of introspective interviews is innovative, and the analysis is surprising. One thing that it doesn't do is settle the question of whether we have accurate, memorable access to the passing stream of our own consciousness. And whether there is a unified, transpersonal experience of consciousness.

After hundreds of introspective interviews, Dr. Hurlburt still hesitates to generalize from his findings. But he has observed that the basic makeup of inner life varies substantially from person to person.

“My research says that there are a lot of people who don’t ever naturally form images, and then there are other people who form very florid, high-fidelity, Technicolor, moving images,” he said. Some people have inner lives dominated by speech, body sensations or emotions, he said, and yet others by “unsymbolized thinking” that can take the form of wordless questions like, “Should I have the ham sandwich or the roast beef?”

Under pressure to take the experiments farther and to make them more objective,
Dr. Hurlburt replied: “Maybe it’s a defensive maneuver on my part, but my rationale is that I don’t want to infect myself with some theory about how the world is. I would like to see the way the world is without having a theory about it.”


Anonymous said...

Hi, Henry Vaugh here,
Well, apparently Dr. Hurlbut
already subscribes to what sounds to me like a theory about the world, despite his denial: it is that the world is the kind of place that one can know sans theory, and that somehow having a theory "infects" one's point of view of the world or some such. Dr. Hurlbut is already "infected" by this theory.

Khadimir said...

Good points, Mr. Vaugh.

Myself, I tend to be an intuitive-emotive thinker; I feel rather than see. Hence, I take very seriously William James contention that one can feel (experience) relations (and thereby order and structure).