Monday, December 11, 2006

When Do You Know You're Speaking to Yourself?

Here's an issue Al Mele and I discussed last week during his visit to UCR: Let's say you're talking silently to yourself and you are aware of the fact that you are doing so. Are the inner speech and the awareness of it strictly simultaneous? Or might there be a delay, on the order of some tens of milliseconds, between the phenomenology of inner speech -- the subjective experience of speaking -- and the knowledge or judgment that you are innerly speaking?

Why do I care about this? Well, the question is diagnostic of more general views about consciousness and self-knowledge. For example, if you think -- as I am inclined to think -- that our phenomenology, or subjective experience, is one thing and our judgments about that phenomenology or experience are quite another -- then you might assume that there must be some sort of causal process, and hence delay, between inner speech and the knowledge of it. On the other hand, if you think that phenomenology or subjective experience essentially involves self-awareness, then you'll probably reject the possibility of any delay between the felt experience and the judgment or knowledge that one is feeling the experience. (I think the latter assumption was implicit in Mele's talk, which is how we got started talking about it.)

More complicated views are possible, too. For example, one might draw a distinction between "dispositional" knowledge (a mere readiness to reach the right judgment about your inner speech, say) and "occurrent" judgment (an actually occuring thought about your inner speech), and say the first is simultaneous with the inner speech, the second slightly delayed. Or one might think that the felt experience of innerly speaking is part of the judgment that one is innerly speaking (a la Shoemaker); and then the exact causal and temporal relationships might be hard to tease out. Or like Dennett, you might resist the idea that there are temporal facts this precise about consciousness.

Another complication is that if the inner speech is intentionally excuted, you have a kind of ongoing knowledge of it as it is occuring as a result of the fact that you know you are (or are about to) put your intention into action. Correspondingly, if I plan to type a word, I know that I am doing it as I am doing it not entirely by virtue of seeing it spelled out on the page. But given my propensity for typos, it's probably true to say that I don't really know that I've typed a word until I actually see it correctly on the page; so the knowledge is delayed, after all. Likewise, perhaps, if we don't always execute the inner speech we plan to -- and that itself is an interesting question: can we, and if so how often do we, err in executing our inner speech intentions? -- the knowledge might not come until after we have, as it were, innerly heard our inner speech. On the other hand, there's something weird -- too many moving parts? -- in the idea that we have to innerly hear (or the like) our inner speech to know that we've said something to ourselves....


Anibal said...

The big hurdle in epistemology or more precisely self-centered epistemology, or how we have notice of our own inside world in whatever format is accesed (visual, motoric, linguistic...), is the methodology to achieve a reasonable and good first person authority รก la Descartes without being trapped by the skepticism, illusions, solipsism, idealism detached from reality...

But how to achieve the incorregibility of the mental (Rorty 1970)if current psychological science informed by neuroscience and anatomical models says that those brain areas responsible for cognition have multiple connections with other areas that modulated them reciprocally and sometimes unconsciously or dysfunctionally (e.g. in disorders such as anosognosia individuals deny illnes when in fact they are ill). That is, our judgements that something is going on within us can be blur by many belated processes impossible to allow us to be ascertain about anything at all from the inside out. With respect to language i remember to post here about the heading "inner speech", asking what is the philosophical difference between inner speech, auditory verbal hallucinations, and outward form spoken language without falling prey of Wittgenstenian arguments involving the "private language argument".
I think this issue is of tremendous importance.
To be sure, perhaps we are merely phenomenal selves constantly hallucinating on-line-when we are awake- (Metzinger 2003, p. 51).

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for your comment, Anibal! I agree it's a big issue -- especially for, as you aptly put it, "self-centered" epistemologies. The more your epistemology involves building out from self-knowledge, the more epistemologically problematic is our startling lack (in my view) of self-knowledge!