Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Unreliability of Naive Introspection

... Chapter 7 of my book in draft (provisionally titled Perplexities of Consciousness) is now up on my website. The chapter is independently readable -- a slightly revised version of my 2008 article of the same title -- and it's the argumentative core of the book. Comments and feedback more than welcome.

With this posting, a working draft of the entire book (except preface and references) is now available. Over the next couple of months (hopefully not too much longer) I will be tweaking and revising in light of further reflections, further reading, and the comments and criticisms that many people have kindly given.

Here's an abstract of the chapter:

We are prone to gross error, even in favorable circumstances of extended reflection, about our own ongoing conscious experience, our current phenomenology. Even in this apparently privileged domain, our self-knowledge is faulty and untrustworthy. We are not simply fallible at the margins but broadly inept. Examples highlighted in this chapter include: emotional experience (for example, is it entirely bodily; does joy have a common, distinctive phenomenological core?), peripheral vision (how broad and stable is the region of visual clarity?), and the phenomenology of thought (does it have a distinctive phenomenology, beyond just imagery and feelings?). Cartesian skeptical scenarios undermine knowledge of ongoing conscious experience as well as knowledge of the outside world. Infallible judgments about ongoing mental states are simply banal cases of self-fulfillment. Philosophical foundationalism supposing that we infer an external world from secure knowledge of our own consciousness is almost exactly backward.


dejan said...

An even simpler way to demonstrate the narrowness of acute vision than in Dennetts' demonstration, is to ask the reader to simply fixate a letter in the text and check how many other letters are recognizable. Usually, one can make out only a few letters in the same row, to the left and right of the fixated letter, and in the rows immediately above and below.

As for your hunch that you can identify non-fixated colors better than Dennett's test would suggest, you may be right, because identification may be better for larger color patches, and the patches on playing cards are comparatively small.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Dejan. One reason the reading example isn't as effective, I think, as the playing card example is that people don't find it as surprising. In the *specific context* of reading, people recognize that they have to move their eyes to attain clarity, but this realization doesn't seem to generalize very well to their view of vision as a whole.

Your point about the size of the color patches is a nice one. When I think about what, intuitively, seems to me to be fairly distinct color in the periphery, it is fairly large patches. Perhaps the breadth allows for a fairly distinct experience of color even though color receptivity for any small piece of the stimulus is weak.