Monday, March 29, 2010

Introspection, What?

Never have I worked so long and hard on a paper and been as little satisfied with the result. I have various theories why.

Brief abstract:

I argue for two theses: First, introspection is a species of attention to conscious experience, one that aims to exhibit what I call relatively direct sensitivity to the experience. Second, introspection is not the operation of a single, dedicated mechanism or family of dedicated mechanisms (such as self-scanning or self-monitoring devices); rather, in introspecting we opportunistically deploy a variety of cognitive systems and processes.
Here it is, in draft. Maybe you can help.


Steve said...

Hi Eric,

I read your paper with interest - I appreciated the analytical split into direct and non-introspective modes of self-knowledge... it's made things much clearer in my own mind. So even if you're unhappy with the current form it's had a positive effect here!

The qualification of sensitivity is interesting (p.13) - suggesting that introspective sensitivity implies "correct" contingency. If this is a prerequisite for a directly sensitive introspective judgment, you might suspect these judgments have a subsequent causal role to play. To take your example, if introspective judgments played no causal role then introspectively judging you are imagining an Egyptian sphinx when you're in pain might not be a problem: the experience of pain is still present and will drive behaviour such as removing the hand from the stove. Alternatively the presence of the sphinx-judgment will impair your subsequent decision-making. What do you think?
Janet Metcalfe has started to look at this question in terms of confidence-in-memory judgments - check out
where she argues that confidence in learning can help allocate study time.

It's interesting to start thinking about how your account relates to judgments of confidence-in-X as used in literature on metacognition. I note that you hint at it on p.23, where to "feel uncertain" is taken to play a role in canceling incorrect introspection. It seems to me that this kind of judgment might be fundamentally different to the property of the outside world (p.17), in that you can be experiencing green but have a low or high confidence that the property of the outside world is green. Although perhaps this type of dissociation is more likely for stimuli in the immediate past than those that are currently present, as the latter judgments will be "checked" against incoming sensory information.

On a different note (but again from the perspective of this literature), the Entanglement proposal reminded me of a paper by Kruger & Dunning
entitled "unskilled but unaware of it"... their data suggests that the same domain-specific process (e.g. vision) you use for the sensory experience itself also constrains the self-knowledge. So in a sense it might provide indirect evidence for an overlap of an introspective process with the processes that generate the target state.

Thanks again for a thought-provoking read!


Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for those thoughts, Steve. Yes, the literature on metacognition is relevant. In multiple places in my work on introspective self-knowledge I turn to lack of confidence as a sign of the possibility of error --so I'm assuming a not-too-far out view of our metacognitive capacities (while I would definitely acknowledge some patterns of overconfidence). I hadn't thought about the connection between Entanglement and the relationship between having skill in a domain and having an accurate impression of one's skill in a domain, but now that you bring it up, that seems like an apt comparison: The skill in the domain is employed both for the first-order and for the metacognitive tasks.

Anne Jacobson said...

Eric, do you know about Carruthers' BBS target article that claim we do not have introspective access to our cognitive states, such as beliefs. Might be grist for your mill. (Apologies if you referenced it.)

You can find it here:

I was unhappy about being in a session in conflict with yours at the Pacific APA! I did find one reply left in a bathroom. And, yes, I did wonder whether I should take it. (If the person who left it sees this, do contact me if you want it back! But do describe where it was.)

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Anne! Yes I do know Carruthers' BBS piece, which is very interesting. I'm inclined to think things are a bit more complicated than he suggests, however. I agree with him about some attitudes; I'm inclined to disagree with him about others, but think that it comes down to some tricky ontological issues about the relationship between consciousness and functional role.

Anne Jacobson said...

I'm trying to remember why I thought you might not have read it. Did your paper recognize a possible position like his?

Could you recommend a piece of yours on consciousness and functional role? I've avoided the consciousness literature, but now I'm stuck with writing on the phenomenology of (some) sensory states. Actually, I'm happily stuck with it.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Hi Anne -- I mention Carruthers' work on this in the paper, but very much just in passing. I'm trying to remain neutral between a lot of complicated options. I'm thinking in the next go-round I might simplify a bit.

My view on the functional role of consciousness is skepticism: I don't think we know, or could straightforwardly come to know, what the functional role of consciousness is. I develop the point in the last part of Chapter 6 of my forthcoming book, available on my website: