Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Introspecting an Attitude by Introspecting Its Conscious Face

In some of my published work, I have argued that:

(1.) Attitudes, such as belief and desire, are best understood as clusters of dispositions. For example, to believe that there is beer in the fridge is nothing more or less than to be disposed (all else being equal or normal) to go to the fridge if one wants a beer, to feel surprised if one were to open the fridge and find no beer, to conclude that the fridge isn't empty if that question becomes relevant, etc, etc. (See my essays here and here.)


(2.) Only conscious experiences are introspectible. I characterize introspection as "the dedication of central cognitive resources, or attention, to the task of arriving at a judgment about one's current, or very recently past, conscious experience, using or attempting to use some capacities that are unique to the first-person case... with the aim or intention that one's judgment reflect some relatively direct sensitivity to the target state" (2012, p. 42-43).

Now it also seems correct that (3.) dispositions, or clusters of dispositions, are not the same as conscious experiences. One can be disposed to have a certain conscious experience (e.g., disposed to experience a feeling of surprise if one were to see no beer), but dispositions and their manifestations are not metaphysically identical. Oscar can be disposed to experience surprise if he were to see an empty fridge, even if he never actually sees an empty fridge and so never actually experiences surprise.

From these three claims it follows that we cannot introspect attitudes such as belief and desire.

But it seems we can introspect them! Right now, I'm craving a sip of coffee. It seems like I am currently experiencing that desire in a directly introspectible way. Or suppose I'm thinking aloud, in inner speech, "X would be such a horrible president!" It seems like I can introspectively detect that belief, in all its passionate intensity, as it is occurs in my mind right now.

I don't want to deny this, exactly. Instead, let me define relatively strict versus permissive conceptions of the targets of introspection.

To warm up, consider a visual analogy: seeing an orange. There the orange is, on the table. You see it. But do you really see the whole orange? Speaking strictly, it might be better to say that you see the orange rind, or the part of the orange rind that is facing you, rather than the whole orange. Arguably, you infer or assume that it's not just an empty rind, that it has a backside, that it has a juicy interior -- and usually that's a safe enough assumption. It's reasonable to just say that you see the orange. In a relatively permissive sense, you see the whole orange; in a relatively strict sense you see only the facing part of the orange rind.

Another example: From my office window I see the fire burning downtown. Of course, I only see the smoke. Even if I were to see the flames, in the strictest sense perhaps the visible light emitted from flames is only a contingent manifestation of the combustion process that truly constitutes a fire. (Consider invisible methanol fires.) More permissively, I see the fire when I see the smoke. More strictly, I need to see the flames or maybe even (impossibly?) the combustion process itself.

Now consider psychological cases: In a relatively permissive sense, you see Sandra's anger. In a stricter sense, you see her scowling face. In a relatively permissive sense, you hear the shyness and social awkwardness in Shivani's voice. In a stricter sense you hear only her words and prosody.

To be clear: I do not mean to imply that a stricter understanding of the targets of perception is more accurate or better than a more permissive understanding. (Indeed, excessive strictness can collapse into absurdity: "No, officer, I didn't see the stop sign. Really, all I saw were patterns of light streaming through my vitreous humour!")

As anger can manifest in a scowl and as fire can manifest in smoke and visible flames, so also can attitudes manifest in conscious experience. The desire for coffee can manifest in a conscious experience that I would describe as an urge to take a sip; my attitude about X's candidacy can manifest in a momentary experience of inner speech. In such cases, we can say that the attitudes present a conscious face. If the conscious experience is distinctive enough to serve as an excellent sign of the real presence of the relevant dispositional structure constituting that attitude, then we can say that the attitude is (occurrently) conscious.

It is important to my view that the conscious face of an attitude is not tantamount to the attitude itself, even if they normally co-occur. If you have the conscious experience but not the underlying suite of relevant dispositions, you do not actually have the attitude. (Let's bracket the question of whether such cases are realistically psychologically possible.) Similarly, a scowl is not anger, smoke is not a fire, a rind is not an orange.

Speaking relatively permissively, then, one can introspect an attitude by introspecting its conscious face, much as I can see a whole orange by seeing the facing part of its rind and I can see a fire by seeing its smoke. I rely upon the fact that the conscious experience wouldn't be there unless the whole dispositional structure were there. If that reliance is justified and the attitude is really there, distinctively manifesting in that conscious experience, then I have successfully introspected it. The exact metaphysical relationship between the strictly conceived target and the permissively conceived target is different among the various cases -- part-whole for the orange, cause-effect for the fire, and disposition-manifestation for the attitude -- but the general strategy is the same.

[image source]


Devin Curry said...

Thanks for these last two posts, Eric.

I think this is exactly the right way to think about the (supposed) introspection of attitudes, on either a dispositionalist or 'deeper' account.

I'm curious what you think of a related idea I've been playing with. On your sort of dispositionalism, might the content of an attitude be derived from its propositional face? My belief that p partly comprises dispositions to affirm the proposition that p (in outer and inner speech). Perhaps when we ascribe propositional content to my belief, we're really (obliquely) referring to the meaning of propositionally-structured manifestations of the belief.

Now, on the assumption that some believers are not disposed to affirm propositions, this idea would have the consequence that beliefs(/stereotypes for belief) cannot be individuated in terms of their propositional content. So maybe it would just push the problem of content (of what makes my belief that p a belief that p) back a step. Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

George Gantz said...

Eric - Is not the whole point of introspection to bring to one's conscious mind the dispositions that underlie our conscious face? If we discover through introspection of our conscious thoughts about another person that we have negative feelings (a negative disposition) towards the other person, then have we not brought that disposition into conscious attention? If we then introspect on that feeling and discover that we have a generalized negative feeling about people "like that", have we not brought into conscious attention an implicit bias?

This all sounds like a really good thing for us to be doing!

G. Randolph Mayes said...

Eric, I just finished teaching your "The unreliablity of naive introspection," so this is timely for me.

(1) I'm increasingly inclined to think that introspection as you define it may be some kind of spandrel, and that in practical terms it has very little value (at least as you define it there and here.) I think there is probably a lot of value in being reflective, and in often reflecting on, e.g., how we feel or what we believe or why we do what we do, etc., but I don’t think that when (to take one of your examples) my wife asks me if I'm angry, that I arrive at the answer through introspection so defined, or would arrive at a more reliable answer if I were to do so.

I think you would agree with this? At least as I understand it, there are differences for you between (a) experiencing something, (b) noticing that you are experiencing something and (c) introspecting that experience. This holds up for experiencing an emotion just as well as for visual experience of, say, an orange. It just does not seem to me that we ever need to do (c) in the course of being a decent, functional, inquiring, self-critical or thoughtful human being.

I mention this partly because I think it is interesting to compare to your defense of belief as a behavioral disposition based on its relative importance. Some people might claim introspection is clearly very important, and that you are defining it too narrowly (might, in other words, be making the same sort of mistake that you attribute to belief intellectualists.) In your Introspection article for SEP, e.g., I believe you include the Mental Monitoring theory as a theory of introspection. Obviously this is a completely different subcognitive sense of the term, but arguably it is a much more important sense, especially if we really do have the ability to detect beliefs in this way.

(2) Regarding this post specifically, as an externalist I am going to say (very roughly) that you see the orange if your visual representation of an orange is being caused by an orange. We can direct our attention to the visual representation, but to say that we see the representation is just a confusion and one that may be partly to blame for the appeal of internalism.

So wouldn’t a parallel distinction hold up for introspection? Why not say, e.g., that I am introspecting a disposition (not just the face of it) if my (introspective) representation of the disposition is the result of the disposition itself? Sure we can direct our attention to the representation, but it a confusion to say that we are introspecting the representation.

Now, I’m pretty sure you will totally disagree with that, since I think you are pretty much defining introspection in the way that I suggest is a confusion. And really it’s not a confusion, because the meaning of the term is still up for grabs. But if we are going to reserve the word ‘introspection’ for attention to appearance, what is the name of the other (arguably more important) process that is in charge of detecting the underlying reality, in this case the disposition itself?

G. Randolph Mayes said...

And one final thought.

(3) My students find “The unreliability…introspection,” very compelling and so do I. But I kept bringing the class back to simple assertions like: “I don’t know whether the vertical line is longer than the horizontal one, but I know it seems longer.” “I don’t know whether that is Betty’s voice on the phone, but I know it seemed like her voice.” It seems to me that statements like these are not your target, and that’s a good thing, because they seem to be examples in which we are typically much better judges of appearances than reality. I’m guessing that these fall into your distinction between the epistemological and phenomenal use of “appears”. But if I were commenting on an earlier draft of that paper I might have asked for a little bit more argument here. It’s just clear to me that what we are expressing here is confidence that these are in fact our judgments. I think we are expressing judgments about the phenomena themselves. And so again this makes me wonder if there is a more important sense of introspection to focus on that is in fact far more reliable than you want to allow.

(Sorry this is so long!)

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the interesting and helpful comments, folks!

Devin: I'm inclined to think that for most beliefs it is part of the stereotype that if you are an adult you will be disposed to affirm P in inner speech, so that someone who knows your language who could as it were listen in on your inner speech phenomenology could reasonably conclude that you believe P. So this might be a case of deriving the "content" of a belief from its phenomenal face. But it's going to be an imperfect relationship, even for adult humans, and of course it breaks down entirely for babies and dogs, who presumably have beliefs (and certainly have attitudes of some sort or other). In my view, there's a productivity and systematicity of language structures that make them useful for capturing something like propositions about the world, and belief too can track something like propositions about the world -- so there's a happy fit there that makes it unsurprising that we can capture belief by ascribing propositional statements and unsurprising that belief typically manifests in assertions or affirmations that have that same sort of structure. (I say this despite some qualms about what exactly a "proposition" is.)

George: Right, one useful thing to do is to figure out what our dispositional attitudes are; and it seems like we can use something like "introspection" to do that. I'm not sure that dispositions, though, can strictly speaking be conscious -- hence the problem I'm trying to address in this post. Saying that our attention is on our dispositions is something that I could probably sign up for, though, in the right sense of "attention" and with an appropriately modest understanding of what is involved in something's being the target of attention!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...


* Yes, I'm inclined to think that introspection as I have defined it is in fact not very important to being a decent, functional person. Thus, being bad at it doesn't matter too much! And in fact, we don't do it very often: We tend just to notice outward things and express our attitudes without introspect on them. I wouldn't say that it's entirely irrelevant to being a thoughtfully self-critical person, though. Noticing our emotional experiences and our stream of thoughts, though not super frequent, seems likely, for example, to help us better understand our values and our personal relationship better, if we can get it right. (I think here, for example, of Hurlburt's example of a person who did experience sampling and noticed that, to his surprise, about 1/3 of his samples contained angry thoughts about his children.)

* On subpersonal or unconscious mental monitoring: I'm inclined to think that if it's sufficient for this that we have brain systems that track what is going on in other brain systems, then there's a whole bunch of this happening all the time just in ordinary functioning, and it probably doesn't deserve as fancy-sounding a name as "introspection"! I'm inclined to doubt that you can detect beliefs in this way. That's more of a stored-representation / mental boxology view than I'm inclined to favor. Obviously, if someone asks me a question like "How many planets do you think there are?" something in me triggers the answer "eight" -- but I'm inclined to think it's not as a simple as a monitor that scans stored representations. (Against the storage and retrieval metaphor for memory, see Bartlett, Neisser, Rodiger, and Sutton.)


Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Randy [cont]:

* I'm not sure I'm quite getting your (2). I'm more or less okay with what you're saying about perception, but I'm not seeing how you think translates to the introspection case. I'm think that conscious-experience:attitude::smoke:fire::peel:orange. I don't think we see our *representations* of smoke; likewise I don't think we introspect our representations of our conscious experiences (or our representations of our dispositions). Rather, we introspect the conscious experiences themselves (and in the process probably produce representations of those conscious experiences [if those representations are themselves conscious, then maybe they in turn can be introspected, but that's no a different target and introspective act); and if the conscious experiences are tightly enough connected to the dispositional structures, then it's also (permissively speaking) true to say that we introspect the dispositional structures too, i.e., the attitudes.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

* Randy, on your (3): Those are interesting cases. As you suggest, I'm inclined to think that there's some ambiguity in those uses of "seem" of the sort I point to in that section on epistemic vs phenomenal uses of "seem" and "appear". Is there a way to phrase what the judgments in questions are without using words that are ambiguous in that way? The one about the lines could be read as a straight up judgment about phenomenology: My visual phenomenology is such that this line is experienced by me longer than that one. You could be wrong about this in close cases, but sometimes it's plain enough that one thing looks bigger or longer than another that it's unlikely that you'd be wrong about it in the same way it's unlikely that you're wrong about feeling a sharp pain. The second judgment is a little tougher -- maybe something like, "I'd thought it was Betty's voice at the time, and based on my auditory experience or input or sensations, that was a perfectly reasonable thing to conclude".

G. Randolph Mayes said...

Eric, thanks for the thoughtful responses. Possibly I'm just confused in my (2). I suppose the most I could say for it is that if we agree to constrain the word “introspection” to the reflective process by which we represent our ongoing conscious experiences, then we might also speak of a distinctively different conscious and reflective process by which we represent our attitudes and dispositions, one that may be somewhat more analogous to perception, insofar as it more clearly involves representing some physical state inside of us in the same way that vision or hearing represents physical states outside of us. Perhaps call that “intraspection.”

So I am asked if I believe the stock market will fall if Trump is elected president. I might just respond “Yes, I do,” detecting that belief by some unreflective process, transparency or whatever. But then, perhaps wondering whether I really do believe this or merely fear or suspect this, I intraspect in an effort to directly detect aspects of my dispositional profile, experiencing as a result an urge to affirm what I have just said, som anxiety about my portfolio, a mild interest in the price of gold and yet no particularly strong urge to do anything about it. Conceivably, I might subsequently shift my reflective attention to these very experiences, introspecting, and representing to myself what it is like to be having them.

In seems to me that we might also be said to intraspect ongoing experiences, passing thoughts, etc. This would just amount to experiencing these things reflectively without introspecting the experiences themselves.

Is that coherent? If so, perhaps intraspection is actually the more reliable of the two reflective processes, and when we claim that introspection is reliable, perhaps we are just confusing it with intraspection. When I say that the vertical line certainly seems to be longer than the horizontal one, perhaps I am just reporting my reflective awareness that I am experiencing them that way, but not consciously examining the experience itself.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for clarifying, Randy. I think your "intraspection" is not really distinct from the process that I'm thinking of as introspection with a permissive target.

Here are two possibilities: (1.) an entirely unconscious, subpersonal, functional-architecture-ish causal process whereby dispositions cause judgments that you have those dispositions; (2.) a conscious process that involves noticing your phenomenally felt urge to affirm, your phenomenally felt anxiety, etc., and then doing something like inferring or concluding or confirming that your attitude is such and such. It sounds like you mostly mean the latter, but maybe some of the former can be mixed in?

Suppose it's just (2). Then your attention is on the task of trying to determine what your attitude is, by means of a process that involves attention to other conscious targets, like your urge to affirm. These would be the phenomenal face of that attitude. So that's a version of the process I meant to be describing in the post.

Suppose you have (2) plus (1). It's still introspection in my sense, with a permissive target, because my account (Schwitzgebel 2012) is pluralistic, allowing subpersonal processes like that to play an important role.

Suppose it's only (1). Then I don't think you have "introspection" worth the name -- just subpersonal subsystems tracking each other and sometimes causing behavior.

What do you think?

G. Randolph Mayes said...

Thanks Eric. I think I’m muddying the waters a bit because I have your (2008) on my mind and am still thinking about the optimal way to express and constrain the basic thesis that introspection is unreliable, which of course wasn’t what you were talking about in this post.

I agree with you that intraspection as I described it (which I definitely meant to be your [2]) could be seen as introspection with a more permissive target. But this to me raises the possibility that introspection is quite reliable as long as it chooses appropriate targets. So, in your (2011) you identify conditions under which we are likely to have reliable access to our own beliefs, though (as I recall) you don’t specifically say that we are likely to be able to reliably introspect our own beliefs.

Alternatively we might characterize intraspection permissively and introspection as one that focuses narrowly on the properties of ongoing conscious experience, which preserves an unqualified version of your conclusion from (2008).

Semantics aside, what I am mainly suggesting is that we can preserve a schema for detecting our dispositions analogous to one we would make with vision. So with the latter I can:

1. Unconsciously and reliably process visual information including, say, the color of objects with which I am interacting.
2. Turn my conscious attention to specific visual properties, such as the color of these objects.
3. Turn my conscious attention to the nature of my color experience.

My previous sense was that only (3) would count as introspection for you. Where (2) would be reflective but not introspective. It is not introspective because we are not attending to the experience itself. When I consciously notice the redness of the vehicle in front of me, I’m attending to the redness, not my experience of redness. If we preserved this schema for detecting our dispositions it would be:

1. Unconsciously detecting and expressing my dispositions, such as my beliefs that P.
2. Turn my conscious attention to specific dispositional properties, such as my confidence in the truth of P.
3. Turn my conscious attention to the experience of confidence itself.

Again, in 2., I am turning attention to my confidence, not the experience of confidence itself. If this is coherent it seems to me that your unreliability thesis mainly attaches to the 3’s in each case, but not necessarily the 2’s. So if the 2’s are a form of introspection, then they are still conceivably a fairly reliable form of introspection. And if they are reliable, it may be best explained by being the evolutionarily appropriate targets of introspection. (This level of introspection would more or less fit with the general account of the function of level 2 processing, e.g.)

Sorry, this is so repetitive on my part, but perhaps it helps to show you exactly what I am getting wrong. I promise I will confess it to my students.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Hi Randy --

That 1-2-3 schema helps. I agree that in the first list only 3 is introspective. In the second list 3 is also introspective. The tricky one is 2. Here's one way you could "turn your attention to" (i.e., consciously think about?) your dispositional properties: You could think about past behavior and then infer that you must have those dispositions. That would not normally be introspective in my sense. But I also wonder if there's a more introspective + permissive target version of 2 that takes something like 3 as a starting point or a means. (I don't think attention needs to go only *one* place.) Analogously from your first list (but unusual in external perception) might be to attend to your color experience as a way of trying to read a conclusion about the color of external objects.

If we agree about the general layout of the possibilities, the terminology is flexible.

G. Randolph Mayes said...

Thanks Eric. I agree that (2) in the second list isn't specified narrowly enough to rule out things that are clearly not introspective. It seems like you also might be open to the possibility that includes some things that are and if so could support different conclusions vis-a-vis reliability. Though I haven't remotely argued for it.

It would be interesting to see if we could establish a set of conditions under which certain types of introspective judgments are likely to be reliable (analogous to the conditions you state concerning when our belief self-reporting is.)

Dr .Wilson said...

Hi Eric,

I know this comes late, but I wanted to ask the following:

Why isn’t “I believe that there is beer in the fridge” the same as: “I am almost certain that there is beer in the fridge"? In other words, a way to communicate the state of uncertainty of the speaker—almost a pre-apology in case the speaker is wrong (when spoken aloud).

If you (by yourself) believe that there is beer in the fridge and you are then surprised when there is none, then you might say to yourself: “what I thought was knowledge is not knowledge after all. I was wrong.” But you do not have to amend your previous belief because accepting the fact of the matter already presupposes that you will no longer hold that belief.

I guess I'm wondering why belief in this context is best described as an attitude or disposition when it seems more like a "hedge" against a bet that you are making with yourself about the actual state of the world. Or is this what you mean by "attitude" somehow?