Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The Unreliability of Naive Introspection

Wesley Buckwalter has a new podcast Journal Entries, in which philosophers spend 30-50 minutes walking listeners through the main ideas of one of their papers, sometimes adding new subsequent reflections or thoughts about future research in the area.

Today's Journal Entry is my 2008 paper, "The Unreliability of Naive Introspection".

I make the case that Descartes had it backwards when he said that the outside world is known better and more directly than our experiences. We are often radically wrong about even basic features of our currently ongoing experience, even when we reflect attentively upon it with sincere effort in favorable conditions.


Arnold said...

My question...Are we here to evolve passively or actively or even neutrally; are we here to search for and acquire 'introspection'?

Just what is life and what are we here for today; this kind of question, probably, has been held and experienced by all of us, through all of time...that introspection is natural and shows itself in many ways...,

SelfAwarePatterns said...

Interesting format. Just have the guest talk. (Or did they edit out the questions?)

I think the unreliability of introspection is the most important fork in consciousness discussions. (And while it can be made less unreliable, I personally think educated or trained introspection remains far from reliable.)

If you accept its unreliability, then a lot of the intractable mysteries of consciousness disappear in a flash of epistemic parsimony. If you don't, then explaining our intuitive sense that there's something more than neural information processing does seem like a very hard problem.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comments, folks!

Arnold: I'd recommend actively. :-)

SelfAware: I agree that the unreliability point can help in certain defenses of reductionism, eliminativism, illusionism, and other materialist approaches. My own view is that the mysteries remain but take a different character.