Describing Inner Experience?: Proponent Meets Skeptic

Front Cover
MIT Press, Aug 19, 2011 - Psychology - 336 pages

A psychologist and a philosopher with opposing viewpoints discuss the extent to which it is possible to report accurately on our own conscious experience, considering both the reliability of introspection in general and the particular self-reported inner experiences of "Melanie," a subject interviewed using the Descriptive Experience Sampling method.

Can conscious experience be described accurately? Can we give reliable accounts of our sensory experiences and pains, our inner speech and imagery, our felt emotions? The question is central not only to our humanistic understanding of who we are but also to the burgeoning scientific field of consciousness studies. The two authors of Describing Inner Experience disagree on the answer: Russell Hurlburt, a psychologist, argues that improved methods of introspective reporting make accurate accounts of inner experience possible; Eric Schwitzgebel, a philosopher, believes that any introspective reporting is inevitably prone to error. In this book the two discuss to what extent it is possible to describe our inner experience accurately.

Hurlburt and Schwitzgebel recruited a subject, "Melanie," to report on her conscious experience using Hurlburt's Descriptive Experience Sampling method (in which the subject is cued by random beeps to describe her conscious experience). The heart of the book is Melanie's accounts, Hurlburt and Schwitzgebel's interviews with her, and their subsequent discussions while studying the transcripts of the interviews. In this way the authors' dispute about the general reliability of introspective reporting is steadily tempered by specific debates about the extent to which Melanie's particular reports are believable. Transcripts and audio files of the interviews will be available on the MIT Press website.

Describing Inner Experience? is not so much a debate as it is a collaboration, with each author seeking to refine his position and to replace partisanship with balanced critical judgment. The result is an illumination of major issues in the study of consciousness—from two sides at once.


What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


1 Introduction
2 Can There Be a Satisfactory Introspective Method?
3 Descartes Inverted
II Interviews
4 The First Sampling Day
5 The Second Sampling Day
6 The Third Sampling Day
7 The Fourth Sampling Day
III Reflections
10 Erics Reflections
11 Russs Reflections
12 Erics Response to Russ and Some Parting Thoughts
Lists of Boxes and Threads
Summaries of Beeps

8 The Fifth Sampling Day
9 The Sixth Sampling Day

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 4 - I doubt if any one psychologist can draw up a set of statements describing what he means by sensation which will be agreed to by three other psychologists of different training. Turn for a moment to the question of the number of isolable sensations. Is there an extremely large number of color sensations — or only four, red, green, yellow and blue? Again, yellow, while psychologically simple, can be obtained by superimposing red and green...
Page 4 - I firmly believe that two hundred years from now, unless the introspective method is discarded, psychology will still be divided on the question as to whether auditory sensations have the quality of 'extension,' whether intensity is an attribute which can be applied to color, whether there is a difference in 'texture' between image and sensation and upon many hundreds of others of like character.

About the author (2011)

Russell T. Hurlburt is Professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Eric Schwitzgebel is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of Perplexities of Consciousness (MIT Press). His short, accessible essays on philosophical topics have appeared in a range of publications and on his popular blog, The Splintered Mind.

Bibliographic information