Friday, 23 September 2011
Introspection as a Method and Introspection as a Feature of Consciousness
Uljana Feest (CPS Visiting Fellow)
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning
Abstract: If we take for granted that introspection is indispensable for the study of conscious mental states, the question arises what criteria have to be met in order for introspective reports to qualify as scientific evidence? There have been some recent attempts to argue that it is possible to provide a satisfactory answer to this question while remaining agnostic with respect to questions about the nature of consciousness. In this talk I will challenge this assumption. Focusing on the aim of using introspection in order to generate phenomenological descriptions of conscious mental states, I identify two related problems. First: if introspective reports of phenomenal conscious states are to be treated as evidence for phenomenal experience, it needs to be presupposed that subjects do not typically err about their experiences. However, there is a long philosophical tradition that questions this assumption. Second: if introspective reports differ from regular perceptual reports not in the objects of perception, but the perspective we take in describing those objects (e.g., whether we describe physical features or the phenomenology of our perception of those features), the question is whether such switch in perspective is possible without changing what is described. The thesis of my paper is not that introspection in principle fails to satisfy standards of scientific method. I will argue, however, that advocates of introspective methods in consciousness studies need to be able to provide answers to the above two problems. Doing so will require a substantial engagement with theories of consciousness, and hence an agnostic stance cannot be maintained.