Fighting over inner experience

Salon has an entertaining review of the new book Describing Inner Experience which is sort of a combination of an argument and a self-consciousness showdown between philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel and psychologist Russell Hurlburt.

Schwitzgebel is sceptical that we can accurately describe our inner thoughts and experiences, while Hurlburt feels that we are capable of doing so, when properly directed.

If you think that it’s obvious we can describe our inner mental states, start by reading the review and you’ll get a flavour of what the problem is.

At the beginning of the book’s central section, Hurlburt and Schwitzgebel meet their volunteer. Her pseudonym is Melanie. She is in her 20s, and she has an interest in psychology but no experience in these debates. Hurlburt explains the rules to her: She will simply tell them what was on her mind just before each beep, and they will try to figure out if her reports are accurate.

Hurlburt handles the direct questioning, then turns her over to Schwitzgebel for cross-examination. They have six sessions, each about an hour long. And over the course of these sessions, something unexpected happens, a novelistic twist that is subtle, hilarious and hard to describe. A battle for interpretive credibility emerges, as the doubt Schwitzgebel casts upon Melanie’s self-understanding rebounds upon himself.

The preface and first chapter of the book are freely available online if you want to learn more, and the book itself has just been published.

Link to Salon review.
Link to details of book and sample preface and chapter.

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