Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic

Russell T. Hurlburt and Eric Schwitzgebel

MIT Press, 2007

Here is the book's site at MIT, including the pdfs of the preface, Chapter 1, and the index, as well as a link to searchable text via Google book search.

Here is the MIT Press companion site for the book, including links to all the original transcripts and audio files.

Here it is at Amazon, with searchable text.

And here it is at Barnes & Noble.

from the preface:

Can inner experience (“phenomenal consciousness” in contemporary philosophical lingo) be accurately apprehended and faithfully described? The question is crucially important, both for a humanistic understanding of who we are and what we know about ourselves and for the newly burgeoning scientific field of “consciousness studies.” One of us, Russ, is an optimist, believing that adequate methods make faithful descriptions of experience possible. The other, Eric, is a pessimist, believing that people are prone to considerable introspective error even under the best of conditions. Five years ago at a conference in Tucson, we presented opposing papers on the matter and instantly became friends, arguing over dinner, then over margaritas, then again the next day, then in the airport waiting for our respective flights home.

This book is the product of our best attempt to make concrete progress in our dispute. We felt a need to do something more than simply continue with the usual methods of abstract argument, historical reference, and citation of favorite experiments. Thus, we recruited someone not party to the dispute (we’ll call her “Melanie”), asked her to describe her experience in a way Russ found suitable – by random sampling and interview – and debated the extent to which the resulting descriptions could be believed. The bulk of this book is a lightly edited transcript of these interviews, in which Melanie makes her best effort to describe individual moments of her experience in careful detail, and Russ and Eric question her, argue with each other, and further pursue their disagreements (and connect with the relevant psychological and philosophical literature) in side boxes. Although Melanie’s experiences are in certain respects quite ordinary, we think the reader will find at least some of her descriptions surprising, intriguing, and suggestive. The book begins and concludes with chapters expressing our different points of view and our different takes on what we accomplished and failed to accomplish.

Below is the penultimate draft of the book (including, as you may see, some formatting problems). Full text of the penultimate draft of this manuscript is available by clicking the desired section below if you wish to view it in accord with "fair use" laws. Do not quote this draft; please quote the published book.

Table of Contents and Preface

Part One: Proponent Meets Skeptic (MS Word version, pdf version), including:

Chapter One: Introduction (Hurlburt & Schwitzgebel),

Chapter Two: Can There Be a Satisfactory Introspective Method? (Hurlburt),

Chapter Three: Descartes Inverted (Schwitzgebel).

Part Two: The Interviews (MS Word version, pdf version), including

Chapters Four through Nine, corresponding to Interview Days One through Six.

Part Three: Reflections (MS Word version, pdf version), including

Eric's Reflections (Schwitzgebel),

Russ's Reflections (Hurlburt),

Response to Russ and Some Parting Thoughts (Schwitzgebel),

Appendix A: Box Titles and List of Threads,

Appendix B: Beep Summaries,


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