How Well Do We Know Our Own Conscious Experience? The Case of Visual Imagery
Eric Schwitzgebel

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 9 (2002), 35-53.


Philosophers tend to assume that we have excellent knowledge of our own current conscious experience or "phenomenology". I argue that our knowledge of one aspect of our experience, the experience of visual imagery, is actually rather poor. Precedent for this position is found among the introspective psychologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Two main arguments are advanced toward the conclusion that our knowledge of our own imagery is poor. First, the reader is asked to form a visual image, and it is expected that answering questions about certain basic features of that experience will be difficult. If so, it seems reasonable to suppose that people could be mistaken about those basic features of their own imagery. Second, it is observed that although people give widely variable reports about their own experiences of visual imagery, differences in report do not systematically correlate with differences on tests of skills that psychologists have often supposed to require visual imagery, such as mental rotation, visual creativity, and visual memory.

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