Describing Inner Experience?

Proponent Meets Skeptic



Russell T. Hurlburt

University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Eric Schwitzgebel

University of California, Riverside


In Press

The MIT Press

Anticipated Summer 2007



Prepublication version

Do not quote without permission of the authors.



Beep 1.1


Melanie: Number one requires a little bit of background, so this may take a couple of minutes. I had just received this huge box in the mail, about as big as I was. It was a chair from my university, one of those heritage chairs that you get. I had unwrapped it and everything, and there were protective plastic coverings over the back of the chair and the handles and all four legs. So I’m standing in the living room and I had it tipped back on its two hind legs, and it was leaning against the couch in my home. I was removing the plastic covering from the front two legs when I looked up and there was a white manila envelope taped to the bottom of the chair. There were some papers in it, so I pulled out the papers and was looking at them. It was a family tree that you can fill out that goes back to my great-grandparents and then to my great-grandchildren, so I could document who I pass this chair on to. And right at the moment of the beep I was kind of thinking in my head how funny it was that I had just received this chair fifteen minutes ago and all of a sudden here was this paper I was supposed to fill out about who was going to inherit it.


Russ: And by “right at the moment of the beep” do you mean like right at the very beginning of the beep? Or…


Melanie: No, right before. And then right as the beep started I was aware of the fact that I was smiling. So right before the beep I had this thought in my mind, but I didn’t really know what the rest of my body was doing. But then the beep went off, and then I was aware of what I was sitting and doing.


Russ: Okay. So the moment that we’re interested in is that last undisturbed moment before the beep came. So if the beep starts here and we can wind the experiential clock back a microsecond or something, that’s the moment we are talking about. So at that moment are you thinking about how strange it is? Or…


Melanie: Just how amusing it is that I’d just gotten this chair, and here I needed to plan out who was going to inherit it.


Russ: Okay. And this thinking, how does it proceed? [See Box 4.1 on different uses of the word “thinking.”]


Box 4.1. What is “thinking”?

Russ: With striking regularity, subjects early in their sampling refer to their own most-frequent kind of inner experience as “thinking,” saying things like, “At the moment of the beep I was thinking that I don’t want to take that exam.” Carefully examining the details of those experiences reveals that people differ substantially in what they mean by “thinking.” When Alice says “I was thinking…,” she means that she was saying something to herself in her own naturally inflected inner voice. When Betty says “I was thinking…,” she means that she was seeing a visual image of something. When Carol says “I was thinking…,” she means that she was feeling some sensation in her heart or stomach and that she had no awareness of cognition whatsoever.

“Thinking” refers to cognition in its dictionary definition, but it is decidedly not necessarily used that way in DES self-descriptions, even by sophisticated subjects. My sense is that this is an unsurprising result of the way children learn language. Children observe adults say “I’m thinking…” and gradually realize that this utterance “thinking” must refer to whatever is going on in the adult out of direct sight of the child. Children then, on this understanding, use the utterance “thinking” to refer to whatever is most frequently going on inside them, out of sight of others. Those whose principal inner experience is inner speech will come to use “thinking” to refer to inner speech; those whose principal inner experience is emotion will come to use “thinking” to refer to emotion.

This exemplifies why experience sampling or any other method that honestly seeks to understand inner experience cannot blindly rely on the words people use to describe their experiences. This was B. F. Skinner’s primary criticism of attempts to describe inner experience: that words used to describe private events receive impoverished differential reinforcement (see Guideline 9 in Chapter Two; see also Hurlburt & Heavey, 2001). But I see this as a surmountable difficulty, albeit one that has not been taken seriously enough by most other methods.

Thread: Loose language. Previous: Box 2.1. Next: Box 5.16.

Thread: Human similarity and difference. Previous: Box 3.3. Next: Box 4.7.


Melanie: Well, it’s not aloud, it’s in my head, so I’m silent. And it’s a voice going through my head that isn’t my own voice. I’m not hearing my own voice. It’s my inner thought voice, so it’s the one I recognize and hear all of the time whenever I’m thinking. But it is different from the voice with which I speak. [See Box 4.2 for some doubts about this claim.]


Box 4.2. Doubts about Melanie’s “inner thought” voice

Russ: Melanie’s general claim here about having a distinctive inner thought voice, different from her external speaking voice, that she hears “all of the time whenever I’m thinking” is undermined by later samples. My research has shown over and over that people’s general claims about their inner experiences are often not entirely true, and sometimes dramatically false, even in relatively normal, quite sophisticated people. So I recommend being heavily skeptical about all general claims about one’s own inner experience, including Melanie’s. Usually, as here, I simply ignore such claims. But I don’t hold the fact that Melanie has made such a claim (even if false) against her: Our culture has encouraged people to be sloppy in their observation of and claims about inner experience. This does not impair her ultimate credibility when it comes to reporting specific moments once she has mastered the method. Eventually, as sampling progresses, most people (as did Melanie, as we shall see) stop making general claims, because (I think) they see that many of their own general claims about themselves are not true.

Eric: So I wonder: Is Melanie accurately reporting this sample and just overgeneralizing? Or is she committed to a false general theory about herself that distorts even her specific report of this sample – despite the confidence and “convincing detail” with which she answers our questions about this voice?

Thread: Melanie’s trustworthiness: Influence of generalizations. Next: 4.10.

Thread: Inner speech and hearing. Next: Box 4.4.

Thread: Retrospective and armchair generalizations. Next: Box 4.11.


Russ. Okay.


Melanie: And at the same time as that was going on, I was aware of this kind of glow inside my head that kind of says, “That was a funny aspect of the thought or a humorous aspect of the thought.” So I wasn’t aware of the fact that I was smiling, but I was aware of the fact that I found that thought humorous. If that makes sense.


Russ: Okay. Well, I think it makes sense, but I’m not exactly sure that I understand it totally yet. So you’re hearing something, which is a voice that’s familiar to you but is not your voice. Is that what you’re saying?


Melanie: Mm hm.


Russ: And does this voice have vocal characteristics, like I’ve got sort of a deep voice, and…?


Melanie: It’s… the only way I can compare it is to my own voice. It’s a little smoother; I’m a little more modulated.


Russ: You’re more modulated?


Melanie: No. The voice inside my head is.


Russ: And by more modulated you mean more up and down, and more…


Melanie: Yeah.


Russ: … and more dynamic?


Melanie: Yes, exactly!


Russ: Okay.


Melanie: And I’d say it also has a lower pitch than my normal voice does.


Eric: Is it a female voice?


Melanie: Yes it is.


Eric: Does it have your regional dialect? It wouldn’t have a southern accent or something?


Melanie: No, it’s mine. Well, it has the same dialect that I do.


Eric: So what makes you think it’s not… Why don’t you say it’s just your voice but smoother and more modulated?


Melanie: I suppose it could be. But at the same time, if it were my voice but smoother and more modulated, then it’s not my voice anymore. I’m not sure.


Eric: Could you speak like that if you wanted to?


Melanie: No. I know I couldn’t. I’ve tried.


Russ: The question of whether this is your voice or not in some absolute sense is probably unanswerable because it requires definitions that go beyond our ability. But whether it seems to be your voice or not, that is something that I think is answerable. So the question is, does this voice seem to you to be your voice?


Melanie: [emphatically] No.


Russ: So it seems like it’s a voice that is quite similar to your voice but is not your voice. Experientially it’s a different thing from saying, [affects a southern drawl] “Well, I’m going to try and talk with a southern accent, and I can talk with a southern accent if I want to”…


Melanie: Right. I almost feel as though if I could take a tape recorder and record that voice and record my own, you’d be able to hear the difference between them.


Russ: Okay. And the differences are enough that it doesn’t seem like your voice trying to talk…


Melanie: …in a different manner. Mm hm.


Russ: Okay. So this voice is like a voice that is being heard rather than a voice that is being spoken? Is that correct?


Melanie: Yes.


Russ: So this is a different experience from your talking out loud?


Melanie: Yes.


Russ: This is more like you’ve recorded this and now you’re playing it back. Experientially I mean.


Melanie: Right. Mm hm.


Russ: There’s no recording part…


Melanie: No [laughs].


Russ: … but it seems like this is coming towards you like a recording would come?

Melanie: Yes.


Russ: Okay. And at the moment of the beep, what exactly was this voice saying?

Melanie: It was saying… it was towards the end of the thought about the chair, thinking about who was to inherit it. It was right at the end of that phrase.


Russ: And can you tell me exactly what that phrase is?


Melanie: Well, the phrase was that I was thinking how funny it was that I just received this chair and here I was thinking of who was to inherit. What was going on right at the moment of the beep was, “who was to inherit.”


Russ: And right now you’re saying that in the past tense: “how funny it was.” Was the thought originally in the past tense?


Melanie: No, it was originally in the present.


Russ: So at the moment of the beep this voice was saying, quote, “How funny it is…” [See Box 4.3 for a comment on Melanie’s use of tense.]


Box 4.3. Present tense or past tense?

Russ: Melanie reported that her voice was saying “Who was to inherit,” when the situation that Melanie was describing called more appropriately for her voice to be saying “Who is to inherit.” This confusion of verb tense is a sign that Melanie is quite likely not reporting the actual phenomenon that she had experienced at the moment of the beep. This is Melanie’s first beep, and we shouldn’t hold her inaccuracy against her – she has probably heretofore in her life had no reason to describe with accuracy the characteristics of her inner experience. My questioning here is largely for training purposes: I’m not so much interested in what she says about this particular beep as in conveying to her that, on future sampling days, we will want to know what exactly was occurring at the precise moment of the beep.

Thread: Interview techniques. Previous: Box 2.4. Next: Box 4.6.


Melanie: Mm hm.


Russ: “… that I just got the chair, I just received the chair…”


Melanie: “Just received.”


Russ: “… and…”


Melanie: “… and now I have to plan who is to inherit.”


Russ: And the beep comes at the end of that…


Melanie: Mm hm.


Russ: … somewhere in the “who is to inherit” portion?


Melanie: Yes.


Russ: Okay. And does that voice… where is that voice? Is that in your head, or outside your head, or in the front of your head?


Melanie: It’s in my head. If I have to give a specific location, I’d say it’s somewhere here, right between my temples.


Russ: You don’t have to give a location if it doesn’t make sense to give a location.


Melanie: Mm hm. No, it was there.


Russ: Okay. And then you said that there was something like a glow about this.


Eric: A little more on the voice before we get to the glow, actually. It takes a certain amount of time to say something like, “How funny it is that I’ve just received this chair and I have to plan who is to inherit it.” It takes a few seconds. Would you say that the voice was roughly the pace of the speaking voice, so that it took several seconds? Or was it going faster or slower? Or was it all kind of compressed into an instant?


Melanie: It was compressed. I wouldn’t say it was compressed into an instant – it was a little bit longer. But it was significantly faster than it would normally take to say a sentence like that out loud.


Eric: [speaking rapidly] So would it be like someone who was a fast talker getting it out really fast like that? Or was it something that seemed a little different from how speech could be paced?


Melanie: I guess I’d have to say it was something a little different because when it was in my head it didn’t feel compressed. It didn’t feel rushed or jammed into a really small time like it sometimes does when someone speaks quickly. [See Box 4.4 on inner speech rate.]


Box 4.4. Fast or normally paced speech?

Russ: Most often, my subjects report that inner speech moves apparently at the same rate as external speech. However, it’s also fairly common for subjects to report that inner speech actually transpires somewhat (or much) faster than external speech, even though it is experienced as occurring at the same rate as external speech. Thus, whereas the inner and external speech rates may be experienced to be the same, the inner and outer durations required to utter the same sentence may be experienced to be much different. This may seem impossible, but inner experience does not operate under the same constraints as outward behavior. (See also Beep 6.4.)

Thread: Inner speech and hearing. Previous: Box 4.2. Next: Box 4.5.

Thread: Rules of inner reality. Next: Box 4.6.


Eric: Mm hm.


Russ: So the experience of it is that it’s going at a normal rate. But you think that actually if we put a stopwatch on it, it would have been faster.


Melanie: Yes.


Russ: Okay. And what makes you think it would have been faster? If the experience is that it was going at a normal rate?


Melanie: Because there was a sense of speed to it. Not of rushedness and not of compression, but … I don’t know. The best way I can think to describe it is it felt like it was racing through my head in a way. [See Box 4.5 on whether Melanie shows promise as a subject.]


Box 4.5. Evidence that Melanie is careful. The pace of inner speech, continued

Russ: This exchange is the kind that leads me to believe that Melanie will learn to be a good subject. First, she’s clearly trying to be careful, correcting and modifying herself. Second, she’s adept at keeping track of close distinctions (here between rushedness and compression, for example). Third, she’s willing to stop at “I don’t know” and is comfortable with qualifications such as “the best way I can think to describe it is…,” which indicates that she is not likely to go too far. In saying this, I don’t mean to imply that Melanie is, or will be, an unusually good subject; in my experience, most subjects are good subjects. But Melanie is more intelligent than my average subject, and so is likely to be more nuanced.

Eric: You rightly point out that the distinction between rushedness and compression is a close one; and now I wonder whether other subjects would tend to be as careful as Melanie in making that distinction. In my own earlier sampling, in fact, I believe I reported that my inner speech was paced at roughly the same rate as my external speech, but now I find myself wondering if I was correct in that observation. Could it be that inner speech is, for most people, temporally compressed, but only a minority of your subjects notice that fact because it does not seem rushed?

Just now, I confess, I was walking across campus deliberately producing inner speech and attempting to observe its pace as I did so. I found myself getting tangled up, feeling like I often produced the speech twice, once in forming the intention to produce a specific instance of inner speech and then again in carrying out that intention (as though I didn’t realize the intention was already executed in the forming of it). I also found myself unsure of the pacing especially of the first of these two acts of inner speech – indeed, unsure even of whether the first was in fact an act of inner speech at all. I suppose, Russ, that you will say that I would do better to explore these issues with a beeper, that the deliberate self-observation and the intentional formation of inner speech hopelessly corrupts the act I’d like to observe. Maybe so, but the difficulty is still striking.

Russ: You characterize my reaction to your experiment quite precisely. I think you could in large measure become untangled if you used a proper method (such as a beeper). I applaud you for noticing the striking difficulty of informal or armchair introspection, but I hope that you don’t hold that strikingness against all introspective attempts (including those that are designed to reduce or eliminate precisely that difficulty).

Thread: Melanie’s trustworthiness: Attunement to distinctions. Next: Box 6.4.

Thread: Inner speech and hearing. Previous: Box 4.4. Next: Box 4.11.


Russ: More, Eric?


Eric: No, I think that’s alright. Let’s go to the glow.


Russ: Okay. So there was something you said that was a “glow.” I didn’t quite understand what you meant by that.


Melanie: I couldn’t feel myself smiling. I wasn’t aware of myself smiling, but after the beep I was, you know, “Oh! I’m smiling right now.” But when that thought was going through my head there was this kind of rosy yellow glow in my head just as those words were going through that kind of reflected the humor I felt in that sentence.


Russ: Now when you say “rosy,” “yellow,” and “glow,” do you mean that there was something rosy-yellow – some experience of rosy yellow? Or do you mean that as sort of a metaphor?


Melanie: I think a bit of both. There was color involved. That’s the best way I can describe it. It was pale color – it wasn’t vibrant and rich and bright – but there was a hint of color, almost like wrapped up with the words.


Russ: And where was this color, if that question makes sense?


Melanie: All over. It was in my head, but it felt more all over as opposed to the distinct location of where the words were.


Russ: And is this color like a wash of color, or….


Melanie: Yes.


Russ: So it’s not like there’s not some specific place where there’s a rosy yellow color?


Melanie: No, it’s all over.


Russ: And is this a uniform color, like rosy yellow all over, or is it rosy here and yellow there?


Melanie: It’s uniform.


Russ. Okay. And is this rosy yellow like a light that creates rosy yellow luminance? Or is it rosy yellow like a picture has…?


Melanie: I’d say it’s a luminance.


Russ: So there’s some kind of illumination…


Melanie: Yes.


Russ: … that seems like it’s rosy yellow colored in your experience…


Melanie: Yes, exactly.


Russ: … in a visual way. And I’m gathering that you think or know or something – and I’m trying to clarify this – that this rosy yellowness is associated with the humorous aspect of it?


Melanie: It was a feeling that was very familiar to me, or I guess, the sight, you could say, of this color that is really familiar to me and is one that I commonly associate with laughing at a joke or something that involves humor.


Russ: So the experience of this rosy yellow is not unusual – it’s part of Melanie being Melanie. When something funny happens she turns rosy yellow inside.


Melanie: Yes. [laughs] Exactly.


Eric: I don’t know whether you can answer this or not, whether you remember well enough, but how would it interact with your visual experience? Would it seem as though this paper… I assume the paper you’re looking at is probably white.


Melanie: It was parchment colored.


Eric: Ah. So would it have discolored the paper visually in some way, or…?


Melanie: No. It wasn’t as though I saw through my eyes at all. It felt very much in my head as opposed to something that was out in front of me.


Eric: So when you say it was all over, it’s not kind of like all over your visual field, or something like that …


Melanie: I wasn’t wrapped up in this color, no. I mean it was like it was all over my brain or thought field, if that helps.


Russ: If you’d been here when she said it was all over, she held both hands up in the vicinity of her head near her temples, rocking them back and forth as if she was trying to say “all over inside my head”.


Eric. [laughs] Um hm.


Melanie: But there wasn’t any outward manifestation of it.


Eric: So when you look at something, when you look out at the world, there’s only a certain range of degrees of arc that you can see, right? You can see forward, say, 120 degrees of arc, maybe a bit more. You can’t really see anything too high up or too low down or too much to the side or behind you. So is that where the glow is? In that kind of non-visual area, then, which would include your head, say? Or is that not the way to think about it?


Russ: Let me ask a different question if I can, here, because that’s the kind of question that I wouldn’t ask. I wouldn’t ask that question because it has, too close to the surface for my taste, the intrusion of reality. If I were interested in that question I would ask it sort of like this: When you say this rosiness is inside your head and sort of throughout your head, do you mean you’re looking sort of forward at it, or up at it, or down at it, or backwards at it, or all of the above, or…? [See Box 4.6 on why Russ objected to Eric’s question.]


Box 4.6. Bracketing the known characteristics of the outside world

Russ: I agree with your account of the characteristics of real perception here, Eric. But I feel that the comparison you suggest might lead Melanie to think that her inner visual experience must be in that same 120 degree field – or, alternatively, that it must be outside it. It is crucial to be as neutral as possible on such matters during the interview, since inner processes do not necessarily abide by the same rules as outer processes – as we have seen already in the case of the pace of inner speech.

As the subsequent conversation shows, Melanie doesn’t seem to have been overly influenced in this way by Eric’s question.

Thread: Bracketing presuppositions. Previous: Box 3.3. Next: Box 4.10.

Thread: Interview techniques. Previous: Box 4.3. Next: Box 4.15.

Thread: Rules of inner reality. Previous: Box 4.4. Next: Box 4.13.


Melanie: Neither. It’s just mainly…  I’m trying to think of the best way to describe it. It feels like, in my head, I guess you could say, is this other world and I’m just looking straight at it. I can see – it’s a 360-degree vision. I can see above me, below me, behind me, in front of me, through the sides. It’s all over.


Russ: So the 120-degree rule doesn’t apply in this…?


Melanie: No. It’s not like the visual field. It’s almost like looking from beneath, and looking up – and being able to see everything – kind of like in a planetarium.


Russ: So it seems more above you than below you, is that right, the rosy yellow?


Melanie: No, because it seems all around me. It’s really like a 360-degree view – I can just see it everywhere.


Russ: So it’s 360 in three dimensions. It’s 360 in front and in back and 360 above and below?


Melanie: Yes. [See Box 4.7 for a discussion of color in emotional experience.]


Box 4.7. Color in emotional experience

Eric: Not many philosophers or introspective psychologists have described emotional phenomenology as literally involving color. (I do take this to be, in some broad sense, a report of an emotion.) Melanie could, of course, be unusual in this respect, as synaesthetes are unusual, who experience color when they see numbers or hear musical tones; or philosophers and introspective psychologists could have missed a common aspect of emotional experience. However, as many people seem to find emotional experience hard to describe (as Melanie does in later samples), and we consequently reach for metaphors, I think it is possible here that Melanie is being taken in by her own metaphor.

Russ: I agree that the literature has overlooked the experience of color along with emotion. I am quite confident on the basis of my own work and that of my colleagues that some people literally experience color along with emotion. My subjects have (I think credibly) reported “seeing red” when angry, “being blue” when depressed, and “seeing rose-colored hues” when optimistic; furthermore, my careful questioning leads me to conclude that these phrases were meant to be straightforward descriptions of robust visual phenomena (they can specify the precise color of blue, for example), not mere metaphors. I don’t think we should be more skeptical of this than of any other of Melanie’s claims. There are two mistakes that could be made: to be taken in by a metaphor and understand it as a claim of seeing rosy when it’s not there; and to presume incorrectly that Melanie has been taken in by a metaphor and therefore fail to understand and/or credit her straightforward descriptions.

Eric: One piece of evidence that might support or undermine your view about the literalness of such phrases as “seeing red” when you’re angry would be evidence from very different cultures. Do speakers of non-European languages say similar things? An informal poll of my acquaintances suggests that such stock phrases are quite different across cultures. (Cross-cultural research suggests there may be some consistency in the association of chips of color with emotion terms, but hue may be less relevant than brightness and saturation: D’Andrade and Egan, 1974; Johnson, Johnson, and Baksh, 1986.)

Russ: I, too, would find such cross-cultural studies interesting, but there is no reason to be confident, I think, that the experience of anger is the same across cultures. For example, the British, known for their restraint, might have very different experience of anger than do the Italians, known for their expressivity. Thus the mere fact that their descriptions of anger might differ would not mean that their descriptions are merely metaphors. So what would be more interesting to me would be careful, moment-by-moment observations by people whose ability to bracket presuppositions I trust. The more different cultures, the better.

Eric: And if under such conditions only English speakers (or English and German speakers) claimed literally to see red when they were angry, you’d willingly embrace the view that anger experiences literally differ in coloration between cultures?

Russ: I would.

Thread: Melanie’s trustworthiness: Unusual claims. Next: Box 4.11.

Thread: Emotion. Next: Box 5.13.

Thread: Human similarity and difference. Previous: Box 4.1. Next: Box 4.18.

Thread: Influence of metaphors. Next: Box 5.2.


[Here we have excised a brief discussion of the issue discussed in Box 4.6; as always, the excised text can be found on the website.]


Russ: So is there anything else going on at this particular moment? You’re seeing the white parchmenty paper…


Melanie: Mm hm.


Russ: And does that seem to be in your awareness, or is it….


Melanie: No it’s not. I’m not aware of how my body is positioned or of what I’m holding. It’s very much just in my head.


Russ: You you’re paying much more attention to your thought process here, about “isn’t it strange…?” “isn’t it funny?” You’re obviously seeing the parchment, because that’s what started this process, but it’s not in your awareness.


Melanie: Yes, exactly.


Russ: Okay. Have you got further questions about that, Eric?


Eric: Right. Yeah. I don’t know how fruitful it is to push on that, so…


Russ: She looks pretty confident, if you were here watching her.


Eric: Right. Well, there is a debate about whether there are things you experience that are peripheral. So some people think that when you’re visually attending to something but there’s, say, a jackhammer in the background, you may not be paying any attention to the jackhammer, but the jackhammer is part of your experience anyway. Or if you’re sitting in a chair, in the periphery of your experience there’s some kind of a feeling of the chair on your back and on your bottom. So, do you have a sense for this beep whether there were these sorts of peripheral, marginal experiences? Or was it pretty much the things that you were focusing on that you have reported so far, and that’s it?


Melanie: I think it primarily was just that I was focusing on what I’ve already said.


Eric: Mm hm.


Melanie: It wasn’t until after the beep that I became much more aware of the fact that, Oh I am sitting with the my legs tucked underneath me, and I have this smile on my face, and I am holding this piece of paper. That didn’t come until after the beep kind of compelled me to examine what I’m doing.


[Here we have excised a brief discussion of the “periphery of experience.” See Box 4.8.]


Box 4.8. The periphery of experience

Eric: John Searle (1992) and others have argued that conscious experience is rich, in the sense that although attention may be limited to one or a few topics at a time, conscious experience is not. On this view, the fact that Melanie’s eyes were open is strong evidence that she was indeed having visual experience at the time, despite the fact that she denies it now (in a qualified, hedging way). Likewise, on this view, we all generally have, at the periphery of experience, sensations like that of the pressure of the chair against one’s back, the noise of a distant jackhammer, background feelings of anxiety, slight feelings of hunger, et cetera, all at once.

Russ: Most of my subjects are quite clear that there is in their experience at the moment of the beep only one or a small number of things. The jackhammers and chairs are part of my skilled navigation through the world, and I pay enough attention to them as necessary not to run into the jackhammer or fall off the chair. But that doesn’t mean I have them as part of my awareness or experience at all times that they are in my presence. In particular, many of my subjects quite persuasively deny visual experience despite the fact that their eyes are open, saying things like, “My eyeballs were aimed at the book I was holding, but I wasn’t paying attention to it. I was entirely focused on the image I was having.”

Eric: Perhaps such experiences are swiftly forgotten if they are not the object of immediate attention after the beep. What would have happened if Melanie’s task had been, upon hearing the beep, simply to report whether she had visual experience at that moment or not? I have been inspired by our conversations to try beeping a few subjects with that question deliberately posed to them in advance. My tentative finding is that they report visual experience in the vast majority of cases in which their eyes are open. (I describe this experiment in more detail in Chapter Ten, section 3.)

Russ: I fear you make more of Melanie’s statement than she intended. I don’t think she intended to say that she had absolutely no experience of the papers (and if she did mean that, I wouldn’t believe her because I don’t think she can know that). She meant to say that she wasn’t really paying attention to the papers, she was involved in the thought process. She was at that moment indifferent to the papers. Maybe a visual experience of the papers existed in some way; maybe no visual experience of the papers existed. The theoretical question about the existence of visual experience at that moment was not what she was talking about.

I suspect that it is impossible to provide an exhaustively complete description of experience. The aim of DES is not to be exhaustive but to be accurate about as much of experience as possible. Thus I don’t know whether Melanie had visual experience of the paper at the moment of Beep 1.1. If we become overly concerned about the fine details at the edge of experience, I think we undermine the ability to be faithful to what we can access. (For more on the consequences of pressing too hard on details, see Box 5.14 in the next chapter and my comments in Chapter Eleven, section 2.1.)

Eric: Okay, but I think what you’ve just said sounds much different from your first comments in this box! Here, as elsewhere, I think you waver between restraint when pushed (e.g., Ch. 11.2.1) and a stronger denial of the rich view when you’re not on guard (e.g., Box 2.4, Ch.

Thread: Melanie’s trustworthiness: Memory. Next: Box 5.4.

Thread: Richness. Previous: Box 3.4. Next: Box 6.2.

Thread: Sensory Experience. Previous: Box 3.4. Next: Box 4.18.


Russ: So, anything else in this beep other than that?


Melanie: I think that was it.


[See Box 4.9 on whether we should believe Melanie’s report.]


Box 4.9. Should we believe Melanie’s report of her first sample?

Eric: I’ve raised some concerns about Melanie’s report in Boxes 4.2, 4.7, and 4.8; but I am tentatively willing to accept that Melanie had a thought with something like the content she describes, accompanied by amusement, somewhere in the temporal vicinity of the beep. I’m also willing to accept Melanie’s reports about the other samples today at roughly the same level of generality. (But see also Box 4.13.) The beeping task does not strike me as so hopeless and impossible that Melanie would be forced to pure invention.

That, at least, is the level of skepticism I personally feel – which is not to say that more skepticism, or less, might also be sensible and appropriate.

Russ: I would remind us that this is Melanie’s first sample on her first sampling day, and much of what she said about her experience may well be untrue or misleading. That should not be held against Melanie or the method; first-day reports often reflect the presuppositions subjects hold about inner experience and the fact that they have never before been asked to describe their experience with substantial care or instructed how to bracket their presuppositions.

Thread: Melanie’s trustworthiness: General. Next: Box 5.7.