Describing Inner Experience?
Proponent Meets Skeptic
Russell T. Hurlburt
The MIT Press
Anticipated Summer 2007
Do not quote without permission of the authors.
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
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
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…
Russ: … and more dynamic?
Melanie: Yes, exactly!
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?
Russ: So this is a different experience from your talking out loud?
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?
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
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?
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?
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
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.
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
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….
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…
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?
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
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?
we have excised a brief discussion of the issue discussed in
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.
we have excised a brief discussion of the “periphery of experience.” See
Russ: So, anything else in this beep other than that?
Melanie: I think that was it.