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Alvin I.


Epistemology and the Evidential Status of Introspective Reports
I: Trust, Warrant, and Evidential Sources The question of trusting introspective reports is a question about evidential warrant or justification. It is therefore a question of epistemology, and it behoves us to approach it within the framework of epistemology, which addresses evidential warrant across a broad spectrum of topics and sources. This paper examines the scientific status of introspective reports from the vantage point of general epistemological theorizing. Two opposing forces often arise concerning a candidate source of warrant. A positive force may be a widespread habit of treating it as a source of evidence, a habit that probably derives from fundamental psychological dispositions. Opposing this force are theoretical challenges that give rise to sceptical doubts. Perception and memory are generally viewed as sources of evidence, a view that undoubtedly arises from psychological dispositions. If I see an object that appears to be a book, I am psychologically disposed (in normal circumstances) to believe it is a book; and I will credit anyone who undergoes such a visual experience with having evidence that a book is there. Thus, vision is treated as one evidential source. Memory is a second such source. People are psychologically disposed to believe memory’s deliverances, and to credit such deliverances as providing evidence for the remembered event. Memory deliverances are regularly relied upon in legal contexts (though not without challenge). Third, we inveterately use inductive inference to extrapolate from past observations, and we consider it a source of evidential warrant. Philosophers have historically found reasons to doubt or challenge such sources of warrant, and contemporary psychology can add to these doubts. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, philosophers raised doubts about the
Correspondence: Alvin I. Goldman, Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University, 26 Nichol Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA. Email:

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 11, No. 7–8, 2004, pp. 1–16

Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -- not for reproduction

In the psychologist’s vocabulary. so can it be legitimately regarded as a source of evidence? Contemporary epistemologists are cautious about such sceptical threats. As Lewis Carroll (1895) showed. argued that the senses give us no solid evidence for a world outside the mind. What is a ‘source of evidence’? A method or process M is a source of evidence just in case any deliverance of M to the effect that p counts as prima facie warrant for the truth of p. and has never been securely rescued from this attack.. especially basic or fundamental sources like perception. If we demand of a basic source of evidence that it be non-circularly validated. Past philosophical manoeuvres show that if the bar is set too low. induction. For example. and the looming danger to human knowledge is severe. Thus. ‘reliability’ means something else. see Schacter. Berkeley.I. The ‘prima facie’ qualifier is crucial.2 A. warrant on proposition p. memory. doubts both at the applied level (e. they have no evidential leg to stand on. and deduction.g. of course. but the validation process must be conferred by other. meaning truth-conduciveness or accuracy. we should not be hasty in trashing our sources of evidence. or default. leading him to posit an idealist metaphysics in which the apparently physical world exists only in the mind of God.not for reproduction . Can scientists avoid reliance on memory by recording all data at the times of observation? They will still need justified memorial belief about the interpretation of the language or notation in which their data are recorded. overridden. either from source M itself or from a different source. or defeated by other evidence. no scientific hypothesis can be verified. seeming to see a book on the table is a deliverance of vision that counts as prima facie warrant for there being a book on the table. presumably independent. and psychological studies of illusion might add to those doubts. it seems necessary that there be one or more ‘basic’ sources of evidence. evidential sources. GOLDMAN reliability1 of the senses. Take deduction. sceptical threats are easy to construct. which can be overthrown. epistemology warns us. then. Science would also be threatened by sceptical terrorism. It is roughly equivalent to the psychologist’s term ‘validity’. No non-circular defence of induction seems to be in the offing. Without such memory-based justification. For example.. Ultimately. If perceptual observation is relegated to the evidential scrap heap. viz. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. even deduction will be toast. Various doubts about memory have been raised in contemporary psychology. Induction as a source of evidence was sceptically attacked by David Hume (1777/1975) in the eighteenth century. a scientific instrument can be a source of evidence only because it is validated. in his delightful dialogue between Achilles and the tortoise. Reflection on the notion of evidential sources suggests that some evidential sources are more basic than others. Science similarly depends on memory. for example. ‘recovered’ memories) and doubts at the theoretical level (viewing memory as a ‘constructive’ process poses worries about its reliability. [1] I use the term ‘reliability’ in the philosopher’s sense. It means that a given deliverance confers only provisional. you cannot prove deduction to be reliable to someone who does not start out trusting it. productive of the same results across multiple tests. 1995).

EPISTEMOLOGY & EVIDENTIAL STATUS OF INTROSPECTIVE REPORTS 3 What is a basic source of evidence? A method or process is a basic evidential source just in case (1) it is a source of evidence. Unless a hearer has personally checked a speaker’s previous statements against the facts. In the case of a (categorically) basic source. I shall not try to advance here a full theory of what it takes to be a source of evidence. other sources of evidence. Of course. Hume (1777/1975) rejected the basicness of testimonial warrant. he isn’t justified in trusting that speaker. or fundamental. If a method frequently produces false beliefs. a non-basic source could have its reliability inductively supported by certifications of its accuracy in a substantial number of tests. 1993). which might impose additional restrictions on acceptance as a scientific source of evidence. By contrast. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. even when there is a psychological disposition to believe its deliverances? One relevant factor is global unreliability (or invalidity. 1992. (2) as a non-basic source of evidence. presumably of a broadly inductive rather than deductive variety. several recent philosophers contend that testimonial evidence does not have to be derived from such perceptual and inductive evidence. First. instead claiming that a hearer’s grounds for trusting a speaker is wholly based on the hearer’s personal observations of the speaker’s past veracity plus inductive inference from those observations. induction. in the psychologist’s sense of that term). Presumably. source of evidence of its own (Coady. memory.not for reproduction . it can be undercut by additional evidence pertaining either to the speaker or to the facts alleged in the assertion. the deliverances of a source would not confer even PF-warrant on the proposition so delivered. there is the perspective of science. but rather is a basic. Burge. deduction. Under classification (3). and perception (in its various modalities) would be strong candidates for being basic sources of evidence. I confine myself to such questions as how evidential sources can be challenged and what is the structure of relations between basic and non-basic evidential sources. where the indicated ‘certifications’ are given by a basic source. its status as evidential source does not require such certifications. there is the general perspective of everyday belief and evidence. this PF-warrant is only provisional. when these have been calibrated (using basic evidential sources). it does not merit even provisional trust. (3) as not a legitimate source of evidence at all. and (2) its status as such a source is not wholly based on. In contemporary epistemology. Any candidate source of evidence can be classified in one of three ways: (1) as a basic source of evidence. Classifications of candidate evidential sources can be undertaken from at least two perspectives. For example. or derivative from. at least a more basic source. But is actual unreliability the relevant excluding factor? Or is the relevant factor evidence of unreliability? Perhaps it is [2] The ‘basing’ or ‘derivation’ in question is some sort of inferential relationship. A hearer is prima facie warranted (PF-warranted) in believing what a speaker asserts even without having checked his past track record. What considerations should exclude a method or faculty from the ranks of an evidential source. Examples of non-basic sources of evidence would be readings on instruments or measuring devices. there is a lively debate over the reception of testimony — the process of relying on the reports or assertions of others. Second. and made an inductive inference from this track record.2 Given the longstanding controversy over such matters.

If some of M’s deliverances attest to P and other deliverances of M attest to not-P. Self-awareness or introspection is the source that confers PF-warrant on these beliefs. One type of evidence of M’s unreliability is internal inconsistency. neither of which is satisfactory. where there is more than one sense modality. between the global defeat of a candidate source and the individualized defeat of one of its deliverances. then M should not be admitted into the ranks of evidential sources. II: Introspection as an Evidential Source Introspection is accepted as an evidential source by most epistemologists. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. Presumably. there must be at least one basic evidential source. If we have evidence that method M is globally unreliable. is it a basic evidential source? Again. many epistemologists would say that if there are any evidential sources. We must carefully distinguish. epistemologists go along with people’s general disposition to form beliefs about their current mental states (sensations. Not all legitimate sources can derive their legitimacy wholly from other such sources. for the domain of the mental? Although the following proposal has not previously received discussion.4 A. Alston (1993) tends to treat sense-perception as a whole as a single source of evidence. and the standard objection to coherentism is that justification or warrant cannot be conferred by certain beliefs upon others if the former have to derive their justification from the latter. for the future. it is arguable that some domains have two or more basic evidential sources. however. [4] Some epistemologists would try to avoid the indicated regress by appealing to Neurath’s boat meta- phor. propositional attitudes. emotions) based on their ‘awareness’ of these occurrences. GOLDMAN the latter. some of these deliverances must be false. however. For the domain of the past. M cannot be terribly reliable. which might disqualify it from the status of evidential source. for the physical world. It does not show that there is a basic source for mental states of affairs in particular. This is especially plausible for the physical domain.3 In making this acceptance. induction.not for reproduction . philosophers of psychology as a group probably comprise an exception to this generalization. perception. that at least one evidential source must be basic. on pain of either an infinite regress (of sources) or a kind of circularity. a method need not be perfectly reliable to qualify as an evidential source. Why not introspection. Assuming for the moment that self-awareness or introspection is an evidential source. But Neurath’s boat comes down to a coherentist theory of justification (or evidence).4 This just shows. Evidence might defeat an individual deliverance of M without thereby undercutting the candidate source as a whole and depriving it of its status. memory seems to be a basic evidential source. that there are distinct basic evidential sources for distinct domains. however. It is plausible.I. [5] In his instructive discussion of these topics. or inner awareness.5 Vision does not wholly derive its [3] However. If this happens too often. each of which might be a basic evidential source. This is the unsatisfactory circularity to which the text alludes (although what is in question here is the epistemic status of sources rather than individual beliefs). Individualized defeat simply makes trust in that particular deliverance unwarranted (on balance).

this raises the prospect of behavioural evidence being used either to strengthen or weaken the evidential power. Here is an example of a strengthening scenario. is it the only basic evidential source in the domain of the mental? It is surely plausible that behaviour is also a basic evidential source for the mental domain. plans) and the behavioural validation of introspection as a guide to conscious states. If so.g. Under this scenario. and then scratch my left ear with my right hand. then curl my left pinky finger. a plan first to wrinkle my nose. a distinction needs to be drawn. I see nothing objectionable in this scenario.EPISTEMOLOGY & EVIDENTIAL STATUS OF INTROSPECTIVE REPORTS 5 evidence-conferring status from touch and touch does not wholly derive its evidence-conferring status from vision. 2000). as I discussed in two earlier papers (Goldman. What about introspection? Is it a plausible candidate for being a basic evidential source? If so. or trustworthiness. In discussing the prospects for behavioural corroboration of introspection. How far such reduction can go in the case of a basic evidential source is an open question. however. I registered pessimism about the independent validation of introspection. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. In the present discussion. they strengthen or reinforce each other’s evidence-conferring power. moreover. But there is no such analysis of consciousness. Lo. Is the introspection accurate? A predictive consequence of my having such a plan is its imminent execution.. Suppose I form a plan to execute a series of bodily movements. but this does not mean that it precludes independent validation (nor the possibility of limited invalidation. This is why. Each has the capacity to confer PF-warrant on its own. Observing this behaviour corroborates the accuracy of the introspection. and getting one would probably depend on prior use of introspection to determine conscious states (Goldman. or weakening). but is it good evidence for there having been a conscious plan? More generally. There must have been such a plan. The possibility of the former is illustrated in the previous paragraph. in the 1997 and 2000 papers. 1997. To the extent that vision and touch agree in their deliverances about physical objects. the sequence of behaviour unfolds. 2000). We need to distinguish the behavioural validation of introspection as a guide to mental states (e. To the extent that their deliverances conflict. the possibility of the latter is much more problematic. if there were a satisfactory functional analysis of consciousness. it is perfectly intelligible that the degree or strength of a basic source’s evidence-conferring power should be raised or lowered by corroboration or conflict with the deliverances of another basic source. The unusual behavioural sequence described above may be good evidence for there having been a plan. being a basic source does not require independent validation. they reduce or qualify each other’s evidence-conferring power. of introspection. I am considering the validation of introspection as an evidential source for mental (rather than conscious) states. which has better prospects. Notice that according to the present conceptualisation of a basic evidential source. I introspect this plan and verbally report it.not for reproduction . The problem for the second type of validation is that it isn’t clear what (non-verbal) behaviour attests to consciousness. the validation or corroboration in question would be entirely feasible. because otherwise the sequence had a very low probability.

GOLDMAN I am therefore inclined to classify introspection as a basic evidential source. Even if laypersons routinely accept introspective reports. that diminishes the listener’s warrant. its credibility varies from topic to topic. ‘that there not be (undefeated) evidence of [the method’s] unreliability’ (1997. Furthermore. 142) applied to the position staked out in Goldman (1997). introspection’s status as a basic evidential source guarantees PF-warrant only for the beliefs of an introspector. and insisted that avoidance of this scenario is an extra test introspection has to pass (above and beyond reliability per se). If the speaker’s source is questionable. scientists might justifiably believe things that challenge introspection’s reliability. epistemologists who sanction introspection as an evidential source are typically offering epistemological principles for common-sense thought and belief. they might justifiably view reports purportedly based on introspection as untrustworthy.g. In either case. An introspective report is a species of ‘testimony’. but one that admits the possibility of independent corroboration by other evidential sources.. Arguably. science erects more rigorous requirements for inference than those used by laypersons.I. it doesn’t follow that scientists should do so. that term is not an apt characterization even of the 1997 position. the listener’s warrant may depend on his warrant vis-à-vis the speaker’s source. I admitted the possibility of getting evidence for introspection’s substantial unreliability. The evidential credibility of testimony partly depends on which source or sources the speaker uses (or claims to use). First. for two reasons. Third. at least to some extent. III: The Scientific Status of Introspective Reports The foregoing account of introspection’s warrant does not resolve the evidential role of introspective reports in science. so the epistemology of introspective report inherits properties of testimony. there may be special problems associated with the verbal reporting of mental experience which should give scientists pause.. Going beyond introspection’s reliability. Scientific practice may be a separate issue. a term Piccinni (2003. A hearer might be PF-warranted in trusting someone who makes an observation-based claim. an experimental subject. but not in trusting someone whose claim is based on divine revelation. p. a wholly different matter. The 1997 paper endorsed a certain ‘negative’ constraint on the acceptability of methods. Obviously. testimony is not equally a source of evidence across all topics. requiring different and more demanding epistemic criteria. 543). Actually. Second. p. viz. So even the 1997 paper did not advocate accepting introspection on blind faith. Given high scientific standards for reliability of evidence. Perhaps science should also be more demanding in what it countenances as legitimate ‘data’ or evidence.not for reproduction . This says nothing about the warrant of a scientist who hears or otherwise learns of a subject’s report. e. scientists might have reasons to doubt the very existence of introspection as a bona fide process. So my current position could not be characterized as preaching reliance on introspection as a matter of faith. So let us consider these three possible challenges to Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. Returning to introspection. introspection might fall below the threshold.6 A.

it hardly follows from the special case of commisurotomy that confabulation is the method of all self-attribution. Gazzaniga therefore postulates a left-brain-based module called the ‘Interpreter’. and instead offered various spurious explanations. the second author of the paper. others may have been persuaded of only the narrower claim that there is no introspective access to cognitive processes.EPISTEMOLOGY & EVIDENTIAL STATUS OF INTROSPECTIVE REPORTS 7 introspection: (1) arguments for the non-existence of introspection. But Wilson now concedes that even this is not correct. p. I can have privileged. This is allegedly what happens in all self-attribution. in short. the Nisbett and Wilson argument was wrong about such cases’ (2002. although that piece of information is inaccessible to anyone else. Introspection may still be the predominant source of self-attribution.and thirdperson methods of mental-state attribution. Gopnik (1993) has appealed to Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. 2000). 1992. they have privileged access to the actual causes of these responses. much more accepting of the introspective method. [T]o the extent that people’s responses are caused by the adaptive unconscious. Gazzaniga advances a confabulation model of self-attribution based on split-brain experiments. In one of their studies. not just in commisurotomy.not for reproduction . introspective access to a specific memory that just came to mind. p. which constructs explanations of the agent’s behaviour by creating plausible theories. they do not have privileged access to the causes and must infer them. preferences among four identical pairs of panty hose were influenced by the positions of the items in a display. 105). and (3) arguments for the inaccuracy of verbal reports. the talking left hemisphere still confabulates a story about what is in view (Gazzaniga. Baynes and Gazzaniga. 2002. Nisbett and Wilson (1977) argued that subjects were unaware of the true causes of their own behaviour. because all that their original article meant to deny was that people have introspective access to the causes of behaviour. confined largely to clinical cases. but it may be comparatively rare. Some philosophers drew the conclusion that introspection is entirely bogus. says Wilson. But to the extent that people’s responses are caused by the conscious self. Confabulation seems to be one way self-attribution can occur. says Wilson. The precise moral readers drew from the Nisbett and Wilson paper may have varied. just as Nisbett and I argued. Cognitive scientists who doubt the existence of introspection often trace self-attribution of mental states to an entirely different source: inference or confabulation. At any rate. Subjects denied that position influenced their choices. or to cognitive processes. (2) arguments for the unreliability of introspective beliefs. and instead confabulated such causes. So one oft-cited critic of introspection now takes a substantially qualified position. This is introspective access to the content of a thought (Wilson. However. Nisbett and Wilson concluded that people have ‘little or no introspective access to higher order cognitive processes’. Wilson. This is not a major concession. When a commisurotomy patient’s left hemisphere is ‘blind’ to what the right hemisphere sees. now concedes that the article contained some overstatements. 106). Introspectionism endorses a fundamental asymmetry between first. First.

for example. Ch. Self-knowledge is a matter of theoretical inference rendered fluent by expertise. these ‘vague and elusive processes’ were imageless thoughts. no clear relation between accuracy and reported vividness was found. Many experimental psychologists concluded that introspective judgments about experience are inconsistent with measures of performance. 505–6). Subjects in both the Wurzburg and the Cornell laboratories reported identical observations. However. A body of research attempted to relate recall accuracy for a presented picture to the reported vividness of the memory. Gopnik concludes that the impression of immediate self-awareness is an illusion. From the Wurzburgers’ theoretical perspective. in psychology’s terminology). argued Monson and Hurlburt. see Hurlburt and Heavey. 9). and introspectionists would not claim that self-awareness is possible for past mental states. their disagreement came at a theoretical level. Monson and Hurlburt (1993. 2001) reviewed the Wurzburg and Cornell results and showed that the two factions in fact agreed with each other’s reports of the phenomenon that was called imageless thought. Another premature demonstration of introspection’s alleged unreliability is discussed by Ericsson (2003) and Jack and Roepstorff (2003). GOLDMAN alleged evidence of parallelism in children’s belief attributions to argue against introspection and in favour of inference in both self-attribution and other-attribution. They review many instances from the developmental literature showing that no such parallelism obtains. the facts here are questionable. Rosen et al. According to the standard historical account. namely the existence of ‘vague and elusive processes. which carry as if in a nutshell the entire meaning of a situation’ (Titchener. conflicting reports showed that many of the subjects must have introspected incorrectly. For example. the two sides were in perfect agreement. three-year-olds made analogous errors about their own immediately past beliefs as they make about other people’s beliefs.I. 1910/1980.6 The second scientific reason for distrusting introspective reports appeals to its unreliability (or invalidity. Second. they were not. Surprisingly. In a deceptive-container task.not for reproduction . children’s errors in the cited studies were errors about past beliefs. inconsistencies between introspective reports about ‘imageless’ thought in the early twentieth century already revealed introspection’s unreliability. First. some attempts to do this have been premature or badly interpreted. Assuming similarity in thought across subjects. As I have indicated. At the level of pure description.8 A. from Titchener’s theoretical perspective. thereby challenging introspection’s reliability [6] For a more extended defense of introspection as the primary method of self-attribution. science can certainly produce evidence to challenge introspection’s reliability. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -.and third-person attribution has been roundly refuted by Nichols and Stich (2003). the alleged parallelism between first. whereas Gopnik and Slaughter (1991) found that children of the same age did perfectly well on questions about what they themselves pretended or imagined. see Goldman (forthcoming. pp. Gopnik’s case is unpersuasive for several reasons. On the other hand. (1997) found that young children have a great deal of difficulty characterizing the pretences of others.

however. and patients are likely to ‘embroider’ their descriptions.) Visual discrimination may be inaccurate where the visible objects are too far away. MW. Epistemologists find this type of manoeuvre attractive in other domains.not for reproduction . The psychologists in question took the findings to refute the correspondence between reported and actual vividness. But it does pose a challenge to the reliability of introspective reports. Cytowic had a patient. the findings only show that one cannot sustain both of the following relationships: a correspondence between vividness and memory accuracy and a correspondence between reported vividness and actual (experienced) vividness. one can reasonably take into account vision’s range of acuity. requires re-representing the contents of a mental state.. and hence a stronger candidate for acceptability. As Jack and Roepstorff rightly indicate. some information can get lost or become distorted in the ‘translation’. or verbally interpreting a sensory experience by translating tactile sensations into images a clinician could understand? That is difficult for the hearer to resolve. In other words. As with any recoding process. (This is routinely done in calibrating instruments. however. than introspection tout-court. A similar problem is discussed by Cytowic (2003) in connection with synaesthesia. Synaesthestic experiences are difficult to express verbally. Schooler (2002) points out that an introspective belief. or meta-representation. the taste of a wine. because the verbalizations can be inaccurate or misleading. Was he being metaphoric. In wondering whether vision is an acceptable evidential source. MW described the taste of spearmint as ‘cool glass columns’. But why not abandon the presumed correspondence between vividness and memory accuracy. The likelihood of noise entering the translation process is particularly great when the reported experience is inherently difficult to put into words. Although I have cast doubt on certain attempts to challenge introspection’s reliability. one could build range restrictions into the specification of the candidate source. but this should not totally Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. Cognitive science has posed many roadblocks to introspection’s reliability. preserving the accuracy of the vividness reports? Our third possible source of error concerns problems of verbal reporting. Introspection-in-conditions-O* may be more reliable. I do not intend to cast general doubt on such attempts. Alternatively. 1990). the description may distort the reality. Cases like this do not challenge the reliability of introspection itself. in whom taste and smell evoked tactile perceptions in the hands and face. When people try to express in words experiences like the appearance of a face. thereby undercutting introspection’s reliability. one could reconfigure the source that is considered as a candidate for scientific acceptability.EPISTEMOLOGY & EVIDENTIAL STATUS OF INTROSPECTIVE REPORTS 9 (validity). Introspection tout court could be replaced by a more carefully configured source: introspection-in-conditions-O* (where O* is the complement of O). these problems and roadblocks must be kept in proper perspective. i.e. A natural reaction is to treat this evidence as reducing introspection’s overall reliability. or the intuitions that lead to insights. However. Suppose an experimental paradigm indicates that introspection in conditions of type O yields false beliefs. the (non-verbal) beliefs that awareness generates. There is a related effect of verbalization called ‘verbal overshadowing’ (Schooler & Engstler-Schooler.

By contrast. with the understanding that this default attitude should be reversed if there are experimental or theoretical reasons to do so. GOLDMAN undercut its evidential viability. His heterophenomenological approach (Dennett. one might apply the strategy ‘offensively’ by experimentally identifying conditions that optimise introspection’s reliability. introspection is a private method because everyone applies introspection to their own mental states. But what. Ericsson. then there can be no expectation of valid (i. 1997..I. this notion of ‘public’ is most crucial to science: science’s ability to reproduce a phenomenon of interest and make the same finding about it. Finally.not for reproduction . 2003). However.10 A. introspection might again pass muster (Thanks here to Tony Jack). personal Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. 1991. Dennett takes a different tack from my suggestion that scientists are PF-warranted in accepting subjects’ verbal reports. when investigators try to obtain more information by asking subjects why they responded in a certain way (as in the Nisbett and Wilson 1977 study). not tokens. In counselling agnosticism. we may define a visual source with a suitably high level of accuracy. Arguably. So in this sense of ‘public’. nobody else can apply it to those same token states. if behavioural–functional methods are usable to check up on your introspections. exactly. They contend that the closest connection between thinking and verbal reports is found when subjects verbalize thoughts generated during task completion. Jack and Shallice (2001) contend that the Ericsson–Simon verbal-reporting procedures are overly constraining. as I now am inclined to agree. IV: Dennett and Heterophenomenology Dennett’s approach to verbal reports contrasts sharply with mine.e. 1980. at least on the surface. 2003) instructs scientists to adopt agnosticism about the truth of subjects’ verbal reports. Reproducibility or replicability is a matter of event types. Many theorists of science insist that science should invoke only public evidence. reliable) responses. By introducing appropriate range qualifications. That seems to preclude scientific reliance on introspection. This is the sense of privacy I focused on in Goldman (1997). and I think this is right. Their theoretical and experimental analysis aims to specify types of verbal reports about thinking that offer the highest validity. there is a third sense of ‘public’ in which it refers to replicability or reproducibility. an ostensibly private affair. But the Ericsson–Simon work illustrates how scientific work on introspection fits with the epistemological perspective adopted here. 1993. there is a second sense of ‘public’ in which introspection is public. Instead of using the range-qualification strategy ‘defensively’ to exclude conditions shown to lower introspection’s reliability. My suggestion is that the provisional attitude of scientists should be wary acceptance of subjects’ verbal reports. Dennett (2003) disputes an earlier descriptive claim of mine (Goldman. A final factor in assessing introspection’s acceptability for purposes of science is an additional constraint: publicity. does the privacy/publicity distinction consist in? In one sense of ‘private’. This is the aim of Ericsson and Simon’s research program on protocol analysis (Ericsson & Simon.

Were subjects really doing this ‘mental rotation’? By varying the angular distance actually required to rotate the two figures into congruence. Subjects always say that they are rotating their mental images. Dennett offers conjectures about purely hypothetical reactions of psychologists to purely hypothetical introspective reports. These were hardly introspective reports. as I see it. one expects to find examples in which subjects actually made introspective reports that psychologists actually used or ignored. Suppose subjects had said something along the lines he imagines. what would that prove? The problem. e. 1971). is that the intended meaning of those verbal reports would not have been strictly relevant to the intended meaning of the Shepard–Metzler (or Kosslyn) hypothesis. A subject’s statement would be equivalent to: ‘I visualized one of the figures being rotated’. and timing the responses. Referring to mental rotation experiments by Roger Shepard. Dennett (2003) chooses an oddly perverse example. Instead. 1974/1982). certainly not reports of mental rotation. Still. since Pylyshyn and others were quick to compose alternative hypotheses that could account for this striking temporal relationship. . but their hypothesis was not supported by mental-rotation reports by their subjects. . 2003. Practiced subjects. Since Dennett’s discussion is concerned with how psychologists treat introspective reports. (Dennett. Their experimental responses consisted of lever-pullings that indicated ‘same’ or ‘different’ — these being judgments about the congruence or non-congruence of two figures (Metzler & Shepard. 131). But [7] It is interesting that Wilson (2003) now makes a very similar claim to mine: ‘A casual perusal of jour- nals in virtually all subdisciplines of [psychology] reveals many dependent measures in which participants are asked to report their internal states. ‘I mentally rotated my image of one of the figures’. Dennett writes: Most subjects claim to solve the problem by rotating one of the two figures in their ‘mind’s eye’ or imagination. p. explained the latencies of their subjects’ responses in terms of hypothesized mental rotations (analogue transformations). Shepard and Metzler. to see if it could be superimposed on the other. he reported. are able to rotate such mental images at an angular velocity of roughly 60° per second (Shepard & Metzler. it would have lacked commitment to a specific cognitive architecture of visual imagery.7 In disputing my descriptive claim. of course. or visual imagery. Shepard and Kosslyn would have never needed to do their experiments to support subjects’ claims that what they were doing (at least if described metaphorically) really was a process of image manipulation. As a statement about the ordinary experience of visualization.EPISTEMOLOGY & EVIDENTIAL STATUS OF INTROSPECTIVE REPORTS 11 communication) that scientists make a practice of relying ‘substantially’ on subjects’ introspective reports. and in each of these fields there is evidence for the validity of these reports’ (2003. 25) The example is odd because Shepard and Metzler’s subjects never reported rotating mental images.g. so if agnosticism were not the tacit order of the day. Not terribly helpful.. Would psychologists have been persuaded of the analogue transformation hypothesis that Shepard and Metzler advanced? If not.not for reproduction . Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. let us consider Dennett’s conjectures. This didn’t settle the issue. . p. Shepard was able to establish a remarkably regular linear relation between latency of response and angular displacement.

Observers reported what they were seeing by pressing one response key whenever (and for as long as) the surround appeared to be figure and pressing the other response key whenever (and for as long as) the centre appeared to be figure . But architecturally neutral interpretations are eminently more plausible. But rarely. as the mental rotation example illustrates.not for reproduction . or conceptualisations. They were also asked to report all reversals. the verbal reports concerned how the stimulus array appeared to them at various times.’ (1991. They would not fall into the range of subject matter for which introspection may be regarded as reliable. even extremely rapid ones. this leads him to conclude that introspective reports should not be trusted. . They would not be credited with any evidential worth vis-à-vis the scientists’ cognitivist hypotheses. Thus. Their introspective reports are typically couched in descriptions.. Shepard and Metzler recognized. if ever. What is the evidence for my claim that the standard practice among cognitive scientists is to give wary. The following. (1991) studied figure/ground reversals in perception. But relative to the coarse-grained descriptions they use. Their subjects were asked to ‘report accurately about which region [a black region or a white region] appeared to be figure at any moment. GOLDMAN cognitive architecture is precisely what Shepard and Metzler (and Kosslyn) were interested in. however. truthful). His proclivity is to interpret ordinary introspective reports in architecturally loaded terms. So of course Shepard and Metzler did the experiments they did rather than ask subjects for introspective reports of visualization. provisional credence to subjects’ verbal reports (suitably interpreted)? Here are two simple illustrations. . p. in other words. There is a general moral here. always prefer the latter. their introspections might be perfectly adequate (i. 1078). laypersons’ descriptions of their mental lives are open to more than one interpretation. Admittedly. and a choice is available between an architecturally loaded interpretation of the report and an architecturally neutral interpretation. This leaves entirely open the question of whether they (the psychologists) would have accepted introspective reports of visualization as accurate reports — of visualization. Naturally. and these reports were the principal experimental evidence utilized. The investigators evidently assumed that the subjects’ reports of how the stimulus array appeared were accurate accountings of how the array did appear.’ This is just the opposite of Dennett’s practice. and they offer much better prospects for truth or accuracy. Peterson et al. which comports with the discussion in Section III. and I pick no quarrel with that conclusion under an architecturally loaded interpretation.12 A. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. .e. do ordinary subjects have introspections about such cognitivist matters. . much less fine-grained than those of interest to cognitive scientists. To establish something about cognitive architecture. seems like a reasonable rule of thumb: ‘When considering an introspective report. mere verbal reports of visualization would hardly have sufficed.I. . It is certainly true that if ordinary subjects offered introspections about the cognitive processes that interest cognitive scientists — the causal or computational processes underlying some specimen of thought — cognitive scientists would pay little or no heed to them.

His procedure assumed that the subjects’ reports of having (or not having) a feeling of knowing were accurate reports of the presence (or absence) of such feelings. These other statements are worth exploration. 22) You [the subject] are not authoritative about what is happening in you. we first need to ask what it means to give the subject ‘dictatorial authority’ over how things seem to him. or even well-grounded. he displayed trust in the subjects’ introspective reports. However. Here are two formulations from his contribution to Part 1 of ‘Trusting the Subject’ in this journal (Dennett. 1991. So here too the subjects were automatically warranted in believing that the seemings (visual appearances) were as they were believed to be. but only about what seems to be happening in you. 2003. What is included under the heading of ‘seemings’? At a minimum. of course. (Originally published in Dennett.EPISTEMOLOGY & EVIDENTIAL STATUS OF INTROSPECTIVE REPORTS 13 the subjects’ reports corresponded to their actual visual experiences (with respect to perceived figure and ground). they were asked to indicate whether or not they had a feeling of knowing the answer. If they left a question blank. So if subject S believes that he (now) believes p. pp. p. the investigators ostensibly granted their subjects ‘dictatorial authority’ over whether a certain region of an array appeared (at a given moment) to be figure or ground. as expressed in their communication. 96–7. He gave subjects a test of recall involving 50 factual questions. dictatorial authority over the account of how it seems to you.e. and Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. but then you treat them as constitutive of that subject’s subjectivity. This should meet with Dennett’s approval. In making this assumption. about what it is like to be you.. a feeling that they knew the correct answer although they couldn’t remember it at the moment. Hart (1965) investigated the accuracy of ‘feelings of knowing’. p. like perceptual appearings and sensations? In the figure/ground study. In an early study of meta-cognition. and we are giving you total. (2003. why not extend such warrant to propositions about (current) desires. What about other seemings. then he justifiably believes this. he also says other things that present a rather different picture. beliefs. Subjects were instructed not to answer a question if they weren’t confident of an answer. are true. 2003): You [the scientist] reserve judgment about whether the subject’s beliefs. 22) To interpret these passages. i. Hart was interested in how their feelings of knowing correlated with their actual knowledge (memory). But if automatic warrant is conferred in this fashion on these mental-state propositions. Dennett. It presumably means that the subject is automatically warranted in believing propositions about how things seem to him.not for reproduction . quoted approvingly in Dennett. officially preaches scientific agnosticism toward subjects’ introspections. These two examples are characteristic of investigators’ default propensity to assume that subjects’ verbal reports are trustworthy. plans.

1997. This does not much threaten the actual truth ratio of spontaneous introspective reports. which arises for any scientific instrument and cognitive capacity. Dennett would be licensing the subject with a tremendous amount of warrant about his own mental life. Thus far.. One would seek to specify the operational conditions under which introspection is (sufficiently) reliable. however.14 A.. The resulting position is internally incoherent. Why doesn’t it follow that the investigator is also warranted in believing the contents of the subject’s (self-descriptive) beliefs? If we track all the apparent consequences of these passages. What about the warrant of an investigator who observes a subject’s report? Setting aside insincerity (not a major issue for Dennett). GOLDMAN other (personal-level) mental states?8 If this natural extension is made. testimony can complicate the situation. I would subdivide the problem into two parts. Simons & Levin. one can easily miss events or dimensions of the scene to which one doesn’t attend. the types of mental or cognitive descriptions for which introspection is prone to be accurate (assuming operational conditions are right). A crucial problem for the theory of introspection is to fix its range of reliability. we find a position strikingly at variance with the scepticism or agnosticism about verbal reports that Dennett usually embraces.I. This is a topic I won’t venture into. [8] Notice that from a functionalist point of view there is no principled distinction between beliefs and desires. Their roles in producing behavior. verbal reports would not be reliable if they concerned these states. are quite symmetrical. V: Fixing the Range of Introspective Reliability I have conceded — indeed insisted — that introspective reports are not reliable across all conditions or descriptions of mental life. that the subject is undergoing or has undergone the reported seemings)? True. and processes are not conscious.not for reproduction . Mack & Rock.. This is the problem of calibration. Since cognitive scientists generally agree that the vast majority of mental states. suggests that the range of accurate introspection is even narrower than conscious events. Rensink et al. Many studies have established that even if one is ‘seeing’ a certain scene. Recent research. it may be confined to attended events. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -..9 On the question of operational conditions. i. I allude here to research on change blindness and inattentional blindness (O’Regan et al. why isn’t a subject’s warrant for his beliefs transmissible to an investigator? Why isn’t an investigator who observes the report also warranted in believing their contents (viz. So why should authority be granted to beliefs about one’s beliefs but not about one’s desires? [9] A third dimension is the medium or mode of the report. 1998. the license pertains only to the subject’s own warrant. events. But Dennett’s own principles seem to imply that the investigator is warranted in regarding the subject as authoritative in his (self-descriptive) beliefs. Work by Marcel (1993) indicates that there can be conflicts across different reporting modes. 1998).e. The second would seek to specify the propositional contents for which it is reliable. it is pretty clear that introspection is capable of detecting only states of consciousness. because they almost always do address conscious events. for example. 1999.

ed. ‘The clinician’s paradox: Believing those you must not trust. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2010 For personal use only -. ‘Who’s on first? Heterophenomenology explained.A. The Reliability of Sense Perception (Ithaca. As previously indicated. I also benefited from discussion of similar material given at the University of Delaware (Department of Philosophy). ‘Consciousness. (1993). ‘Verbal reports as data. This cannot be the full story because some personal-level descriptions refer to non-conscious states of affairs. We still need a more precise characterization of what counts as ‘personal-level’. and temporal relations among mental events may not be reliably detectable. D. This architectural topic is surely outside the window of introspective reliability. K. but in no way do they suggest that a systematic treatment is in principle beyond reach.S. (2003). C.J.C. ‘Valid and non-reactive verbalization of thought during performance of tasks: towards a solution to the central problems of introspection as a source of scientific data. Testimony (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Ericcson. although one can gain introspective access to them by retrieval or activation. pp.C. pp.’ Philosophical Review 102. including its computational properties. Baynes. may not be reliably introspectible.’ Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (9–10). prospects for their reliability cannot be very good. 1355–68 (Cambridge. (1980). pp. Coady.A. (2003). (1993). These cannot be directly introspected. Ericsson and Simon’s work indicates that maximum reliability is attained when reports are concurrent rather than retrospective. & Gazzaniga. such as standing desires and beliefs. Carroll. pp. [10] Thanks to the issue editor (Tony Jack) and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on a first draft of the paper. What. H.’ Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (9–10). is beyond introspection’s range of accessibility. (1992). exactly. no cognitive scientist should regard that as reliable evidence for the existence of a language of thought. pp. (2000). 278–80.S. K. Gazzaniga. Burge. In general. and the split-brain: The two minds/one body problem. ‘Content preservation. NY: Cornell University Press). introspection. But timing also enters into reliability in other ways.EPISTEMOLOGY & EVIDENTIAL STATUS OF INTROSPECTIVE REPORTS 15 Perceivers asked to watch a videotape of a basketball game and count the number of times one team took possession of the ball failed to notice a person in a gorilla suit stroll onto the centre of the court and do a little jig. reliability should not be expected for descriptions of cognitive architecture. even if conscious and attended.not for reproduction . is within the range? One possible answer is: personal-level descriptions. Cytowic. Ericcson. If a (naïve) subject were to ‘report’ that her concurrent conscious thoughts are mediated by a language of thought. Dennett. M. Brief episodes. L. K.E. & Simon.A. ‘What the tortoise said to Achilles. which brings them into working memory (consciousness). These reflections indicate that a systematic treatment of introspection’s reliability is well beyond our current grasp. 215–51. Selecting appropriate content constraints is extremely tricky.’ in The New Cognitive Neurosciences. T. Timing factors are another major parameter. Dennett. pp. the micro-structure of cognition. D. 157–66. Unless verbal reports are restricted to attended events (or event dimensions). (1991).’ Mind 4. M. R. MA: Little Brown).’ Psychological Review 87. 2nd edition. W. MA: MIT Press).10 References Alston. 19–30. 457–88. (1895). pp. But here we move into the territory of the reported contents. (2003). Consciousness Explained (Boston. 1–18.P.’ Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (9–10).A.

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