Picture: Socrates looking at himself. Introspection, the direct examination of the contents of our own minds, seems itself to be in many minds at the moment.  The latest issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies was devoted to papers on introspection, marking the tenth anniversary of the publication of The View from Within, by Francisco Varela and Jonathan Shear (which was itself a special edition of the JCS); and now Eric Schwitzgebel has produced a new entry for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The two accounts are of course quite different in some respects. The encyclopaedia entry is a careful, scholarly account, neutral and comprehensive; the JCS issue is openly a rallying-cry in support of a programme flowing from Varela’s work.  This, it seems, called for an end to the ban on examination of lived experience;  the JCS gives the impression that it was something of a milestone, though Schwitzgebel’s piece does not mention it (he does cite an earlier paper by Varela, once again in the JCS).

What’s all this about a ban? Well, back in the nineteenth century, psychologists had no fears about using introspective evidence; it was thought that a proper scientific effort would lead to an objectively verifiable kind of phenomenology. We should be able to classify the elements of mental experience and clarify how they worked together, just by examining what went on in our own heads. A great deal of work was done on all this (It was a great disappointments for me to discover, on first opening Brentano’s Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, that it consisted almost entirely of this kind of thing, and that the only passage about intentional inexistence, the interesting issue, was the couple of paragraphs which I had already read as quotes in several other books.).  There was a gradual refinement of the methods involved, leading on to the great heyday of introspectionism, with Wundt and Titchener in the lead. Unfortunately, it became clear that the rival schools of introspectionism had begun to come up with results which in some respects were radically different and incompatible, and since our own introspections are by their nature private and unverifiable, all they could really do by way of settling the issues was to shout at each other.

This embarrassing impasse led to a reaction away from introspection and to the rise of behaviourism, which not only denied the usefulness of examining our inner experience, but actually went to the extreme of denying that there was any such thing as inner experience.  Behaviourism in its turn fell out of favour, but according to Varela there remained an instinctive distrust of introspection which continued to put people off it as an avenue of research. This is the ‘ban’ he wanted to see overturned.

Was there, is there, really a ban? Not exactly.  Apart from the most dogmatic of the behaviourists, no-one has ever tried to exclude introspection altogether. In recent times, introspective evidence has been widely accepted – the problem of qualia, thought by some to be the problem of consciousness, depends entirely on introspection. I think the real problem arises when we adopt special methods. In order to obtain consistent results, the old introspectionists thought extensive training was necessary. It wasn’t enough to sit and think for a bit; you had to have mastered certain skills of discrimination and perception. The methodological dangers involved in teaching your researchers what kind of thing they could legitimately look for are clear.

Unfortunately, it seems to be very much this kind of programme which the JCS authors would like to resurrect – or rather, have resurrected, and wish to gain acceptance and support for.  Once again we are going to need to learn how to introspect properly before our observations will be acceptable. What makes it worse for me is that the proposal seems to be tied up with NLP – Neuro-linguistic Programming.  I don’t know a great deal about NLP: it seems to be a protean doctrine which shares with the Holy Roman Empire the property of not really being any of the three things in its name – but for me it does nothing to render another trip down this particular blind alley more attractive.

Blandula I don’t know about that, but aren’t they right to emphasise the potential value of introspection? Isn’t it the case that introspection is our only source of infallible information? Most of the things we perceive are subject to error and delusion, but we can’t, for example, be wrong about the fact that we are feeling pain, can we? That seems interesting to me. Our impressions of the outside world come to us through a chain of cause and effect, and at any stage errors or misinterpretations can creep in; but because introspection is direct, there’s no space for error to occur. You could well say it’s our only source of certain knowledge – isn’t that worth pursuing a little more systematically?

Bitbucket Infallible? That is the exact reverse of the truth: in fact all introspections are false. Think about it. Introspection can only address the contents of consciousness, right? You can’t introspect the unconscious mental processes that keep you balanced, or regulate your heartbeat. But all of the contents of consciousness have intentionality – they’re all about things, yes? So to have direct experience of mental content is to be thinking about something else – not about the mental state itself, but about the thing it’s about! Now when we attempt to think directly about our own mental states, it follows that we’re not experiencing them in themselves – we’re experiencing a different mental state which is about them. In short, we’re necessarily imagining our mental states. Far from having direct contact, we are inevitably thinking about something we’ve just made up.


  1. 1. Doru says:

    I took some NLP training sessions almost 10 years ago.
    The main experience was to go through guided introspection. So basically, somebody that has refined a good method of achieving a certain desired change would guide you through all kinds of steps to make you imagine certain images, have certain thoughts, feelings, etc. He was using a lot of anchoring techniques like breathing, tapping certain areas on your body, etc.
    Back then I wouldn’t have paid any money for that kind of non-sense, but for some mysterious reason I did.

  2. 2. Paul Bello says:

    Hi Peter,
    Cool entry. Ironically, I just submitted a paper last night to the cognitive science society’s annual meeting on the relationship (or lack of one) between introspection and 3rd-person mental state attribution. Peter Carruthers has written an interesting article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences last year that does a good job at summarizing lots of the relevant bits of the debate. I find his arguments unpersuasive at some level, but that’s just me.

    I too am not in favor of so-called “special methods,” but being mostly a simulationist about mindreading, I’m happy to consider other options than the less-than-plausible notion that we have an “interpretation engine” in our left hemisphere that we use to confabulate explanations.

    In any case, I’ll be following this thread closely.

  3. 3. Lloyd Rice says:

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Blandula on the possibility of access to others’ qualia. Bitbucket is just a bit to rigid on the matter.

    Back in the times of topic “Cryptic Consciousness” on this blog, I had started to ponder how others see the world (see my comments 41, 43, 46). Since then, I have talked to several more people and I am thoroughly convinced that the words they say do in fact represent details of how they see the world; ways that definitely differ from the way I see it.

  4. 4. Vicente says:

    Lloyd: “…I am thoroughly convinced that the words they say do in fact represent details of how they see the world; ways that definitely differ from the way I see it…”

    I find that observation extremely interesting. If it is not too personal, could you please give us an example of this point that you mention.

  5. 5. Lloyd Rice says:

    Vicente: This blog, “Cryptic Consciousness” comment 43 has, I believe, the clearest statement of what people have said to me and how I interpret their words. I am convinced that various people “see” and “hear” different things (or “see” and “hear” in different ways) when they imagine with eyes closed.

  6. 6. Elvin says:

    i have been limping along behind your interesting blogs – one thing seems to have escaped your attention – what do you think about music in the consciousness exploration?

  7. 7. Vicente says:

    I would say: introspection is welcome, as long as it remains personal or, in the realm of philosophy or literature. By definition of scientific method, introspection is not suitable for scientific purposes. I don’t think this point can be argued (in principle).

    Personally, I believe introspection very valuable for personal improvement as a fundamental part of many meditation techniques. But that’s it.

    I only have one doubt, and it is in those cases in which the effect a certain agent on the mind is being tested. From drugs for mental disease to electrical shocks, whatever. I don’t know if behaviour observations could be enough for those studies. Data from the individual inner experience told by individuals under test, should probably need to be considered. Probably only by having a huge sample, and appropiate statistical treatment we could get round this problem. Or just be happy with a qualitative (pseudo-scientific) approach. I don’t have an answer.

    After all, one thing is medicine, and another one is “medicine based on evidence”. Look at placebo. And so many medical cases that remain without scientific explanation. But the more I see, the more I think medicine is an art not a science.

    Then we have all the logical and philosophical problems related to instrospection, like: who is looking at what? infinite image/observer recursive chains, and so on…

    So introspection yes, but be careful what you claim you can do with introspective… “data”?

  8. 8. Lloyd Rice says:

    In my informal survey, musicians tend to be vivid audializers while scientists tend to be abstract audializers (and visualizers) (see CC comment 43). As for your concern, Vicente, it seems to me that a survey such as I have done informally, could easily be put on a scientific basis by simply keeping score and doing some statistical analyses. You might raise an objection in that the data consists of verbal responses. But I believe psychologists have plenty of precedent for dealing with that.

  9. 9. Lloyd Rice says:

    Artists tend to be vivid visualizers. Or should I say vivid visualizers tend to be artists?

  10. 10. Peter says:

    Interesting observations, Lloyd. I think it’s often said that people’s approach to maths is either geometric or algebraic – I think the people who naturally see it algebraically have an advantage in the early stages (but I might have misremembered).

    To come on to music (Hi, Elvin!),it makes sense to me that composers like Beethoven or Handel, who seemed able to go on composing in just the same way while deaf, would have been vivid audializers. Music seems to me very complex phenomenologically, with its built-in emotional affect. Not sure whether internal (introspected?) music would have those qualities.

  11. 11. Vicente says:

    “…Not sure whether internal (introspected?) music would have those qualities…”

    It does, at least to me, although not as intense as when listened from external source.

  12. 12. Vicente says:

    Lloyd, first it would be very stupid and arrogant from me to comment your survey without having hardly any information about it, I admit that in advance. Second I think it is very interesting, unfortunately for me I suspect I am a 100% vivid visualizer, and I cannot picture this other abstract way of imagining things. I would just like to comment, that to put something on a scientific basis is not making science, my objections would be many. Let’s say you want to produce a theory, eg: “Taxonomy of Imagination Modes”. First, you would need to describe in detail each possibility, then you wouldn’t have direct access to observe the modes, only indirectly by the people testimonies, etc, etc… Finally you can treat your data if you want to… and then try to explain to some of your field colleagues, for peer review purposes, what is an abstract visualizer if they are vivid ones. I don’t know.

    “…But I believe psychologists have plenty of precedent for dealing with that…”

    Well, this is deep in the topic of this blog. Look what psychologists had to do to ask for room in science sphere, become strong behaviourists in order to try to stick to the scientific method.

    I am not saying that science is superior to any other discipline, and I am aware it has many limitations, but let’s respect its space.

  13. 13. Lloyd Rice says:

    This “survey” I’ve talked about is a pretty vague thing at this point; just some informal conversations with some friends. But a few things are clear. My current thought is that a more “scientific” approach would be a list of questions that “subjects” could answer. They could be either yes/no or multiple choice. Then any of several scaling methods could be used to sort out the “taxonomy of imagination modes”. Nice phrase. Thanks, Vicente.

    Peter, some of the last paragraph encroaches upon some thoughts re your recent query. At least, I’m leaning that way.

  14. 14. Lloyd Rice says:

    And need I say? Vivid audializers tend to be musicians.

  15. 15. Doru says:

    I have a question here,
    I believe that we all make movies in our heads one way or the other. The question that rises is if any of these acts of vivid imagination can break the cause and effect karma?
    I tend to believe that they are all predetermined, and the only thought that actually can be considered non-deterministic is the thought of “no thought”. I couldn’t find anybody able to do it and empty his mind, even though there is an abundance of claims about it.

  16. 16. Lloyd Rice says:

    Why should “no thought” be nondeterministic? You put your brain into a state in which it does not acknowledge/respond to/react to the external world. The world goes on, your brain ignores it. Why should that be nondeterministic?

  17. 17. Peter says:

    I don’t know about literally breaking the ’cause and effect karma’, but there is something interesting in the way the intentionality of our thoughts seems unbounded. It seems as if anything, including imaginary or absurd entities, can come up as objects of thought, which might go some way towards explaining why our thoughts don’t seem as if they would be predictable.

    I think Susan Blackmore believes we function most efficiently in a state of “no thought” – if we can clear our minds of the delusion that we have selves that are making decisions, it allows the memeplexes to do their work more efficiently. If I remember rightly, she suggests this is the ideal state of mind in which to drive, which is not something I’d endorse.

  18. 18. Paul Bello says:

    I’m unclear about why “no-thought” is nondeterministic, and “thought” might be, but one thing seems pretty clear from the neuroimaging studies of professional meditators — at some point, the region of the brain associated with spatial perspective and self-orienting seems to temporarily stop functioning normally. This is apparently related to feelings of being either (1) connected to the universal mind, or (2) being disconnected from the world.

  19. 19. Doru says:

    Lloyd, by nondeterministic I mean spontaneous, uncaused, without reason, purpose, necessity. What about introspection? Can the brain shut off reacting on its internal world? Is the external world really external or is rather just an internal model?

    Peter, you actually recognize who is the source of my intrigue; Susan Blackmore. She is the one responsible for putting this idea in my mind that “there is no free will, only free won’t,,,,” I’ve tried some mind emptying meditations and I am not an endorser of that either. Just the experience of getting a glimpse of what is behind the curtain can help towards a better understanding. It’s ok beeing delusional.

  20. 20. Kar Lee says:

    “…This is apparently related to feelings of being either (1) connected to the universal mind….”
    Paul, that is very interesting. Could you point me to some references or further readings? Thanks,

  21. 21. Vicente says:

    Peter, I ask your despite it should be Ms. Blackmore who should problably be addressed.

    “…I think Susan Blackmore believes we function most efficiently in a state of “no thought” – if we can clear our minds of the delusion that we have selves that are making decisions, it allows the memeplexes to do their work more efficiently…”

    “Efficiency” of a system is always defined and measured in relation to its capacity to achieve a goal or perform a function. What is the goal of the memplex in this case? never ending self replication and propagation? wouldn’t it be better to have societies composed of individuals with no “intellectual immune system” (idiots) rather than with no system at all. Viruses and parasites need a hosts to survive.

    I see it as if in a way we were individuals infected my a “meme machine”, not a meme machine itself. We can have a treatment for that. “no thought” state freezes the infection but doesn’t heal it or inmunize for future ones.

    Doru: “there is no free will, only free won’t,,,,” this idea comes from long before Ms. Blackmore.

    Regarding comment #17, determinism: Could it help to analyse more in detail the properties of the brain “Default Network” responsible at least in part to through thoughts while we are idle. I would be interested in possible paths between the “Default Network”, and memory management networks, hippocampus, amygdala…

  22. 22. Lloyd Rice says:

    Doru: In my comment 16, I wasn’t really thinking. I’m not much into these philosophical issues anyway. But as I understand it, on the level of physics, the universe seems to be basically nondeterministic. As far as “spontaneous, uncaused, without …”, I suspect the brain is no more deterministic that the universe in general. So what am I saying? I do believe it is possible, in certain modes of meditation, to shut off all or nearly all of the external stimuli which normally act to build an internal world model. I’m not a solopsist: I do not believe this act causes the universe to stop. But the impact on one’s current state of mind could be profound.

  23. 23. Lloyd Rice says:

    OR,… “the universe seems to be basically nondeterministic”, at the quantum level and all that, but on the level of reality that we perceive, things do seem to be essentially deterministic. Now, whether or not that is a basic philosophical contradiction, I do not know and don’t really care.

  24. 24. Paul Bello says:

    I’d have a look at Andrew Newburg’s work. He’s authored a couple of different books. Just pop his name into an amazon.com search. He’s one of may who have done that sort of research, but you’ll probably find that he’s written nice summaries. I find him to be fairly objective as well — not a hardcore materialist about the mind, but not a overtly dogmatic religious believer. Properly agnostic.

  25. 25. Vicente says:

    Lloyd: regarding your #22 and #23, the relation between quantum and classical physics, that I think is what you are refering to, is quite established in the “Correspondence Principle”. Deterministic and Non-Deterministic systems are very well defined according to the kind of equations that model a system, and I don’t think in cosmological (general relativity) we could say “the Universe” is non deterministic. We have to consider each system on a case by case basis. Then, I think we should be very cautious and careful to consider the brain (as a whole) as a deterministic or not system. Actually mesoscopic structures eg: synapsis, ion channels, etc that are abundant in the brain are not easy to model. And finally consider the case of chaotic systems, with deterministic equations, but not susceptible of forecasting (accuracy required in boundary conditions, and computing accuracy, finite number or bits) eg: climate, indeterministic in practical terms.

    The problem is up to what to what extent the concept of determinism is appropiate to explore these issues of introspection, imagination, etc.

  26. 26. Peter says:

    Vicente – on Susan Blackmore, I think ‘efficiency’ was probably the wrong word. I think she says clearing your mind – or paying equal attention to everything – is like waking up out of a confused state. I think this line of thinking probably owes as much to Buddhism as to Dawkins.

  27. 27. Lloyd Rice says:

    On Blackmore; I just watched the 2005 Skeptics Conf talk. An interesting thing I noticed was that during the Libet discussion, I did my thing with the hand and I never had a sense that “I am going to move my hand NOW”. Instead, what I sensed darkly was a feeling of setting up a plan. I would think of a series of multiple hand flips. Then at intervals of a few seconds my hand would make 2 or 3 quick movements, a few seconds later, a few more, etc. Then I would think of another sequence, etc. But I never had a feeling of “now I will move it” at the “clock” moment. Still, I suspect that is the moment when the motor ERP occurred.

  28. 28. Lloyd Rice says:

    Sorry. If I recall Libet, the motor ERP comes 1/3 sec before the “clock” time. Still, what I am saying is that the planning thought I had was seconds before that. I sensed nothing at either ERP time or “clock” time.

  29. 29. Lloyd Rice says:

    BTW, it seems I am an abstract audializer. When I think of a Brahms symphony, I do not actually “hear” sounds. I imagine the chords in some abstract way, not numerical intervals, not any complex “system” of what I intellectually know the sound is like, but still, it is not at all like what I really hear when I put on the CD. It is missing the vividness, the reality, of what that sound is really like.

    I have no idea how to go about writing questions on a survey to elicit these kinds of responses. Any ideas, anyone?

  30. 30. Vicente says:

    Lloyd, this idea of yours is great. I am positive I am full vivid audializer, I can really hear/listen? to the music (well combined with a mild feeling like when you la-la-la or hum a song). I have also noticed that it is like if I had de “play”, “stop”, “pause” “fast-forward” buttons in my head (conceptually inside I mean :)), and I can use them. This has recalled me the Eccles (&Popper) idea of an out of the brain mind, controlling the brain through “psycons” interacting with the presynaptic button. I am sure this is somehow related with intentionality.

    One thing, you say you imagine the chords, that implies a prior “technical” knowledge of music. Let say an abstract audializer with no musical theory notions at all would like to describe what they imagine. How could it be described? may that can give you clues for you questionnaire. What about descibing other sounds different from music. How do you imagine for example the sound of wind, or traffic, or an explosion.

    Music is a mathematically structured sound, and that helps to translate it to abstract terms, like chords. What about noise? how could it be imagine in an abstract way?

  31. 31. Lloyd Rice says:

    Many great thoughts, Vicente. Last night, Stephen Colbert interviewed Claire Danes about her role playing an adult autistic woman. Preparing for the role, she spent some time with the person. In the interview, she spoke of different ways of seeing the world, using the terms “pictures” vs “words”. It’s a new dimension for the taxonomy because my abstractness is nonverbal, yet also nonvivid.

    I used the word “chord” only to indicate a portion of the piece. I do not break down the quale in any corresponding way. Actually, I can sort of “play through” a section of the symphony in a way perhaps corresponding to your “play”, “stop” buttons, even though what I sense is not at all like sound.

    All of this is a great help in putting together the questionaire.

  32. 32. Lloyd Rice says:

    Oh, yes. About the hiss. That, too, is interesting. Another thought for the questionaire. I have some tinnitus that most of the time is a high-pitched hiss. I can imitate the sound fairly accurately with my tongue. When I stop that, I have both the memory of the quale of the tongue sound and the actual tinnitus sound at the same time. I can compare the tonal quality even though the two “sound” very different, that is, they are very different in the abstractness. I need more words to be able to say just what the hiss quale is really like.

    One thing I can say is that the quality of the quale fades over time. In the Skeptics talk, Blackmore showed a slide of a bedroom scene with the visual data not just as small splotches, but as abstracted, faded elements. I forget the word she used or the scientist’s work she was referring to. But my thought was that each splotch should fade out from the full colored image to the abstracted outline over a period of a few seconds. After a minute not looking at the scene, all that is left is the collection of colorless outlines. And yet, I can also reconstruct the colors by thinking about any one item.

  33. 33. Ides Dehaene says:

    could you give your opinion on ‘Consciousness’ by Ch.Hill Cambridge University Press 2009 especially his concept of introspection.

  34. 34. Vicente says:

    Lloyd, if it is of any help for you, I can tell you, that in what concerns taste and smell, I am a disfunctional imaginer. Unless I have very recently tasted or smell something, I can hardly imagine/remember the quale related to smells or flavours, except for some strange “sensation” I cannot classify as vivid or abstract. Touch is “almost the same”. It is very irritating. I have made up and “ad hoc” explanation for this, and for me:

    1) 98% (roughly) of the information I get everyday is input throuh sight and hearing and almost in a continous way. That has strenghten the corresponding brain areas.

    2) smell, taste (smell basically) and touch are secondary for humans, and many of them (particular cases, like a recipe flavour or a perfume smell) are only experienced once in a while.

    3) smell, taste and touch quale, are very difficult to be decomposed into subelements, unless you are an expert (like wine taster, or perfume designers), compare to images and sounds.

    4) smell processing is assigned to very old (in evolution terms) brain structures, compare to vision. And (I believe) it implies some emotional/memory system, different from vision and hearing.

    5)Smell and touch are related to a chemical stimulus with no conceptual or abstract information content. Vision and hearing in many cases do. For me this is a very important difference.

    These is also funny too, when I try to remember a taste, I have memories of temperature too.

    I have checked with some friends, relatives and colleagues, and their experience is very much alike mine. Although some start salivating when they think of biting a lemon, but they can’t remember the lemon taste.

    I find this introspective exploration of flavors and smells very frustrating and irritating.

    Regarding your questions list, I think you are facing a difficult problem, if I can think of anything I’ll tell you.

  35. 35. Peter says:

    Ides, I’m afraid I’ve yet to read the book, though from what I’ve read about it, it seems well-argued and very interesting. On introspection I gather he argues against perceptual models and in favour of a belief-based or a doxastic theory. At first sight that looks good – but if you bear with me I will – eventually – post something more considered about it.

  36. 36. Lloyd Rice says:

    Doru and others raise an interesting point about these observations I have been collecting. And I should say “we” to include the many insightful contributions Vicente has made. But these are not introspections of consciousness, per se. In the case of vision, it is possible to remove nearly all of the current perceptual input by simply closing your eyes. So what you “see” then is purely memory. It is an interesting question how this relates to the original perceptions, but they are not it. In the case of other senses, it is harder to shut off the current input, so what you get is a blend of current input and memories.

    I have recently been reading papers by Murray Shanahan. Peter, I am a bit surprised you have not discussed his work on these pages. For example, his “Applying global workspace theory to the frame problem”, Cognition 98 (2005), also on his website, relates to our recent exchanges on the topic.

  37. 37. Peter says:

    I’ll put that one on my reading list, Lloyd!

  38. 38. Michael Baggot says:

    You might try this paper by Shanahan:
    It summarises his position on complexity, order, and GWT (which seems to be his primary focus). Moreover, it jives very nicely with Tononi’s mathematical notion of consciousness emerging from measurable complexity. Unfortunately, all of this seems to me to be little more than mathematical confabulaton with nothing actually being explained.

  39. 39. Lloyd Rice says:

    Shanahan seems to believe (as I do) that consciousness consists of nothing more or less than the appropriate collection of operational mechanisms. In the paper, “Global Access, …” published in J. Consc Studies 12 (2005), and available at http://www.doc.ic.ac.uk/~mpsha/ShanahanJCS05.pdf, he discusses the contrary views of Chalmers, Fodor, Block, and others, and how these relate to the writings of Wittgenstein, Nagal, Baars, and others.

  40. 40. Lloyd Rice says:

    As you see from my comment 36, I’m backing off somewhat from my position of comment 3. Still, I believe Bitbucket’s position is extreme. I believe that introspection is valid and useful as a source of information about what goes on in our minds/brains. It’s just that it is NOT the same thing as consciousness.

  41. 41. Vicente says:

    Lloyd “…But these are not introspections of consciousness, per se…”.
    Sorry, I am not sure what you mean with this statement.If you could briefly elaborate a bit more.

    If what you mean is that we are focusing on the contents of conscioussness, rather than in consciousness itself, I agree.

    There is Buddhist saying stating:
    “The eye cannot see the eye”, I would say the eye cannot “directly” see the eye. I don’t know if this is the kind of idea that you are referring to.

    In this line, I have very quickly gone through the two referenced papers, and I would just like to comment, that it is important to keep in mind, that one thing is to analyse the underlying brain mechanisms and preconditions involved in consciousness, and another one is to explain the very nature of consciousness (eg: qualia). As Peter said in the I. Dehaene’s talk blog: “…they don’t commit the mistake to claim to have explained qualia…”.

  42. 42. Vicente says:

    Sorry, in previous entry I forgot to say that I am assuming that consciosness and its contents are different things, which cannot be taken for granted so easily.

  43. 43. Lloyd Rice says:

    In writing cmmt 40, my thought was that there are obvious differences between what I experience when I look at a rose and what I experience when I close my eyes and think of a rose. However, the point you raise is most interesting: whether I can draw a similar parallel between the way I experience “myself” during life’s “normal activities” and what I experience when I try to think about myself experiencing myself. Of course, many have claimed that something like the latter case is the essence of consciousness, or at least a major part of it.

    In a way, I cannot really experience myself. I only see what I am doing in the world at the moment. Or I can look back and remember some of what I did in the past.

    To me, consciousness is my experience of the world as it is with me in it. In other words, I still do not really experience myself in any direct sense. The Buddhist saying is certainly true.

  44. 44. Lloyd Rice says:

    Vicente: I’m not clear at all on what it means to say the “contents of consciousness”. to me, consc is not a container, but a process. I believe this view is consistent with my cmmt 43.

  45. 45. Lloyd Rice says:

    I can say it is a process in two senses, which I take to be equivalent. I believe consc. is the method by which I experience the world and I believe consc. is the mechanism by which my body deals with the world.

  46. 46. Lloyd Rice says:

    Peter: Are we introspecting yet?

  47. 47. Vicente says:

    Lloyd: yes, that is why I said that the assumption that consciousness is different from its content is not evident, I understand your objection. Contents of consciousness could be understood in the frame of a sort of workspace model.

    From other blogs I believe you and I have a different view on counciousness basic approach, I believe for you attention is not much different from awareness. For me attention is like a torch that lights and “object”, and here it comes: object that becomes the content of consciousness, so you can be aware of it. And all takes place in a continous process flow as you said. There is an addition layer of complexity when you add intentionality related to attention. But then you could ask “what” is the container, fair enough, I have no answer. The thing is sometimes I can see how thoughts emerge, evolve and fade away in my mind, that makes my conscious space and point of view different from my thoughts. Like the music we were talking about, music is the content, consciousness is the auditorium, and I am spectator and director (intentionality) at a time. In other cases, eg: I imagine a movie, then images are the content, consciousness is the screen and projector, and I am spectator and director. To be honest I am not really sure of what I am saying.

    Regarding: “…I believe consc. is the mechanism by which my body deals with the world…”, I completely disagree, most of the mechanisms your BODY uses to deal with the world are unconscious, fortunately, imagine you had to control your digestion, or temperature control, equilibrium or blood pressure… Or think of the current debate about people in coma, some seem to have proven conscious activity but their bodies are basically dealing with nothing. It is like consciousness isolated in a skull.

    To summarize, I cannot really back my point properly, it is very much a matter of opinion and feeling, introspection?

  48. 48. Oscar says:

    Hi Peter. As a long-time follower but first-time commenter, let me first thank you for all your efforts in maintaining a very interesting and informative site.

    I think Bitbucket is right to reject the infallibility of introspection but goes too far in claiming that all introspections are false. In The Principles of Psychology (Chapter VII), James recounts the debate between Comte and John Stuart Mill over the possibility of obtaining knowledge from introspection. He argues persuasively, I think, that even though introspection is indirect and retrospective (and is therefore a difficult and fallible type of observation) it is still a valuable source of information about our mental states and processes. He states that “no subjective state, whilst present, is its own object; its object is always something else,” and so introspection does involve a new mental state with the introspected state as its object. I wonder why Bitbucket assumes that this constitutes an act of imagination/make-believe rather than a kind of (fallible) inner perception.

  49. 49. Peter says:

    Thanks, Oscar. I think your analysis is correct. The claim that all introspections are false appears to stem from an excess of rhetorical enthusiasm – in fact Bitbucket’s point merely rebuts one argument for the infallibility of some introspections. I think if he took the same line consistently he’d be obliged to conclude that all experience is essentially imaginary – some people do think that, but I don’t think he’d find it a particularly congenial idea

  50. 50. Lloyd Rice says:

    Vicente: I certainly agree that most body control processes are performed without my awareness. It is only the highest level decisions, such as where I want to walk and when I will go to the store, that I equate with the way I experience the world. I can make a distinction between the thoughts I have when I make such control decisions and when I engage in abstract contemplations of the nature of consciousness, but I find it hard to see a middle ground, of thinking about taking the next step separate from the consciousness of that step.

    That last sentence sounds to me like it borders on gobble-de-gook. I am only trying to say that I find it hard to think about the contents of consciousness as separate from consciousness itself. I don’t know how else to say it.

  51. 51. Vicente says:

    Lloyd: yes, I regret the whole of #47 which is a shame, dodgy text, inconsistent at all. Specially last sentence, absurd opinion not helpful at all, particularly if read by someone going through a difficult situation due to a beloved being in coma.

    Oscar: very well brought up. Probably 19th century logical positivism, represented by great thinkers like Comte and Stuart Mill, started as the need to define the scope of science, and lead to formal epistemology (for me the most important branch of Philosophy). Later, early Wittgensteing and Russell made important contributions, seriously threaten by Gödel. In my opinion Popper is the one who got it right with his falsability idea to discriminate scientific hypothesis, and I appreciate the efforts of Feyerabend to establish a knowledge frame for all.

    Personally I don’t even understand very well what does he mean with all introspections are false. False in boolean terms, or false as if you read a novel compared to watching the fields.

  52. 52. Vicente says:

    Lloyd: forced by your question, I have been doing a fast review through many sources, and the expression “the contents of consciousness” happens to appear so often (in this blog text to begin with), and quite carelessly in most cases. But you are right, and I think this is hard core introspection: if consciousness has contents, what is the container? unless the content creates the container, becoming or fusing instantaneously both into one single thing. In other words, an taking the “no thought” state. In a “no thought” state, what is your attention focusing on? the container?

    Or one single nature, can be… colour, sound, pain, joy, touch, sadness… thinking of quale… I am puzzled.

    I still stick to my introperception that there is: a container, plus contents plus an observer with will.

  53. 53. Lloyd Rice says:

    Let me be clear, Vicente. In cmmt 50, I was talking about MY last sentence, not yours.

    I was doing some more thinking (introspection?) about what attention means to me. I do believe there is a difference between consc. and attention. The following is from something I just read, but already, the reference is not at hand. If I am shown a brief display of a matrix of, say, three rows of 4 digits each, and I am instructed to observe the middle row, then after just a quick look, I can recall those 4 digits. But I would not be able to recall either other row, even though I was plainly conscious of three rows. My attention was only on the middle row. But this is plainly different than subliminal perception, in which the entire matrix might be flashed for only 0.1 seconds, followed by a random pattern. In that case, I would not be aware of any digits, and yet, those digits will have been primed in my memory and can influence future perceptions. So attention is (as Baars puts it) like a spotlight on a part of the scene.

    My suspicion is that attention is, or at least is a part of, the GWT mechanism which selects those contributors to become conscious on the next workspace cycle. In some sense, it seems to narrow the focus to specific elements of the conscious field.

  54. 54. Lloyd Rice says:

    I was just reading Baars’ basic GWT paper, “In the Theater of Consc.”. At one point, he describes not being able to stop his inner speech for more than five seconds or so. I find that of interest WRT our earlier discussion of the abstract/vivid/verbal nature of memories. For me, it is no effort to sit for many minutes without thinking of a single word. And when alone doing a physical task, such as yard work, I can work silently for hours without a verbal thought.

  55. 55. Lloyd Rice says:

    Of relevance to cmmts 47 and 53, I have been reading the paper “Towards a cognitive neuroscience of consciousness: basic evidence and a workspace framework”, from Cognition 79 (2001). In particular, section 3.2 and footnote 4 discuss a dual aspect of the nature of attention. These issues suggest to me that there are actually two different phenomena, both of which we call “attention”. One is a “preselector” mechanism which chooses particular aspects of the perceptual input which are to be brought into consciousness. The second is a kind of spotlight which can be cast upon percepts previously brought into consciousness.

  56. 56. Lloyd Rice says:

    I would like to call the preconscious version of attention the “evaluator” and the postconscious spotlight version the “highlighter”. There are surely better words for these. Suggestions anyone?

  57. 57. Vicente says:

    Lloyd: thank you. It is quite clarifying to me what you have presented, it makes sense to me. I should need some more time to digest it properly. I am reconsidering my approach to attention, I think my previous understanding was not consistent.

    How do you think that the evaluator and the highlighter “targets” are determined and chosen? how is this related to intensionality?

    I envy so much you guys that can devote yourselves full time to this stuff…

  58. 58. Lloyd Rice says:

    Christopher Hill, in his new book “Consciousness”, appears to use the term “process attention” for the preselector (evaluator) and uses “gate-keeper attention” for the “spotlight effect” (highlighter). He also describes another mechanism, called “binding attention”, which applies prior to process attention, at the stage where perceptual features are being integrated into recognized objects. Personally, I would not think of this mechanism as a form of attention, but rather a part of the perceptual process, but Dr. Hill clearly has me beat in the area of credentials. I have just started with this book and cannot say more at this point.

  59. 59. Lloyd Rice says:

    Vicente: Your question about how these targets are chosen really gets to the heart of the matter. Speculating on types of mechanisms and following the global workspace model, I would guess (and I will use Hill’s terminology) that process attention depends on the various perceptual modules having been primed for certain specific cases or events. This would seem to be what is required to explain the results of being told ahead of time to “attend” to specific rows of the digit matrix. I suspect that gate-keeper attention is based on feedback from emotions or other modules which respond to specific elements of the latest broadcast scenario.

    Obviously, I have taken to the workspace model.

  60. 60. Vicente says:

    Lloyd, I guess you already know, just in case, probably the papers here:

    are partially a concentrated version of the book that can save you time, but is heavy text… I have been sneaking in them and they are hard.

    Regarding the relation between attention and intentionality, ie: is there free choice of attention target? (maybe a subset of the free will problem), either in perception of the outter world or in introspection, I am afraid, I am beginning to accept it works in predefined algorithmic non-stop loop cycle. I will try to explain my view briefly.

    We work in a continous loop in which we take multiple inputs, then in multi-thread treatment we process them according to built in and adquired programmes (instinct + education)organized in set of rules and we produce a multiple output: basically behaviour plus the new focus of attention (which could remain current one). A cause effect never ending cycle.

    Observing this cycle introspectively we can try to analyse what are the rules (programmes the subjugate us in many cases) we use, an maybe change them by the use of reasoning. This process of improvement has to be triggered externally by appropiate knowledge adquisition, if one is fortunate enough to have it.

    Probably brain reward centre has a lot to do in locking attention to something, in a not fully conscious behaviour.

    I have been doing some introspection exercises. Eg. to pay attention to something, and then see what makes me change my focus to another object, or idea.

    It is very difficult to see what is the underlying “force” that causes the focal point shift. I feel some random uncontrolled mechanism acting.

  61. 61. Lloyd Rice says:

    Vicente: I will check out the Hill materials. I do find the book to be quite involved, rather more serious philosophy than suits my tastes. But so far, on the whole, I do find that his approach quite closely agrees with my sense of how things work.

    As I have said earlier, I do not believe in free will. I also do not believe this means the universe follows predetermined pathways. The difference is noise, randomness, quantum fluctuation, what have you. Your 3rd and 4th paragraphs (in cmmt 60) pretty much agree with my views.
    I agree that the major effects governing both process and gate-keeper forms of attention are the signals sent out by the various emotional centers. Dopamine release from the reward center would be one of those.

    Except that I do not make an exception for reasoning. That too is under the same neuro-, electro- and chemical forces as all the rest. It makes just as much sense to me to say that “I” am just along for the ride.

  62. 62. Vicente says:


    “…That too is under the same neuro-, electro- and chemical forces as all the rest…”

    I agree except for the most important part, in “all the rest” you cannot include qualia, phenomenological experience.

    You could make the most accurate model of the brain, considering every structure, with billions of equations taking into account all physical, chemical, and physical-chemical processes involved, and there will be no place for qualia in your model.

    So, what I think is that us humans are concurrently at least two things: a machine lacking free will, and very much in accordance with your view, plus “something else”. Please, I am not proposing a dualistic approach.

    You could say, that future advances in physics could produce theories that take into account qualia. When that day comes, we’ll see.

    Actually I have and “idea” that i can summarize: We are multidimentional beings, constraint to this 4-dimensional Universe, forced to only perceive this Universe, but our mental life dwells in the other dimensions (qualia dimensions orthogonal to this ones). So when we die we are released from the constraint, we leave behind our body in this Univese and flow into the other dimensions. Some friends of mine that like parapsychology and that kind of stuff, are very keen on this idea, they think it can explain many paranormal experiences.

    Jokes appart, you cannot say there is no free will until you have a complete model of human beings, and the most important part is not fitting anywhere (so far), it doesn’t match our formal knowledge frame.

    But I agree that for most people, the “machine component” has an overwhelming weight.

  63. 63. Vicente says:

    modern theories like “strings theory” require of 11 dimensions to work, so what’s going on in those dimensions hmmm

  64. 64. Lloyd Rice says:

    Vicente: “..you cannot include …”. Oh, but I do. To say that qualia are not included in “neuro-, chemico-, etc. is, to me, just more dualism. We live in a physical universe. Phenomenology and all.

    I suppose we have found a fundamental difference between us. I have no idea what might be in those other 8 dimensions (yes, I think time gets its own, separate from the 11. Maybe in this, I am ignorant of M theory). But whatever is “out there”, I cannot believe it is something that we need here just to rescue our philosophies.

    So I think: “Now I will respond to Vicente’s note and write this.” But of course, it was just a chain of events that was set off on a course long ago and has traveled its rocky road since then. When I wrote “so I think”, was I thinking “rocky road”? No. that came later. But it does not destroy my materialist philosophy. Rather, it is just that I next had the thought, “Set off on a course …”, but the course was not predetermined. So therefor, the road had to be made rocky. It all follows, step by step. No need to jump off into other dimensions. It’s all neatly explained by the projections represented by currents and chemicals in the frontal cingulate gyrus.

  65. 65. Vicente says:

    Lloyd: I don’t know much about M-theory either. I just wanted to say, that maybe one day physics will account for qualia, not for the moment. The dimensions tale was just a tale.

    So I am afraid we cannot include qualia in the model. We don’t even know what qualia are, not even have a satisfactory definition shared by all. You can believe that phenomenology lies in the physical universe, and you might be right, but you have no evidence. All you can say is that phenomenology is related or correlated to the brain. We have no idea by what mechanism. Explanations on this issue are anything but neat.

    Chemical and currents are representing the projection of what? Sorry I don’t understand your last sentence.

  66. 66. Vicente says:

    Lloyd: Even more, materialism itself is supported by uncertainty. Ok, you say everything lies in physical universe. And what is the physical Universe? Do you know how many unresolved fundamental issues physics have.

    You are trying to solve a mystery using another mystery. What is matter and the Universe in the first place? what is life in the second place? and you want to use this to explain qualia….

  67. 67. Gilbert Wesley Purdy says:

    Congratulations on the blossoming of Conscious Entities, Peter! I see that the pace has picked up, that the conversation has become very spirited. And you continue to do some of the best mind boggling blogging on the net!

  68. 68. Peter says:

    Thank you, Gilbert – I am pleased with the way the site is developing, though as always I wish I could spend more time on it.

  69. 69. Lloyd Rice says:

    Of course, Vicente, as I have said before, I DO have my theory about qualia and it fits in well with my universe, whether or not I/we understand the physics underneath. My belief is that consciousness is much like life itself. It just happens when the right combination of ingredients are together functioning properly. The perceptual/attention/integration mechanism looks out at the world and says to itself, “Ah, here I am and here is the world and off I go into the enjoyment of it all.” We may or may not someday be able to put together such a combination of ingredients using “artificial” methods. But whether or not, I do not believe in any fundamental principle that would prevent us from doing so.

  70. 70. Vicente says:

    Lloyd: yes, your approach could be right. Talking for me, I just haven’t got a clue about what the very nature of qualia could be, and how does my inner phenomenological experience match with what I know about the brain (not much true). Anyway, this trip seems to be very interesting, irrespective of the destination. I feel privileged just to be able to make these considerations.

  71. 71. Lloyd Rice says:

    I admit to a fundamental gap in comprehending what qualia really are. When you put together the required combination of ingredients, the assembly somehow becomes “aware” of its surroundings. This does seem to be something more than simply sensing its surroundings. Those senses are, after being combined into a world model, somehow used to become “aware” of that sensed world. I have no idea what really happens. I can only surmise that “the universe just works that way”, unsatisfying as that may be.

  72. 72. Lloyd Rice says:

    I try to tell myself that consciousness is nothing more than the process of sensing this world model, applying attention to it in order to be able to navigate in the world and deal with that world as represented in the internal model. It “feels” to me like there is more than that, but I am not at all certain whether it is more or is only that process of sensing and manipulating the world and nothing more. My rationality tells me that it is only this and nothing more. But that, of course, is known to be fallible.

  73. 73. Vicente says:

    Lloyd,”I try to tell myself…”, why to make the effort? just take it as it comes.

    Reading your comments 71 and 72 I get the impression that you are refering to the conscious experience of an invertebrate or a reptile or similar, but human experience is so much richer, deep and complex. Human ambitions and behaviour go far beyond of what it would be necessary to deal with the world. I have the deep feeling there is something more, but what is it?

    “My rationality tells…” I am not sure if you can appeal to rationality, there are many rational persons that do not agree with you. Usually, rational people agree on rational conclusions. I would say you are making a “feasible” or “not unsensible” guess, that in fact could eventually be close to the truth.

    I believe the point is not to fall into the possible temptation to ellaborate “(____) fill the gap with adjective to be chosen by the reader)” explanations like intelligent design an similars. I can say: “I don’t know the answer”, you can make: an acceptable guess, and we can both go on working to get closer to the answer.

  74. 74. How To Rank A Website In Search Engine, Seo Traffic Recon Review, Seo Traffic Recon, Seo Traffic Recon Video Course Review, How To Uncover Massive 100% Free Traffic From Search Engine, how to make website rank high in search engines says:

    Thank you a lot with regard to giving this kind of wonderful you you probably learn what you will be preaching about! Added. Be sure to as well talk to my website Implies). We can easily use a exchanging links arrangement in between united states

  75. 75. Top 5 Things To Get Done In Singapore says:

    Everything is very open with a really clear explanation of the challenges.
    It was definitely informative. Your website is useful.

    Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply