Auguste ComteThe folk history of psychology has it that the early efforts of folk such as Wundt and Titchener failed because they relied on introspection. Simply looking into your own mind and reporting what you thought you saw there was hopelessly unscientific, and once a disagreement arose about what thoughts were like, there was nothing the two sides could do but shout at each other. That is why the behaviourists, in an excessive but understandable reaction, gave up talking about the contents of the mind altogether, and even denied that they existed.

That is of course a terrible caricature in a number of respects; one of them is the idea that the early psychologists rushed in without considering the potential problems with introspection. In fact there were substantial debates, and it’s quite wrong to think that introspection went unquestioned. Most trenchantly, Comte declared that introspection was useless if not impossible.

As for observing in the same manner intellectual phenomena while they are taking place, this is clearly impossible. The thinking subject cannot divide himself into two parts, one of which would reason, while the other would observe its reasoning. In this instance, the observing and the observed organ being identical, how could observation take place? The very principle upon which this so-called psychological method is based, therefore, is invalid.

I don’t know that this is quite as obvious as Comte evidently thought. To borrow Roger Penrose’s analogy, there’s no great impossibility about a camera filming itself (given a mirror), so why would there be a problem in thinking about your thoughts? I think there are really two issues. One is that if we think about ourselves thinking, the actual content of the thought recedes down an infinite regress (thinking about thinking about thinking about thinking…) like the glassy corridor revealed when we put two mirrors face to face. The problem Comte had in mind arises when we try to think about some other mental event. As soon as we begin thinking about it, the other mental event is replaced by that thinking. If we carefully clear our minds of intrusive thoughts, we obviously stop thinking about the mental event. So it’s impossible: it’s like trying to step on your own shadow. To perceive your own mental events, you would need to split in two.

John Stuart Mill thought Comte was being incredibly stupid about this.

There is little need for an elaborate refutation of a fallacy respecting which the only wonder is that it should impose on any one. Two answers may be given to it. In the first place, M. Comte might be referred to experience, and to the writings of his countryman M. Cardaillac and our own Sir William Hamilton, for proof that the mind can not only be conscious of, but attend to, more than one, and even a considerable number, of impressions at once. It is true that attention is weakened by being divided; and this forms a special difficulty in psychological observation, as psychologists (Sir William Hamilton in particular) have fully recognised; but a difficulty is not an impossibility. Secondly, it might have occurred to M. Comte that a fact may be studied through the medium of memory, not at the very moment of our perceiving it, but the moment after: and this is really the mode in which our best knowledge of our intellectual acts is generally acquired. We reflect on what we have been doing, when the act is past, but when its impression in the memory is still fresh. Unless in one of these ways, we could not have acquired the knowledge, which nobody denies us to have, of what passes in our minds. M. Comte would scarcely have affirmed that we are not aware of our own intellectual operations. We know of our observings and our reasonings, either at the very time, or by memory the moment after; in either case, by direct knowledge, and not (like things done by us in a state of somnambulism) merely by their results. This simple fact destroys the whole of M. Comte’s argument. Whatever we are directly aware of, we can directly observe.

And as if Comte hadn’t made enough of a fool of himself, what does he offer as as an alternative means of investigating the mind?

 We are almost ashamed to say, that it is Phrenology!

Phrenology! ROFLMAO! Mill facepalms theatrically. Oh, Comte! Phrenology! And we thought you were clever!

The two options mentioned by Mill were in essence the ones psychologists adopted in response to Comte, though most of them took his objection a good deal more seriously than Mill had done. William James, like others, thought that memory was the answer; introspection must be retrospection. After all, our reports of mental phenomena necessarily come from memory, even if it is only the memory of an instant ago, because we cannot experience and report simultaneously.  Wundt was particularly opposed to there being any significant interval between event and report, so he essentially took the other option; that we could do more than one mental thing at once. However, Wundt made a distinction; where we were thinking about thinking, or trying to perceive higher intellectual functions, he accepted that Comte’s objection had some weight. The introspective method might not work for those. But where we were concerned with simple sensation for example, there was really no problem. If it was the seeing of a rose we were investigating, the fact that the seeing was accompanied by thought about the seeing made no difference to its nature.

Brentano, while chuckling appreciatively at Mill’s remarks, thought he had not been completely fair to Comte. Like Wundt, Brentano drew a distinction between viable and non-viable introspection; in his case it was between perceiving and observing. If we directed our attention fully towards the phenomena under investigation, it would indeed mess things up: but we could perceive the events sufficiently well without focusing on them. Wundt disagreed; in his view full attention was both necessary and possible. How could science get on if we were never allowed to look straight at things?

It’s a pity these vigorous debates are not more remembered in contemporary philosophy of mind (though Eric Schwitzgebel has done a sterling job of bringing the issues back into the light). Might it not be that the evasiveness Comte identified, the way phenomenal experience slips from our grasp like our retreating shadow, is one of the reasons qualia seem so ineffable? Comte was at least right that some separation between observer and observed must occur, whether in fact it occurs over time or between mental faculties. This too seems to tell us something relevant: in order for a mental experience to be reported it must not be immediate. This seems to drive a wedge into the immediacy which is claimed to generate infallibility for certain perceptions, such as that of our own pains.

At any rate we must acquit Wundt, Titchener and the others of taking up introspection uncritically



  1. 1. Nick Byrd says:

    These papers might encourage you. Philosophers of mind might not be talking about it, but cognitive scientists (some of whom are former philosophers) are:

    Jack, Anthony Ian, and Andreas Roepstorff. “Introspection and Cognitive Brain Mapping: From Stimulus–response to Script–report.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 6, no. 8 (August 1, 2002): 333–39. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(02)01941-1.

    Jack, A., and >A. Roepstorff. “Why Trust the Subject?” Journal of Consciousness Studies 10, no. 9–10 (2003): v–xx.

    Petitmengin, Claire, Anne Remillieux, Béatrice Cahour, and Shirley Carter-Thomas. “A Gap in Nisbett and Wilson’s Findings? A First-Person Access to Our Cognitive Processes.” Consciousness and Cognition 22, no. 2 (June 2013): 654–69. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2013.02.004.

    Thanks for another great post!

  2. 2. Hunt says:

    The mechanism of memory echo is as good a reason as any for why cognition can in theory self-reflect accurately. I think the primary reason introspection will probably never lead to deep insights is that most mental machinery lies inaccessible at the subconscious level. Unable to “jump out of the system,” as Hofstadter put it, conscious process aren’t even able to perceive where the stream of consciousness has been edited to insert or delete information (Scott Bakker’s BBT).
    The tip of the iceberg reflects on the tip of the iceberg.

  3. 3. Jayarava says:

    Unfortunately for this theory, being aware of a memory is also a mental event. If we can observe being aware of a memory, then we ought to be able to observe being aware of any mental event.

    Is it not more a matter of the nature of reflexive consciousness? We not only know *that* we are aware, but we simultaneously and transparently know *what* we are aware of.

    There’s really very little or no difference in attending to a sensory object or a mental object.

    Some of the classic Buddhist techniques of mind-watching involve observing the arising and passing away of whatever mental events happen to be going on, whether associated with sensory or mental objects. It is quite possible. And quite fascinating!

  4. 4. Philosopher Eric says:

    It’s commonly thought that if we do not observe history, then we are doomed to make the mistakes of the past. While I do believe that my own historical understandings are indeed some of my greatest understandings, I also doubt that a philosopher that is more versed in past philosophical ideas, will then fail somewhat less. Observe that there should be a tendency here to just build from the wreckage of the past rather than try to get things right from the start. Thus I chose to be educated in “successful fields” in college, to hopefully not be infected by our philosophical failure. At this point I am quite happy to have Peter’s teachings however, as they do make me smile.

    I suspect that Comte had it right — we can only think about one thing at a time. Observe that I am able to talk on my phone while driving, but this isn’t always safe since my conscious processor must switch back and forth between these tasks. If I had an actual second mode of thought, however, I might then be able to silently read a book while having an involved conversation with someone. (A Psychologist friend once told me that certain “multiple personality” subjects are able do this, but I haven’t confirmed it.)

    Peter it might be fun to think of memory as a mirror, though this does seem like a great simplification. Thus in this regard Comte may have gotten things wrong (while William James, Hunt, and Jayarava should be right) — for introspection purposes, we might simply think about a memory of a thought.

    I believe that introspection holds our greatest potential tool to finally succeed in philosophy. But if we all at least have the “hard data” to succeed, then why do we continue to fail? I suspect that our biases have mainly been our doom here. (I will not tell you that I am the worlds first non biased philosopher, though I can indeed say that I considered objectivity to be my greatest obstacle long ago. It is my hope that I have now been able to at least become “properly biased.”)

    Nick I wonder if you could give us your interpretation of those positive ideas that you’ve referenced, since the campus library is… you know… way over there. By the way, I think it’s good that you’re trying to at least “balance out” your philosophy studies with cognitive science (which seems popular). But what if our philosophical failure, also holds back our mental/behavioral sciences? Here your education might not simply short you on the philosophy side, but also in cognition! I do see that your profile offers a potential solution however — you might just perpetuate our current system by becoming a professor. But I do hope that you are ultimately able to contribute more than your elders are currently able to provide you.

  5. 5. Mark Waser says:

    Qualia are ineffable because they are influenced by every aspect of our unified mind — yet we try to explain them with our memory and mental model which are necessarily but a small (contained) part of that experiencing mind. Jackson’s Mary cannot possibly know because in order to do so her mental model would have to contain the entirety of her mind — which already contains her mental model and much, much more. I’ve written in more detail about this in Safe/Moral Autopoiesis & Consciousness – Int. J. Mach. Conscious. 5:1, pp. 59-74 (abstract at, PDF at

  6. 6. Hunt says:

    I suspect that Comte had it right — we can only think about one thing at a time. Observe that I am able to talk on my phone while driving, but this isn’t always safe since my conscious processor must switch back and forth between these tasks. If I had an actual second mode of thought, however, I might then be able to silently read a book while having an involved conversation with someone.

    I’m going to have to go back on my pessimism over introspection here, but… Not to overindulge in computationalism, your passage might be called the “single-threaded fully foreground” model of consciousness. While that seems to be the way the mind often operates, it can’t be the full story. For instance, consider day dreaming while driving on a long road-trip. Part of your mind is still attending to driving, while the other is actively engaged in some fantasy. When you come out of it, perhaps stimulated by some road hazard, you “do and don’t” remember the process of driving. Evolutionarily speaking, this kind of multi-threaded, background mode of processing was certainly a great choice, as it provided for things like grazing while attending to predatory dangers. Its usefulness belies the idea that it is an abnormal “trance” state of consciousness. You might call this the “multi-threaded, unified” model of consciousness, although unification is usually (always?) latent and only actualized later through memory. I suspect Comte would only consider the point of unification and after “thought.” Certainly, the fact that non-trance consciousness can’t be willed to split is a valid observation.

  7. 7. Vicente says:

    As soon as we begin thinking about it, the other mental event is replaced by that thinking

    What is meant by thinking?

    Is thinking about your mental events the same as observing your mental events?

    It is true that the mental state of being conscious about being conscious of your mental events, is not the same as just having the mental events. For example, day dreaming like a fool, is not the same as observing the foolish thoughts that pass by.

    It is a quantum fact: you cannot observe a system without impacting on it.

    and of course, by the time the signal (info) reaches you, the system has evolved and you’re looking at the past.

    You cannot observe your mind without tainting it to some extent. If the impact is very little then introspection can be validated. It has to be considered on case by case basis.

    To me the question is the separation subject-object, what is observing/inspecting what?

    I believe we are discussing this issue because the problem statement is incoherent itself.

  8. 8. Philosopher Eric says:

    Thanks Hunt for observing that my “single thread” observation most certainly can’t be the full story. There are two elements of my model of consciousness that now seem appropriate to discuss. The most important of them is that I see consciousness is a relatively small part of the human mind (whether 1% or whatever). The rest of the mind is what I call “non-conscious,” and it’s essentially a highly advanced supercomputer type of thing. So how can a performer do various juggling tricks while also having an involved conversion with the audience? Because the “non-conscious computer” part essentially does the juggling, while the “conscious” part has the conversation, perhaps attending only slightly to the trick. To graphically symbolize this dynamic I use a “Learned Line” with arrows which lead from the conscious to the non-conscious processor. I suspect that we could not drive, walk, or perhaps even breath effectively without this “non-conscious learning.”

    You’ve also mentioned day dreaming, and I’ve found it most useful to classify this as a “sub-conscious” state, as opposed to the quite standard “subconscious” idea (no hyphen) which you did reference a bit earlier. I do leave this standard idea untouched (but don’t get me started on the horrible legacy of Freud’s old “unconscious mind” term!) So my own “sub-consciousness” term references a diminished state of consciousness, such as sleep, intoxication, or perhaps even day dreaming. While the standard “subconsciousness” idea references insufficient processing, there is an actual degradation of the conscious mind itself in my “sub-consciousness” idea.

    In your “day dreaming driver” scenario, it may be interesting to consider where the consciousness does indeed reside. My theory suggests that “the driver” is only marginally being attended to, since a “non-conscious autopilot” is theorized. Mainly it’s the dreams that have the consciousness here, and furthermore, perhaps a slight “sub-conscious degradation” occurs as well. Then some non-conscious element triggers a signal of “Wake up idiot!” and the dream/degradation vanishes. I’ve heard that some people do not daydream, though I also suspect that this is not the case for us idiot philosophers.

  9. 9. Philosopher Eric says:

    Hello Mark,

    I’ve worked my way through a good bit of your PDF above, as well as your website itself. While I do presume that you have somewhat professional interests in them, what strikes me most is the sheer sincerity of your exploration. This gives me hope that you might ultimately overcome what I see as your greateast associated adversary — or your education itself. Building upon the work of others is certainly quite human, but what might we expect in situations where there isn’t yet an effective platform from which to begin? How might you use the ideas of your contemporaries to progress in Physics, for example, without the founding theory of Newton? Apparently Einstein was able to free his contemporaries from a similar rut.

    I believe that the world has yet to see a great Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Sociologist,… specifically given the failure of Philosophy. So I ask you Mark, might you discard the various definitions and such that our field has taught you over the years, to consider a theory solely from your personal experience of reality? Regardless of the merits of my own such theory, this should indeed be our answer.

  10. 10. Hunt says:

    @ Phil Eric #8,
    What’s interesting is that there is always a main thread, with possible exception that you cited, multiple personality, though that seems to be so rare that perhaps it can be ignored for now. As an example proof, however, it does illustrate that the brain can work in fundamentally different ways. But for now, there is the main thread, with which a person is “consciously” engaged. Oddly enough, daydreaming would be considered the main thread, while driving the secondary. Or it might be thinking about something as main thread, while washing dishes as secondary. The secondary thread often seems to be task oriented or “rote.”

    Getting back to the main, er, thread of this post, how much utility is there in such study, if your aim is not just descriptive? What can you say architecture or process beyond vague handwaving about the parallelism of the mind? For instance, say you could get the dishwasher into an fMRI machine and spot two loci of brain activity, each devoted to a single activity. Now that would be something, a direct connection between introspection and experimental result.

  11. 11. Philosopher Eric says:

    Hunt my theory is founded upon introspection almost entirely, so if it turns out that I am actually a very odd person, then this could invalidate my work right there. Apparently I personally have just a single conscious processor (so I do theorize this to be standard) but given how useful a second one would be, why have we not evolved such that we can write a composition with one, while simultaneously having an involved and unrelated conversation with another? (Also observe the quite involved “learned” tasks here of pencil manipulation for writing, and mouth manipulation for speaking.) I have theorized that evolution hasn’t set us up with two such processors, because one of them might effectively get in the way of the other. My psychologist friend also seemed to corroborate this, since these multiple personality subjects are indeed considered relatively ineffective thinkers. I would love more evidence of whether or not there are people with dual modes of thought however. I have not actively looked, since this is a relatively minor point in general to my theory.

    You’ve also asked how I see the potential usefulness of my theory if it’s only “descriptive.” Here I need to be careful both in my interpretation of your question, as well as to hopefully not sacrifice any last shred of modesty. If it’s possible to have a conversion while knitting in an fMRI machine, then I think you will find that a skilled knitter can easily have an interactive conversion with you using that single processor, while the non-skilled knitter will have a hard time doing both. I really don’t know what this machine will say is different, but go ahead and look. If the multiple personality person can have an involved conversation while writing a composition simultaneously, then we could obviously film this for evidence that two conscious processors exist. Furthermore, I suppose that Neurologists would (or already do) find the associated fMRI data quite interesting from an engineering perspective. This is quite separate from my own endeavors, however, as I am first and foremost a theorist (as was Newton, as was Einstein).

    I have built a working model of the conscious human mind (which I do believe will become first year material for all mental/behavioral students) and done this specifically to serve as evidence that I’ve solved what may be considered the greatest mystery that humanity has ever pondered — or the nature of “good.” This is theory from which a person could figure out how to “properly” deal with all matters of personal concern. It’s also theory from which a society could figure out how to “properly” deal with all matters of social concern. The potential implications of an effective model in this regard, would simply be unprecedented.

    I do thank you for your questions Hunt, as trying to demonstrate my theory alone would be quite difficult!

  12. 12. Hunt says:

    Very little seems to be known about “multiple personality” or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). It’s probably quite a bit less glamorous than the Hollywood portrayals, and it’s not clear that it has anything at all to do with “multi-threading” in the way that I’ve used it in this discussion. The personalities emerge in alternating sequence; it’s not like one is simultaneously fighting the other as dramatically rendered. I agree with your evolutionary argument against multiple primary consciousnesses operating within a single mind. I see that as disastrous to survival as a squirrel not being able to decide which way to exit a roadway in front of oncoming traffic. It’s clear that whatever mode of multi-threading actually operates within our minds is both more subtle and more coordinated.

  13. 13. Philosopher Eric says:

    Thanks for the DID info Hunt. I’ve now taken a quick look on Wikipedia and I do suppose that this is what I expected — that these people simply switch from one personality to the other rather than use two conscious processors at once. But just because we don’t have this capacity, doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be useful — I might then be able to do two fully conscious things at the same time! As for those squirrels and rabbits — the damn things must know that I’m coming down the road, and yet they always seem to time their crossing so that they just barely miss my tires. I would love to know why!

    My model is really quite simple, though it may indeed take time to become familiar with. When you open and close your hand in front of you, you might also take credit for a conscious activity. But what have you really done? It actually must have been a vast supercomputer that did the main work, even though the simple “one percent conscious mind” may take the credit. But the “learned line,” where conscious tasks are automatically passed over to the non-conscious mind, is not really that foreign. You need only try to speak a strange new language to understand the sounds that you can’t consciously get your mouth to make. In fact it was probably so difficult for your non-conscious mind to figure out how to properly use your mouth in your native tounge, that you needed to keep improving this well into childhood. But muscle operation is surely not the only thing that this “learned line” is good for. The “99% non-conscious mind” must also help us understand the speech of others in various automatic ways, for example, and countless things more.

    I show three separate varieties of input to the conscious mind, one variety of conscious processor (which does have input and output characteristics), and one variety of conscious output. This model is placed in a single chapter, and while it is more involved than any of my other chapters, there are some that have been able to understand it purely on it’s own. But I should also mention that existing models can tend to throw a person off. Thus any highly educated Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Sociologist, and so on, should be at a disadvantage unless various existing models can momentarily be left behind. Given the horrible state of fields such as these, the necessity for “uneducation” should be a major hinderance for some.

    Hunt it’s clear to me that your mind is free enough to comprehend this model quite easily, and once you do this I also look forward to addressing the various questions that should result.

  14. 14. Vicente says:

    After mulling over the issue a bit more than usual, I think that introspection only allows to study the mind, in a genuine state, for a very small window of opportunity, i.e. for the very first instants after a thought, or a feeling, or any mental content pops up into the conscious space. Beyond those few initial moments, the process of introspenction aldulterates the system.

    Then, retrospectively and considering the boundary conditions and other elements connected to that particular mental content, it is possible to produce some analysis about the mind works.

  15. 16. Philosopher Eric says:

    Good to have you join the “Introspection Party” Vicente. I suppose that even if “memory” is indeed a big problem here (since I presume that this is what you’re saying adulterates) then a philosopher might still get some good work done through continual pondering of progressive initial moments. But regardless of whether or not this is the basic impediment, there certainly must be some horrible problem. Philosophy might have been explored from the time that humanity could effectively speak… and yet true progress always seems to elude us. And though “mental/behavioral” sciences are a far more modern institutions, they seem similarly troubled (perhaps not so much on the physiology/engineering side, but rather more on the “What are we?” side). So why might the modern human be able to effectively study virtually any aspect of reality that it can perceive, except for what it personally is? The irony here seems quite amazing. This is the unique aspect of reality that introspection inherently gives us information about, but it’s also an area in which we simply fail to progress.

    I personally place the blame on our biased nature. I believe that we haven’t been able to effectively study ourselves, specifically because the associated implications are just too important to us (so we tend to believe whatever we think is in our own best interest). Observe how much more successful we should be if we were just as “smart” as a regular human, but our existence didn’t “matter” to us? Then we could logically figure out what we are, without any personal biases to skew our understandings.

    If so, then, how might we somehow overcome our biased nature? The first thing to do, I think, would be to actually identify the essential element that gives us our biases. For example, if the computer is naturally objective while we are not, then what exactly might be the associated difference between us? A functional answer to this question would at least give a person theory from which to overcome this impediment. I’ve made it quite clear that my own such answer is the “sensations” element of conscious mind, or an idea that I directly term “self.” If true, then perhaps I’ve also been able to use my theory in order to become “properly biased,” and will thus elevate the ancient field of philosophy, to fill the enormous associated void which seems to exist in modern human science.

  16. 17. Mark Waser says:

    Eric, “Properly biased” is a really interesting question. Are you familiar with Mercier’s and Sperber’s argumentative theory of reasoning ( It would seem that society benefits the most when individuals are slightly over-biased (in different directions) — and individuals benefit when they do it well. Arguably, we don’t want to overcome our biased nature but we want to learn how to use it in a more effective (and *much* less selfish/divisive) manner . . . .

    My take on ethics, in terms of where we, as humans, are failing the most (after being short-sighted and selfish 😀 ) is in lack of acceptance of diversity. Monoculture is safe and highly efficient in the relatively unchanging short term — and the recipe for disaster in the long-term. We NEED people who are already biased in the current “wrong” direction to give us an advantage when it becomes the “right” direction (and it’s frequently non-obvious what the next “right” direction is).

    Biases are efficiencies. As long as our biases are diversified among individuals (like an investment portfolio) and aren’t held to the point of causing friction/conflict between individuals they are a good thing. I don’t believe that computers are necessarily “naturally objective” at all. That is just a short-term bias reflected from the individuals doing the most effective work with them and part of why we are failing at AI. To be truly unbiased, you would need to have available, know, *and integrate fully* all of the facts *and implications* that have anything to do with a given subject. That (and the huge, massively brilliant singleton that the conservative existential-risk crowd live in fear of) is simply impossible.

    We need to clarify what the trade-offs are in our individual interactions with society as a whole. Individuals benefit when they, but no others, can cheat society. I don’t believe that that remains true once they become large enough that they are visibly *forcing* society rather than invisibly cheating — or, at least, it isn’t true in the long term (unfortunately, it can be true if you have a limited lifespan and don’t expect to live long enough for the true results of your actions to come home to roost). The 1% are actually “taking it with them” in the sense that they are unnecessarily and, more importantly, unsustainably using up resources but won’t be around to suffer the consequences. Game theory makes abundantly clear the difference between open-ended scenarios and end-game scenarios. Society’s lack of insistence that all “externalities” must be paid for is going to make for a *very* rough future. (But I’ve digressed way off topic 😀 ).

  17. 18. Philosopher Eric says:

    I was very much hoping to hear from you Mark, and your sincere comment does not disappoint. I certainly also agree that diversity can be a very useful trait. To this I would add that “adversity” seems to be a key source of human innovation as well. I suspect that it was often the great hardships encountered by the settlers of Europe which forced them to develop such powerful societies.

    I might not have been clear about what I was referring to in my last comment, but perhap I can make amends right now. We can certainly say that a given slot machine can be designed such that it’s “biased,” for example, but I’m actually referring to a far deeper and more basic idea here. I know that I have a fundamentally biased nature, and specifically because I can be punished and rewarded. What I’m saying is that existence can be good and bad to me, which is something that I believe holds the key to understanding virtually all great philosophical uncertainties. (I presume that you don’t believe it’s possible to “punish/reward” anything that we currently design and build, and therefore we might view them as “unbiased” in this very fundamental sense.) So the point of my last comment was that in order to finally make progress in the field of philosophy, the basic nature of our fundamental human bias (or good/bad) will be needed. I use a “sensations” idea for this, such as pain, hope, hunger, hatred, fun, and so on. If a computer does not experience sensations, then from my definitions it is indeed “unbiased” in this fundamental sense.

    What I can do for you Mark, is provide a very functional definition for the concept of “mind,” as well as demonstrate that the vast majority of the human mind is just like those machines that we now build — they’re simply “non-conscious minds.” We obviously do have some AI today (if that is indeed a good term to use), and as we go these machines should certainly become more intelligent. Furthermore, I can also provide you with a very functional model of the conscious human mind. This would at least demonstrate that today our creations do not even approach a consciousness dynamic, and probably never will. So anyone that would like to actually develop a conscious machine, I think, should first consider my own understandings of the consciousness dynamic. For the most part however, my work applies to “mental/behavioral” fields — I do believe that I (or someone) must finally give them a foundation from which effective study could begin.

  18. 19. Philosopher Eric says:

    One thing more Mark, as I’ve only just noticed the title of the publication that houses your PDF above. Here I do hope to be as respectful as possible, since you and your contemporaries are obviously “real scientists” that do “real things,” whereas I am just a lowly philosopher. With that said however, I do notice that the title of this publication is “International Journal of Machine Consciousness.”

    Furthermore a look at some of the recent titles does suggest that this isn’t perhaps just an overly grand name, but is what the publication is truly about. Here I see: “A Study of Self-Awareness in Robots,” as well as “Robots with Consciousness: Creating a Third Nature,” and “What Makes any Agent a Moral Agent? Reflections on Machine Consciousness and Moral Agency,” and so on. In the past I have only half joked that others were trying to “build a conscious mind without a functional model of consciousness.” I see no such joke any longer!

    It is clear to me now more than ever that you and your contemporaries are in dire need a functional model of the conscious human mind. Furthermore I would certainly love to provide you with my own, or perhaps even discuss such models in general. I very much hope to hear from you soon, and if this forum is too public, please feel free to email me at:

  19. 20. Mark Waser says:

    @Eric — O exalted philosopher! This lowly engineer (who nonetheless desires to build “real” things) would love to converse with you regarding functional models of consciousness (which he fervently believes must be codified and shared to build a critical mass of effective researchers and, eventually, builders). No forum is too public unless it is overwhelmed by noise.

    I believe that “dynamic” is exactly the way in which consciousness *needs* to be examined — but that the other half of the equation is the “self”. From a philosophical point of view, I believe that Metzinger, Hofstadter and Dennett have much to offer while Chalmers provides as many red herrings as useful distinctions. Damasio, Baars and Varela provide what I feel is the most effective scientific grounding for those philosophies and the concept of a conscious self.

    I desperately need to allocate the time to read your physical ethics site. Indeed, I would find it very interesting and useful for me to respond to each section — particularly if I got feedback on my comments from you. Do you believe that this would be a good way to start or did you have some other idea (or something else I should read/start on first)?

  20. 21. Philosopher Eric says:

    That sounds great Mark! So it will then just be a matter of you finding a bit of time for my theory. I do realize that my work only merits your efforts to the extent that it interests you, so if boredom ever does surface, please stop and let me know so that I might personally take up the associated problem, and perhaps solve it. If my ideas do indeed describe reality, then they should simply never bore a person that has our specific interests.

    As for general advice however, I must once again mention that your great familiarity with existing theory can only impede your understanding of my own ideas, and so should be set aside for a while. I simply require a student with standard mastery of the English language, as well as normal observations regarding themselves. The various “extra definitions” required here, are always provided.

    You’ll find that I’m extremely passionate about my theory (and many here would no doubt tell you that it can be hard to shut me up about it). Regardless your questions and observations will certainly be given appropriate responses. I am very excited about this Mark! In my current day dreams the history reads: “…and then our hero met an inquisitive engineer by the name of Mark Waser and…” well I certainly do hope something good!

  21. 22. Vicente says:

    Probably, introspection gave Compte a headache because it is yet a low level, low quality, mental process.

    The point is to break the duality and conflict between introspection and perception as two different processes. For this to happen, we need to achieve a “mindfulness” state (unfortunately, such a deteriorated concept by market pirates and other new wave idiots, nowadays). In this state, introspection becomes meaningless. It is part a global flow in which inner and perception processes are unified.

    Eric, actually I down my first night bar shot at #7, anyway, in this case, I was not referring to memories unreliability, but to the fact that the into-inspection process has an effect on what it is inspected. Of course, memory degradation is always a problem.

  22. 24. Philosopher Eric says:

    OK Vicente, I was mistaken to presume that you thought memory was the basic problem with introspection. Furthermore apparently you aren’t saying that “bias” is the main problem either, as I believe. Instead it’s that the process of thinking about a thought, quickly degrades things somehow, and therefore the philosopher must rely upon outside perceptions rather than introspection (and quantified data is certainly always nice to have here). So it would seem that we have a difference of opinion on the merits and challenges of introspection. Apparently if you do happen to be right, then my own theory grows highly suspect since it happens to be based quite heavily upon introspection. Time should tell, but hopefully someone will succeed in the end.

  23. 25. Callan S. says:

    Hi Jayarava,

    If we can observe being aware of a memory, then we ought to be able to observe being aware of any mental event.

    I think what you’re saying is you are FULLY aware of a memory and so aught to be able to observe being FULLY aware of any mental event.

    Hunt’s main point is simply that it’s not being fully aware. If you don’t insist on it being fully aware, then you partly agree with him at the very least. Or if your statement is that it’s fully aware, aughtn’t that be part of the statement instead of left up in the air?

  24. 26. Jayarava says:

    #25 Callan S – Thanks for responding to my comment (everyone else seems to have ignored it). However, I don’t understand the distinction you are making between “full” awareness and “partial” awareness. With reference to what would awareness be considered full or partial? Are you really suggesting that awareness itself is partial or are you suggesting that we are aware of part of any particular event?

    And what difference would it make to observing that we are aware of having had a mental event?

  25. 27. Callan S. says:

    Hi Jayarava,

    Fair question of what metric to measure it against.

    I’m not sure how the name the metric, but take some basic discrepancies – say you are getting angry with someone. But latter you find you are hungry – and maybe you are more likely to get angry with other peoples actions if you are hungry. So you felt angry at the time, but was that the full experience? Or if you go shopping and happen to buy a lot of junk food – but latter you realise you went shopping hungry (man, have I done this!). You wanted to buy the junk food, but was the full story of why you wanted to really available to you?

    That’s a crude example, but I think one we can relate to more easily than various cognitive science experiments where they show people saying they act one way (perhaps saying they aren’t sexist or racist) but acting another (showing various discrepancy tendencies – I think one was where police were more likely to shoot people with black skin.)

    The difference would be that we are not observing a mental event. We would be observing part of a mental event.

    This doesn’t necessarily super matter in itself, unless it rails against our moral dispositions (ie, the police who are more likely to shoot someone based on skin), or our own welfare – even buying more junk food is bad for us, with obesity being the biggest disease in the first world. Further, with various corporate entities researching neuroscience for advertising purposes, they are researching how to make you observe one feeling but not the whole story of the feeling, for their commercial gain. And there’s definitely profit to be had in that.

    Beyond that Scott Bakker’s interest goes further than possible moral conflicts that might show up, attempting to get right down into the matter which essentially investigates the idea of morality simply being like some Asimov’s laws of robotics imprinted on our brain (and what it’ll be like when people start rewriting their brains to remove such imprints). His interest does get a bit technical than is possibly necessary for our current social era, but its spurred on by how various corporate interests will likely force the technical point for profit, breeding a weird new social era. Potentially, anyway.

  26. 28. Vicente says:

    Jayarava, why can’t we enter into the infinite recursion mentioned, I am aware of being aware of being aware of being aware… Being aware of an apple on the table and being aware of being aware of an apple on the table are very different mental events. In fact, I don’t believe we can be aware of being aware of being aware of an apple on the table in a genuine manner, without the help of the inner language to express the idea.

    But what is aware of what? is it a part of the brain “sensing” what’s going on elsewhere in the brain?

    I don’t know if it is a common experience, but while “being aware of” (paying conscious attention to something) I experience a sort of “being enhancement”, while when distracted with nonsense I feel the opposite.

  27. 29. Nick Byrd says:

    Hi Eric,

    Sorry for not responding sooner. Apparently I forgot to subscribe to follow-up comments.

    The general claim of the three papers I posted is this: the dismissal of the veridicality of introspection was too quick and sweeping.

    The ancillary claims are as follows:

    If introspection is thoroughly unreliable, then the introspection that researchers rely on in forming theories and designing experiments is also suspect.
    There is reason to think that some introspection is veridical enough to avoid dismissing it out of hand.

    Also, at least one study (the top of the list) presents novel data to support it’s claims.

    Links to the PDFs:
    Jack, Anthony Ian, and Andreas Roepstorff. “Introspection and Cognitive Brain Mapping: From Stimulus–response to Script–report

    Jack, A., and >A. Roepstorff. “Why Trust the Subject?

    Petitmengin, Claire, Anne Remillieux, Béatrice Cahour, and Shirley Carter-Thomas. “A Gap in Nisbett and Wilson’s Findings? A First-Person Access to Our Cognitive Processes

    Also, I am curious about your this alleged failure(s) of philosophy and the implication that they generalize to other academic domains. I took a quick look at your website to try to find a précis of the argument, but my cursory search didn’t reveal it. Perhaps when I have more free time, I will try to give it more time.

    Thanks for engaging!

  28. 30. Philosopher Eric says:

    Thanks Nick for your response, and it does come at a good time for me. I do accept your assurance that introspection is valid (and also somewhat because I’ve been quite devoted to such study for over half my life). As to my allegation that philosophy is still “failed,” I suppose that I did presume that this was common knowledge. Here I’m merely observing that we philosophers have been searching for many thousands of years, and yet have achieved no understandings of reality to date, sufficient to gain general acceptance.

    So here I ask you, is it not possible that the act of “learning philosophy itself” tends to doom a philosopher, simply given the enormous mess that must have accumulated during this very extended period of failure? Thus the modern educated philosopher might tend to be “unclean” in the sense that he or she may tend to use various inherited unproductive conventions. Therefore I chose to instead explore fields which do indeed have accepted understandings to their credit, so that I might then transfer “successful patterns” to my philosophy passion, but still remain “clean.”

    As for the question of how philosophy might generalize over to other fields, I just don’t see how this specific kind of failure could permit what I call “mental/behavioral” sciences to be much more than “primitive” today. Thus my project should not just endure the wrath of proud philosophers, but also Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Sociologists, Cognitive Scientists, and so on. At the very least I want to popularize the notion that these fields will require an associated “philosophical Newton” to found all such work. Furthermore I do believe that my own ideas demonstrate the kinds of understandings that will be required, and may indeed win me this distinction in the end.

    Please do consider my theory Nick, but as I’ve said, this should be done with nothing more than personal evidence of reality. In the end I see the youth market as my greatest potential asset, not only for its energy, but also because it should be somewhat less tainted by (and invested in) past convention. I’m going to start generally leaving my email address here as well as my web site, since there is certainly no need for all questions and comments to reside in the public domain. My goal is merely to present my theory for consideration, not to humiliate others.

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