Quickpost – inner experience – (how much) do we talk to ourselves?

In my last post I asked whether one is necessarily conscious of one’s empathy.

I offered an example where something of the state of one person is evoked in another (me), but “I don’t notice it at all. In this case, I sit with Joe and my body responds to something in him (perhaps he’s as unaware of his feeling as I am of mine). No cognition, no rationality, no awareness. Nothing registers, nothing is done – the moment passes.”

But this polarises things too much – as though thought is either a fully formed conscious idea or nothing at all. It separates body and mind, it is more all-or-nothing.

As sometimes happens, the very next thing I read after publishing the post gives me a diffirent way of putting things.

Eric Scwitzgebel and Russell T. Hurlbert have written Describing inner experience?. In it they set about to discover what out inner experience is like: verbal, imagistic, emotional…

(At the bottom of this post I include an except from the preface to show the brilliant method used to study this fleeting topic.)

Consciousness without inner speech, etc.
What I’ve latched onto is Hurlbert’s concept of ‘unsymbolized thinking’ – the idea that “much conscious thinking takes place neither in speech, nor in images, nor in any other symbolic format.”

Says, Schwtizgebel:

Russ Hurlburt suggests that people often overestimate the amount of inner speech (silent speaking to oneself) in their stream of experience. People, he says, simply presuppose that that is how thinking must occur….In conversation Hurlburt has also suggested that one basis for the impression many people have that they frequently or constantly talk silently to themselves is that when we stop to think about what our current stream of experience is, that self-reflective activity tends itself to produce inner speech in many people. Why exactly this should be so I’m not sure. But if it is so, someone might gain the false impression that inner speech is constant because she notices inner speech whenever she stops to think about what her experience is. (This would be a version of the “refrigerator light error”.)

The inner consciousness of empathy
To come back to my question – is one necessarily conscious of one’s empathy? My answer must now be maybe. If conscious does not necessarily involve inner speech, let alone the formulation of ideas, then it is quite possible to have an empathic response without (yet or ever) formulating that response into an idea.

It still remains a possibility, though, that empathy is a fact and not necessarily an experience. It may be that there is an empathic neurological response which the subject does not register consciously – even in unsymbolised thinking.

From the preface to Describing inner experience?:

Can inner experience (‘phenomenal consciousness’ in contemporary philosophical lingo) be accurately apprehended and faithfully described? The question is crucially important, both for a humanistic understanding of who we are and what we know about ourselves and for the newly burgeoning scientific field of ‘consciousness studies.’ One of us, Russ, is an optimist, believing that adequate methods make faithful descriptions of experience possible. The other, Eric, is a pessimist, believing that people are prone to considerable introspective error even under the best of conditions. Five years ago at a conference in Tucson, we presented opposing papers on the matter and instantly became friends, arguing over dinner, then over margaritas, then again the next day, then in the airport waiting for our respective flights home.

This book is the product of our best attempt to make concrete progress in our dispute. We felt a need to do something more than simply continue with the usual methods of abstract argument, historical reference, and citation of favorite experiments. Thus, we recruited someone not party to the dispute (we’ll call her ‘Melanie’), asked her to describe her experience in a way Russ found suitable – by random sampling and interview – and debated the extent to which the resulting descriptions could be believed. The bulk of this book is a lightly edited transcript of these interviews, in which Melanie makes her best effort to describe individual moments of her experience in careful detail, and Russ and Eric question her, argue with each other, and further pursue their disagreements (and connect with the relevant psychological and philosophical literature) in side boxes. Although Melanie’s experiences are in certain respects quite ordinary, we think the reader will find at least some of her descriptions surprising, intriguing, and suggestive. The book begins and concludes with chapters expressing our different points of view and our different takes on what we accomplished and failed to accomplish.


Ethical thinking, caterpillars, choking, panicking, and hope

Jon Morrow at copyblogger correctly suggests that we bloggers can get intoxicated by our words. He recommends:

Sober up – Walk away from the post for a few hours and give your internal editor a chance to wake up. He’ll tell you whether the post is good or not.
Find a driver – If you can’t afford to wait, ask a friend to read the post and give you honest feedback. Regardless of how euphoric you are about it, trust their judgment.

Chris Garrett follows with a thought-provoking post on how “blogging has some things in common with drinking the booze”:

Lowered Inhibitions
Solution: Don’t post in haste. Write like your mum or boss is reading.
Solution: Realize you are not perfect yourself and what you put out you get back.
Solution: Make friends in forums, comment on others blogs, chat on IM and email. Other people are usually happy to let you know the truth of the situation or just give support.
Solution: Post in draft, do not reveal too much, have clear procedures for keeping details safe and not always using the same passwords, keep backups.
Solution: Prevention is easier than cure but if you do find yourself having to clear up a mess, be honest and remorseful and hope people forgive and forget!

As it happens I just had a right old tussle with the third in his list – despair. In part this was a pin-off of the topic I’d been posting on for a while – psychopaths and lying – but I’ll write more about that another time. Today I’ll just consider the effect of of engaging one’s mind publicly with a big age-old problem (in this case, ethical and unethical behaviour).* Continue reading

Would you defer to this man?

I probably would defer to this man, as it turns out.

Over the weekend I saw a man in uniform standing outside a hall as people were making their way inside. I tried to make out whether he was some kind of policeman or a fireman – he had unrecognisanbe rank insignia on his shoulders. Then he caught my eye; I automatically said politely, “Morning” and he nodded seriously in acknowledgement.

I remember thinking that his moustache looked strange – almost fake, and then dismissing that thought.

An hour later I saw this man in a piece of street theatre where he was playing a very obviously mock-cop! How had I not seen this?

In Louis Althusser’s terms, I had been interpellated.

The visual signs – uniform, stance – coupled with the act – meeting my gaze, nodding – together these placed me in particular subject position.

The example Althusser gives is rather similar. Say you’re walking down the street under the impression that you’re a free individual. A policeman says, “Hey, you there!” and immediately you recognise yourself as the one being addressed. Perhaps you adopt a demeanour which suggests – have I done something wrong, officer?.

Even the way a policeman knocks on a door is designed to activate our deference, obedience, compliance.

Rather than being free, one is subject to the discourse of the other.

A contrary example makes the case plain. Jerry Seinfeld was once on a flight with a flight attendant who for some reason wasn’t in uniform. So, as far as he know, a passenger was coming by asking him to put his seat in the upright position, etc. Immediately his hackles raised – who does she think she is!

Those signs, then, are vital for making social cogs turn.

How do you describe someone who doesn’t defer automatically to official authority?

1. Do think of that person as being unsocialised? Society depends on acceptance of rules – they can’t be constantly renegotiated.
2. Or do you think of that person being their own person – others being unthinking dupes?

valley metro mockup
Originally uploaded by Crunchy Pickle

Irrationality – the example of the police lineup

Why do people (them, you, I) behave irrationally?

There are many famous social psychology experiments which demonstrate mob-mindedness, self-delusion, etc.

Psyblog has a post well worth downloading. In it he links to a series he has written on 10 “brilliant social science experiments”:

1. The halo effect – Nisbett
2. Cognitive dissonance – Festinger
3. Robber’s cave – Sherif
4. Stanford prison experiment – Zimbardo
5. Obedience to authority – Milgram
6. False consensus bias – Ross
7. Social identity theory – Tajfel
8. Bargaining – Deustch and Krauss
9. Bystander apathy – Darley & Latane
10. Conforming to the norm – Asch

The imperfection of memory
My own favourite – the police lineup

The nightmare of miscarriage of justice happens. Evidence: currently 206 people have been exonerated Continue reading