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2010-07-26 12:13:16
Last author: SilverFire
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Hurlburt & Schwitzgebel; Describing Inner Experience?

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Describing Inner Experience? is a non-fiction book exploring the problems of introspection (what we think are currently thinking about, and how we are thinking). Most think introspection is easy, but in truth the ease is a deception and knowing the manner in which you actually think (inner voice, images, etc.) is surprisingly, and perhaps depressingly, hard. The arguments abound for the unreliability of introspection, but now is not the time or place to go into them.

Hurlburt is a cautious optimist about whether we can discover anything reliable about introspection. He developed a beep method (DES - descriptive experience sampling) - in which participants wear a device that beeps randomly throughout the day indicating that at various moments they should stop and record both the content and form of their thoughts - to aid in discovering how and what people think, and believes his method the most successful at present. Schwitzgebel is a serious pessimist about what we can know about introspection, and about Hurlburt's DES method. But the two combined forces to write this book, combining both of their perspectives on introspection and jointly examining a case of Hurlburt's DES method. The book has introductory chapters on both of their stances, transcripts of their interviews with the subject of the DES participant, and concluding remarks from both authors. Dotted throughout are also small boxes of discussions about key issues between Hurburt and Schwitzgebel.

Firstly, the form of the book is excellent, and makes for easy reading - if one is not interested in reading the deeper discussions on a particular issue, one can simply skip that boxed discussion. The introductory and concluding remarks by both authors are useful, illuminating, and frame the interview transcripts nicely. The interviews themselves are rather fascinating discussions of how the participants thinks, with both authors probing Melanie (the subject) for details about her experience.

As someone who finds the questions of introspection fascinating, I think I would have found it harder to pick up a better book. The style is easy to read and understand, even in the discussions of more complex issues, and gives a well balanced overview to two key stances in introspection. I would recommend either this book, or some of Hurlburt's other reports of the DES method to anyone who is remotely interested in how other people think (and how could you not be interested in that?).

/ [SilverFire]

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