Monday, April 2, 2018

9:00 am -1:00 pm


Describing inner experience samples in high fidelity?

Russell T. Hurlburt

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Psychology Department


Eric Schwitzgebel


University of California, Riverside

Describing inner experience samples in high fidelity?

Description and goals

This workshop provides you with the opportunity to explore inner experience in the role of investigator, participant, and skeptic.  Workshop attendees will use the Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES) method under the supervision of psychologist Russ Hurlburt (creator of DES and since 1973 an investigator of first-person methods) and philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel (a leading authority about introspection and a noted skeptic about subjective reports about conscious experience).  DES aims to provide high fidelity descriptions of inner experience, and we will expose that aim in the lively debate style Russ and Eric used in their book Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic (MIT Press, 2007).

DES uses a random beeper in the participant’s natural environments to signal the participant to attend to “the last undisturbed moment” before the beep.  Later that day or the next, the investigators conduct an “expositional interview” designed to assist participants to describe their beeped experience with fidelity.  As a result, DES makes striking, counter-intuitive claims about fundamental characteristics of inner experience.  Should you believe those claims?

Russ and Eric will each give some introductory remarks, during which workshop attendees will be beeped in the DES random-sampling way.  We’ll randomly select an attendee volunteer and then we (Russ, Eric, and the workshop participants) will conduct a DES expositional interview with the volunteer about the details of the inner experience that had been ongoing at the moment of the beep.  During this interview, we (all workshop participants) will conduct “sidebar” discussions such as: What are the characteristics of good and bad questions? To what extent do the investigators “lead the witness”?  Is it possible to bracket the investigator’s and the participant’s presuppositions? How believable are the participant’s final descriptions?

Russ and Eric’s book Describing Inner Experience? is known both for its discussion of foundational issues in consciousness studies and for the constructively confrontational method used in that discussion: Russ and Eric interviewed “Melanie” in the DES way, and then debated how to understand what Melanie had said and the extent to which it should be believed (just like in this workshop!). Describing Inner Experience? has been the target of a special issue of Journal of Consciousness Studies (2011 issue 2).

Russ Hurlburt, the originator of the DES method to be used here, was the first to use beepers in the exploration of inner experience (1974). He is the author of six books on the DES method. Eric Schwitzgebel has published a book and dozens of articles skeptical of the accuracy of the self-report of consciousness. This workshop intends to shine bright lights from opposing directions on fundamental questions in consciousness studies: Is it possible to apprehend and describe inner experience faithfully?  Are some methods of introspection better than others, and why? Can consciousness studies do without introspection?  All these questions will be discussed in the context of reports about the concrete, just-occurred experiences of workshop participant-volunteers.

Hurlburt Bio

Russ Hurlburt pioneered investigations of inner experience, inventing (1973) the beepers that launched thought sampling. In the late 1970s he created the Descriptive Experience Sampling method, publishing six books about it including Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic (with Eric Schwitzgebel, MIT, 2007), Investigating Pristine Inner Experience: Moments of Truth (Cambridge, 2011), and A Passion for Specificity: Confronting Inner Experience in Literature and Science (with Marco Caracciolo, Ohio State, 2016). He is Professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


Schwitzgebel Bio

Eric Schwitzgebel is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside.  He is author of two books on the epistemology of consciousness: Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic (with Russell T. Hurlburt, MIT, 2007) and Perplexities of Consciousness (MIT, 2011).  He also published dozens of articles advocating a skeptical perspective on our self-knowledge of consciousness and on the epistemic foundations of consciousness studies.  His third book, The Splintered Mind, is forthcoming with MIT in 2018.

Workshop outline

1. Hurlburt: What is Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES)

2. Random beep 1 followed by DES interview of workshop participant-volunteer

3. Schwitzgebel: Grounds for doubting introspection of conscious experience

4. Random beep 2 followed by DES interview of workshop participant-volunteer

5. Hurlburt: DES results

6. Random beep 3 followed by DES interview of workshop participant-volunteer

7. Schwitzgebel: Can we become introspective experts?

8. Random beep 4 followed by DES interview of workshop participant-volunteer