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Describing Inner Experience?: Proponent Meets Skeptic

Overview

Can conscious experience be described accurately? Can we give reliable accounts of our sensory experiences and pains, our inner speech and imagery, our felt emotions? The question is central not only to our humanistic understanding of who we are but also to the burgeoning scientific field of consciousness studies. The two authors of Describing Inner Experience disagree on the answer: Russell Hurlburt, a psychologist, argues that improved methods of introspective reporting make accurate accounts of inner ...

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Overview

Can conscious experience be described accurately? Can we give reliable accounts of our sensory experiences and pains, our inner speech and imagery, our felt emotions? The question is central not only to our humanistic understanding of who we are but also to the burgeoning scientific field of consciousness studies. The two authors of Describing Inner Experience disagree on the answer: Russell Hurlburt, a psychologist, argues that improved methods of introspective reporting make accurate accounts of inner experience possible; Eric Schwitzgebel, a philosopher, believes that any introspective reporting is inevitably prone to error. In this book the two discuss to what extent it is possible to describe our inner experience accurately.

Hurlburt and Schwitzgebel recruited a subject, "Melanie," to report on her conscious experience using Hurlburt's Descriptive Experience Sampling method (in which the subject is cued by random beeps to describe her conscious experience). The heart of the book is Melanie's accounts, Hurlburt and Schwitzgebel's interviews with her, and their subsequent discussions while studying the transcripts of the interviews. In this way the authors' dispute about the general reliability of introspective reporting is steadily tempered by specific debates about the extent to which Melanie's particular reports are believable. Transcripts and audio files of the interviews will be available on the MIT Press website.

Describing Inner Experience? is not so much a debate as it is a collaboration, with each author seeking to refine his position and to replace partisanship with balanced critical judgment. The result is an illumination of major issues in the study of consciousness — from two sides at once.

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Editorial Reviews

Salon.com - Gary Wolf
... Russell T. Hurlburt and Eric Schwitzgebel produced [a] remarkable book...
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews - Gualtiero Piccinini
This book is a treat.... It offers a new model of productive interdisciplinary cooperation. And reading it is a pleasure. It deserves a wide audience among both psychologists and philosophers.
Psychology Today - Edouard Machery
This is a fascinating book and I highly recommend it.
Journal of Consciousness Studies - Bill Faw
... anything but boring... In my own soundless inner-speech, I kept saying, 'This is so good!'
The Times Literary Supplement - Tim Bayne
In Describing Inner Experience, Russell Hurlburt and Eric Schwitzgebel address the question of whether the resurrected science of consciousness is doomed... Hurlburt's answer is 'no,' Schwitzgebel's is 'quite possibly,' and the volume takes the form of a debate between them.
From the Publisher
"...Russell T. Hurlburt and Eric Schwitzgebel produced [a] remarkable book..." GaryWolf Salon.com

"This book is a treat...It offers a new model of productive interdisciplinary cooperation. And reading it is a pleasure. It deserves a wide audience among both psychologists and philosophers." Gualtiero Piccinini Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"This is a fascinating book and I highly recommend it." Edouard Machery PsychologyToday

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Russell T. Hurlburt is Professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Eric Schwitzgebel, Professor of Philosophy at the University of California,Riverside, is the co-author (with Russell T. Hurlburt) of Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic (MIT Press, 2007).

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