The evil demon in the lab: skepticism, introspection, and introspection of introspection

Abstract

In part one, I clarify the crucial notion of “introspection”, and give novel cases for the coherence of scenarios of local and global deception about how we access our own minds, drawing on empirical work. In part two, I evaluate a series of skeptical arguments based on such scenarios of error, and in each case explain why the skeptical argument fails. The first main upshot is that we should not over-estimate what it takes to introspect: introspection need not be accurate, or non-inferential, or exclusive of perception, or even exclusive of confabulation. The second main upshot is that, while skeptical challenges by figures such as Carruthers, Doris, and Schwitzgebel are rich and empirically informed, these skeptical challenges founder on how they are epistemologically under-informed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    For some examples, see Smithies and Stoljar (2012: p. 4), Dretske (2012: p. 49), Siewert (2012: p. 129), or Spener (2012: 384).

  2. 2.

    See Stump (2010: chs. 3, 4), Talbert (2015, 2017), or Benton (2017).

  3. 3.

    Contrast the set up in Schwitzgebel 2008 that does build in a commitment to uniqueness: “Think of introspection as you will—as long as it is the primary method by which we normally reach judgments about our experience in cases of the sort I’ll describe. That method, whatever it is… (2008: p. 248, emphasis mine).” (The same wording committed to uniqueness is used in Schwitzgebel 2011, ch: 7).

  4. 4.

    See Spener (2015) for further discussion.

  5. 5.

    See Chalmers (2003), Horgan and Kriegel (2007), or Gertler (2012).

  6. 6.

    Perhaps other mental states of the student result in him being in pain. Perhaps they even jointly cause him to be in pain, and to believe he is in pain, so that there is no time lag problem. Contrast the following pathways:

    Belief that in pain → pain  
    Suitable cluster of mental states ] → pain
      ] → belief in pain

    One challenge for this response is metaphysical—to spell out the more detailed causal story in a plausible way. For many conditions C, it might seem that we’ll be in pain and believe we’re in pain when C obtains, even though we don’t end up even believing we’re in pain when C rolls around. Just consider the range of cases in which we might say “oh, that actually wasn’t bad”. Another challenge for the response is epistemological—if the belief that you are in pain fails to be caused by your pain, and also fails to cause your pain, it’s less clear whether they’re suitably related for you to know that you’re in. Presumably a defender of infallibility wants to defend the knowledgeable status of our introspective judgments as well as their truth.

  7. 7.

    For critical discussion of Nisbett and Wilson (1977), and references to further critical discussions, see section 1.3 of Newell and Shanks (2014).

    Bortolotti points out that, even if the Nisbett and Wilson explanation in terms of spatial position fails, their stocking study could still supply a case of confabulation (2018: p. 4).

  8. 8.

    For references to examples of philosophers making this move, see Engelbert and Carruthers (2010: 249). They also describe the stocking study in accord with the lore.

  9. 9.

    Here is the full table from Wansink et al. (2005):

    Biased visual cues unknowingly influence overconsumption*

      Visual cues consumption
      Accurate visual cue (normal soup bowls) Biased visual cue (self re-filling cue bowls) F test (1, 5)
    Actual consumption volume
    Actual ounces of soup consumed 8.5 ± 6.1 14.7 ± 8.4 8.99c
    Actual calories of soup consumed 15.4.9 ± 110.3 267.9 ± 153.5 8.99c
    Estimated consumption volume
    Estimated ounces of soup consumed 8.2 ± 6.9 9.8 ± 9.2 0.46
    Estimated calories of soup consumed 122.6 ± 101.0 127.4 ± 95.6 0.03
    Consumption monitoring*
    “I carefully paid attention to how much I ate” 4.9 ± 2.3 5.3 ± 2.4 0.69
    “I carefully monitored how much soup I ate” 4.7 ± 2.5 4.7 ± 2.8 0.00
    “I usually eat until I reach the bottom of the bowl” 6.2 ± 2.1 6.6 ± 2.5 0.31
    “I always try to clean my plate (or bowl) at home” 6.4 ± 2.2 6.1 ± 2.7 0.20
    Presence of others*
    “If other people keep eating, I am more likely also to” 5.5 ± 2.4 5.4 ± 5.7 0.03
    “Eating with other people distracted me from how much I was eating” 4.7 ± 2.8 4.6 ± 2.5 0.00
    Self-perceptions of satietya
    “How hungry are you right now?” 3.4 ± 2.1 3.0 ± 1.9 0.63
    “How full are you right now?” 5.7 ± 1.9 5.1 ± 2.7 1.03
    “How nauseated are you right now?” 3.3 ± 2.3 2.6 ± 2.0 1.47
    “How much food do you think you could eat right now?” 7.1 ± 1.7 7.0 ± 1.8 0.04
    1. Values are mean ± SD
    2. *Measured with agreement scales (1 = strongly discharge; 9 = strongly agree)
    3. aMeasured with semantic differential scales (e.g. 1 = a little; 9 = a lot)
    4. bp < 0.05
    5. cp < 0.01
  10. 10.

    A cached version is here: https://web.archive.org/web/20170312041524/http://www.brianwansink.com/phd-advice/the-grad-student-who-never-said-no.

  11. 11.

    For surveys of a range of portion size effects, see Wadhera and Capaldi-Phillips (2014) and Benton (2015). For a meta-analysis of the studies, see Zlatevska et al. (2014). And for discussion of potential mechanisms of portion size effects, see the (2011) paper of Burger et al.

  12. 12.

    For discussion of further forms of pluralism, see Prinz (2004), Boyle (2009), or Samoilova (2016).

  13. 13.

    For discussion of a similar problematic over the interpretation of cognitive dissonance experiments, see Fiala and Nichols (2009).

  14. 14.

    For a (skeptical) survey of potential cases of cognitive penetration, see Firestone and Scholl (2016).

  15. 15.

    For some recent reflections on how to understand cross-modal interactions in perception, potentially as perception that is somehow multi-modal, see the essays in Part II of Stokes et al. (2014). For a sample recent discussion focusing on (images of) food, see Spence et al. (2016).

  16. 16.

    For a survey of how to articulate and how to evaluate fallibilism, see Fantl and McGrath (2009).

  17. 17.

    For overviews of the studies, see Scaife (2014) section 2, Doris (2015: ch. 4), or Bortolotti (2018). Note that, while Schwitzgebel argues that introspection is not reliable, he still seems to assume that its function and standard for success is to be understood in terms of accuracy (2008: pp. 265–6). This assumption is importantly challenged in Doris (2015: ch. 4).

  18. 18.

    For further discussion of such examples of introspection, see Lawlor (2009) or Cassam (2014: ch. 11).

  19. 19.

    Here I try to present some novel problems for appealing to Schwitzgebel. For further challenges (that I largely endorse) to Schwitzgebel's critique, see Bayne and Spener (2010), Smithies (2013), or Bayne (2014).

  20. 20.

    Thanks to Carolina Flores for this point.

  21. 21.

    Consider the following passage:

    My wife mentions that I seem to be angry about being stuck with the dishes again (despite the fact that doing the dishes makes me happy?). I deny it. I reflect; I sincerely attempt to discover whether I’m angry—I don’t just reflexively defend myself but try to be the good self-psychologist my wife would like me to be—and still I don’t see it. I don’t think I’m angry. But I’m wrong, of course, as I usually am in such situations: My wife reads my face better than I introspect (2008: p. 252, see also p. 255).

  22. 22.

    For further discussion of challenges for formulating skeptical arguments in terms of known incompatibility, see Blome-Tillmann (2006) and David and Warfield (2008).

  23. 23.

    Although see Lasonen-Aarnio (2010, 2014) or Baker-Hytch and Benton (2015) for challenges to standard assumptions about how knowledge can get undermined.

  24. 24.

    For critical discussion of those arguments, see Goldman (2006), Fiala and Nichols (2009), Rey (2013), or Andreotta (2019).

  25. 25.

    For views with a similar structure in the case of introspection, inspired by the perceptual case, see Hellie (2006) or Macpherson (2010). The perceptual flavor is optional however. “Constitutivists” such as Shoemaker (2009) or Smithies (2012) thoroughly reject perceptual models of introspection, but still hold that you in general have introspective reason to believe that you are in a mental state only if you are in that mental state.

References

  1. Andreotta, A. (2019). Confabulation does not undermine introspection for propositional attitudes. Synthese. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-019-02373-9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baker-Hytch, M., & Benton, M. A. (2015). Defeatism defeated. Philosophical Perspectives,29(1), 40–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bayne, T. (2014). Introspective insecurity. Open MIND. Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bayne, T., & Spener, M. (2010). Introspective humility. Philosophical Issues,20, 1–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Benton, D. (2015). Portion size: what we know and what we need to know. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition,55(7), 988–1004.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Benton, M. A. (2017). Epistemology personalized. The Philosophical Quarterly,67, 813–834.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Blome-Tillmann, M. (2006). A closer look at closure scepticism. In Proceedings of the aristotelian society (vol. 106, no. 1, pp. 383–392). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bortolotti, L. (2018). Stranger than fiction: Costs and benefits of everyday confabulation. Review of Philosophy and Psychology,9(2), 227–249.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Boyle, M. (2009). Two kinds of self-knowledge. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,78(1), 133–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Burger, K. S., Fisher, J. O., & Johnson, S. L. (2011). Mechanisms behind the portion size effect: Visibility and bite size. Obesity,19(3), 546–551.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Byrne, A. (2005). Introspection. Philosophical Topics,33, 79–104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Carruthers, P. (2011). The opacity of mind: an integrative theory of self-knowledge. Oxford: OUP.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Cassam, Q. (2014). Self-knowledge for humans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Chalmers, D. (2003). The content and epistemology of phenomenal belief. Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives,220, 271.

    Google Scholar 

  15. David, M., & Warfield, T. A. (2008). Knowledge-closure and skepticism. In Q. Smith (Ed.), Epistemology: New essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Dennett, D. C. (1988). Quining qualia. In A. J. Marcel & E. Bisiach (Eds.), Consciousness in modern science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Doris, J. M. (2015). Talking to our selves: Reflection, ignorance, and agency. OUP Oxford.

  18. Dretske, F. (2012). Awareness and authority: Skeptical doubts about self-knowledge. Introspection and Consciousness, 49–64.

  19. Dutton, D. G., & Aron, A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,30(4), 510.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Engelbert, M., & Carruthers, P. (2010). Introspection. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science,1(2), 245–253.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Fantl, J., & McGrath, M. (2009). Knowledge in an uncertain world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Fiala, B., & Nichols, S. (2009). Confabulation, confidence, and introspection (Commentary on Peter Carruthers). Behavioral and Brain Sciences,32, 144–145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Firestone, C., & Scholl, B. J. (2016). Cognition does not affect perception: Evaluating the evidence for “top-down” effects. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, E229. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X15000965.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Gertler, B. (2012). Renewed acquaintance. In D. Smithies & D. Stoljar (Eds.), Introspection and consciousness (pp. 89–123). Oxford University Press.

  25. Gopnik, A. (1993). How we know our minds: The illusion of first-person knowledge of intentionality. Behavioral and Brain Sciences,16(1), 1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Hansen, T., Olkkonen, M., Walter, S., & Gegenfurtner, K. R. (2006). Memory modulates color appearance. Nature Neuroscience,9(11), 1367–1368.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Hellie, B. (2006). Beyond phenomenal naivete. Philosophers’ Imprint,6, 1–24.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Hill, C. S. (1991). Sensations: A defense of type materialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Horgan, T., & Kriegel, U. (2007). Phenomenal epistemology: What is consciousness that we may know it so well? Philosophical Issues,17(1), 123–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Lasonen-Aarnio, M. (2010). Unreasonable Knowledge. Philosophical Perspectives,24(1), 1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Lasonen-Aarnio, M. (2014). Higher-order evidence and the limits of defeat. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,88(2), 314–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Lawlor, K. (2009). Knowing what one wants. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,79(1), 47–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Macpherson, F. (2010). A disjunctive theory of introspection: a reflection on zombies and Anton’s syndrome. Philosophical Issues,20(1), 226–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. McDowell, J. (2008). The disjunctive conception of experience as material for a transcendental argument. In F. Macpherson & A. Haddock (Eds.), Disjunctivism: Perception, action, knowledge. Oxford University Press.

  35. Newell, B. R., & Shanks, D. R. (2014). Unconscious influences on decision making: A critical review. Behavioral and Brain Sciences,37(1), 1–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Nisbett, R. E., & Wilson, T. D. (1977). Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes. Psychological Review,84, 231–259.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Osterholt, K. M., Roe, L. S., & Rolls, B. J. (2007). Incorporation of air into a snack food reduces energy intake. Appetite,48(3), 351–358.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Prinz, J. (2004). The fractionation of introspection. Journal of Consciousness Studies,11(7–8), 40–57.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Pritchard, D. (2012). Epistemological disjunctivism. Oxford University Press.

  40. Pudel, V. E., & Oetting, M. (1977). Eating in the laboratory: Behavioural aspects of the positive energy balance. International Journal of Obesity,1(4), 369–386.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Rey, G. (2013). We are not all ‘self-blind’: A defense of a modest introspectionism. Mind & Language,28(3), 259–285.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Reyes, G., & Sackur, J. (2017). Introspective access to implicit shifts of attention. Consciousness and Cognition,48, 11–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Reyes, G., & Sackur, J. (2018). Introspection during short-term memory scanning. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,71, 2088–2100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Rolls, B. J., Bell, E. A., & Waugh, B. A. (2000). Increasing the volume of a food by incorporating air affects satiety in men. The American journal of clinical nutrition,72(2), 361–368.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Rolls, B. J., Roe, L. S., Meengs, J. S., & Wall, D. E. (2004). Increasing the portion size of a sandwich increases energy intake. Journal of the American Dietetic Association,104(3), 367–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Samoilova, K. (2016). Transparency and introspective unification. Synthese,193(10), 3363–3381.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Scaife, R. (2014). A problem for self-knowledge: The implications of taking confabulation seriously. Acta Analytica,29(4), 469–485.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Schellenberg, S. (2016). Phenomenal evidence and factive evidence. Philosophical Studies,173(4), 875–896.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Schwitzgebel, E. (2008). The unreliability of naive introspection. Philosophical Review,117(2), 245–273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Schwitzgebel, E. (2011). Perplexities of consciousness. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Schwitzgebel, E. (2012). Introspection, what. In D. Smithies & D. Stoljar (Eds.), Introspection and Consciousness (pp. 29–48). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Shoemaker, S. (2009). Self-intimation and second order belief. Erkenntnis,71(1), 35–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Siewert, C. (2012). On the phenomenology of introspection. In D. Smithies & D. Stoljar (Eds.), Introspection and consciousness (pp. 129–168). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2006) Moral intuitionism meets empirical psychology in Metaethics after Moore (ed.) Horgan, T. Oxford University Press.

  55. Smithies, D. (2012). A simple theory of introspection. In D. Smithies & D. Stoljar (Eds.), Introspection and consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Smithies, D. (2013). On the unreliability of introspection. Philosophical Studies,165(3), 1177–1186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Smithies, D., & Stoljar, D. (Eds.). (2012). Introduction. In Introspection and consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  58. Spence, C., Okajima, K., Cheok, A. D., Petit, O., & Michel, C. (2016). Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation. Brain and Cognition,110, 53–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Spener, M. (2012). Mind-independence and visual phenomenology. In D. Smithies & D. Stoljar (Eds.), Introspection and consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Spener, M. (2015). Calibrating introspection. Philosophical Issues,25(1), 300–321.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Srinivasan, A. (2015). Are we luminous? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,90(2), 294–319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Stokes, D., Matthen, M., & Biggs, S. (2014). Perception and its modalities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Stump, E. (2010). Wandering in darkness: Narrative and the problem of suffering. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Talbert, B. M. (2015). Knowing other people: A second-person framework. Ratio,28(2), 190–206.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Talbert, B. (2017). Overthinking and other minds: The analysis paralysis. Social Epistemology,31(6), 545–556.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. van der Zee, T., Anaya, J., & Brown, N. J. (2017). Statistical heartburn: An attempt to digest four pizza publications from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. BMC Nutrition,3(1), 54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Wadhera, D., & Capaldi-Phillips, E. D. (2014). A review of visual cues associated with food on food acceptance and consumption. Eating Behaviors,15(1), 132–143.

  68. Wansink, B. (2006). Mindless eating: Why we eat more than we think. New York: Bantam.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Wansink, B., Painter, J. E., & North, J. (2005). Bottomless bowls: Why visual cues of portion size may influence intake. Obesity,13(1), 93–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Williamson, T. (2000). Knowledge and its limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Zlatevska, N., Dubelaar, C., & Holden, S. S. (2014). Sizing up the effect of portion size on consumption: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Marketing,78(3), 140–154.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

For their help with this paper, I’d like to thank Jack Barnett, Alex Byrne, Ophelia Deroy, Carolina Flores, Carl Ginet, Anna Giustina, Anil Gomes, Patrick Greenough, Lisa Miracchi, Ram Neta, Shaun Nichols, Adam Pautz, Adriana Renero, Barbara Rolls, Eric Schwitzgebel, Sydney Shoemaker, Susanna Siegel, Declan Smithies, Hannah Trees, Ru Ye, Jonna Vance, Timothy Williamson, and several anonymous referees. I’m also grateful to audiences at workshops or other events at the University of Geneva, the Institut Jean-Nicod, the Ohio State University, Oxford University, Bled, CSU Chico, Nanyang Technological University, and the University of Bergen.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nicholas Silins.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Silins, N. The evil demon in the lab: skepticism, introspection, and introspection of introspection. Synthese (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-020-02680-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Introspection
  • Self-knowledge
  • Skepticism
  • Reliability