Consciousness and the Scientific Method of Introspection
(PD) - Claude Monet - Water Lilies and Reflections of a Willow
Copyright ©2014-2021 - updated February 06, 2021
Consciousness and the Scientific Method of Introspection
Abstract: To acquire an understanding of the nature of consciousness we must first have a descriptive idea of how consciousness is perceived, and the only known means of acquiring a knowledge of consciousness is through introspection. The greater the skill of introspection, so will be greater the description, and from that description we can then arrive at improved hypotheses of what has been externally observed within observer-participant experiments.
This article makes use of Through the One-Way Mirror : The Limits of Experimental Self-Reflection (by Howard Gadlin and Grant Ingle, American Psychologist, October 1975, pages 1003-1009) as both a review and as a parallel interpretation of introspection.
Roughly thirty years ago I designed and worked through a series of personal development techniques to enable me to better discover answers to my questions. The effort to achieve the goal was excessive, requiring far more devotion than what I had originally anticipated, but the questions did find their answers. And so to me, when I now see a paper's theory and research, and yet the theory was not based upon an invested time into the effort of developing specific techniques of self-observation, then I will conclude that the theories and research might be irrelevant.
"The limits of experimentally derived knowledge are a further concern. Psychologists have to question the experiment as a means to describe and comprehend reality.
...By contrast, questions about the validity of the knowledge that comes from experimentation strike at the core of scientific activity. Basically, psychologists have begun to wonder about the external validity of the results of laboratory experimentation."
Gadin/Ingle correctly illustrated some of the failings of experimental psychology, primarily those of the experiments themselves being biased. "The experimental method necessarily presumes its own appropriateness and cannot adequately handle questions of its own efficacy."
An experiment will not be useful unless the developers have a strong knowledge of what the experiments are to measure. If we were to develop an experiment that measures musical talent then we would want a Bach or a Vivaldi as the developer; the world's best. Likewise, experiments for artistic talents should be created by the world's best artists, experiments for playing football should be created by the best football players, and psychology experiments should be created by individuals who are the very best with the topic.
Scientific research into consciousness is not being performed by individuals who are among the world's most talented in the topic of consciousness, and thus, there is no potential for the experiments to produce answers of high value. How can a man measure a second man's consciousness if the first man cannot first recognize and describe his own? All experiments created by unqualified individuals result in data that is generally irrelevant and is biased with interpretations derived from the non-expert point of view — which simply means that the data only serves to further muddy the topic rather than to present useful answers.
The Sensory Quotient (SQ) project began as a simple question of measuring differences of firsthand cognition between different individuals. The early data was relatively simplistic but necessary to accumulate an adequate knowledge of trends that illustrate contrasts. Without contrasts (e.g. day and night) a thing will not be recognized to exist. The latest SQ experiments are designed to further measure the contrasts and to illustrate what the contrasts infer.
The SQ project's methodology can handle questions of its own efficacy, and do so with great clarity of design, purpose, and foreknown attributes to be measured, but more importantly, the SQ project produces sharp contrasts that illustrate specific forms of cognition that cannot be illustrated through any other known means. When coupled with known mental actions within the asleep and awake states, the SQ data is quite intriguing for illustrating differences of mental processing between different groups of humans.
An experiment cannot exceed what the developer already knows and/or recognizes to exist. Scientific experiments aimed towards measuring consciousness are based upon the developers' own interpretations of consciousness as well as the almost universal assumption that consciousness ought to be the same thing for everyone. Among the primary difficulties with the scientific experiments is that they were created within a pre-established limit of not recognizing contrasts, and so, without contrasts there can be no measuring of a thing that is not already recognized to exist differently than another thing.
"Furthermore, the experimenter has the peculiarly complex task of attempting to understand and explain his or her own behavior. We must recall that it is precisely around the recognition that one cannot always accurately understand and explain one's own behavior that psychology has been able to build its current credibility. Among other reasons, it was in the face of the "apparent" limitations of self-consciousness that introspection was dropped as the primary tool of psychological investigation (Boring, 1950)."
The same difficulty remains today, that if an experimenter is not highly skilled in introspection then the experimenter's own experiments cannot produce useful results simply because the experimenter does not know of his/her own mind well enough to judge what might be occurring in another person's mind. My efforts of thirty years ago helped to give width of my own 'self-consciousness', and all researchers of consciousness must exert a similar effort to achieve parallel self-consciousness if the researchers' hypotheses are to be deemed authoritative or useful.
It is unavoidable that we have no other means available to us except that we judge things relative to our own judgment, and although all conclusions of all topics will always be biased relative to our own personal interpretations, still we can create experiments that produce suitable contrasts if we first have a degree of personal firsthand experience to give us an idea of what to look for.
A good example is of the many scientific experiments that are performed while under the popular assumption that all thoughts and memories are products of the brain. The experiments and assumptions would never have occurred if the experimenters held a solid firsthand experience with electrical theory, but the experiments do continue because the researchers want to find a magical 'brain spark' that the researchers already believe to be the source of consciousness and thought. The experiments are not aimed towards finding the source of consciousness, but rather the experiments are only aimed towards attempting to prove the pre-existing hypothesis of 'electrical charge equals consciousness.'
I frequently use the analogy of television to illustrate the problem. We can measure electrical voltages and amperages within the television's power supply, but we do not assume that the voltages originated in the power supply. We can also measure voltages in the tuner circuits, and we can know with high confidence that a specific reaction will occur within a television when a specific voltage and wave-form is present, but still we do not claim that all television programming originates within the television circuits. If all electrical devices known to man do not create their own function, then why is it being assumed that the human brain is creating its own functions? The action of electrical fields is far more complex than what is commonly believed, and there are several good and theoretically-correct possibilities that are far more plausible than the popular beliefs of brain function, but the popular theories remain popular because the theorists are not familiar with how electricity usually behaves.
A recent example that is useful to mention is of a biologist who participated in a government hearing with the purpose of determining whether cell phone radiation might be harmful. The biologist repeatedly claimed of themselves to be an "expert" of the topic, and the biologist firmly stated that cell phone radiation cannot have a negative effect on organic tissue. In a later hearing the same biologist admitted to having later learned of different EMF wave-forms, and the biologist — still claiming to be an "expert" on the topic — then firmly stated that cell phone radiation is harmful to organic tissue. The biologist's recent knowledge of wave-forms was elementary and still did not take into consideration the effects of transductive fields which are the most harmful of all. The item to take note of here is that modern theories and government choices are being based upon the opinions of individuals' who are simply not qualified to speak of any electrical topic. If some of the world's leading biologists have no useful knowledge of electrical physics, then the biologists' theories of consciousness being electrically-based are inherently false.
The scientific paradigm of T. S. Kuhn (1962) — as also casually mentioned by David Bohm from his discussions with other physicists — is that it is easily recognized that social and scientific methods commonly share the view and methodology that is currently popular. If one researcher walks a path of investigation, then so is it likely that other researchers will follow the same path because it is a learned (suggestive) method. This is one of the reasons why a researcher is profited best by performing their own private research while not knowing of the popular methods that would negatively influence the researcher's personally-developed methods. The common consciousness experiment today might be performed within the scientific method, but the experiment is still irrational if the experiment is formed with the predetermined conclusion that consciousness must be an electrically-based brain function.
The first thing needing to be known is what consciousness is, to define consciousness with a clarity that is unmistakable from any other word. The next steps should be to create a defined methodology of how to objectively illustrate the contrasts that mark consciousness, then to become a master of electrical, chemical, and thermal physics, then to compare the results derived from the methodology to what is known of physics, and to then create a hypothesis of how consciousness might be the effect of a known form of physics.
Modern theories approach experimentation backwards while fully ignoring all physics: the theories are first created upon the belief that experiments show the desired contrasts needed to define what consciousness is, and then secondly, from the created definition the theorist can then allegedly know what consciousness itself is. The blue sky cannot be discovered through modern scientific methodologies, and neither can consciousness.
"Once a first paradigm through which to view nature has been found, there is no such thing as research in the absence of any paradigm. To reject one paradigm without simultaneously substituting another is to reject science itself. That act reflects not on the paradigm but on the man. Inevitably, he will be seen by his colleagues as "the carpenter who blames his tools." (Kuhn, pag. 79, 1962)"
To form a useful experiment, first is needed a knowledge of what the experiment is supposed to investigate and to measure. Following a pre-established methodology — of psychological experimenter-subject interaction — will not produce valuable new data simply because the method has already derived the majority of what data might be worthy of being collected. If new knowledge is desirable, then so must a new experimental method be used. For decades the popular paradigm has failed to produce a knowledge of consciousness: repeating the same failed experiments over and over will not produce new information about consciousness.
Each field of science has its own unique terminology and system of classification. If an individual is familiar with the field's terminology, then the individual is not as likely to be successful in the topic of consciousness simply because the individual has already been unduly influenced to form hypotheses relative to the field's existing paradigms. To approach the topic of consciousness from a purely innocent point of view, yes the researcher will very likely repeat many of the experiments that other researchers have already completed, but the new researcher will not know that the experiments tend to stop producing results at a specific point, and the new researcher can continue experimenting through use of his/her own methodologies which may produce results that are not possible through the current paradigms.
I am uncertain of what Kuhn may have intended by his comments about carpenters and rejecting science itself, but if a methodology does not work, then it does not work, and we should not continue following a paradigm simply upon the grounds of it being the politically-correct method. It matters nothing whether we reject science or any other ideology; all that matters is that we approach our questions honestly while creating methodologies with the highest degree of accuracy that we are capable. For myself, my experiments are not biased to support science, religion, philosophy, nor anything else; my experiments are created to answer my questions, and I sincerely do not care if a Buddhist, Wiccan, or scientist agrees with my methodology. I do not reject science nor any other ideology, I merely ignore them as being irrelevant for the topic of investigation.
"What holds for questions phrased within the language of experimentation does not necessarily hold for questions phrased about experimentation. It is precisely around this characteristic of experimentation and the experimenter-originated definitions that some of the doubts about experimental research originated. It is because questions about experiments phrased in experimental language are circular that such experiments are self-contradictory. Kruglanski's critique of the artifact-based criticisms of the experimental method exemplifies, within the language of the experimental paradigm, our initial assertion — that a direct experimental refutation or proof of the validity of experimental results is self-contradictory.
The debate about the experiment then becomes less than an empirical inquiry: We never see an empirical comparison of two alternative methodologies, nor even an attempt to create the terms for such a comparison. Rather, the debate is transformed into another experimental investigation."
Yes, experimentation from a distance (experimenter-subject) will always be void of solid answers regardless of how well the experimentation might produce useful data, but, nevertheless, the data can be useful and thus warrants the research. An entertaining observation is when two researchers approach the same topic through use of opposite approaches and yet arrive at parallel answers; the similarity of conclusions lends additional weight that the thing being investigated has been adequately observed to exist.
On the topic of consciousness we have the primary options of (1) experimenter-subject observation, (2) machine measurements (e.g. ECG, MRI, etc.), and (3) firsthand experience. Options one and two will continue to produce data that has the value of correlating other data, but the data cannot relate to consciousness itself. All things in the known universe are based upon a composition of other things, as does the mind perform its reasoning through use of several simultaneously-occurring influences, and so will research be best performed through use of several components simultaneously: external observation, measurement, internal observation, etc.. The current popular beliefs about consciousness are too often being based upon the assumption that a single external measurement can somehow supersede the laws and nature of Nature.
"By contrast, we would support, in both education and "actual" research, an intensive exploration of alternative methodologies. Certainly, it would be, as Kuhn so clearly shows, scientific suicide to simply abandon the experimental method. That is not being suggested here. We desire a movement toward a new paradigm."
Very well stated. The difficulties of the experimental method have been known for a long time, and yet today it appears that no alternative has yet arrived. As recent reports illustrate, useful data has been gleaned through the experimental method (Kahn/Gover Consciousness in Dreams), but the data — as fully expected — is inherently incomplete. A different method, the one that I personally apply, is dedicated self-observation, which too is inherently incomplete, but if we apply both methods we can then begin developing a better understanding of the topic being investigated.
Within dream research the common approach is to ask participants questions and to measure electrical brain activity. I will simply refer to the 'outside looking in' approach as 'external'. Another means of researching dreams is through an individual having purposefully developed a mental 'observer' that remains aware of one's thoughts during forms of sleep. I will refer to the 'inside looking at one's self' approach as 'internal.'
The external approach produces good data that gives us a general idea of where to aim our next questions (e.g. trends of decreased activity of the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex during REM sleep will help us recognize contrasting brain activity within individuals outside of the norm). By itself the data derived from the external method can be self-contradictory and meaningless, but it can possess high value when combined with two or more other methods and then extrapolated into a rational hypothesis.
Within the REM sleep example, the internal approach can produce measurements that infer different mental activities occurring or have ceased to occur during sleep, while the self-observing individual can also describe why the loss of the mental functions are causing REM dream states. The internal method provides descriptive information of what it is like to experience the thing firsthand — the how and why — but the internal method does not provide explanations of how the mind's energy states nascented.
Within the study of physics we have developed an external approach that provides us with good data to guide our next questions. If the external and internal approaches of studying dream states generally agree that there are specific mental states being active and inactive, then we next want to know if the dream states are electrical, brain-only, brain and body synergy, or of a nature that we do not yet understand. Physics data suggests that the mental states within dreams — and consciousness — are not plausibly electrical because the internal method reports a stable observer, which is not possible with known electrical fields because no known electrical field is stable. It is here that we need the internal method to describe what is being perceived, and to then use the external methods to develop a means of measuring and discovering what the perception might be composed of.
A general internal description of processing thoughts might speak of the varying intensities and pressures that occur within the act of logic — which could feasibly be hypothesized as electrically based — but the internal method might also speak of the conscious observer as not possessing the normal features as perceived within electrical activity. Electricity is sensorially perceived as having pressure, quantity, speed, direction, and a field texture, but the act of consciousness might be described as having no such attribute: the act of consciousness is more like a shift of polarity with no pressure, and within a field that has no texture but yet has as infinite depth. Our next questions will ask if there is a known form of energy that parallels the description, or might the description be from a point of view that signifies something entirely different than what might be expected?
Different people may use different regions of the brain for different purposes, and different people may use different methods of rationalizing a thought ('brain only' or self-created emotioned languages), and so we already know that both the external and internal methods are inherently incomplete, but we need them both if we are to assemble enough components to enable the creation of a coherent theory.
Introspection is crucial for an understanding of consciousness, but only when performed by individuals who are themselves skilled with introspection, and we should never assume that an unskilled individual's introspection might be sufficient. We would not assume that an individual without any education could be a skilled physicist, nor would we assume that an individual without an education of chemistry ought to be given the title of an adept chemist, and so why would it be assumed that an uneducated and unskilled individual is sufficiently skilled in introspection? When training an individual to become a physicist, and another individual to become a psychologist, it would be creatively wise to also train another individual to become a self-observer who can tell the physicist and psychologist what to measure.
Roughly 2,600 years ago it was popularly believed that magnetism was the effect caused by gods and souls within ferrous metals. Eventually the concept of magnetism was developed, and magnetism remained as the sole 'scientific' explanation of all forms of attraction until the relatively new concept of static electricity was created. And this is precisely why the current science paradigm is so horrifically inept, because the theories are not being based upon firsthand observations, but rather on mere visual glances coupled with belief-based imaginations. Magnetic fields have a very specific flux density that is felt to be different than static electricity, gravity, electricity, and all other forms of radiant energy. The felt field densities of each individual form of energy are very obviously different, and never would there have been beliefs in gods, souls, magnetism, and static electricity if the theories had been based upon firsthand sensorial experience. The state of consciousness is most emphatically not an electrical field, nor static electricity, nor magnetism, nor of gods and souls, but rather of a very different field that possesses unique attributes.
Modern theories of consciousness are no further advanced than the era of Thales': I do not reject science, I merely ignore it because it has no relevance, because it has no potential to discover anything about consciousness.
"We ought to begin with a reversal of the present emphasis: Psychology should initially address itself to phenomena, not methodology. Rather than selecting for research those phenomena suited to our methods, we ought to shape and develop our methods to fit phenomena."
Excellent. The authors succinctly mirrored my own views. Perhaps the only sizable difference between my opinion and that of the authors' is that I chose to accept personal responsibility for my choices: I exerted the effort to create and apply a new paradigm.
"[Kuhn] A decision between alternate ways of practicing science is called for, and in the circumstance that decision must be based less on past achievement than on future promise. The man who embraces a new paradigm at an early stage must often do so in defiance of the evidence provided by problem-solving. He must, that is, have faith that the new paradigm will succeed with the many problems that confront it, knowing only that the older paradigm has failed with a few."
And so it remains today that there is a need and a usefulness in the creating of a new paradigm, one that is based more upon what is observable within Nature — that of requiring numerous simultaneous inputs to extrapolate a nascenting act — and within the new paradigm is the need for a high skill of introspection.
Introspection is most emphatically not the mere act of an untalented individual day-dreaming about one's own wandering thoughts, but rather there are highly specific attributes and thought-processing techniques that must be actively occurring before, during, and after each thought. The Sensory Quotient project revealed that most humans do not possess the potential to introspect usefully, but perhaps it might be possible to train an individual if the person were willing to exert the effort (effort is not a universal ingredient within humanity, and so it should not be expected that any and all humans can learn introspection). The chasm between knowing that a thing is possible, and making the thing occur, cannot be bridged without the individual knowing precisely what is necessary to create the thought-processing techniques, and since popular science cannot accept as possible that different humans do indeed process thoughts differently, then never can science progress on the topic of consciousness.
In the roughly forty years since Through the One-Way Mirror was written, within science there has been zero advance in the understanding of consciousness. The two- to three-thousands of years of philosophical investigations into consciousness have produced the identical same quantity and quality of discovery as science's: zero. The current scientific paradigms simply do not work, they never have worked, and they never will work. A new paradigm is necessary.