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Hardcover | $36.00 Short | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780262083669 | 336 pp. | 6 x 9 in | October 2007
Paperback | $23.00 Short | £15.95 | ISBN: 9780262516495 | 336 pp. | 6 x 9 in | August 2011
ebook | $25.95 Short | ISBN: 9780262252256 | 336 pp. | 6 x 9 in | August 2011

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Describing Inner Experience?

Proponent Meets Skeptic


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.

About the Authors

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

Eric Schwitzgebel is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine.


"... anything but boring ... In my own soundless inner-speech, I kept saying, 'This is so good!'"—Bill Faw, Journal of Consciousness Studies

"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."—Tim Bayne, The Times Literary Supplement

"... Russell T. Hurlburt and Eric Schwitzgebel produced [a] remarkable book..."— Gary Wolf ,

"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, Psychology Today


"Describing Inner Experience? is scholarly writing at its best: clear and accessible without being condescending or over-simplifying. The discussion is civil and intelligent, and, most of all, engaged. That is, Hurlburt and Schwitzgebel resist the urge to write their own separate position papers; instead, they actively engage in constructive dialogue. One gets the impression of two very smart and open-minded people, seriously devoted to finding the truth."—Paul Bloom, Department of Psychology, Yale University

"This is a genuinely original book, a thorough going investigative and scholarly collaboration between two leading researchers with diametrically opposing views on the core topic—the nature of inner experience. The detailed and powerful interviews and conversations at the center of the book probe the accuracy of one person's accounts of her own momentary mental life. Where many works in consciousness studies gesture at cross-disciplinary appeal, the meeting in this book of psychologist and philosopher on specific common ground puts this promise into practice."—John Sutton, Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University

"In the Socratic Dialogue tradition employed by Plato and by Galileo for examining scientific questions and the suitability of new methods for data collection, this is a challenging contribution. Can we move beyond the discredited introspectionism of early studies of conscious experience with a procedure like the systematic experience-sampling methods that have emerged in the past four decades? Investigators of the issues of measuring ongoing thought and neuroscientists using brain imaging technology to study the nature of human planning, wishing, and reminiscing will appreciate the careful analyses presented by the authors."—Jerome L. Singer, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Yale University