Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stop! What's going on in your head right now??

Noted with interest: "Taking Mental Snapshots to Plumb Our Inner Selves*."  A UNLV psych professor, R. Hurlburt, tries to do some systematic phenomenology by having research subjects report on their "inner states" at randomly chosen moments.

His critics say you can't expect research subjects to be honest, that they "twist" responses to conform to their biases or what they think the researcher's expects, and that the problem is you can't capture these inner state "as they happen" but only in retrospect (even if relatively short amounts of retro).  The most illuminating comment was "The experience sampling work is a reasonable first step, but only that; the claims need to be followed up and backed up by objective studies."

Objective studies these days usually means brain-imaging studies.  Another expert interviewed for the article noted "[t]he brain imaging setting is very sterile." 

What's in it for us as sociologists of information?  Nice concrete example of the epistemological clash between objectivity and introspection and question of "know-ability."  One scientist quoted in the story noted that there might be "no good way to study [the] question [of inner experience content]." Hurlburt himself notes that he may be up to what William James described as "turning up the gas to see what darkness looks like."

* New York Times
Taking Mental Snapshots to Plumb Our Inner Selves
Published: December 22, 2009

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