A Study of Being as Love

Discover yourself as being poetry through an autoethnography, i.e. a fictive-academic novel that draws concepts from philosophy, the humanities, and the social science. I will guide you to understand how and why through the fullest love you can transform yourself and the world around you into poetry.
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Introspection is a concept “derived etymologically from two Latin words spicere (“to look”) and intra (“within”).” According to the philosopher William Lyons, this practice of “looking within” can be traced back to Aristotle’s account of the thinking process in relation to memory. Lyons argues in his book The Disappearance of Introspection that the earliest account of introspection can be found in Aristotle as reflection. In his text On Memory and Reminiscence, there is no direct referral of being himself studied; it has to be inferred that it is self-reflection.[1]

Indeed, one has to infer that Aristotle observed his own memory in order for Aristotle to establish a relationship between thinking and memory. According to the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, Aristotle argues that thinking is a sequence of thoughts which are mental states linked in association by memories.[2]  Furthermore Lyons argues that after Aristotle, in Augustine’s De Trinitate, one can find the typically first accounted concept of self-reflection as: “the mind should reflect upon itself.” [3] In fact, Augustine’s De Trinitate later influenced Descartes. Therefore, the seventeenth century was the “golden age of introspection” [4] because Descartes had a concept of self-reflection in relation to consciousness in his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Directing One’s Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences[5]:

“…to carry on my reflections in due order … in the warm room where these reflections had come to me … More especially did I reflect in each matter that came before me … Following upon this, and reflecting on the fact that I doubted.”[6]

That said, Descartes gained knowledge through introspection. Thus, his self-reflection led to our current concept of mind-body division which eventually culminated in Cartesian Dualism.[7] However, if Descartes used introspection to gain knowledge about himself to understand the world, why did the sciences ignore the underlying and implicit method Descartes was using to gain such knowledge? It could be argued that disciplines like physics, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and other sciences that do not deal directly with the mind could ignore introspection because they apply the scientific method on materials as their objects of study (i.e. part of the Cartesian Dualism’s body), i.e. through quantitative research. However, the mind aspect of the Cartesian Dualism posed a different kind of problem because it could not be considered part of the body, i.e. qualitative research.

As a result, a renewed interest in the notion of introspection arouse because philosophers and scientists realized the limit Cartesian dualism posed within their methods of inquiry, and as a consequence: “the debate over the validity of introspection began at the onset of psychology as an empirical science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”[8] Although the debate has intensified through the emergence of cognitive science, introspection cannot be easily argued to be a part of experimental psychology. For example, K. Anders Ericsson argues that “think-aloud” reports are valuable but he also acknowledges that the results can be fallible. In order to minimize errors in such reports, Ericsson proposes that the quicker a verbal report is given, the higher validity a “think-aloud” report has.[9] The history of cognitive science illustrates how raw data and verbal reports are valuable; so, why would psychology ignore introspection if they deal with human beings as subjects?[10] In Auguste Comte’s perspective, psychology shouldn’t be considered part of the sciences because introspection is part of the mind, i.e. subjective and biased. Indeed, his positivist objections about introspection are based on the Cartesian paradigm that distinguishes a mind from a body, i.e. subject from object:

“The organ observed and the organ being observed, in this case, identical, how can observation take place? This pretended psychological method is then radically null and void.”[11]

In response to Comte’s positivist view, the philosopher and psychologist Franz Brentano tried to convert self-reflection into a science, and to establish introspection as an indirect observation of the inner life. Brentano’s work can be divided in two main branches: First, phenomenology because the concept of intentionality was first introduced by Brentano, who later influenced Edmund Husserl’s philosophical works.[12] According to the cognitive scientists Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch, Husserl extended Brentano’s intentionality through the phenomenological reduction, i.e. the epoché or “bracketing”, where there is a suspension of judgments. Husserl did so in order to critique Descartes’ dualism through his Cartesian Meditations. Rather than operating with the assumption that there is actually a body and mind, Husserl argued in favor of using this reduction to gain insight about the “essential structures of consciousness.”[13]

If one follows Husserl’s meditations, then there is a realization of how intersubjectivity is prior to the Cartesian assumption of dualism because through this reduction the Other or Alter Ego is understood as an intrinsic part of ourselves, and therefore:[14]

“The Delphic motto, “Know thyself!” has gained a new signification. Positive science is a science lost in the world. I must lose the world by epoché, in order to regain it by a universal self-examination.”[15]

However, Varela, Thompson, and Rosch argue that Husserl’s weakness was that his project was mostly theoretical rather than practical and thus his project: “could not overcome the rift between science and experience, for science, unlike phenomenological reflection, has a life beyond theory.”[16] On the other hand, Franz Brentano also influenced the psychologist Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt developed systematic methods to determine whether the qualitative practice of self-reflection could be measureable in quantitative way. As a result, he created a new discipline now known as experimental psychology. However, Wilhelm did not realize that by controlling the environment with a systematic methodology the result will no longer be considered introspection, but a study of inner perception.[17]

Apart from Brentano and Wilhelm, the psychologist and philosopher William James in his book The Principles of Psychology also argued against Comte’s views by arguing that: “what is introspected is not part of the present stream of consciousness… only the observing process, introspection, is, so the split is avoided.”[18]  James’ efforts did not effectively change the positivist view because there was another problem which is the difficulty in replicating mental states, so it was argued it was fallible. Scientists couldn’t conduct experiments in the same methodical system with each subject. This inability meant that they had to trust the subject, instead of being certain of its results as an objective third-party.[19]

As a result, the psychologist John Broadus Watson responded to James’ position with a new type of psychology that is called behaviorism. Watson argued that psychology was:

“a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data.”[20]

Hence, introspection remained undervalued during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries until the cognitive revolution of the 1950s. More specifically, the conceptualizations that behaviorism defended were very popular until the 1980s. In fact, according to a study in biomedical keywords research, after the year 2000 the term ‘consciousness’ and its related terms is now more searched than ‘behavioral’ and related terms.[21]

Consequently, a gap in psychological science opened because on the one hand behaviorists reject introspection, but at the same time cognitive psychotherapists value it. However, it is now argued that both perspectives cannot be completely separated from each other because in the end, human experience, a subject with inherent subjectivity is the one being studied.[22] In fact, the increased interest has ignited a controversy in between cognitive and social psychologists against behaviorists about the reliability of introspection that in time will be clarified as conceptions, technologies and methodologies that emerge and improve.[23] An example of the developments in cognitive science is the creation of a discipline introduced by Francisco Varela called neurophenomenology. This discipline attempts to combine Husserl’s phenomenology with neuroscience to explain first-person phenomenological accounts.[24]

Hence, although Varela critiqued Husserl’s project, Husserl’s influence remains present in the cognitive science discourse that attempts to understand introspection. Furthermore, another example of the conceptual development of introspection is the establishment of a type of consciousness called introspective consciousness which is: “the meta-awareness of a conscious state.”[25] This meta-awareness is argued to be:

“…the process that occurs when we have the thought that we have experienced a particular conscious mental state (e.g. the thought ‘I was aware of x’).”[26]

These distinctions are made because according to the psychologist Jonathan Schooler, human beings operate in basically three distinct processes: Conscious processes, non-conscious processes, and meta-conscious or meta-aware processes. By conscious processes it is argued that it is those experiences that explicitly occur in the present moment (e.g. reading this paper).  Non-conscious processes are those that are inexperienced, but have actually occurred (e.g. hypnosis).[27]

That said, memory plays a fundamental role in meta-awareness. The person’s ability to be meta-aware is dependent on his capacity to memorize what he has experienced in his conscious awareness.[28] The ability to memorize is not the main issue of introspective reports of the meta-awareness. Although ‘raw data’ of meta-awareness is a subject that is introspecting, the main concern is not the subject himself, but the conceptual framework that interprets his memory as verbal data. For example, a person may accurately remember the taste of a lemon, but when he tries to describe what he has experienced within his own conceptual framework will describe a new interpretation of the experience, not the actual one.[29]

However, the issue of interpretation is not restricted to introspective reports. In fact, according to the cognitive scientists Anthony I. Jack and Tim Shallice: “The use of objective evidence to inform scientific accounts also depends on interpretation. Kuhn eloquently argues that the observations that are used to support theories in physics are always theory-laden.”[30] The historian and philosopher Thomas Kuhn argued that normal science describes a consensus in acceptance of a discovery within a scientific community. However, as problems or anomalies referent to the original discovery accumulate which are not expected in normal science, a new type of science is born called extraordinary science. These new unpredicted discoveries begin to challenge the initial discovery. Therefore, a period of crisis occurs where scientists must choose between restoring the credibility of the initial normal science, continuing to register the anomalies for future investigation, or replacing the old normal science with the new normal science which will be extraordinary science until it replaces, and is accepted as the new normal science within the community.  This process of transition was defined by Kuhn as a scientific revolution. It is clear for Kuhn that the establishment of a new normal science after the period of crisis needs the consensus of the scientific community.[31]

If the scientific community does not approve introspection as a reliable method of observation due to a scientific revolution, then it won’t be adopted as a new normal science. The behaviorist and the experimental psychologist rely on the positivist perspective as the normal science insofar there is an assumption of the Cartesian dualism. However, one must be aware that the data resulted from experiments also depends on the subject’s disposition and his proper acknowledgement of the rules. A behaviorist may also obtain wrong data from the subject’s responses.[32] Although new experiments might confirm or deny the original experiment; how can a scientist while acknowledging Husserl’s phenomenology still reject introspection avoid Kuhn’s argument? In response to Kuhn’s argument, an idea emerged to understand what is actually happening inside a laboratory. The idea was to observe from an outsider’s point of view, as a meta-observer, a laboratory doing science. The observations were documented in the book Laboratory Life by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar. Latour studied the laboratory life, as an external observer, of Professor Roger Guillemin for a two-year period in the Salk Institute to understand: “How then do we know how they [scientists] know”?[33]

The construction of scientific facts in a laboratory begins with the concept of construction which is:  “the slow, practical craftwork by which inscriptions are superimposed and accounts backed up or dismissed.”[34] Latour argues that the study of scientific activity should be based in these inscriptions as practical operations because: “a statement can be transformed into an object or a fact into an artefact.”[35] After a statement becomes an artefact, then the artefact can be discussed or studied as a fact of nature, not a part of one’s subjectivity. Artefacts are constructed after an experience has occurred. A scientist will try to describe or replicate his memory as close to actuality as possible, so it can be recorded and treated as an artefact. As stated earlier, memory plays an important role in knowing just as we need memory to be meta-aware. An introspective report is a verbal account of an account of meta-awareness that can later be treated as an artefact. If one takes Latour’s concept of construction seriously, then tentatively we can agree that constructing facts requires memory. The construction of scientific facts relies on the memory of a scientist who will retain briefly the information, so it could later be recorded in: “papers, protocol books, articles in journals, letters, and even the transcripts of conversations.”[36] Therefore, to gain credibility in the possible “science of introspection” the self-reflective advocate has to base his work in his own capacity to memorize, write, study, read, correct, code, publish, interpret, and finally, as a result through time gain credentials just as Latour observed in the Salk Institute’s laboratory.[37] The process of recording is fundamental for the credibility to be earned because: “inscriptions are regarded as having a direct relationship to ‘the original substance’ .”[38]  However, what happens if “the original substance” is someone else’s mind? Latour observes that there is no real division between conversations, thoughts, cost-benefit relationships, etc., and states:

“This provides the observer with a homogeneous view of fact construction and blurs arbitrary divisions between economic, epistemological, and psychological factors.”[39]

If these circumstances (economic, epistemological, and psychological) are not separated from each other in practice, could thought processes change the circumstances? It shouldn’t. But if scientists are not aware of the effects and implications of their interiority such as personal bias, then it could potentially affect them in the construction of science as a fact; thus, Latour realized that:

“A major difficulty for the observer is that he usually arrives on the scene too late; he can only record the retrospective anecdotes of how this or that scientist had an idea.”[40]

This latter problem could be solved within art-based research through a process of artwork creation as a form to construct introspective facts. Therefore, Kuhn’s scientific revolutions and Latour’s discovery of artefacts within the philosophy of science gave even more strength to the linguistic turn that led the poststructuralist philosophy gain more credibility within the social sciences.

However due to the rise of poststructuralism and postmodernism, one must also be aware that any meta-observation could lead to a plurality of routes rather than a single meta-narrative. At the end, the constant journaling and creation artifacts (i.e. artworks) could lead to the construction of new forms of scientific facts that rely on aesthetics patterns rather than solely on biological or intellectual patterns of experience.[41] For example according, to Lonergan, only through self-appropriation, i.e. a rigorous introspection of personal bias, can one actually be objective. This self-appropriation is achieved through the Generalized Empirical Method, i.e. the realization of different levels of consciousness through introspection which reveal different forms of intentionality or desire as one knows:[42]

“At level one, it [the internal pattern of cognitive operations] was a [dynamic] thrust to be attentive to experience; at level two, a thrust to understand that experience; at level three, a thrust to critically reflect upon and determine the truth of that which had been understood; at level four, a thrust to determine the value of what had been affirmed at level three, and to use this value as a standard or criterion for making choices and decisions for action.”[43]

Therefore according to the psychologist William Reynolds Eidle, Lonergan’s self-appropriation of interiority leads to objectivity through an introspection of our individual or even group bias.[44] As a result, one would not depend on the construction of artefacts but on the keen capacity to be the meta-observer of oneself, i.e. rather than relying on the artefacts one would also need to become Latour himself in the “laboratory” of our brain.  But, does poetic inquiry and autoethnography within arts-based research go that far? No. In this case, poets as human scientists are not attempting to fundamentally transform quantitative research. Rather, a poet expands and develops a more holistic qualitative research within the social sciences;[45] as Leggo writes:

“Where many human science researchers focus on research questions and methods, conclusions and implications, as a poet I am often more intrigued with how language works to open up possibilities for constructing understanding.”[46]

In the same way, I do not attempt to redefine science and its quantitative implications. Rather, due to the weakening of Comte’s impossibility of self-knowledge as a science, I am able to exercise a speculative way of knowing such as art-based research, i.e. poetic inquiry, through an introspective ethnography.


[1] William E. Lyons, The Disappearance of Introspection (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986), quote in 1, 2.

[2] Lyons, 8; K. Anders Ericsson, “Valid and Non-Reactive Verbalization of Thought During Performance of Tasks: Towards a Solution to the Central Problem of Introspection as a Source of Scientific Data,” in Trusting the Subject?, ed. Anthony Jack and Andreas Roepstorff, vol. 1, The Use of Introspection Evidence in Cognitive Science (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2003), 4.

[3] Lyons, 1.

[4] Lyons, 2.

[5] Lyons, 1-3.

[6] Rene Descartes, “First Five Parts,” in Discourse on Method, ed. Haldane and Ross (Cambridge University Press, 1637), accessed October 28, 2011, http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/fr/descarte.htm.

[7] Lyons, 1-3.

[8] Timothy D. Wilson, “Knowing When to Ask: Introspection and the Adaptive Unconscious,” in Trusting the Subject?, ed. Anthony Jack and Andreas Roepstorff, vol. 1, The Use of Introspection Evidence in Cognitive Science (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2003), 135.

[9] K. Anders Ericsson, “Protocol Analysis: Methods for Eliciting and Analyzing Valid Verbal Reports on Thinking: An Updated and Extracted Version from Ericsson (2002),” Psychology at Florida State University, Protocol-Analysis Methodology—Validity of Verbal Reports, accessed November 29, 2011, http://www.psy.fsu.edu/faculty/ericsson/ericsson.proto.thnk.html.

[10] Gualtiero Piccinini, “Data from Introspective Reports: Upgrading Common Sense to Science,” in Trusting the Subject?, ed. Anthony Jack and Andreas Roepstorff, vol. 1, The Use of Introspective Evidence in Cognitive Science (Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2003), 147-8; Ericsson, “Valid and Non-Reactive Verbalization of Thought During Performance of Tasks: Towards a Solution to the Central Problem of Introspection as a Source of Scientific Data,”, 13.

[11] Lyons quoting Comte,10.

[12] Lyons, 3-4; Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 17-23.

[13] Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, 18.

[14] Husserl, 89-157.

[15] Husserl, 157.

[16] Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, 19.

[17] Lyons, 4-5.

[18] Lyons quoting James, 11.

[19] Ericsson, “Valid and Non-Reactive Verbalization of Thought During Performance of Tasks: Towards a Solution to the Central Problem of Introspection as a Source of Scientific Data,”, 5-6; Lyons, 17-18; Piccinini, 147-148.

[20] Lyons quoting Watson, 23.

[21] Wilson, 135-137; Bernard J. Baars, “How Brain Reveals Mind: Neural Studies Support the Fundamental Rose of Conscious Experience,” in Trusting the Subject?, ed. Anthony Jack and Andreas Roepstorff, vol. 1, The Use of Introspective Evidence in Cognitive Science (Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2003), 10.

[22] Russell T. Hurlburt and Christopher L. Heave, “Telling What We Know: Describing Inner Experience,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 5, no. 9 (2001): 400-3, accessed October 29, 2011, http://faculty.unlv.edu/hurlburt/hurlburt-heavey-2001.pdf.

[23] Wilson, 135-137.

[24] Antoine Lutz and Evan Thompson, “Neurophenomenology: Integrating Subjective Experience and Brain Dynamics in the Neuroscience of Consciousness,” in Trusting the Subject?, ed. Anthony Jack and Andreas Roepstorff, vol. 1, The Use of Introspection Evidence in Cognitive Science (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2003), 31-2.

[25] Lutz and Thompson, 34.

[26] Anthony I. Jack and Tim Shallice, “Introspective Physicalism as an Approach to the Science of Consciousness,” Cognition 79, no. 1-2 (2001): 173, accessed October 29, 2011, http://cogprints.org/1252/3/introspectivephysicalismpreprint.pdf.

[27] Jonathan W. Schooler, “Re-representing Consciousness: Dissociations between Experience and Meta-consciousness,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 6, no. 8 (August 2002): 339, accessed October 29, 2011, doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(02)01949-6.

[28] Jack and Shallice, 173-174.

[29] Jack and Shallice, 177; Schooler, 342.

[30] Jack and Shallice, 177.This quote should also remind us of David Bohm because due to his political (i.e. Marxist) and philosophical affinities (i.e. eastern philosophy) his perspective was dismissed as irrelevant in the discourse of  the mainstream physicists such as Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Wolfgang Pauli. Furthermore, although he had been considered for the Nobel Prize of Physics, rumors began to spread that labeled him as “juvenile deviationist” because he was very passionate about uncovering the philosophical implications of quantum physics. Thus, Bohm’s attempt to reveal those implications in conjunction with being in exile from the United States due to the McCarthyism resulted in being ignored by the scientific community of the time; see F. David Peat, Infinite Potential: the Life and times of David Bohm (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1997), 1-2, 86, 90-103.

[31] James A. Marcum, Thomas Kuhn’s Revolution: an Historical Philosophy of Science (London: Continuum, 2008), 61, 64, 66, 68-69, accessed October 29, 2011, http://site.ebrary.com.qe2a-proxy.mun.ca/lib/memorial/docDetail.action?docID=10224957.

[32] Jack and Shallice, 177.

[33] Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: the Construction of Scientific Facts (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 9, 254.

[34] Latour and Woolgar, 236.

[35] Latour and Woolgar, 236.

[36] Latour and Woolgar, 184-185.

[37] Latour and Woolgar, 9, 49, 238-239.

[38] Latour and Woolgar, 51.

[39] Latour and Woolgar, 239.

[40] Latour and Woolgar, 174.

[41] I am using Lonergan’s terminology for patterns of experience; see Bernard J. F. Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, ed. Mark D. Morelli and Elizabeth A. Morelli (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 106-114.

[42] William Reynolds Eidle, The Self-appropriation of Interiority: a Foundation for Psychology (New York: P. Lang, 1990), 1-11.

[43] Eidle, 6.

[44] Eidle, 39-59, 88-95.

[45] Barone and Eisner, 9-12.

[46] Carl Leggo, “The Curriculum of Joy: Six Poetic Ruminations,” Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies 2, no. 2 (2004): 30, accessed October 29, 2011, http://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/jcacs/article/view/16899/15702.