By Brandon Towl
Today, I spent a little time thinking about introspection and the various ways that it can be used as evidence (a topic that our own Gualtiero Piccinini has written about, though I also had in mind the kind of “polling” that Hurlburt and Schwitzgeibel do).
I began to wonder just how subjects might interpret questions that ask about their inner “thoughts”. We all have an idea of what thoughts are, but I wonder if the term is precise enough to ask meaningful questions about inner experience in most contexts.
So here’s a question and a scenario, and I’d like to hear what Brain’s readers think: can one be awake, conscious, and aware, but not have any thoughts occurring? Imagine a scenario where you are on the beach (or any place relaxing), and you are simply sitting, drink in hand, and enjoying the opportunity to not do anything in particular. You are not pondering anything you have to do or any place you have to be, nor are you daydreaming. Are you having any thoughts in this scenario?
I can see two (incompatible) responses. The first would be a “no”– one would not be thinking anything, though one would have sensory awareness of, e.g., the visual scene, one’s bodily state, etc. The second, naturally, would be “yes”– there must be some thought, even if that thought is just “ah, this is nice” or “I am at the beach” or “I am holding a drink”.
Clarifications? Intuitions? What is the party line?