I think that (‘first-person science’) could be a great definition for art. But within the ‘real’ scientific community, it’s a controversial subject. Should first-person accounts be considered valid evidence on their own, or must there be third-person interpretation before it can be used or included in ‘real’ science?
In a written version of a debate with David Chalmers, held at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL,. February 15, 2001, supplemented by an email debate with Alvin Goldman — which transcript is titled, The Fantasy of First-Person Science— Daniel Dennett argues strongly against Chalmers’ pro position on first-person science. Here is a little bit of Dennett’s position:
… In Consciousness Explained, (Dennett, 1991) I described a method, heterophenomenology, which was explicitly designed to be
the neutral path leading from objective physical science and its insistence on the third-person point of view, to a method of phenomenological description that can (in principle) do justice to the most private and ineffable subjective experiences, while never abandoning the methodological principles of science.
… From the recorded verbal utterances, we get transcripts (e.g., in English or French, or whatever), from which in turn we devise interpretations of the subjects’ speech acts, which we thus get to treat as (apparent) expressions of their beliefs, on all topics. Thus using the intentional stance (Dennett, 1971, 1987), we construct therefrom the subject’s heterophenomenological world. We move, that is, from raw data to interpreteddata: a catalogue of the subjects’ convictions, beliefs, attitudes, emotional reactions, . . . (together with much detail regarding the circumstances in which these intentional states are situated), but then we adopt a special move, which distinguishes heterophenomenology from the normal interpersonal stance: the subjects’ beliefs (etc.) are all bracketed for neutrality.
I can’t see how Dennett can have such confidence in the ability of one to verbalize consciousness (that’s what art tries to communicate — both verbally and non-verbally — and that’s why art is so hard to make and requires interpretation in its own right).
Next, here is Dennett describing Chalmers’ position (pro-first-person people are the ‘B team’):
Is this truly neutral, or does it bias our investigation of consciousness by stopping one step short? Shouldn’t our data include not just subject’s subjective beliefs about their experiences, but the experiences themselves? Levine, a first-string member of the B Team, insists
“that conscious experiences themselves, not merely our verbal judgments about them, are the primary data to which a theory must answer.” (Levine, 1994)
Dennett, continuing his argument against:
… unless you claim not just reliability but outright infallibility, you should admit that some — just some — of your beliefs (or verbal judgments) about your conscious experiences might be wrong. In all such cases, however rare they are, what has to be explained by theory is not the conscious experience, but your belief in it (or your sincere verbal judgment, etc). So heterophenomenology doesn’t include any spurious “primary data” either, but plays it safe in a way you should approve.
… As I try to make clear in CE, in the section entitled “The Discreet Charm of the Anthropologist,” (pp82-3, on “Feenoman”) heterophenomenology is NOT the NORMAL interpersonal relationship with which we treat others’ beliefs — with its presumption of truth (marked by the willingness of the interlocutor to argue against it, to present any evidence believed to run counter, etc). That is also true of anthropologists’ relationships with their subjects when investigating such things as their religion. Actually, it extends quite far–when the native informants are telling the anthropologists about, say, their knowledge of the healing powers of the local plants, the anthropologists’ first concern is to get the lore, true or false — something to be investigated further later. Ditto for heterophenomenology: get the lore, as neutrally and sympathetically as possible. That is a kind of agnosticism, differing in the ways I detail on pp82-3 from the normal interpersonal stance, but it is the normal researcher/subject relationship when studying consciousness with the help of S’s protocols. If it doesn’t fit your (or a dictionary’s, or the majority of epistemologists’) definition of agnosticism perfectly, I have at least made clear just what kind of agnosticism it is, and why it is the way it is.
And around and around they go. At some level, at some point, it’s all going to boil down to first-person interpretation, isn’t it? There is no group mind.
The text on the web page from which this is extracted is miserable; it’s tiny with large blocks in italic. Read it all if you want to go blind. [ link ]
Here is David Chalmers paper, First-Person Methods in the Science of Consciousness.
Also see my earlier post, The Mereological Fallacy.
It’s my opinion that no matter how much data and verbal descriptions one collects, you will never get to consciousness from a third-person position. Take art, including the visual arts, music, literature and dance. If you are ‘agnostic’ about your perceptions of them, they disappear. If a third party is agnostic about what you say are your perceptions of them, the perceptions are meaningless. To devalue first-person science seems to me to invalidate art — and my first-person response to that is that I think Dennett and his ‘A team’ are missing the forest for the trees.