One thing I have learned in studying philosophy is that there is rarely anything new under the sun. I thought I had come up with an original idea for my current paper I am working on, but yesterday I was wandering the library stacks and randomly pulled out Derk Pereboom’s book Consciousness and the Prospects of Physicalism. I read the first page of the introduction and realized I had been scooped by Pereboom’s “Qualitative Inaccuracy Hypothesis”. According to this hypothesis, when we introspect upon our phenomenal experience our introspection represents our experience as having qualitative features that it in fact does not have. For example, I might introspect on my phenomenal experience and represent my phenomenal experience as having special qualitative features that generate the Knowledge or Conceivability arguments against physicalism. Pereboom’s idea is that our introspection systematically misrepresents our phenomenal experience such we are deluded into thinking our phenomenal experience is metaphysically “primitive” when in fact it is not primitive. Although Pereboom only argues that the qualitive inaccuracy hypothesis is a live possibility, the mere possibility of it is enough to cause wrinkles in the Knowledge and Conceivability argument. That is, if the hypothesis is correct, then Mary turns out to have a false belief upon stepping outside the room and introspecting upon her experience (since her introspection misrepresents and her subsequent knowledge is thus false). Moreover, the conceivability and zombie argument doesn’t go through because if our phenomenal experience does not in fact have the special qualitative features we introspect it as having (primitiveness) then it becomes impossible to conceive all physical truths being the same as they are now (P), a “that’s all clause” (T), and there not being phenomenal experience (~Q) for the same reason that it’s impossible to conceive PT and there not being any water. That is, if our only evidence for phenomenality having the special features that make the zombie argument go through is to be found in our introspection, if there is a possibility of our introspection getting the data wrong, then the zombie argument does not work without arguing for the (questionable) assumption that our introspection is necessarily accurate.
However, despite getting scooped on this, I believe my paper is still an original contribution to the literature. For one, I give a more empirically plausible model of how our introspection works as well as give more elaborate details on how it misrepresents our experience. I also tie in this introspective inaccuracy to the well-known “refrigerator light problem” in consciousness studies. I also develop a methodological strategy for getting around the introspective inaccuracy that I call the “stipulation strategy”. From this, I develop some implications for our ascription of phenomenality to nonhuman organisms and argue that the most common stipulation strategies end up ascribing phenomenality almost everywhere in the organic world (which contradicts central tenets of Higher-order theory). This is a surprising conclusion. My paper is also well-sourced in the empirical literature and unlike Pereboom, I don’t spend much time dealing with Chalmers and all the intricate details of the Knowledge and Conceivability arguments. I spend much more time developing a model of how introspection works and how it could possibly by inaccurate with respect to our own phenomenal experience.
So although it’s nice to know I’m not alone in arguing for what I call the “Indeterminacy of Introspection”, it’s always a shock when you spend so much time developing what you think of as an original idea and then discovering that someone else already had the same idea. Luckily, my paper has a lot more going on in it, and I think it can still be published as an original contribution to the literature.