First-Person Experiments: A Characterisation and Defence

Brentyn Ramm
Australian National University (PhD)
While first-person methods are essential for a science of consciousness, it is controversial what form these methods should take and whether any such methods are reliable. I propose that first-person experiments are a reliable method for investigating conscious experience. I outline the history of these methods and describe their characteristics. In particular, a first-person experiment is an intervention on a subject's experience in which independent variables are manipulated, extraneous variables are held fixed, and in which the subject makes a phenomenal judgement about the target experience of the investigation. I examine historical and contemporary examples of first-person experiments: Mariotte’s demonstration of the visual blind spot, Kanizsa’s subjective contours, the Tse Illusion, and investigations of the non-uniform resolution of the visual field. I discuss the role that phenomenal contrast plays in these methods, and how they overcome typical introspective errors. I argue that their intersubjective repeatability is an important factor in their scientific status, however, it is not the only factor. That they control for extraneous factors and confounds is another factor which sets them apart from pseudoscience (e.g., the perception of auras), and hence another reason for classifying them as genuine experiments. Furthermore, by systematically mapping out the structure of visual experience, these methods make scientific progress. Praises of such first-person experimental approaches may not always be sung by philosophers and psychologists, but they continue to flourish as respectable scientific methods nevertheless.
Keywords First-Person Methods  Gestalt Psychology  Experimental Phenomenology  Experiments  Illusion  Introspection  Introspective Psychology  Scientific Methodology  Phenomenal Contrast
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Reprint years 2018
DOI 10.1007/s13164-018-0388-1
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Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness.David J. Chalmers - 1995 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3):200-19.
Is Human Information Processing Conscious?Max Velmans - 1991 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 14 (4):651-69.
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Perception and the Reach of Phenomenal Content.Tim Bayne - 2009 - Philosophical Quarterly 59 (236):385-404.

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