There might be many psychological benefits of meditation and other introspective habits. I'm looking for something different. What metaphysical facts can we discover by this process? How many of these can we trust? Consider the following examples:

  1. Descartes's famous line "I think therefore I am". This is essentially talking about the inner experience or phenomenal consciousness. This truth uncovered by introspection. This is the fundamental starting point for dualists.

  2. Consciousness is multi dimensional rather than a binary property. We see different colours, hear different sounds, experience different tastes, smells, emotions.

  3. Existence of attention. Right now you're reading this text, but without moving your eyes you can focus on the force between your fingers and your device. You can focus on the force between your butt and your chair/bed. Or you can focus on the air going in and out of your nose. Or distant sounds. Or something in your peripheral vision (without changing focus of eye lens). You can even focus on your thoughts themselves.

  4. Existence of dreams and mental pictures.

  5. Existence of a coherent oneness. The light you're seeing right now, the sounds you're hearing, the emotions you're feeling all of them combine to give/form a movie. This movie is available to you and not to someone beside you.

There are probably many more. Sure, we can find causal correlates to all these processes but if we didn't already know these feelings, we wouldn't have the information on what exactly exists and how they'll feel like.

MY QUESTION: These examples (facts?) I've mentioned above are saying something about the world, giving some information that does not follow from logical analysis or philosophizing only on prior facts. So is each of this example/property simply to be found by introspection?

I've encountered many people who take this introspection to an extreme and profess to uncover deep mysteries about the world, like ability to predict something in the future or discover laws of physics by just thinking and some nonsense like that.

I do not wish to disparage eastern schools of thought but it seems like schools in Buddhism and Hinduism talk about different stages on consciousness or something. I'm not exactly sure what they're saying but it seems to me that they're trying to find more properties of consciousness (like some I've mentioned above) by introspection.

This leads to to my question. How do we trust our introspection? Is there a proper analysis of how to include these properly in philosophy? How serious is the academic philosophical community about this? If it's not serious, shouldn't we give these properties of consciousness more attention since they're some actual facts about the world?

  • IMO this is the wrong question - your introspective process isn't an obdurate object. Like the rest of your mind and body, it's capable of a great range of ability, from mindless passive acceptance of commonly received assertions to convoluted self-delusion to highly effective truth-seeking. Like the rest of your mind and body, it can be trained to function more in a certain way, whether that way is beneficial or harmful. "Is introspection trustworthy?" is a question that doesn't make sense, like "Are jokes witty?" But we can ask, "Whose jokes are witty and how can I have witty jokes too?"
    – g s
    Dec 31, 2023 at 19:55

1 Answer 1


What is it like to...?

I like your mindset, but we have to be careful in this territory. I feel like you'd really enjoy "What Is It Like To Be A Bat?" by Thomas Nagel, who talks somewhat on similar themes.

A core problem with this approach is that there is zero guarantee anything you're experiencing is universal or shared by any human being.

"I think using language" is an easy one, right? I'm thinking right now and I experience that a stream of English. But for someone who's deaf, that's not guaranteed at all. Those who are taught sign language often think in sign language.

A fun bonus fact here; deaf schizophrenics have been known to experience hallucinations of hands signing threatening or paranoid ideas, rather than the classic "voices".

Ok, what about vision? Well, then you get the Inverted Spectrum problem (give it a google).

We can't know.

Let's try another angle. You've pointed out we can feel the pressure between our butts and the chair. That's good. But... can you describe that experience? In a way that an alien would know precisely what you meant? The difficulty is you can't, in the same way I can't describe the flavour of lemons beyond "lemony" or the feeling of fire as "hot".

We may all have similar responses to stimuli, but we can't actually know that the resultant qualia of stimuli are shared experiences.

It seems, on the face of it, very likely that these experiences are shared, but cannot be guaranteed.

The Boildown

Ultimately, anything established from pure introspection alone can only be held to apply to you personally. It cannot be provably used as a universal fact.

Yes, it does pertain to reality in the sense that it is happening, but whether it's happening to you, or to everyone, is entirely up for debate.

The absolute most we can glean from these experiences (pertaining to the outside world) is this: "Reality, whatever it is, is capable of generating or providing these specific experiences which I am having."


I agree with you that introspection is valuable. Because when we get away from the hard truths stuff, and have a little faith a la Kant that other people are having the same/similar experiences to us, it offers us a grand opportunity to find empathy with our fellow man.

It's important to realise that when we're in our darkest emotional states, other people can feel this too. When we're at the highest heights, the same applies.

Taking that introspection and using it as a tool to view other people as equal to ourselves in dignity and complexity is a very, very valuable conclusion.

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