I routinely come across mini-epistemologies that start with something like:
- Cogito ergo sum. (presupposes "I", oops!)
- My senses are sufficiently reliable.
These days, it is often admitted that we are susceptible to many cognitive biases, but these do not necessarily hinder us from discovering/inventing ever better models of an objective reality. I have started reading Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error, which contains the following (2005 edition):
A second idea in the book, then, is that the essence of a feeling may not be an elusive mental quality attached to an object, but rather the direct perception of a specific landscape: that of the body. (xviii)
It strikes me that #2 engages in special pleading, via calling one's five external senses 'senses', and thereby ignoring all other inputs to our consciousness. Everyday experience indicates that just like I can observe an external state of affairs (like a tree) and come to agreement that I and another person are viewing the same thing, the same can happen via discussion of internal states of affairs, via analogy. "You know how this happens, and how you feel like this?" And yet, again and again, personal experience seems to be described as less reliable. But why is this? Do not the many cognitive biases impact our interpretation of both internal and external senses?
Suppose that we are brains in vats or living in a computer simulation: why then would our external-facing senses be more reliable than our internal-facing senses? Now, perhaps this is because of general ignorance of the kinds of issues raised in Eric Schwitzgebel's 2008 The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. A salient example of mistaken confidence comes up in interpretation of religious experiences, which Keith Ward addresses in The Case for Religion:
The best hypothesis seems to be that many people have experience of spiritual powers, but the specific information provided—whether in the form of visions or of 'heard' messages—depends very much upon cultural expectations, general background beliefs and the imaginative ability of the human mind to construct vast edifices of ontology from the merest hints of mystery. The omens are not good for the very specific claims that many religions make about God, spirits and the afterlife. Each cultural tradition builds up an increasingly detailed set of such claims. (88-89)
I don't want to make this question about "could religious experiences be true experiences of something?", but that does seem to be a poignant example. A common response to claims of religious experience is that's subjective stuff and there are so many contradictions in religious experiences that certainly they're just some sort of delusion. But this seems to assume that Schwitzgebel is wrong, that introspection is largely accurate, and that the internal-facing senses are largely accurate—without any specific training.
Some specific questions:
A. Is #2 justifiable?
B. How 'powerful' is a #1 + #2 epistemology?
I'm guessing comments and answers will require clarifying of these questions, but they're the best I've got right now.