First-Person Experiments

by Carl Ginsburg

Abstract: The question asked in this paper is: How can we investigate our phenomenal
experience in ways that are accurate, in principle repeatable, and produce
experiences that help clarify what we understand about the processes of
sensing, perceiving, moving, and being in the world? This sounds like an impossible
task, given that introspection has so often in scientific circles been considered
to be unreliable, and that first-person accounts are often coloured by
mistaken ideas about what and how we are experiencing. The first-person experiments
I suggest are different from experiments done in the psychology laboratory
in that there is no narrowing down of the experiments to looking at a
singular aspect of a question, and that they are to be carried out in most
instances in a natural or specially structured environment without strict task
controls or statistical experimental design. There is no intent to replace formal
second- and third-person investigation, but to use a phenomenological
approach to conjoin with hard research, and to suggest ways of awareness training
that can enhance the skills of researchers.
I take as a model an informal phenomenological approach for experimentation.
I also suggest that it is possible through directing and broadening the
attention process to turn consciousness towards what is non-conscious or unattended
to in order to develop an improved sensory awareness and an ability to be
open to experiencing without prejudging and without expectations. The idea is to
go back to experience without first creating a theoretical stance from which to
interpret what happens. I conclude with some other examples of this approach.