A few months ago, Amber G., an undergraduate student at my university whom I had never met, asked to meet with me to discuss some aspects of Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES), as part of her application to become a graduate student. In the process, I asked her if she'd like to participate in this website project.
The interviews were conducted by Russ Hurlburt (the originator of DES) and Cody Kaneshiro (a graduate student knowledgeable about the DES process but with relatively little experience as a DES interviewer). Following most of the interviews, Cody and Russ (but not including Amber) discussed interview technique. Those masterclass-type conversations might be useful to anyone considering conducting inner-experience interviews, so we provide them here, uncut.
Amber collected 6 samples; we discussed 5. We discussed whether thoughts/words could be present without an inner voice and the distinction between innerly hearing a song and knowing the characteristics of the song....
In general—sampling day 1: All DES interviews are some combination of iterative training (so that future sampling days can be more skillful) and description of experience. The aim of the first sampling interview (or the first several sampling interviews) is almost entirely iterative training. First-day sampling interviews appear to be inquiries into experience, but their fundamental aim is to facilitate discussions of how to do DES more skillfully. DES recognizes that participants on their first sampling day are not skillful, so DES routinely discards first-day descriptions.
Sample 1.1 [1:36]: [Amber was making baked ziti, putting shredded mozzarella on the ziti]. The words "what’s another few cents for the bigger bag [of shredded mozzarella]" were present. Those exact words were directly apprehended, but they were not (either internally or externally) heard, spoken, or seen. (No part of the putting-of-the-cheese-on-the-ziti, or anything else, was directly in her experience at the moment of the beep.)
Sample 1.2 [14:50]: [Amber was watching a TV episode Happy! on her iPad. The show had just mentioned something that had occurred in the previous season.] [There is a masterclass discussion of this sample.] Amber was innerly seeing a character dressed in a dirty red Santa suit with many (10? 15?) indeterminately seen black blobs attached to this torso, arms, and body. Amber innerly heard the blue unicorn character (which she didn’t innerly see) say "attack!" [The blue unicorn was directing the black blobs to attack the Santa-character, but as best she could recall, the blue unicorn had not said "attack!" in the actual show]. Nothing else was in her direct experience at the moment of the beep
Sample 1.3 [27:52]: [Amber was reading a complex Discord group message from the group administrator.] At the moment of the beep, Amber was mentally confused. This mental confusion was specific—an expected confusion (rather than a surprising confusion)—and was directly present but did not involve specific words, or internal/external speech, hearing, visual, or bodily phenomena.
Sample 1.4 [33:14]: [Amber was logging on to a website and humming I’m Tired by Labrinth and Zendaya out loud]. At the moment of the beep, Amber may have been innerly hearing Labrinth sing "now the tide is rolling in" with the accompanying background music [as if she were innerly hearing a recording of the song], but may have merely been understanding that that is the portion of the song that Labrinth sings. [No part of the humming, computer use, or anything else was present in her experience.]
Sample 1.5 [46:18]: [Amber was looking at a checklist that she was filling out as part of her lab duties. An item on the checklist was not aligned nicely]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was mentally worried [about whether she was reviewing the checklist correctly, or that she was messing up the checklist]. The worry was present without words, images, internal or external speaking or hearing, or any via any other representation. [No part of the checklist or anything else was present in her experience.]
We discussed all 6 of Amber’s Day 2 samples. We spent considerable effort trying to sort out how or whether words can be innerly present but not innerly spoken, heard, or seen. ...
In general—sampling day 2: All DES interviews are some combination of iterative training (so that future sampling days can be more skillful) and description of experience. The aim of the second sampling interview is a combination of experience description and iterative training.
Sample 2.1 [0:38]:[Amber was reading "normal systolic blood pressure is = 120 mm Hg" in an ebook on her iPad.] At the moment of the beep, Amber was innerly apprehending the word "one-twenty" (not the number "120"). [Amber struggled with describing how "one-twenty" had been present, although she was confident that the word was not innerly spoken, seen, or heard.] Nothing else was present in her experience.
Sample 2.2 [13:52]: [Amber was reading her textbook. She now understood that the main point of the passage was "histamine antagonists and receptors," and she was now going back to highlight that.] At the moment of the beep she was scanning the page of the textbook, eyes darting randomly—that is, she was not systematically scanning the page from the top down. There were no specific words present in her experience [neither innerly nor outerly]. She was scanning, and little or nothing was in her experience. [She understood that when she got to something like "histamine antagonists" or "histamine receptors" she would stop the scanning and underline.]
Sample 2.3 [18:13]: [Amber had looked at a picture on twitter, and just prior to the beep, she tapped to close. The picture was in the motion of disappearing (going down and then up to the left (rather like the Nike Swoosh on its side). The moment of the beep occurred at the tail of this swooshy disappearance.] At the moment of the beep, Amber was seeing the tail end of the motion. [The fact that it was a picture, or that it was a closing, was not part of Amber’s experience; her experience was of the motion]. Nothing else was present in her experience.
Sample 2.4 [23:04]:[Amber was in a video call journal club, talking about a research article that they had all just read. Amber was just about to tell the group about the limitations of the paper, which she had found very interesting. Then, just before the beep, another lab member had said the same thing that Amber was poised to say. In reaction,] at the moment of the beep, Amber felt panic [which if expressed in words, which it was not, would be something like "Oh no! Shoot! What now?!?",] and she felt her eyes darting [towards the article which she had open on the monitor]. This was a single experience of panic (entirely mental with no bodily or physical sensations) and eyes darting (entirely a physical sensation with no mental aspect).
Sample 2.5 [29:54]: [Amber was still in her lab meeting, where a graduate student was describing an upcoming study investigating football players and concussions/TBI. Amber had asked if the study would investigate only football players, and the graduate student said that they would likely also recruit students from the boxing club. Amber did not know that her university had a boxing club, and so was surprised]. At the moment of the beep, Amber felt surprise as an external sensation a few inches outside and above the back left side of Amber’s head [approximately at the 7 o’clock position] that physically lifted up her face and neck. Simultaneously there may have been (Amber could not be sure) a cognitive recognition of interest; if it existed, it did not involve words or any other symbols. The external-sensation-and-face-lifting-up and the cognitive recognition of interest were content free—the experience was of interest, not of interest in the boxing club. Nothing else was present in her experience.
Sample 2.6 [38:58]: [Amber was watching Law and Order, SVU, where, Olivia (the main character) got a FaceTime call on her iPhone. Olivia and another character walked into a separate room and answered the call, screen-casting it onto a large TV, which resulted in large black rectangles on the left- and right-hand sides of the screen.] At the moment of the beep, Amber (~80%) thought "that’s kinda funny" (reflecting that they would screen-cast the call instead of simply looking at the phone). The specific words "that’s kinda funny" were present, but Amber was unable to say how those words were present except that they did not involve inner or external speaking, hearing, or seeing. Simultaneously, Amber was (~20%) watching the TV show. [RTH thinks the experience of still watching the TV might be mostly presuppositional.]
Prior to beginning sampling, Amber had expressed an interest in sampling on a Wednesday, because her academic work has many meetings scheduled then (so, she reasoned, she would be collecting samples during times she would be "reacting" to her external environment). Amber prefaced today’s interview by noting that her Wednesday sample experiences were more complex than previously. However, our interview suggested that today's experiences were not more complex than other days....
In general—sampling day 3: All DES interviews are some combination of iterative training (so that future sampling days can be more skillful) and description of experience. The aim of the third sampling interview is a combination of experience description and iterative training.
Sample 3.1 [1:18]: [Amber was in a lab meeting where lab members were talking about their upcoming summer and fall plans. It was a nervous conversation: many lab members were leaving/graduating responsibilities of remaining lab members were about to change dramatically.] At the moment of the beep, Amber felt frustrated, a clearly apprehended and quite specific mental feeling phenomenon (with no bodily sensations or experience of cognition). [The specific frustration was the kind that might be expressed by a particular kind of sigh, but no sigh was actually apprehended at the moment (Amber did not know whether an actual sighing occurred at the moment of the beep).
Sample 3.2 [7:51]: [Amber was still in her lab meeting, which continued to be a frustration situation. The conversation continued, but it was not in her direct experience.] At the moment of the beep, nothing was in her experience. [This was not a careless failure to apprehend phenomena; immediately after the beep she was surprised to find that she had not apprehended anything at the moment of the beep.]
Sample 3.3 [12:12]: [Amber was in a group conversation where people had been noting that there was a lot of "positive talk" around. Amber took the conversation to be disingenuous. At the moment of the beep, her friend Mary (not her real name) was talking, but Amber was not hearing her at the moment of the beep.] At the moment of the beep, Amber was (~80%) feeling discomfort/awkwardness/confusion—this was a single feeling with three aspects. The feeling was clear and specific (the kind of discomfort/awkwardness/confusion that would go along with squinting her eyes in critical disbelief [but at the moment of the beep she did not experience squinting eyes [she did not know whether she was actually squinting]. Simultaneously, Amber was ~20% out-of-focusedly seeing Mary, whose features (and the background) were not sharp. Amber meant out-of-focus literally, not a metaphorically.
Sample 3.4 [23:25; there is a Masterclass video about this sample]: [Amber was in a conversation with her team, and before the beep had been feeling stressed by it.] At the moment of the beep Amber was recognizing that the stress she had felt was not a one-time thing but had happened many times before was the result of the group’s power-imbalance. This recognizing was a cognitive/analytical sort of experience (present without words, visual phenomena, or any other symbols) about a series of feelings (but was not itself a feeling experience).
Sample 3.5 [35:59]: [Amber was in a conversation with other students about their respective plans for graduate school and whether they would have GA assignments]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was thinking that there were many things she herself just did not know about graduate school. [This thinking was a mental, analytical experience (similar to her experience in sample 3.4)—it was present without words or other symbols. This thinking was clearly understood to be a consideration of different topics/aspects of grad school life, but did not involve a specific set of topics.]
Sample 3.6 [46:42]: [Amber was in her lab meeting. Prior to the beep, her friend "Sam" (not his real name) had said the word "protocol" as part of a sentence. Amber finds Sam’s pronunciation emphasizes the first syllable (pro-to-cal), which Amber has always found interesting. Amber was also preparing a salad and was just about to put dressing on it]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was ~70% seeing her right-hand reach for the salad dressing. The seeing was clear [not out-of-focus as in sample 3.2] and was a visual seeing of her-hand-in-action. (Her experience did not involve the performance of that action—that is, her experience was of seeing a reach, not of reaching). Simultaneously, Amber was (~30%) producing/replicating Sam’s "pro-to-cal." (This replication did not involve an auditory experience [was not inner or external hearing]. It may or may not have been an inner speaking [we were unable to come to a final determination]. The experience was of the production of pro-to-cal, but we could not establish the details of that production.)
We discussed all 6 of Amber's samples. Her experience was fairly complex, with a variety of visual-experience samples as well as unsymbolized thinkings....
In general—sampling day 4: All DES interviews are some combination of iterative training (so that future sampling days can be more skillful) and description of experience. The aim of the fourth sampling interview is a combination of experience description and iterative training.
Sample 4.1 [1:18]: [There is a masterclass discussion of this sample.] [Yesterday her lab mate had told her that he keeps his computer monitor up high because it reduces neck pain.] At the beep there were three equal but not particularly engaging experiential aspects: Amber innerly saw, from a first-person perspective, yesterday’s conversation as a blurry image: her roommate sitting at his desk turned back towards Amber. Simultaneously, Amber was feeling a pain / tension in the back of neck tension. Also simultaneously, Amber was thinking without words or other symbols that it was a coincidence that she had neck pain just after yesterday’s conversation. None of these aspects was entirely clear or strongly present.
Sample 4.2 [10:26]: [Amber was watching Law and Order, SVU. In the show, the main character (Olivia) was interviewing a young victim who had asked a question about Olivia’s personal life; Olivia had deflected it to the investigation at hand.] At the moment of the beep, Amber was innerly speaking, "that was a good left turn" with no vocal or auditory characteristics. [Amber’s "left turn" was reference to a phrase that Olivia had said in a previous episode].
Sample 4.3 [17:20] [Amber had multiple computer screens open: she had just received a text on one of her devices, and simultaneously, she was opening Canvas on her phone.] At the moment of the beep, Amber was seeing the Canvas page [in reality, the screen was of the Canvas login page, but she was seeing the Canvas screen, not the Canvas-login-screen]. Nothing of the seeing-of-the-phone or anything else was present to Amber at the moment.
Sample 4.4 [21:41] [Amber returned to watching Law and Order, SVU on her iPad. In the show, a female detective had just received a text]. At the moment of the beep, Andrea was watching TV: she was zoomed-in a portion of the screen where the detective standing up [from sitting in a chair]. [In reality, there were other things going on in the scene, such as another male detective off on the right-hand side of the screen; however, Amber did not see anything other than the female detective standing up. Amber’s interest was not particularly in the standing-up-ness; that just happened to be what was happening on the show on the part of the screen that she was watching.] This seeing was accurate, in color, and in motion. Nothing else [the show’s sound/music, and so on] was present to Amber.
Sample 4.5 [25:42]: [Amber was looking at a Twitter video with the caption "why don’t I remember this?"]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was wondering [in a cognitive/analytical, unworded/unsymbolized manner] if this was her friend Jasmine’s video. Simultaneously, Jasmine herself was cognitively/analytically present (the person Jasmine, not the word "Jasmine") [somehow more present than the overall wondering]. Also simultaneously, the cognitively/analytically presence of the video is present
Sample 4.6 [34:19: [Amber was watching Law and Order, Organized Crime. One of the characters (Jet) was bringing a gift to a male friend’s house, and had called out "Adam." Amber had thought to herself, "is his name Adam Malachi?" and just before the beep, had realized (in a ribbing, self-critical sort of way) that she was very wrong and that his name was definitely not Adam Malachi]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was mentally laughing to/at herself—this was present as an affective, lifting-of-mood experience [that is: this laughing-to/at-herself did not involve any physical or sensory aspects.
A few hours after interview 4, Russ and Cody met to discuss issues that had arisen. They focus on Sample 4.1 and discuss the use of the word thinking: sometimes thinking has a cognitive meaning, sometimes not.
Of Amber's 6 samples, there were two examples of creative seeing, where what is experienced as seen does not conform to what is actually present in the real world....
In general—sampling day 5: All DES interviews are some combination of iterative training (so that future sampling days can be more skillful) and description of experience. The aim of the fifth sampling interview is a combination of experience description and iterative training.
Sample 5.1 [0:32]: [Amber was reviewing PowerPoint slides while studying for a class. Just before the beep, Amber noticed that she had crossed out the words "next slide"]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was wondering why she had crossed out "next slide"—this wondering was specific [the center of this wondering was about why she had crossed out "next slide." It’s not merely that she was wondering why "next slide" had been crossed out], and present without words or via any other symbols, images, or hearings. [This is a textbook example of unsymbolized thinking.]
Sample 5.2 [2:57]:[Amber was watching Law and Order SVU. In the scene, the main character (Olivia) had gotten a cut on her neck, and Fin was pressing a napkin to the cut to stop the bleeding. Just before and during the beep, Olivia and Fin continued to talk]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was seeing a still image of Fin holding the napkin on Olivia’s cut. [In reality, the scene involved movement—the characters were moving their mouths and talking, for instance—but at the moment of the beep, Amber’s experience was a still seeing of Olivia and Fin. The experience was of watching TV—not of seeing an image. [This is an example of creative seeing: experienced as seeing the external world, but what is seen does not correspond to the external world.]
Sample 5.3 [13:08]: [Amber was watching Law and Order SVU, a scene showing an extreme close up of Elliot’s face]. At the moment of the beep, was watching TV, seeing Elliot’s face as displayed on the TV. Simultaneously, she also heard Elliot talking but she did not hear the words he was saying.
Sample 5.4 [19:56]: [Amber was reviewing PowerPoint slides about passive diffusion. The current slide showed a red square with black dots and some text (sketched at left)]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was (60%) cognitively contemplating the relationship between passive diffusion and concentration gradients [this was an inchoate, nonspecific contemplation, unlike 5.1, which was specific]. Simultaneously, Amber was (40%) seeing, blurrily, the slide’s red square, but she did not see the black dots or the text (sketched at right). The seeing was literally blurry [that is this was a creative seeing of the real slide].
Sample 5.5 [32:08]: [Amber was watching Law and Order SVU. At the moment of the beep, the show depicted a person lying in a hospital bed while others spoke off-camera]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was intently looking at the person lying in a hospital bed—that is, she was carried along by the TV but was intently looking at the scene [an almost physical staring-down-ness]. [Nothing else (such as the sounds of the show) was present in her experience.]
Sample 5.6 [36:35]: [There is a masterclass video about this sample] [Amber was watching Law and Order SVU where Olivia and Elliot were standing next to each other facing their captain, who is offscreen and is speaking. Simultaneously, Amber was holding an iPad in her right hand awkwardly in the crook between her index finger and thumb.] At the moment of the beep, Amber was seeing (75%) the TV except the seen scene was still [in actuality, the scene was in motion]. Simultaneously, Amber felt (10%) weight between her right index finger and thumb [that came from the iPad]. Amber was also simultaneously hearing (5%) the captain’s voice. [This was similar to 5.3: she clearly heard the captain’s voice (it was not merely that she was hearing sound), but she did not hear words or otherwise apprehend what the captain was saying].
Of today's six samples, one was a creative seeing similar to day 5. Perhaps similarly creative was a slowing down of an inner hearing to match Amber's walking rhythm....
In general—sampling day 6: All DES interviews are some combination of iterative training (so that future sampling days can be more skillful) and description of experience. The aim of the sixth sampling interview is a combination of experience description and iterative training.
Sample 6.1 [1:19]: [Amber was making lunch and listening to music as she cut an onion. Just before the beep, Amber had cut the tip from the onion]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was seeing the top part of the onion [that is, Amber was simply seeing the onion she was cutting. Nothing else, including the music, was directly in her experience.]
Sample 6.2 [9:16]: [Amber was sending a text to a friend. Just before the beep, she had been searching for an emoji to send with her text, and she perhaps had either found the specific emoji she was looking for or she perhaps was about to or had just clicked on the specific emoji]. At the moment of the beep, this searching/finding was slightly present in her experience. [Nothing else was present in her experience. That is, her experience was slightly more than nothing, but not much more.]
Sample 6.3 [14:17]: [Amber was putting dishes away]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was walking between sink and cupboard as part of putting away her dishes. This is a repetitive sequence: pick-a-dish > walk > place-a-dish > walk > pick-a-dish > walk > place-a-dish > walk > etc. [It wasn’t clear how much of that was actually before the footlights of consciousness.]
Sample 6.4 [18:38]: [There is a master-class discussion of this sample.] [Amber was outside walking.] At the moment of the beep, Amber was simultaneously producing and innerly hearing Taylor Swift singing some portion of No Body, No Crime, with the slowed-down so that the rhythm of the song matched Amber’s footsteps [but with no change in the pitch]. [Nothing else was in her experience at the moment of the beep.]
Sample 6.5 [31:32]: [Amber was watching a video on her iPad while doing the dishes. At the moment of the beep, she grabbed a dish from the dish rack, which caused the other plates/dishes in the rack to shift and clatter]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was (80%) hearing the dishes clatter. Simultaneously, Amber (20%) saw on the iPad a still frame of a man walking [this was a creative seeing: in reality, the man walking continued on in-motion within the video]. [Nothing else was in her experience (including the grabbing-of-the-dish).
Sample 6.6 [36:31]: [Amber was in conversation that was considering , how much time was necessary for a task ]. At the moment of the beep, Amber was thinking about how long things take. This was a very non-specific wondering [e.g., there was no particular task being wondering about, no specific schedule], and it was present without any words, images, or hearings. [Nothing else (including the conversation) was present.