A few months ago, Olivia R., a person I had never met, asked me to be a guest on her podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz. She wanted to talk about my research into inner experience, and I accepted her offer.
She seemed genuinely interested in the topic (not merely fulfilling her podcaster role), so in correspondence after my episode taped, I asked her if she would be interested in engaging with Descriptive Experience Sampling as a participant, and to make her interviews available on my YouTube channel and in any other way she would like. We agreed to post the series of interviews as they unfold, after a delay so that she could protect her privacy if she so desired. Here's the result.
Olivia found sampling mechanically difficult because her 2-year-old daughter kept pulling at the earphone and beeper, etc. We had time to discuss three samples, and the order of discussion was sample 2, sample 4, and sample 1. ...
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 1.2 [4:34]: [Olivia , her partner, and their daughter are in the kitchen retrieving and sorting groceries that have just been delivered.] She says aloud to her partner, "Darcy, there were some funny substitutions in the…in the…[repetitions and pauses as she waits for the unknown-yet next word to appear]…groceries." The beep interrupts somewhere around "in the," perhaps right at "groceries" or perhaps just after that. Her experience, as best we can say, is of speaking. That is, she is, in fact, speaking aloud, and that consumes her experience at the moment – she is engaged in the speaking. [She is not, for example, noticing or otherwise experiencing the putting-away-of-the-yogurt, which she is probably also, in fact, doing at the moment.]
Sample 1.4 [12:35]: [Olivia is drawing with her daughter. She has just drawn a stick figure that represents her daughter’s friend Xanthe. At the moment of the beep, she is writing Xanthe underneath the figure] and is innerly experiencing "Xan [pause] the." [We could not determine whether this was primarily inner saying or hearing or a voiceless articulation of some kind or some other way of experiencing, as is typical on day 1]. The experience definitely was of the two syllables separated by a pause, not, for example, of each individual letter or the word as a whole. Perhaps she was also saying "Xan-the" aloud, [though that seemed to arrive out of a retrospective speculation, so there is reason to be skeptical].
Sample 1.1 [35:07]: [Olivia, her partner, and their daughter are engaged in a morning tradition – the adults are having a cup of coffee in bed and their daughter is drinking a cup of warm milk, which she refers to as her "coffee."] At the moment of the beep, as best we could say, Olivia hears her daughter say, "I drink my coffee." [There is apparently nothing else in her direct experience. For example, she is, on some level, aware of her surroundings and the situation, but none of that is directly present to her before-the-footlights-of-consciousness.]
Olivia collected six samples. We discussed four of them. Sampling issues included (a) difficulty in distinguishing whether visual details were innerly seen or merely known; and (b) difficulty distinguishing whether an inner word was innerly voiced or somehow present without being innerly spoken or heard ...
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 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 2.1 [3:50]: Olivia is talking to her partner, saying aloud at the moment of the beep, "…a handful – three or four" [context unknown – she could not recall and did not write it down]. Perhaps she is also innerly seeing the word FOUR in simple, printed, all caps sans-serif font with indeterminate color, perhaps somehow apprehended as up and to the left of her (inner visual field, not externally). [Olivia was not very confident about the inner seeing and the details we discussed should be considered highly tentative. However, some of the visual details were described with more confidence than other details. She was very confident that the letters were all upper case and were all in a sans serif font, and yet she was not at all confident about whether they were black on white, or white on black, or one-kind-of-black on another-kind-of-black (she was confident that there were no non-gray-scale colors involved). She found it curious that she would have these varying levels of confidence about details that would seem (at least in the external world) to be visually connected: How could I see sans-serif-ness without seeing color-ness? Asking about these details was an opportunity for training and bracketing the notion that inner seeing must have the same characteristics as external seeing; perhaps she will be better-able to apprehend and describe inner seeings (or whatever) on subsequent sampling days.]
Sample 2.2 [18:43]: [One of the shelves in Olivia’s refrigerator is broken and she’s trying to order a replacement. She has measured the shelf’s depth, height, width, and, before the beep, had written those measurements on a sticky note.] Now, at the moment of the beep, she is labeling the three measurements, writing d (above the measurement for depth), h (for height), and w (for width). She also apprehends "width," which is innerly present in her own voice [as she generally apprehends her own voice while speaking, which is somewhat different from her external voice when she hears it from recordings of herself)]. We never did establish whether "width" was innerly spoken, heard, or just somehow present without being spoken or heard. She did seem fairly confident that it was voiced in her inner voice with normal volume and inflection. RTH recalls that she had pretty much ruled out inner hearing, but he will check out the video.] [Near the end of the interview, Olivia held up to the camera the actual sticky note, and was surprised to find that the written order was w d h, not d h w as she had thought.]
Sample 2.3 [36:38]: [Skipped because she thought not interesting; she was just perceiving something on a website page.]
Sample 2.4 [37:11]: Olivia innerly hears singing "tied up with strings" (in a female-type voice, seems more like her voice than Julie Andrews’ but maybe it’s her voice singing as Julie Andrews.) She hears just that "tied up with strings" segment [which she understands to be a bit of the song "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. She has heard this segment several times at irregular intervals (not looping).] She hears just the vocal line (no piano or orchestral accompaniment). [Whatever she is doing in reality is apparently not at all present in her direct experience; it’s just the song portion at this moment.]
Sample 2.5 [51:30]: [Skipped]
Sample 2.6 [51:31]: [Olivia is at her desk working on her computer. She’s been texting back-and-forth with her stepchildren’s mother about ordering the kids’ school pictures. Just before the beep, their stepmother had responded and a preview of the text message had appeared on Olivia’s computer screen. She had read it – something about how maybe she doesn’t want to order the pictures unless she can see them first.] At the moment of the beep, Olivia [is imagining her text response, and] innerly speaks [what she plans to (and eventually does) respond], "Lol (pronounced lull, not L-O-L), you’re not going to buy them if you decide they’re ugly!" Her inner voice sounds amused and sarcastic.
Repeatedly throughout the interview we discussed the issue of whether or to what degree the context or surround of a situation is directly apprehended. It seemed quite impossible to her that objects that fall on her retina are not directly apprehended.
Olivia collected five samples. We discussed three of them. Sampling issues included (a) trying to nail down the visual aspects of Olivia's experience: did she innerly see aspects or merely know the visual aspects of them; and (b) trying to determine whether peripheral aspects were directly experienced or merely part of skilled action ...
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 [11:42]: Olivia is (40% or so) listening to Ezra Klein’s podcast. [The topic is parenting. Ezra is talking about his toddler’s being upset.] At the moment of the beep, Olivia (50% or so) is somehow thinking about her own daughter, Aspasia, and how she is when upset. Aspasia is perhaps innerly seen, or somewhat innerly seen, or perhaps Olivia simply had the idea or notion of the ways Aspasia (not seen) is when she’s upset. [Olivia thought there was something visual about the experience, but it certainly was not a clearly seen image. If seen, Aspasia is not seen in a specific way (as in, Aspasia on X day looking like Y dressed in Z clothes, etc.). Maybe it’s more like a collage of Aspasias. [Olivia is, in fact, sorting green beans into a cloth bag at this moment] and does slightly (10 or 20%) experience herself doing so, perhaps especially the trying-to-get-them-in-the-bag-vertically aspect.
Sample 3.2 [28:27]: [Skipped – Olivia was mid-conversation. Perhaps she was simply engaged in the conversation or perhaps there was more going on but she wasn’t able to pause carefully enough to apprehend it.]
Sample 3.3 [29:09]: [Olivia is in the kitchen.] She (80% or so) sees three nectarines sitting on the counter (her word is “bench”). She sees them as they are, but is not drawn to any particular sensory quality (as in sensory awareness). That is, they happen to be in a triangular configuration but she is not particularly attending to the triangularness of them, or to the orangeness, or to the roundness, or to any other particular sensory quality. At the same time, she (10% or so) either says or hears herself say (or both) to her partner, “On the fridge” [referring to where he could find the grocery list.] She feels slightly annoyed by his asking, too, [the list is always on the fridge], but it’s only 5 or 10% of the experience.
Sample 3.4 [37:36]: [Olivia is chatting on Slack with a co-worker. This co-worker has just mentioned how she needs to interview a certain subject soon before that subject goes on a 6-week retreat without access to his or her phone. Olivia is reacting to the idea of being without technology for 6 weeks, which sounds absurd or surprising or something to her.] She innerly sees Whaaaa [an exaggeration of What?! But with several (an indeterminate number) of a’s and no t or ? ]. Whaaa is seen in typed lettering and probably black and white and probably seen i a window similar to the actual Slack interface. [Olivia said Whaaa was seen in the same way Aspasia was seen in 3.1, lending some credence (AK thought) to 3.1 being an actual visual phenomenon. Both 3.1 and 3.4 are indeterminate kinds of seeings – she isn’t confident about the specific visual details]. Simultaneously, she innerly hears her voice say in an exaggerated tone, “Whaaaaa?!”
Sample 3.5 [26:03]: [Skipped; ran out of interview time. Olivia had been reading at the moment of the beep.]
Olivia collected five samples, three from this morning and two from yesterday. We started with the samples from today (on the logic that "fresh beeps" are better), so the order of the interview is 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.1, and 4.2. Three of the samples included the inner hearing of a song fragment. Issues arising today are (a) the extent that Olivia experiences a range of minor aspects (or whether those aspects are unexperienced context); and (b) the possible emergence of sensory awareness....
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 4.3 [7:37] [Olivia, her partner, and her daughter are in bed in the usual early-morning coffee ritual.] Olivia hears a song in her head, a 5-10 sec bit of a country-western song, sung by a male in a crooning voice, accompanied on an acoustic guitar (and perhaps other instruments). [The song bit is on an intermittent loop—Olivia has heard it several times--but not immediately back to back (she hears the same song-bit each time).] [It is a real song that Olivia has probably heard on the speakers this morning, but that is speculation. She doesn’t know the name of the song or the artist.] (Olivia experiences it as hearing, but it seems slightly less real than an actual hearing. [It’s hard for her to say what she means by "less real"—it is as if "the reality of the hearing is slightly turned down." It is not that the volume is turned down, but that there is something about it that is not quite real.] [Olivia is sitting on the bed, her 2-year-old is climbing around, and that, as best we can decide, is not entirely absent but not actually present in my experience. It is ‘in the weeds’, so to speak.]
Sample 4.4 [17:35] [Olivia is alone, still in the bed, looking at the phone. Her friend MaryAnne, who is also a documentary filmmaker, had shared a Facebook documentary with her; Olivia has just begun to watch it and realizes that this is an old documentary.] Olivia thinks [70%] "This is old," [but she is not sure whether there are any words present in that thought. If there are words, it is "This is old" or "Oh, this is old," but it is possible that it is just the idea that is present, not the words.] At the same time there is, slightly before the footlights of consciousness [10%], a slight surprise that MaryAnne would not have seen this before—Olivia would have expected MaryAnne to have seen it. Also at the same time [20%] Olivia is hearing a voice on the radio say "Do you know someone who lives in aged care?" It is those words that pierce Olivia’s consciousness, [not the whole notion of the problematics of aged care in her vicinity]. Also at the same time Olivia had noticed that MaryAnne had also sent this link to her friend Betty, and now at the moment of the beep Olivia was also somehow considering the surprising connection between MaryAnne and Betty (Olivia hadn’t know that they were friends).
Sample 4.5 [30:10] [Olivia is using the toast tongs to pull a piece of raisin toast out of the toaster. This is a skilled act—that is, Olivia is seeing the toast and maneuvering the tongs, etc. But that is not in her direct experience.] At the moment of the beep Olivia sees the raisins and the surrounding toast. [This is apparently a visual awareness of the sensory aspect of raisin-and-toast, not really experienced as an aspect of the instrumental maneuvering of the toast and tongs.] [RTH gives a mini lecture on the manifest embarrassment of Olivia’s introduction of the sensory details.]
sample 4.1 [39:49] Olivia innerly hears [70%] the first three notes of the theme song of a show she is producing. These notes are on an intermittent loop: she hears them, and a bit later she hears them again, and a bit later hears them again. The same bit of the song is heard each time. It is just three notes [probably created by a synthesizer, no harmony, but accurately mirroring (as it seems to Olivia) the actual theme]. [This hearing seems extraneous—it’s it not that Olivia is working on that portion of the show at this moment.] [The intermittent-ness of the loop experience seems very similar to 4.3.] Also [30%] Olivia is actively looking for her headphones so she can make a call.
Sample 4.2 [45:48] Olivia is [50%] reading a notification on her phone. [She apparently read it with comprehension, but Olivia doesn’t recall what it said.] Simultaneously [50%] she innerly hears a bit of a lullaby [on the same kind of intermittent loop as 4.1 and 4.3]. [The lullaby is another bit of the soundtrack of the show Olivia is producing.] [Olivia gives the two aspects 50-50 prominence, but RTH thinks her presentation suggests that the hearing is more prominent.]
Olivia had been quite ill with the flu and was still weakened by it. We discussed 4 samples, for the most part not very thoroughly, with substantial conversations about related (mostly epistemological) issues throughout the interview....
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 [11:35] Olivia was typing a text message on her computer] She was "thinking" the words that she was typing [but it was difficult for her to say how this thinking took place. She said "I think I hear the words being spoken," but she is not willing to commit to whether this is a hearing or a speaking or neither.] At the same time she feels congestion in her throat and soreness in her lower back. The congestion is in a specific region from behind her nose and extending down through her throat. [It is not clear whether she experienced that at the moment of the beep or is confabulating it from present experience.] [There is a discussion of difficulties of memory.]
Sample 5.2 [37:42] [a few minutes later, still composing texts on computer.] In her experience is the word "NOVID" [meaning "not COVID"], but it is difficult to say whether this word is spoken, heard, or just known.
Sample 5.3 [49:23] Olivia innerly hears a classical music (violins, etc.). [It is a specific piece, but she doesn’t know what it is called. It is specific enough that she tried to sing it into Shazam, but with no luck.] [We have been having discussion about whether Olivia’s (and by extension, anyone else’s) inner experience is clear, and Russ takes the Shazam discussion as evidence that by Olivia’s own lights, her inner experience was clear enough that in the seconds after the beep she would try to sing the melody into Shazam!]
sample 5.4 [1:07:02] [Olivia is alone in the kitchen chopping carrots. The radio is on.] She is paying attention to the action of chopping, to the physicality of it involving arm, hand, and knife. ([Or so it seems&emdash;she isn’t confident). Simultaneously she is hearing the chopping, a rhythmic chop-chop-chop that she finds pleasant (leading to a conversation that experience is extended in time.]