Consciousness, Epistemology, Introspection, Learning, Observation, People, TJ, Truth

Is Self-Observation more Accurate than Introspection?

Sometimes I crack myself up.  Moments ago, I woke up to the realization I just spent more than an hour this evening gazing at a casual photo TJ recently sent of herself.  I remember running my cursor over the lines of her hair, thinking how I would sketch them, and feeling mild disappointment the photo doesn’t show enough detail in her face to be perfectly sketchable.  But can that really have taken an hour?  And how can a mere photo make one oblivious to the passing of time?

I have a hunch, though, that when we observe ourselves doing little things like becoming lost in a photo, we often learn more about our internal states than we do through introspection.

Introspection, in my experience is very tricky and frequently produces biased, vague, and inaccurate conclusions.  Put a little differently, introspection seems much more likely to merely tell us what we think of ourselves than to tell us what we will actually do in a given set of circumstances.  It does not seem to be entirely useless, but, for instance,  I probably would never have guessed myself — through introspection alone — very likely to spend an hour gazing at a photo of TJ while daydreaming of sketching her.  But that is precisely what I have just done.

For those and other reasons, I’m of the opinion that the best way to learn about ourselves is not through introspection, but through conscientious observation of what we actually do or don’t do in a given set of circumstances.  That’s usually the best way to learn about others, and it also seems to be the best way to learn about ourselves.

Any way, those are just some preliminary thoughts on the subject.  I’m not guaranteeing the accuracy of anything I’ve said here because I haven’t allowed myself time to mull it over before writing about it.  I’d appreciate hearing your insights on this subject now.

8 thoughts on “Is Self-Observation more Accurate than Introspection?”

  1. It is the comparison between the two that can get you some “accuracy”. Balance might be a better word. Accuracy is a term more suited to the logic of observation than the feelings encountered during introspection.



  2. The key here seems to be the focusing on our behavior when we think that no one is watching.

    Have you ever heard the saying (or song?) that says when we are alone, we dance? Our true nature and feelings are magnified at those moments.

    I have watched people over the years and their outward actions in situations when they know others are watching can be radically different from what they feel inside. I have done the same myself for I have fallen victim to social conditioning as well.

    It got so bad with me that I try hard not to do what I think others are expecting of me. Because of that, I tend to rub people the wrong way.

    But I like it that way.


  3. I do not dance when I’m alone, sadly. Mainly because I’m a bad dancer.

    The difference between introspection and observation in my 24 yr old wisdom is that observation can usually occur in the presence of others, while introspection requires looking inwards, perhaps when others are not present.

    So when looking to figure out how one interacts with others and the environment in general, observation is best. When trying to make a decision in private, introspection may be a better tool. Observation is about experience; introspection is about how something is being experienced. Does that make any sense?


  4. simstone: “The key here seems to be the focusing on our behavior when we think that no one is watching.”

    “Character is what you are in the dark.” -Lord John Whorfin

    – M. \”/


  5. @ Sagarone: LOL! Nice to see you again!

    @ Insomniac: I’ve taken the liberty of adding your excellent blog to my blogroll.

    @ Simstone: Very good point!

    @ UnusualRunner: That makes a lot of sense. I like the distinction you’ve drawn between observation and introspection. Good to see you again!

    @ Meowlin: Good quote!


  6. I am not sure I see the difference between dwelling on a photo and imagining yourself creating a drawing based on it–and introspection. As I see it, introspection includes actions as viewed from the inside. You reflected–or meditated–for an hour. You viewed yourself viewing your world. To me, that is introspection. I like what you wrote. Thank you. –Steve from Planet Earth


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