Introspection, means to examine one’s own mental and emotional processes. It is considered to be a technique used to understand one’s own mental awareness and state of mind, or is it?
Wilhelm Wundt, one of the founding fathers of modern psychology was the first to bring introspection to the fray. Originally the tool of philosophers, Wilhelm Wundt attempted to employ it as a scientific tool to study the structure of the mind. Wundt borrowed the method from physiologists such as Gustav Fechner who were using it a kind of controlled introspection to study sensory organs.
However his student, Edward B. Titchener popularized the method, by imposing strict guidelines and using it to objectively study the various components of human consciousness, aptly calling the method objective introspection.
However objective introspection failed to get results. It turns out the process of introspection itself changes the state of mind, hence becoming inaccurate.
Here is a simple example to understand the process of introspection. Imagine yourself in front of a small pond. Can you see your reflection? Now throw a pebble into the pond and try to see your reflection. A bit blurry isn’t it? Now throw a few pebbles and now try to see your reflection. You would probably see a very blurry version of yourself. This is how the process of introspection proceeds. Initially you could see your reflection clearly, but the more you introspect the blurrier your reflection became until you could not recognize it no more.
The German philosopher Immaneul Kant said the following about introspection, “I know myself by inner experience, only as I appear to myself”. Kant believed that our true self, our ‘inner experiences’ are inaccessible to us.
Despite it’s flaws, introspection is still used today. During a psychology experiment, we are required to take an introspective report of the subject. This is done to understand the feelings and emotions the subject was going through, during the experiment.
So you may not be able to analyze your entire stream of consciousness with introspection. It can help provide you with a picture – a somewhat blurry picture, but a picture nonetheless of your current mental state.