Volume 13 · Number 2 · Pages 219–229
Excavating Belief About Past Experience: Experiential Dynamics of the Reflective Act

Urban Kordeš & Ema Demšar

Download the full text in
PDF (984 kB)

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


Context: Philosophical and - more recently - empirical approaches to the study of mind have recognized the research of lived experience as crucial for the understanding of their subject matter. Such research is faced with self-referentiality: every attempt at examining the experience seems to change the experience in question. This so-called “excavation fallacy” has been taken by many to undermine the possibility of first-person inquiry as a form of scientific practice. Problem: What is the epistemic character and value of reflectively acquired phenomenological data? Can the study of experience, despite the excavation fallacy, rely on the act of reflection on lived experience and make sense and use of its results? Method: Through a philosophical discourse, informed by empirical first-person inquiry, we explore the experiential structure of the act of reflection and the formation of the corresponding belief about past experience. Results: We present a provisional first-person model of the experiential dynamics of retrospective reflection, in which the reflective act is characterized as enaction of belief about past experience that co-determines - rather than distorts - its results. From a constructivist perspective on the inevitable interdependence between the act of observing and the observed, the excavation “fallacy” is recognized as an intrinsic characteristic of reflection. Reflection is described as an iterative, self-referential process, guided by a context- and subject-specific horizon of expectations. Implications: Knowing the characteristics of the formation of beliefs about experience is essential for understanding first-person data and for the possibility of their acquisition and use in scientific practice, particularly in the context of second-person approaches to the study of experience. Constructivist content: We relate the proposed understanding of reflection to constructivist epistemology and argue that constructivism provides an epistemological foundation for the empirical study of experience more suitable than the traditional epistemological objectivism of cognitive science. We suggest that the constructive nature of the process of reflection calls for a collaboration between the fields of constructivism, phenomenology, and first-person research, and points towards the potential for their mutual enrichment.

Key words: Reflection, enaction, constructivism, past experience, excavation fallacy, second-person methodology


Kordeš U. & Demšar E. (2018) Excavating belief about past experience: Experiential dynamics of the reflective act. Constructivist Foundations 13(2): 219–229. http://constructivist.info/13/2/219

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Kordeš U. (2016) Going Beyond Theory: Constructivism and Empirical Phenomenology
Müller K. H. (2010) The Radical Constructivist Movement and Its Network Formations
Bednarz N. & Proulx J. (2011) Ernst von Glasersfeld’s Contribution and Legacy to a Didactique des Mathématiques Research Community
Vörös S. & Riegler A. (2017) A Plea for not Watering Down the Unseemly: Reconsidering Francisco Varela’s Contribution to Science
Scholl A. (2012) Author’s Response: What Constructivism Does not Say


Bartlett F. C. (1932) Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bitbol M. & Petitmengin C. (2011) On pure reflection. Journal of Consciousness Studies 18(2): 24–37. http://cepa.info/4449
Bitbol M. & Petitmengin C. (2013) A defense of introspection from within. Constructivist Foundations 8(3): 269–279. http://constructivist.info/8/3/269
Bitbol M. & Petitmengin C. (2013) On the possibility and reality of introspection. Kairos 6: 173–198. http://cepa.info/2298
Brentano F. (2015) Psychology from an empirical standpoint. Translated by A. C. Rancurello D. B. Terrell and L. L. McAlister. With a new introduction by P. Simons. Routledge, London. German original published in 1874. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Clark A. (2013) Whatever next? Predictive brains, situated agents, and the future of cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 36(3): 181–204. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Cohen D., Hoshino‐Browne E. & Leung A. K. (2007) Culture and the structure of personal experience: Insider and outsider phenomenologies of the self and social world. In: Zanna M. P. (ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology 39. Elsevier, San Diego CA: 1–67. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Davies P. C. W. & Brown J. R. (1986) The ghost in the atom: A discussion of the mysteries of quantum physics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
De Jaegher H. & Di Paolo E. A. (2007) Participatory sense-making: An enactive approach to social cognition. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 6(4): 485–507. http://cepa.info/2387
Depraz N., Varela F. J. & Vermersch P. (2003) On becoming aware: A pragmatics of experiencing. John Benjamins, Amsterdam. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ericsson K. A. & Simon H. A. (1993) Protocol analysis. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Friston K. J. (2010) The free–energy principle: A unified brain theory? Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11(2): 127–138. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Froese T., Gould C. & Barrett A. (2011) Re-viewing from within: A commentary on first- and second-person methods in the science of consciousness. Constructivist Foundations 6(2): 254–269. http://constructivist.info/6/2/254
Glasersfeld E. von (1988) The reluctance to change a way of thinking. Irish Journal of Psychology 9(1): 83–90. http://cepa.info/1401
Hohwy J. (2013) The predictive mind. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hurlburt R. T. (2009) Iteratively apprehending pristine experience. Journal of Consciousness Studies 16(10–12): 156–188. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Husserl E. (1970) The crisis of European sciences and transcendental phenomenology: An introduction to phenomenological philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Northwestern University Press, Evanston IL. German original published in 1954. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Husserl E. (1982) Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy. First book: General introduction to a pure phenomenology. Translated by Fred Kersten. Nijhoff, The Hague. German original published in 1913. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
James W. (1890) The principles of psychology. Holt, Baltimore. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Johansson P., Hall L., Sikström S. & Olsson A. (2005) Failure to detect mismatches between intention and outcome in a simple decision task. Science 310(5745): 116–119. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kordeš U. & Klauser F. (2016) Second-person in-depth phenomenological inquiry as an approach for studying enaction of beliefs. Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems 14(4): 369–377. http://cepa.info/4334
Kordeš U. (2015) A better metaphor for understanding consciousness? Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems 13(4): 525–533. http://cepa.info/2512
Kordeš U. (2016) Going beyond theory: Constructivism and empirical phenomenology. Constructivist Foundations 11(2): 375–385.http://constructivist.info/11/2/375 http://constructivist.info/11/2/375
Mermin N. D. (2004) Could Feynman have said this? Physics Today 57(5): 10–11. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Neisser U. & Winograd E. (1995) Remembering reconsidered: Ecological and traditional approaches to the study of memory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Nisbett R. E. & Wilson T. D. (1977) Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes. Psychological Review 84(3): 231–259. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Orne M. T. (1962) On the social psychology of the psychological experiment: With particular reference to demand characteristics and their implications. American Psychologist 17: 776–783. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Petersen A. (1963) The philosophy of Niels Bohr. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 19(7): 8–14. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Petitmengin C. (2006) Describing one’s subjective experience in the second person: An interview method for a science of consciousness. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 5(3): 229–269. http://cepa.info/2376
Riegler A. (2001) The role of anticipation in cognition. In: Dubois D. M. (ed.) Computing anticipatory systems. Proceedings of the American institute of physics 573: 534–541. http://cepa.info/4211
Riegler A. (2001) Towards a radical constructivist understanding of science. Foundations of science 6(1): 1–30. http://cepa.info/1860
Schooler J. W. (2002) Re-representing consciousness: Dissociations between experience and meta-consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 6(8): 339–344. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Searle J. (1992) The rediscovery of the mind. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Stewart J. R., Gapenne O. & Di Paolo E. A. (2010) Enaction: Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Teller P. (1980) The projection postulate and Bohr’s interpretation of quantum mechanics. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1980(2): 201–223. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1996) Neurophenomenology: A methodological remedy for the hard problem. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3(4): 330–349. http://cepa.info/1893
Varela F. J., Thompson E. & Rosch E. (1991) The embodied mind. Cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vermersch P. (2009) Describing the practice of introspection. Journal of Consciousness Studies 16(10–12): 20–57. http://cepa.info/2416
Vermersch P. (2011) Husserl the great unrecognized psychologist! Journal of Consciousness Studies 18(2): 20–23. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vörös S., Froese T. & Riegler A. (2016) Epistemological odyssey: Introduction to special issue on the diversity of enactivism and neurophenomenology. Constructivist Foundations 11(2): 189–203. http://constructivist.info/11/2/189
Wooffitt R. & Holt N. (2011) Looking in and speaking out: Introspection, consciousness, communication. Imprint Academic, Exeter UK. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wundt W. M. (1897) Outlines of psychology. Translated by Charles H. Judd. Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig. German original published in 1897. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Zahavi D. (2011) Varieties of reflection. Journal of Consciousness Studies 18(2): 9–19. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.