(all the below is from Investigating Pristine Inner Experience: Moments of Truth) by Russell T Hurlburt.
UNSYMBOLIZED THINKING: THE PHENOMENON
As we saw in the examples, unsymbolized thinking is the experience of an explicit, differentiated thought that does not include the experience of words, images, or any other symbols. We turn now to discuss each of the parts of that description.
First, unsymbolized thinking is its own distinct phenomenon – it is not a precursor to some other phenomenon; it is not a part of some other phenomenon; it is not incomplete, unfinished, vague, deficient, implied, or in any other phenomenal way subsidiary to any other phenomenon. Unsymbolized thinking exists in and of itself as a phenomenon, just as inner speaking exists in and of itself as a phenomenon.
Second, unsymbolized thinking is way of experiencing, an aspect of a persons phenomenology. It is directly observable, appears directly before the footlights of consciousness, is directly apprehended. It does not need to be inferred or deduced. Evelyn is directly experiencing wondering about Cox Cable versus NetZero, and she clearly distinguishes between that in-awareness experience and processes that are ongoing outside of awareness (holding the mug; the mugs characteristics or significance). Abigail’s unsymbolized wondering whether Julio would drive the truck was just as phenomenally present to Abigail as a visual image of Julio’s truck would have been had Abigail been seeing such an image (which she wasn’t). Benito’s unsymbolized wondering whether the workers will drop the’ bricks was just as phenomenally present to Benito as the words “I wonder whether those guys will drop the bricks?” would have been had Benito been saying those words to himself in inner speech (which he wasn’t). Thus, unsymbolized thinking is simply a way of experiencing. There may or may not be some cognitive or organizational process that lies behind the experience, or that causes the experience, or that is caused by the experience; I take no position on that. The term “unsymbolized thinking” refers to the way of experiencing itself and not to any entity or process that maybe part of some theoretical explanation.
Third, unsymbolized thinking is experienced to be a thinking, not a feeling, not an intention, not an intimation, not a kinesthetic event, not a bodily event. Dorothy is thinking about not dragging her feet, and differentiates that thinking confidently from the emotional feeling of tired and old and from the hearing of her feet scruff-scruff-scruffing against the carpet. Most people, like Dorothy, confidently discriminate between experiences that are thoughts (using terms such as “mental” or “cognitive”) and experiences that are feelings (using terms such as “emotional” or “affective”) or sensory awarenesses. The distinction between thoughts and feelings or sensory awarenesses is typically unshakeable in people who are paying careful attention to moments of their experience, and unsymbolized thinking is unwaveringly apprehended as a thought.
Fourth, the content of unsymbolized thinking is explicit: The “about what of the thought is plainly apprehended. Charlene is thinking about a particular census data set and no other; Evelyn is comparing NetZero and Cox Cable and is not thinking about DSL, Earthlink, or any other Internet service provider. That it is about NetZero is doubtless driven by the ongoing TV commercial, but the commercial is not about Cox Cable – that is Evelyn’s invention. Furthermore, Evelyn is wondering which is cheaper, not which is faster, better, easier to install, more reliable, or any other alternative. That is, this experience is an explicit and differentiated thought.
Fifth, unsymbolized thinking is differentiated: The “what about it” is not general or vague. Abigail’s thought is concretely and specifically about whether Julio will be driving his car or his truck this afternoon. It is not about whether she likes Julio or about Julio’s driving habits; it is about this particular car and that particular truck from the standpoint of whether Julio will be driving them today, not about cars in general or trucks in general, not even about that particular car from some other perspective (not about whether she likes Chevrolets, not about the dent in the door of Julio’s Chevrolet), not about yesterday or tomorrow. Taken together, the explicit and differentiated characteristics imply that the thought s sense is quite clearly articulated – there is nothing “hunchy,” “hinty,” “implied” or “merely suggested” about it.
Sixth, the content of an unsymbolized thought is directly in experience. It is not the case that merely the “title” of the thought is experienced and the rest of the thought is subconscious; the unsymbolized thought presents itself directly. The unsymbolized thought is not merely precursor of some symbolic (worded or imaged) thinking that is not yet sufficiently conscious for the subject. The unsymbolized thought is itself directly experienced.
Seventh, an unsymbolized thought typically presents itself all at once; there is no rhythm or cadence; no unfolding or sequentiality. The unsymbolized thought presents itself as a unit. Further, there is no temporal, spatial, grammatical, or otherwise formal separation between what we called earlier the explicit and the differentiated characteristics of unsymbolized thinking. The distinction between explicit and the differentiated is roughly the same as the distinction between the subject and the predicate of a sentence. Just as a complete sentence contains a subject (the about what) and a predicate (the what about it), the typical unsymbolized thought can be said to have those characteristics. However, those characteristics are not separated from each other as they are in a sentence, not separated temporally (as they would be in a spoken sentence) or spatially (as they would be in a printed sentence). For example, had Benito said to himself in inner speech, “I wonder whether those guys will drop the bricks?” he would have understood himself to be mentioning the guys (the subject) before he mentioned the dropping (the predicate). By contrast, Benito’s unsymbolized thought is not first about the guys and then about their dropping; it is inseparably a wondering about the guys/bricks/dropping.
Eighth, unsymbolized thinking does not include the experience of words, images, or any other symbols. Charlene does not experience the word “Census Bureau,” “data” or “too long.” That is, she does not experience herself to be (innerly or outerly) saying any of those words, (innerly or outerly) hearing any of those words, (innerly or outerly) seeing any of those words, or (innerly or outerly) experiencing those words in any other modality. Inner speaking, inner hearing, and inner seeing of words are more or less common ways of experiencing words, and Charlene herself might have such worded experiences at other moments; but at this particular moment, none of those experiences is present to her. Similarly, at that moment Charlene is not experiencing any (inner or outer) seeing of the Census Bureaus data or her own. Instead, Charlene knows, as facts of the universe, that the Census Bureau data set has four columns and her own has two, but no representation of that knowledge is directly apprehended by Charlene at that particular moment.
DISCOVERING THE PHENOMENA OF LIVED EXPERIENCE
Most phenomenological studies start with a targeted concept and seek exemplary lived experiences that can then be examined to discover the phenomenological details of the target. Giorgi (1975), for example, started with the concept of learning as his target; he then asked a series of subjects to describe lived experiences that involved learning with the aim of filling in the phenomenological details of learning. Petitmengin (1999) started with the concept of intuition; she then asked a series of subjects to describe lived experiences that involved intuition. Waddell (2007) started with the concept of the inner voice experience; she then asked a series of subjects to describe lived experiences that involved the hearing of inner voices.
By contrast, the phenomenon of unsymbolized thinking is one of the main features that emerge when one starts with no targeted concept and carefully asks subjects to describe randomly selected everyday lived experiences, whatever those experiences happen to be. Unsymbolized thinking is thus the end result of an open-beginninged (Chapter 10) phenomenological investigation of pristine or “free-range” lived experience, not the starting point. “Unsymbolized thinking” is the name we apply to a set of frequently occurring phenomena. Our interest in unsymbolized thinking is the result of the frequently occurring nature of the phenomena, not the result of any a priori (theoretical or otherwise) interest.
WHAT UNSYMBOLIZED THINKING IS NOT
When I describe unsymbolized thinking to colleagues unfamiliar with the topic, they frequently jump to incorrect conclusions about the nature of the phenomenon. To forestall that in the reader, here are a few remarks about what unsymbolized thinking is not.
To say that unsymbolized thinking exists as a form of experience is not to make a claim about the nature of thinking. The existence of unsymbolized thinking implies no position whatever about whether words such as “Julio,” “car,” or “truck” or images thereof do or do not somehow exist outside Abigail’s experience (“too faintly to be apprehended,” “unconsciously,” “structurally,” or the like). That Abigail is experiencing unsymbolized thinking implies no position whatever about Abigail’s basic, underlying cognition or about the structure of her consciousness. Unsymbolized thinking is a feature or a phenomenon, something that can be directly observable in consciousness. Interpreting that phenomenon, speculating about its causes or effects, or integrating it into some theory of consciousness are entirely different matters from our aim of simply describing the phenomenon and its manner of appearing.
Unsymbolized thinking is not merely a fleeting thought (Robinson, 2005). Unsymbolized thinkings can be fleeting, but typically they are experienced as lasting about as long as other kinds of thinking experiences. Sometimes, in distinct contradistinction to fleetingness, unsymbolized thinkings are experienced as lasting for minutes or hours non-stop (in some very depressed individuals; Hurlburt, 1993a).
An unsymbolized thought is not a hunch, a presentiment, or any other merely not-well-formed thought; it is typically a complete, explicit thought. It is not merely an emotion; it is understood as a thought, not a feeling. It is not a bodily inclination – a “leaning toward,” a “physical readiness,” or the like; it is a thinking, typically experienced as being in the head, not in the body.
Unsymbolized thinking is not merely a tip of the tongue phenomenon or other accompaniment to occurrent beliefs and desires (Robinson, 2005). Unsymbolized thinking is its own phenomenon, not dependent on any other phenomenon.
Unsymbolized thinking is not merely a feeling of familiarity or rightness – that is, it is more than the non-sensory experiences described by Mangan (2001).
An unsymbolized thought is not merely an aspect of a more complete phenomenon, in, for example, the same way redness is an aspect of an apple whose other aspects include weight, motion, and so on (Horgan & Tienson, 2002). An unsymbolized thought is the entire phenomenon.
Unsymbolized thinking is not merely the “understanding experience” (Strawson, 1994; Pitt, 2004) that lies behind some verbalization; it is the experienced thinking itself. For example, Strawson correctly observed that the understanding experience of the English sentence “Empedocles leaped” is quite different from the understanding experience of the German sentence “Empedocles liebt” (“Empedocles loves”), even though the two sentences are phonologically identical. Some might be led to think that what makes those two phonologically identical utterances distinctly different from each other is the presence of two different unsymbolized thinkings. That is not correct.
I have no position on what distinguishes one understanding experience from another, but it is not unsymbolized thinking: An unsymbolized thought is its own complete experience; it is not a process adjunctive to or interpretive of a verbalization.
Unsymbolized thinking is not the pure thought, pure intention, pure intuitive insight, or a state cultivated by serious practitioners of some contemplative traditions. I have no reason to believe that our subjects who experience unsymbolized thinking frequently are any more or less enlightened than other subjects.