A Passion for Specificity

Confronting Inner Experience in Literature and Science

Marco Caracciolo and Russell T. Hurlburt
Foreword by Eric Schwitzgebel

Cognitive Approaches to Culture


December 2, 2016

305 pp. 6x9

$34.95 Paperback 978-0-8142-5375-5
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“The argument between Caracciolo and Hurlburt is not simply an argument between a science- and a humanities-oriented person but more fundamentally a serious discussion about the nature of mental experience, about the misleading ways that long-term memory works, about the usually unacknowledged presuppositions that we all bring to our descriptions of our own experiences. And the conversational method is central to making the book’s insights emerge, for the two conversants are constantly correcting one another, modifying one another’s statements, using their discussion to reach conclusions that neither would likely have achieved on his own.”— Herbert Lindenberger, Stanford University

“The book will be of interest to scholars in several different fields—literature, psychology, neuroscience—and of especial interest to those involved in consciousness studies.” —David S. Miall, University of Alberta

In an analytical yet increasingly intimate conversation, A Passion for Specificity: Confronting Inner Experience in Literature and Science investigates the differences between experience as conveyed in literature and experience as apprehended through scientific method. Can experiences be shared? How much do language and metaphor shape experiential reports? Where is the dividing line between a humanistic and a scientific approach to experience? In a series of exchanges, Marco Caracciolo and Russell Hurlburt demonstrate that those are necessarily personal issues, and they don’t flinch—they relentlessly examine whether Caracciolo’s presuppositions distort his understanding of reading experiences and whether Hurlburt’s attachment to the method he invented causes him to take an overly narrow view of experience. Delving ever more personally, they aim Hurlburt’s experience sampling methods—beeping people to discover what was in their stream of inner experience at the moment immediately before the beep—at Caracciolo’s own experiences, an exercise that puts Caracciolo’s presuppositions to the test and leads him to discover things about experience (his own and literature’s) that he had thought impossible.

A Passion for Specificity, with its personal revelations, unexpected twists, and confrontational style, reads like an epistolary novel, but it is a serious exploration of ideas at the heart of literature and science. It is a thoughtful attempt at advancing the emerging “cognitive humanities,” clarifying a number of core issues in the cross-pollination of literature, psychology, philosophy, and consciousness science.

Marco Caracciolo is Postdoctoral Researcher in the English Department at the University of Freiburg, Germany and author of Experientiality of Narrative: An Enactivist Approach. Russell Hurlburt is Professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and author of Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic.