What Do We Observe When We Observe Experience?


  • Neža Brezovnik University of Ljubljana


Introduction, Method and Results

Subjective experience is a research domain with a distinctive characteristic: the act of observing experience is another experience. This means that we cannot even presume to be able to understand experience as ‘it is’; we can only speak about the experience as it is manifested through gesture of observation. In other words, a way how we attend to experience in a reflection affects what ends up being observed. A sum of characteristics of the gesture of reflection is called the horizon [1]. Since itself also forms an element of experience, it can be phenomenologically investigated [1]. We believe that in order to understand experiental reports (and especially in order to compare reports from different individuals), it is essential to understand through what kind of horizon they were manifested. In our ongoing research, we are aiming to identify individual-specific horizons of reflection.

The presupposition behind our research design is that experiental modalities most frequently (habitually) attended by an individual can present a good indication of an individual’s horizon of reflection. In the study, we included 12 (6 women) students of Cognitive science at the University of Ljubljana. All the participants attended a First-person research course, which means that they were at least minimally familiar with the techniques of reporting on experience. During the four-month longitudinal research, 60 experiental samples were gathered according to the descriptive experience sampling method [3]- participants were sampled at random times and instructed to record experiences the last moment before the sampling. We conducted qualitative analyses in which we tried to identify habitual experiental modalities, most often resorted to by each individual. The results were surprising. We found out that most of the participants, when asked about their experience tend to check out the experiental quality of their thinking – the experiental modalities mainly analysed by R. Hurlburt and therefore often discussed in lectures of the course.


The conclusion can be drawn that the particular method used in the research and discussed during the course had a major impact on the way participants reflect on their experience. We, therefore, didn’t so much identify particular horizons of reflection but more the horizon of DES method. We find gathered results potentially useful for future empirical phenomenological research. Namely, further work in identifying horizons of different methods could enable us to compare now very dissipated data; and build a unified repository of human experience.


[1] U. Kordeš and E. Demšar, “Horizons of becoming aware: Constructing a pragmatic- epistemological framework for empirical first-person research,” Phenom Cogn Sci, vol. 20, 2021.

[2] N. Depraz, F. Varela, P. Vermersch, “On Becoming Aware: A pragmatics of experiencing,” Advances in Consciousness Research, vol. 43, 2003.

[3] R. T. Hurlburt, “Investigating Pristine Inner Experience,” 2011.