Pristine Inner Experience

The mysteries of the mind

Inner Experience in Bulimia Nervosa

It's not what you think.

In my previous blog ("People don't know the features of their own pristine inner experience") I challenged you to commit to paper a few words about your take on the inner experience of women with bulimia nervosa. (If you didn't jot down your notes already, I recommend that you do so now before you read on.)

Most people (and most of bulimia science) think that bulimic women are preoccupied with weight and shape and the socio-cultural thin ideal. Our research (with Sharon Jones-Forrester and Stephanie Doucette) shows that that is indeed to some degree the case. However, more striking than that is our observation that the inner experience of all 24 (of the 24 bulimic women whose experience we have explored) is characterized by fragmented multiplicity. Here's an example (from Chapter 2 of my book Investigating Pristine Inner Experience: Moments of Truth):

Jessica was watching the TV show Scrubs, a scene in which a skinny blond female doctor walked into a room and all of the male doctors froze and stared at her. As she watched, Jessica was innerly speaking words in two distinctly separate parts of her head. In the front of her head, she was innerly saying, in her own normal speaking voice, the words "blond," "skinny," "guys," and "stare." These words were clearly apprehended as if spoken aloud except there was no external sound. At the same time, in the back part of her head, she was also saying, in another inner voice, "Why is it that movies and TV shows always have," "girls for," "to," and "at." These words were also apprehended as being said in her own inner voice, but this voice was quieter. At the moment of the beep, these two voice streams were not temporally coordinated or synchronized; that is, both the front/louder and the back/softer voices were simultaneously speaking jumbles of words like pieces of a puzzle. If one were to combine the puzzle pieces from both streams and arrange them in order, one would get, "Why is it that movies and TV shows always have blond skinny girls for guys to stare at?" but at the moment of the beep Jessica did not experience that coherent sentence - that meaning was fragmented across the two simultaneous voice jumbles.
      Simultaneously, Jessica was recalling perhaps eight or ten separate scenes from movies or TV shows in which skinny blond girls were featured, a jumble of incompletely articulated thoughts that somehow existed in a pile or heap outside and behind her head. There were no words, visual images, or other symbols in these recallings.

That is a strikingly complex bit of experience, and it is not unusual for Jessica: roughly half of her waking moments involved some sort of complex experience. Here's something even more striking: Jessica herself did not know that her own experience was complex. Do the math: Let's say that each of her experiences lasts a few seconds; that's roughly 20 experiences per minute × 60 minutes × 16 hours = 20,000 experiences per day. If roughly half of those experiences are fragmentedly multiple, that's 10,000 multiple experiences per day or 3,000,000 per year.

Jessica did not know about the complexity of her experience! Therefore she did not tell her friends, or her therapist, or any bulimia scientist. And Jessica is typical, we think, of women with bulimia nervosa.

By complex, we mean explicitly targeted at more than one separate thing at a time. This is not complex: I'm thinking that my boyfriend is a jerk and simultaneously feeling angry. This is complex: I'm thinking that my boyfriend is a jerk and simultaneously wondering whether there is MSG in Fritos.

Let's call this Jessica's paradox: She has millions of complexly multiple fragmented experiences and yet she doesn't know that she has complexly multiple fragmented experiences.

Show of hands, please: How many jotted down something like, "Bulimic women have complexly multiple fragmented inner experience"?

More about Jessica's paradox next time.

 

Russell T. Hurlburt is a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is the author of many books including Investigating Pristine Inner Experience: Moments of Truth. more...

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