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The Emergence of the Modern Concept of Introspection: A Quantitative Linguistic Analysis

I. Raskovsky, D. Fernandez Slezak, C.G. Diuk and G.A. Cecchi
Young Investigators Workshop on Computational Approaches to Languages of the Americas: Proceedings of the Workshop, June 6, 2010, pgs. 68-75.


The evolution of literary styles in the western tradition has been the subject of extended research that arguably has spanned centuries. In particular, previous work has conjectured the existence of a gradual yet persistent increase of the degree of self-awareness or introspection, i.e. that capacity to expound on one's own thought processes and behaviors, reflected in the chronology of the classical literary texts. This type of question has been traditionally addressed by qualitative studies in philology and literary theory. In this paper, we describe preliminary results based on the application of computational linguistics techniques to quantitatively analyze this hypothesis. We evaluate the appearance of introspection in texts by searching words related to it, and focus on simple studies on the Bible. This preliminary results are highly positive, indicating that it is indeed possible to statistically discriminate between texts based on a semantic core centered around introspection, chronologically and culturally belonging to different phases. In our opinion, the rigurous extension of our analysis can provide not only a stricter statistical measure of the evolution of introspection, but also a means to investigate subtle differences in aesthetic styles and cognitive structures across cultures, authors and literary forms.