In what I hope will be a regular series, I want to think about a new philosophical question each Friday. This isn’t stuff I’ve thought about deeply or for a long time, so please feel free to make suggestions or corrections.
I listen to the Philosophy Bites podcast, when I’m driving long-distance or taking flights. I came to it only last year, so I’m listening back through its back-catalog.
I was listening to an old episode this week on physicalism (David Papineau on Physicalism).
It was very interesting because I had largely written off cartesian-style dualism (the idea that the mind, or some part of it, is non-physical). I therefore didn’t expect to hear that it was a live idea in philosophy of mind.
I’d like to present one argument from the podcast that I found very difficult to be convinced by, although I can’t clearly articulate why. It is apparently a famous argument (though I hadn’t heard it) by Frank Jackson. Maybe you can be clearer, or maybe you find it a slam-dunk argument for the existence of a non-physical mind!
Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’. […] What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not?
What was really depressing was that I found the interviewee’s argument against this thought experiment completely unconvincing too.
I should say that actually, I have a duallistic ontology of the world, but it is not a (mind/spirit/soul)-body dualism. But that’s a subject for another post! 🙂