Saturday, December 15, 2007

Eliminating Mary's Room

I thought I should post more on 'the knowledge argument' which I alluded to in an earlier entry. This is Frank Jackson's popular argument, know as 'the knowledge argument' or 'Mary's Room', which can be found in his essay "Epiphenomenal Qualia" and "What Mary Didn't Know". Or read about it on Wikipedia. Assuming you're familiar, I'll delve into my criticism from an eliminativist perspective.

First, the argument equivocates on "knows." If we say Mary (really) does know everything about this, then Mary really does know everything about the waveforms of color, and everything about the way color is experienced in the mind. Anything Mary would learn upon leaving the room would be extremely trivial. It would be like a software developer who had written a quick program, and once it runs, it runs exactly the way the developer designed it to. The experience of the program running is a trivial piece of information, since everything that is experienced was already known by the developer.

Second, if this form of argument were a good one, it would prove too much. Suppose for a moment that dualism were at issue here, and consider the claim that there exists a non-physical substance--call it "ectoplasm"--whose hidden constitution and nomic intricacies are what ground the familiar mental phenomena. However much a color-blind ectoplasmologist comes to know about the ectpoplasmic process involved in the experience of color, there will still remain something that he does not know, namely, what it is like to see colors. But why should that ectoplasmic fact be left out? Consequently it begs the question, and we should have eliminated the non-physical ectoplasm from our question from the beginning. It leads us into temptation.

Third, if we say that the mind/brain uses more media of representation than the medium of sentences, and a discursive representation of x within the sentential medium--even an exhaustive representation--will never constitute a representation of x within some more primitive, pre-linguistic medium, as may be found in our sensory cortex. But accordingly, there need not be two distinct things known here: brain states on the one hand and sensory qualia on the other. There are only two distinct ways of knowing (or systems of representing) the very same thing: brain states. Which can be known in total if one knows everything there is to know about them. That statement sounds non-plussed and trivial, but only because it is just as trivial as what Mary would know when she see colors.

Share this: this item Digg this item Facebook this item Reddit this item StumbleUpon this item Yahoo this item

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought the premise of the argument was that she knows everything PHYSICAL about color. If ectoplasm is real, and it were non-physical, then she wouldn't know it. It would merely be proving what the Mary argument attempts to prove.

I think another big problem is that if ectoplasm were non-physical, then it could not affect the physical. But presumably, when Mary left the room and saw color for the first time, she would say "WOW". But saying wow is a physical event. But ectoplasm could not have caused a physical event. So we have the odd conclusion that Mary's experience of color could not cause her surprise at experiencing color.

So isn't the Mary argument self-defeating in that way?