More Philosophical Nonsense: Mary’s Room

maple treesI ran into this on a short podcast and honestly, I have no idea how philosophers can spout this crap and not see the obvious flaws in their “thought experiments” that I identified in mere seconds.  This is hardly the first time I’ve talked about the utter failure of much of modern philosophy, there are tons of examples of “thought experiments” where anyone with half a brain that looks at the set up can disassemble it quite quickly and easily because the assertions made by philosophers are just downright ridiculous.  Therefore, let’s go take a look at the philosophical argument called “Mary’s Room”.

The concept, thought up by Frank Jackson in 1982, proposes:

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?

Of course, the concept assumes that Mary is a super-genius scientist who is working with every bit of evidence and information possible in making her conclusions about vision.  They they introduce more information, in the form of a color monitor, and expect people not to recognize that all of a sudden, there is an increase in the amount of physical evidence that she’s now been exposed to!  They argue that suddenly, there’s some form of supernatural evidence that has made her see color for the very first time.  That’s absolutely ridiculous, nothing “beyond the physical” happened in this example, she thought she had all the data, she was wrong, she got more physical data and discovered something new!  If you think you have all knowledge, then you leave the room and gain more knowledge, then you didn’t have all knowledge to begin with.  Nothing magical happened!  It’s like saying if you take someone who has been colorblind their entire lives and then you surgically correct whatever the cause of their colorblindness might have been, you’ve done something mystical.  That’s ridiculous.

But this is par for the course for a lot of modern-day philosophers.  They come up with these bizarre ideas, completely fail to recognize what they’re saying and take a sharp left at Albuquerque when it comes to critically thinking about their ideas.  This is especially true of those who claim that somehow, this thought experiment proves physicalism false.  They say that if she learned something new by being exposed to a direct experience of  color, that suddenly, physicalism can’t explain it.  Why not?  It’s not my fault that the whole thing is set up very, very badly, as I’ve already pointed out.  In reality, if Mary walks out of her black and white world into a world of color, the particular wavelengths for color strike her retina, which is interpreted in the brain and experienced by the conscious mind.  All of that is a wholly physical process.  Where is the disproof of physicalism?  How have any of the mechanisms she’s worked out in her black and white room changed, just because she’s gone from seeing only black and white images to color images?  They haven’t!  The whole process works exactly the same, she’s just experiencing a different kind of image than she did before, she’s still experiencing it in the exact same physical way she did before.  There is nothing “beyond the physical” that’s been added.  Sorry, philosophy loses once again.  The kind of twisting and turning that philosophers have to do is absurd.  Even Jackson said:

It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then it is inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.

All of that is just bullshit spread on shit toast.  You cannot claim that she had all the information, then provide more information, and still hold that she always had all the information.  It’s crap, pure and simple.  It could be that this particular thought experiment is just very badly formulated, which may well be the case, but this is exactly the kind of thing that I see modern armchair philosophers noodling their navels over constantly, pretending that they are intellectually superior because they cannot see the clear and logical implications of the arguments.

Yet another reason why I think the vast majority of modern philosophy is shit.

2 thoughts on “More Philosophical Nonsense: Mary’s Room”

  1. Before she even left the room, Mary must've had some lights available to her, so she could do her experiments. She would've seen the color of her skin, and if she had a mirror, her reflection in full color, including the inside of her mouth, her eyes, and so on. The thought experiment barely even got started, when it utterly failed.

    I know a fellow atheist who wanted to start a philosophy meetup. I'm glad it never happened, because I would've been poking holes in similar thought experiments and probably ended up alienating everybody.

    1. That's really the problem with a lot of modern philosophy and a lot of these philosophical mind experiments, they are so utterly ridiculous that anyone with half an analytical mind is going to see right through the concepts that the philosophers are trying to push. This is hardly the first such experiment that I've brought up and completely demolished after spending less than a minute thinking about it. It's why the philosophical masturbation of modern philosophers is so blatantly obvious and completely laughable.

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