David Papineau: Mary’s Room | Who Shaves the Barber? #39

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Mary has lived her entire life in a black and white room. In that room, she learned everything there is to know about the neurophysiology of perception. She knows everything that happens in the brain when a person sees a blue sky. One day, Mary leaves the black and white room and sees the blue sky. Has Mary learned something new?

Frank Jackson posed this famous thought experiment as a challenge to physicalists, such as David Papineau, who argue that qualitative experiences are identical to brain states. If this is really so, the argument goes, Mary isn’t learning anything new, since she already knew everything about the relevant brain states. But she does seem to learn something new: what it’s actually like to see blue. In this interview, Papineau addresses this challenge and explains why he thinks that, despite our intuitions to the contrary, qualitative experiences are simply neural states under a different description.

Be sure to listen to the first half of this interview, where David explains Russellian monism and the causal argument.

Next week: T.K. Coleman: Sacramental Christianity

If you’re interested in Mary’s Room and qualia, check out this interview with David Rosenthal.



Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Topics discussed

1:20 – Mary’s room
3:21 – Mary discovers a new concept for the same thing
6:46 – Phenomenal concepts as revelatory
10:37 – Russellian monism again
17:46 – Being like something
19:47 – Ontology of different concepts
32:36 – Aspect of the brain state?


David Papineau (homepage)
Naturalism and Physicalism” (David Papineau)
Epiphenomenal Qualia” (Frank Jackson)

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