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.

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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?…

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David Rosenthal: Consciousness | Who Shaves the Barber? #29

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Continuing my discussion with philosopher of mind David Rosenthal, we now focus on consciousness itself. There are two plausible theories, says Rosenthal: that consciousness is an “inner sense” or that it is a kind of thought. He argues for the latter, claiming that awareness is a “higher order thought”: that is, a thought about a mental state. When we are conscious, according to Rosenthal’s theory, all that’s going on is that we are having a thought about the mental state we are in. Notice that, since you’re not usually having a thought about your own awareness (unless you’re a philosopher), your consciousness is not itself usually conscious. He fills out the details of this theory and defends it against some objections.

Rosenthal spends the second half of the episode arguing that consciousness has little to no utility. He speculates as to why this idea seems so intuitively repugnant, and as to why we might have developed consciousness despite its lack of utility.

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Next week: Daniel Howard: Philosophical Novels and Relativism

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

0:45 – Conscious versus unconscious perception
4:45 – Awareness: inner sense
6:06 – Awareness: higher order thought
15:19 – Regress of higher order thought?
17:32 – Disposition to higher order thoughts
22:13 – Consciousness has little or no utility
29:12 – Why did we develop consciousness if it’s not useful?…

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