Last Updated 06 Jul 2020

Jackson’s Knowledge Argument

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Essay type Argumentative
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Dualism is the theory that our world is not entirely physical but is made up of mind and matter, therefore uggesting the mind is not the brain (brain is matter, the mind is a separate entity). Cartesian Dualism states: Each mind is an immaterial substance capable of independent existence. The characteristic property of this substance is thought. The physical world is a material substance, capable of independent existence. The characteristic property of this substance is extension (taking up space). (Lecture 1, DCT). Monism, in contrast to dualism states that the mind and brain are unified, and that there is no division between the two.

Those who support monism believe that there is only one reality. Physicalism is a kind of monism as it is the belief that different approaches to the mind-body problem, let us look at the knowledge argument by Frank Jackson, who theorises that physicalism is false. Jackson describes two thought experiments to support his anti-physicalism theory. The first centres around Mary, a brilliant scientist who is confined to a black and white room, who learns everything through black and white, including a black and white television.

Mary is an expert in the neurophysiology of vision learns all the physical information about what happens to the brain when we see colour. Jackson (1982, p. 30) states: "She discovers, for example, Just which wave-length combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of vocal chords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence "The sky is blue". When Mary leaves the room, and sees the colour red for the first time, Jackson raises the question of whether Mary will learn anything or not.

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Jackson claims that yes indeed Mary does, because she is having a new visual experience that she has not had before, despite having all the physical information prior to this. Jackson (1982, p. 130) goes on "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". Jackson believes that qualia has been left out of this story. qualia relates to our own subjective experiences.

When I see a colour, smell a perfume, I am subjected toa conscious experience that is only relevant to me, no one else can experience these sensations the way I do. The following thought experiment in Jackson's paper explains this further. Fred, presented with a bunch of ripe tomatoes, separates them n to two groups. Fred has better colour vision than anyone else, but manages to separate the tomatoes into two groups, redl and red2. Whilst we may categorise all the tomatoes as simply red, Fred sees clearly two different types of red, in the way we would distinguish yellow from green.

Suppose we know all about Fred's physiology and discover is a super ability to separate colours on the red spectrum, it does not actually tell us what it is like to see colour from Fred's perspective, or his colour experience. No amount of physical information about Fred can tell us what it is like o see colours in the same way as Fred does. Furthermore, if we were to implant Fred's brain into another beings body, it still would not tell us anything about Fred's conscious experience of seeing red at this present moment in time.

Thomas Nagel's paper What is it like to be a bat? reinforces the theory that physicalism leaves something out. If we look at physicalism objectively, for example, look at the facts about Marys physiology that enable to her to see, we can know what happens to the optic nerve and retina when Mary sees colour, or light, but her experience of seeing he colour red is a subjective one. This experience is told from the first person point of view, therefore Nagel suggests that we cannot be objective about other people's experiences.

Nagel (1974, p. 426) describes how we can we observe the physicality of bats: "Now we know that most bats (the microchiroptera, to be precise) perceive the external world primarily by sonar, or echolocation, detecting the reflections, from objects within range, of their own rapid, subtly modulated, high frequency shrieks". There is nothing about a bat's senses that are like ours, and while we can imagine hat it may be like to be another human being, we cannot imagine what it is like to our imagination.

As we do not have experience of being a bat our imagination is therefore limited. It is within my capabilities to mimic a bat's behaviour, eat insects, hang upside down, imagine myself flying, but I cannot share the same experiences as a bat as only a bat knows what it is like to have these experiences. One of the main physicalist responses to Jackson's knowledge argument is to agree that Mary does learn something new when she leaves the black and white room. Physicalists say hat Mary has gained a new ability rather than a new fact.

Remember that Mary possessed all physical information before she left the room. Another physicalist view is that Mary is experiencing a mental state that is a result of the physical impact on her brain when she sees colour. The mental state that happens to Mary is seen as a brain state and therefore deemed to be physical. She already has the knowledge how to see colour but not necessarily knowledge that. Knowledge that is knowing that Paris is the capital of France, whilst knowledge how is knowing how to play the piano.

Mary knows how to recognise colour. There is also the matter of causal closure which relates to every physical event having a physical cause. For example, if you bang your toe, is a physical event, which activates the mental state of pain, and to make the decision to hold on to your toe is also a mental state, however it results in your holding your toe, which is a physical event. This physicalist argument is a strong one, but no matter which way we look at the mind-body problem no one can have your conscious experiences.

There can be countless thought experiments but each subject will see or feel things differently. Philip Goff (2013) states: "Physicalism is a grand and ambitious project, but there is a thorn in its side: consciousness. The qualities each of us encounters in our conscious experience - the feeling of pain, the sensations of biting into a lemon, what it's like to see red - stubbornly refuse to be incorporated into the physicalist's all-encompassing vision of the universe. Consciousness seems to be the one bit of left-over magic that refuses to be physicalised.

And it's all the fault of the zombies". Goff calls these zombies philosophical (or p-zombies) as they are not supposed to e the zombies that we see in films, it is a zombie that is used in philosophical thought experiments. If your zombie, was opened up, everything about its brain structure would be identical with yours. The thing that the zombie would lack is conscious experience. It might scream when it is stabbed with a knife, but it is because it is programmed to do so, its reactions will not coincide with feelings of pain of pleasure.

Goff, talking about zombies summarises this point "However, your zombie twin has no inner experience: there is nothing that it's like to be your zombie twin. It's screaming and running away when stabbed isn't accompanied by a feeling of pain. Its smiles are not accompanied by any feeling of pleasure". Goff puts forward an excellent argument to those who identify brain states with conscious states. He talks about what happens in the brain when you are in pain.

If a brain surgeon was to open you up to see what is going on in your head if you had been stabbed with a knife they would see c-fibres firing, but they would not see that you are in pain and the c-fibres are firing, they could see what is happening physically but your conscious xperience of pain would not be visible. Goff (2013) explains: "to say that the feeling of pain is identical with c-fibres firing in your brain, is to say that pain - the thing you sees when she looks in your head after youVe had the knife stuck in you - are one and the same thing.

It is to say that we don't have two things - pain and c-fibres firing - but one thing with two labels" Furthermore, if your zombie was opened up and a brain surgeon wanted to observe their brain activity after being stabbed by a knife, again they would observe the c-fibres firing, but there would be the absence of the onscious experience of pain. If you stab your zombie it will create a physical event, with a physical response but you cannot know what it is like to be your zombie, in the same way that your zombie cannot know what it is like to be you.

Your zombie cannot be the same as you physically and consciously as you can only be one person. I do not believe that it is possible to completely resolve the mind-body problem. I am inclined to lean towards Jackson's point of view that we cannot perceive the colour red from Marys point of view. Not only can we not perceive things visually, if Mary ad been colour blind but gained knowledge how to perceive colours through touch or other senses, it would still be true to say that her experience would be a subjective one.

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