of the Mind
Frank Jackson and Physicalism
Frank Jackson begins his article by writing about what he feels to be a fatal flaw in physicalism. He writes a story about a girl named Mary who is raised in a black-and-white room. In this room Mary was taught everything there is to know about the physical world. The only catch is she learned only from media, which was black-and-white, so she knows nothing of the colors outside this room. After learning everything about the physical world, she is then given the chance to see color. She will then “learn” what color is in the world. For this reason Jackson believes physicalism to be false.
Jackson contends that if physicalism were true, Mary would know what a color looks like before she would ever see that color. This, however, is false since Mary could not possibly know what the color looks like before exposure to it. It is impossible for any person to imagine what a color looks like before they see any color at all. Jackson writes, “imagination is a faculty that those who lack knowledge need to fall back on.”
Another argument against physicalism posed by Jackson is that any knowledge Mary did not have upon seeing color for the first time is the knowledge about the experiences of others. The problem with this for physicalism is that fact Mary would realize how mistaken her knowledge of other’s conceptions has been. Even though Mary would have known all of the neurological processes in a person’s mind, she would not have known the person’s actual experience involved in the process. There would also be facts she did not know about objects, but she would know all physical facts about them. For this reason it is not any experience the object may have, but a fact about the object itself.
In the article the main point seems to be the fact that, for example, Mary would see red for the first time she would be learning something. However, physicalism is not threatened merely by the fact Mary learns something. The factor disproving physicalism is the fact Mary learns something new about the object that is red. For example she can see a tomato is now read. Her teachings showed her all physical attributes to the tomato and she would know everything about it. The problem is that she had no idea what red was until she saw red, therefore she did not know everything physical about the tomato. If physicalism were true, Mary would have known exactly what the red tomato looked like before she saw it, including the redness it displayed.
After reading the Jackson article I have concluded that I agree with the points being made against physicalism. The example that I believe disproves physicalism is trying to explain a color or taste to someone who lacks the sense to experience them. A person may know everything about how a color is perceived and what frequency the light is that produces a color such as orange. Now if this person says everything they know about orange to a person who is blind, how could they possibly know what orange looks like. It would be entirely impossible for a blind person to see orange, even though they know all physical properties. If you even just imagine how you would explain a color, you can not think of how to explain what it may be like to perceive that color.
In conclusion, even though we live in a primarily physical world, physical knowledge does not explain everything. It is necessary to have experiences to have a complete knowledge. All of the physical knowledge possible does not explain everything in this world. This is the reason physicalism cannot be a complete explanation of the human mind.