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« Anthony Grayling on Atheism | Main | Timothy Williamson on Vagueness »

August 07, 2007


Tom Clark

Thanks for posting these. Some likely mistaken thoughts:

Papineau says that Mary acquires a new concept of the experience of seeing something red, in that she can in her imagination reproduce the (less vivid) experience of red, and thus think about the experience in that way, as opposed to thinking about it in scientific terms.

But I'd suggest what Mary really acquires is a new-for-her representation of red objects, that realized by a new-in-her neural process, and it's that *neural process* that she previously only knew about in scientific terms. She doesn't acquire a new concept *about* seeing red, rather she instantiates seeing red for the first time. That is, she represents red objects in her neurally realized color state space for the first time.

The experience of red, even when recreated in the imagination, is about red objects, not about itself. When Mary thinks about experiencing red, it's then that she deploys concepts that have as their referent the experience of red.

True, when I think about experiencing red, I might in the process recreate the experience in my imagination, but that's not to refer to my experience of red using a concept, but to actually experience red.

I wonder if we can in fact have concepts that refer to basic individual qualia. We certainly have concepts of the *category* red, blue, pain, sweet, etc. since there are many different but related experiences that fall within these categories. But as to each individual member of the set, I'm not sure.


Tom Clark
Center for Naturalism

Christine McCombs

I am rather new to philosophy and have a few questions and or thoughts. He mentions that our arm is moved by the various chains of events leading up to it moving. The way muscles work is a generally accepted theory of sliding filaments. Mind you, however we cannot watch a muscle work at a molecular level without it dying before we reach for our microscope. The neurons that generate these electrical impulses that reach our muscles we can trace up to two locations (so to speak). The first being the white matter in our spinal cord, the second being our brains. Our brain handles conscious movement, and the white matter in our spine handles our reflex activity (draws our hands away from fire before the thought can reach our brains). But here is where we draw a distinction between conscious thought and unconscious thought. I'm pretty sure what Mr. Papineau is saying is that for something to cause change in the physical realm, it has to be caused by something in the physical realm. If our spines have preprogrammed thoughts to handle our situations in which our conscious (and slower) brains cannot, then we have to be born with this ability even though we have not yet experienced it. The structure and function of all white matter is the same where ever it is located. It is (supposedly) white matter that allows us to think. We don’t know how, but we can measure its activity. We know that a storm of electrical activity in our frontal/pre-frontal cortex can cause amnesiac events thus proving that our thoughts can be turned on and off somehow like a switch based on this particular brain activity. But if physicalism is true then what is causing our thoughts? Doesn't that kind of devalue our thoughts? I would like to think my thoughts are mine and I have control over them but if I did, wouldn't that be self-causation? Considering other white matter acts to protect us, are all my thoughts merely just trying to protect me from something? Yes, I am aware we have an amygdala that allows us to feel but it is supposedly controlled by the white matter in our brain. Are all of my emotions trying to protect me as well? Considering my conscious thoughts often take risks that based on knowledge that my brain is supposed to be storing, do my thoughts and my brain know each other? Do you think they would like each other knowing I smoke a pack a day? Sure I can communicate and reason outside of protecting myself because I am not an animal (Thank You Ayn Rand), but if physicalism is true, I might as well be an animal. All I would be capable of is protecting myself. I really would like to think that my thoughts aren't some arbitrary nuisance to my brain and body but it's not like I can think subconscious thoughts and ask it's opinion of me. I am stuck on the fact that there must be another way to explain this. My whole life can't be some epic battle between thoughts and consciousness’s. "I" got to be in there somewhere. Our thoughts and brains cannot exist without each other. But do they exist with each other? Being an atheist (I’m very devout in my non-beliefs), I don’t believe in the eternal soul, or that we have a reason for being here. But I do believe that WE ARE here.

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