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What Is It Like For Mary To Be A Bat?

1005 words - 5 pages

The doctrine of physicalism is a widely discussed philosophical issue in which the mind-body problem is heavily explored. This controversial topic has left philosophers questioning the relationship between mind and matter, and more specifically, consciousness and the brain. There are a number of arguments supporting either side, but two that are rather compelling are Nagel’s What is it like to be a bat? and Jackson’s What Mary didn’t know. These two objections of physicalism use the subjective aspect of experience to suggest that the mind exists as something separate from the brain. Although both of these objections are a challenge physicalism, Nagel’s argument poses more of a threat to it because of his specific use of bats rather than humans. In this paper, I will be discussing how Nagel’s objection is more damaging to the doctrine of physicalism than Jackson’s.
Objections to Physicalism
In order to discuss how Nagel’s argument is a better refutation to physicalism than Jackson’s, I must outline them both. Nagel’s argument explains that we can never know what it is like to be a bat because of something he calls the subjective character of experience. This means that something can only be conscious if there is something it is like to be that thing, in other words, it has an individual perspective towards its experiences. Nagel states that we cannot know what it is like to be a bat because since they have consciousness, we cannot possibly know what their subjective character of their experiences are, as they cannot be reduced to just a physical state. The same basic conclusion stems from Jackson’s case of Mary. Jackson uses the example that Mary, who has never seen color before, lives in a black and white room and studies the neurophysiology of vision, eventually obtaining all there is to know about the color red. She knows the specific wavelengths that exist in seeing this color, the brain state an individual is in when they see this color, but has not herself seen this color. She then steps out of the room, and finally, sees the color red. Jackson suggests that Mary has learned something new, because she has actually experienced seeing the color. This implies that not all knowledge is just physical knowledge, because although Mary knew all there was to know about the color red, she still gained knowledge from actually experiencing it-Thus refuting physicalism.
Connection to Qualia
These two objections are very similar, in the sense that qualia play an important role in consciousness and how organisms perceive the world around them. However; Nagel’s slight difference between comparing bats and humans rather than comparing humans and humans creates a stronger argument than Jackson’s. For example, let’s say that we were to combine Jackson’s case of Mary with Nagel’s example. Mary studied...

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