Mary, A Philosopher's Whore of Color and Her Knowledge Problem
Once upon a time, as most fantasies begin, philosopher Frank Jackson sired a bitch named Mary.
Being an asshole, he raised her locked in a room devoid of all color. Likewise being a monomaniac with a point to prove, he drove her education to become a superlative expert on all aspects of color.
The philosophers claim is in a nutshell, Mary knows "all there is to know about color". But she does learn something new - for example how to distinguish a blue ball from a yellow ball - when she leaves the room. Therefore "qualia" and thus consciousness are non-physical realities about mind.
The argument rests on the claim of "knowing all there is to know".
Of course this is a "thought experiment" idealized completely. Mary's "all there is to know" includes not just what we know now, not just what's and about's of the relations and our reactions to color, but everything that literally ever can be known about color including how our eyes and brains interact to interpret it.
So the conundrum seems to be that if Mary already knows everything there is to know, all physical facts that can be correllated to the physical world in one form or another, then that she learns - materially and empirically determinably - something new when leaving her colorless cloister, then the knowledge that she gains on experiencing color for the first time cannot be physical.
This stands with Nagel's bat (already disposed of) as philosophy's defensive moat against the encroachment of material reductionist science on "their" turf of discourse about mind.
But I can easily show that not only is this, like the mangy flier, trivially false, but that it turns out that little Mary now well and eagerly services the cause of us materialists. Frank Jackson may well wish his little tart had never seen daylight, much less color.
Her switch in loyalties lies in what happens when she first experiences color.
Does she learn something new? Damn straight she does. Just as the philosophers say. Does that mean "knowing all there is to know" didn't include what she knows after her color experiences? Yep, they're right here too. Does that mean her new found knowledge is something not physically expressed and instantiated and describable in the same manner as all the books and lectures (presented monochrome black and white) that she previously absorbed?
No. And it's easy to see why.
Suppose Mary's culture and her information was super-tech and with advanced knowledge of the brain and how it develops. Mary's knowledge includes specific and detailed knowledge of how color affects the brain and how the brain interprets color.
So does she, can she know how her own brain interprets color?
No she can't. Not while cloistered. Her brain has never had color experience to interpret. In principle she knows everything about how every individual's brain reacts to color, and how say, an artist's brain enables him to be sensitive and react to different hues of color that most of us could not distinguish. In other words, that there are differences in each and every person's brain based upon their experience and exposure and education on matters regarding color.
But she herself has not been exposed to color. There are no distinctive patterns of connection and chemistry in her brain developed as signifying her experiences with color because she's never had any.
She may well know *exactly* how her brain will change, how fast, what firing patterns will develop immediately, and what synapses will grow and connect and others perish within hours of her exposure. But that knowledge of *what* will happen in her own physical brain does not make those changes in her brain any more than knowing how to do a heart bypass will allow a cardiologist to avoid a coronary if his arteries are blocked. Knowledge of the chemistry of combustion does not let you make a fire by thinking of it!
When she is exposed to color, those firing patterns and synapse changes do occur in her brain, perhaps exactly as she predicted.
Mary's exposure to color creates NEW information in the universe that never before existed. She is physically changed by that experience
The philosopher's argument contains a misdirective fallacy. An implicit ceterus parabus, the assertion that there is no physical change in Mary, which is overtly and demonstrably wrong.
Mary could, in theory really have "known all there is to know about color" while cloistered and still learned something new upon exposure. The knowledge of how she herself perceives color simply did not exist anywhere in the universe until she stepped out. Then, and only then, did that knowledge come into being.
So, as you can see, Mary is no longer a philosopher's fantasy girl for the irreducibility of mind. She is now instead a poster girl for exactly how knowledge is demonstrable as a physical reduction.