Homo Ludditus

Less is more and nothing is good enough


Thought experiments suck

Generally speaking, philosophers suck — or at least the contemporary ones, as most of the “classical” philosophers can be considered “naïve” and “having too much time to spend on non-issues” –, but the so-called thought experiments suck the most.

I recently ran over “Mary’s Room” in three places — on ScienceBlogs, on Wikipedia, and in Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Color me stupid but, as with many other thought experiments (the mild term for intellectual masturbation), I fail to see where the sophism (or whatever the problem is) arises!

As she exits her monochrome (with shades of gray) small universe, Mary is allegedly facing this issue:

(1) Mary has all the physical information concerning human color vision before her release.

(2) But there is some information about human color vision that she does not have before her release.


(3) Not all information is physical information.

I totally fail to understand the logic of the above “reasoning”.  What exactly is “physical information”?

Suppose nobody ever dropped anything heavy on your foot, and you only experienced mild pains in your life, but you’re a physician. You have the “theoretical information” about how it is to have a 50 kg hammer dropping on someone’s foot — but unless you physically experience such an event on your own foot, you don’t have all the “physical information” about how such an event is!

Knowing “everything” about having sex is not the same as having sex.

Knowing “everything” about seeing a color is not the same as seeing the color.

Knowing “everything” about childbirth pains is not the same as giving birth.

Mary couldn’t have had “all the physical information concerning human color vision” without having experienced color vision herself! It’s not that experiencing something is not “physical information” — because this is exactly what it is! –, it’s that some information has to be conveyed through the respective nerves, not as a theoretical concept!

Therefore, assertion (1) is false. Mary can’t possibly have etc. etc. in the absence of the colors. From false you can derive anything — so this allegedly paradoxical thought experiment is 100% garbage.

No, really, does someone pay these “philosophers”, as professors, or for their published “works”? They seem to be a bunch of defective Turing machines. I’d rather prefer to have fun with the “classical” ones.

3 thoughts on “Thought experiments suck

  1. R W

    In my translation of “Epiphenomenal Qualia” (Frank Jackson), “physical” is translated with “physikalisch” (relating to physics) instead of “physisch” (relating to bodies). If you do not want to make such a distinction – which is fair, after all the text was written in English where there’s only that one word – then your conclusion may be alright. But the text is also pretty clear that she only knows everything about what happens in the human brain when we perceive color from a very technical point of view. And still she will learn something new, make new experience something she did not know about beforehand when she first sees color. Thus, philosophical physicalism is wrong, is all the author really wants to conclude there.

    Well, I don’t usually deal with Theoretical Philosophy and I do agree that they’re a bunch of circlejerks for the most part :-).

    1. Béranger Post author

      “she only knows everything about what happens in the human brain when we perceive color from a very technical point of view” — what exactly is a “technical point of view”? Does it include the “technical data” about how it is to experience, feel, receive the impulses from the nerves? Can’t be. Sometimes, the physical experiencing is required. So if she still has something to learn, this is only because the initial assertion — that everything “technical” can be known without experiencing the true thing — is false. You really can’t explain a color to a blind person, even if you convey everything that can be conveyed. The intellect cannot replace the senses.

      Of course, this is not philosophy what I’m trying to say, but neither is their play with the words. Can God make a stone so big that He can’t move it? This is playing with words.


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