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Problem of Qualia

Philosophy of Mind


Recall that qualia are internal not external Pains, colors, and tastes are not properties of objects in the world outside of the mind They are representations that exist inside the mind The external world is detected by our senses and then represented within our mind [draw diagram] Physicalists are happy with this because there is still the possibility to explain qualia by looking at what the brain does.

How do we know that our representations are the same? Is it possible that we have inverted spectra? [explain]

If our brains all worked the same, surely we should all experience the same colors, sounds, pains, etc when encountering objects in the external world But we don’t know! The physicalist is in trouble now, because if physicalism was true, then we should now. Qualia are private, difficult to describe, and only knowable to the experiencer.

This leads to the obvious question: Is the blueness of blue in the brain? We have seen that it is not in the outside world, so it must be in the mind. But what is the mind? Is it the brain?

No! There is no box filled with blue color in the brain. All we find in the brain is millions of neural connections firing simultaneously in response to the wavelengths of EM radiation. So it seems that color is something non-physical, that is not explained by physics.

There is no color in the external world, just EM radiation

There is no color in the brain, just neural patterns
So, if color is not found in the external world and it cannot be found in the brain, it seems that color is something non-physical. Color might be some sort of thing that is not explainable by physics. In other words, dualism might be true. The mind might be more than the brain.


Imagine that this brain is expanded in size so that you can walk around inside… Take a look at the neurons, run your hand along the dendrites, disrupt a synaptic signal.

Walk through the visual cortex, and explore. As you explore this interesting realm, no-where do you find anything that resembles the BLUENESS of BLUE. In fact, you can’t find anything that resembles any conscious experience at all.

Mary, the colorblind scientist
A thought experiment… an argument against physicalism
[Outline Mary the colorblind scientist]

Mary, the colorblind scientist
A thought experiment. Although Mary knows everything about how color works, she doesn’t know everything about color. There is something missing from the physical explanation of color--namely, how it feels.

Mary, the colorblind scientist
OBJECTION 1: We could end the thought experiment this way: Mary leaves her room and looks at the blue sky for the first time and says “Yes, that’s exactly what I thought it would look like”

The thought here is that if Mary truly knew every physical thing about how color works, then she would be able to imagine what it looks like. The only reason the thought experiment is so compelling is because of our incomplete understanding of the physical universe.

Mary, the colorblind scientist
OBJECTION 2: There is a difference between “Knowing that” and “Knowing how” Mary knows all the facts about color, but does not know how to see color. It’s the same as someone knowing all the facts about riding a bicycle, but has never ridden one. They don’t know how to do it even though they know all the rules and facts about it.

Mary, the colorblind scientist
OBJECTION 3: Mary knows that she will get a surprise when she sees color for the first time. Suppose the brain needs to experience color before it can encode the way it will appear. Colors need to be looked at lots of times before the brain learns how to see them. People need to learn how to see colors.

Is your red the same as my red – short video


Is Dualism False?

So what would it mean if dualism is false? No soul. This life is it, we must hold on to it for as long as we can…

“Do not go gentle into that good night…
Rage, Rage against the dying of the light”

Powerpoint by BRENT SILBY Produced at UPT Christchurch, New Zealand

Quote from “Do not go gentle into that good night” - Dylan Thomas 1951