I am taking an interesting philosophy course online for free from EDx entitled God, Knowledge and Conciousness. It is introductory and the 1st philosophy course I have ever taken. Since I do like thinking, I am not too surprised that I enjoy this subject even though I can’t fully understand it.
M.I.T. Prof. Caspar Hare is an enthusiastic and energetic teacher. The basic structure of a philosophic argument he says is:
Premise 1 e.g. Animals that fly have wings or equivalent.
Premise 2 e.g. Pigs are animals that do not have wings or equivalent.
Conclusion e.g. Pigs don’t fly.
If it is impossible that the premises be true and the conclusion false, the argument is valid. If the premises are all true then the argument is sound. To attack a philosophical conclusion one must convince the reasonable believer that at least one of the premises is not true or alternatively, convince a non-believer that all the premises are true.
Sounds straight forward?
Our most recent lesson was on physicalists vs. non-physicalists ways of knowing something. Non-physicalists assert that science can never explain everything due to “qualia” – the human experience of finding out what something is like. This is philosophy of the mind.
Mary is a brilliant scientist who is colour blind but can explain everything in the universe in the language of science including the brain state of someone who sees red. In the thought experiment, she is suddenly able to see a tomato is red for the first time. She says “now I know what it’s like to see a red tomato.”. The non-physicalist deems this a “qualia” and says she now has additional non-physical knowledge that she did not have before seeing the red tomato for the first time.
The physicalist says no it is just knowing the same fact in a different way and not new knowledge at all. She already knew what the brain state is of someone who sees a red tomato (since she can describe every possible brain state using the language of science.) Hence she merely “self-identifies” with this knowledge saying I now personally know what it’s like to see a red tomato. It is the same knowledge (the brain state) only she now knows it in a new way. This is the “identity theory” of knowing something.
Another way to illustrate this is as follows. There is a terrible train wreck and Maria wakes up in the hospital in traction with no memory of the accident or who she is. She watches television and hears a report of the accident and that 2 people, Maria from Barcelona and David from Toronto, are in intensive care in this hospital. She asks herself am I Maria or David? When a relative comes in and says hi Maria. She “self-identifies” with the knowledge that she is Maria and from Barcelona. But she already knew Maria is from Barcelona. So there is no new fact here that has to be explained by science simply because she now knows she is Maria. Esoteric stuff.
Well this discussion touched off a lot of angst as many course students felt that the experience of something is indeed different from the prior knowledge of that something. Many of these students in the course are perhaps younger. Younger people it seems, may intensely value their experiences as unique new knowledge they acquire as they go.
I am less inclined to as I age. The truth exists and my acquired knowledge of it through experience, merely confirms or denies it. It is a different way of knowing the truth through experience, not new truth in itself. I say this about my Faith that God exists which has been confirmed through some personal conversion experiences I’ve had.
If I have confused you, you can read up about Frank Jackson, the renouned philosopher who premised qualia as a way of proving science will never be able to describe everything since there are things in this world that are not physical. I think there are better ways to prove that. Stay tuned.