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Customer Review

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but where are the neuro-scientists?, June 6, 2011
This review is from: There's Something About Mary: Essays on Phenomenal Consciousness and Frank Jackson's Knowledge Argument (Bradford Books) (Hardcover)
While the book does a great job of collecting the views of the major current philosophers on this topic, it didn't address possibly what to me is the most interesting paper to date on this subject. I speak of the 1998 paper by V. S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein--"Three Laws of Qualia: What Neurology Tells Us about the Biological Functions of Consciousness, Qualia and the Self."

In this paper the authors pose a convincing explanation for the knowledge problem. They argue that the epistemological barrier is only apparent, is essentially one of language, and the experience itself is lost in the translation. They imply that Mary never had all the physical facts as her brain never went into that configuration of neurons that mean the person is experiencing or seeing the color red, and that had Mary had available to her a "neuron bridge" through which this purely physical configuration was made available to her, only then could we reasonable say she had all the physical facts known to her. In other words, an important physical fact of the color red for a human includes the way the neurons in our brain configure on seeing red.

The omission of this paper and also of any discussion of this paper, which was published in a very well known journal, about six years before the date of publication of this book, is a surprising, puzzling, and serious omission. For this reason I only give this book three stars--many of the papers are rendered moot in my opinion as they fail to account for the very understandable, commonsense concept above, proposed by Ramachandran and Hisrstein. All the papers in the volume are authored exclusively by philosophers and in this day and age, this kind of silofication on a topic, particularly in the cognitive sciences, should be a thing of the past.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 16, 2015 12:41:53 AM PDT
I completely agree with your sentiment on both the omission of an Article that expanded on Dr. Jackson's original Piece in profound ways and the omission of Pieces authored by Cognitive Scientists. It's rather disheartening that the discipline of Philosophy (obviously the entire Field is not represented by this sole Publication, but The MIT Press has an undeniable influence, one that, in many ways, has a great deal of responsibility for trends in Philosophy, and especially in the sub-fields of Cognitive Psychology, Folk Psychology, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Mind, and Consciousness) is not drawing on experts in other Fields that may aid to resolutions in current philosophical controversies.

I thought that to include a link to the aforementioned Article would be a good thing, though I of course claim no rights to ownership.

Posted on Sep 19, 2015 10:16:59 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 19, 2015 10:17:40 PM PDT
Eric M. Van says:
Well, the reason the terrific Ramachandran paper (thank you for pointing it out!) is not in this volume is that only about 2% of it (1/2 of 26 pages) is devoted to a discussion of Jackson's Knowledge Argument, and a variation of it at that. It would be off-topic.

If no philosopher has subsequently taken note of it, that's an indictment of the field, but not of this book! And it's not generally a problem with the field; I think it's fair to say that the Knowledge Argument has especially attracted the interest of those philosophers of consciousness least interested in neuroscience. In fact, their discussions about the meaning of "knowledge" constitute one of the few places where the philosophy of consciousness devolves into the sort of semantic quibbling over concepts that gives scientists migraines.

I'm not sure it's fair to knock two stars off a book for accurately covering a *field of human inquiry* that deserves three stars ... although I think four stars would be justified.
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