The Mind Body Problem, By Thomas Nagel

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Consciousness, Thomas Nagel states, “is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable.” Here he refers particularly to phenomenal consciousness, which Block defines as “perceptual experiences,” and Nagel describes as “something that it is to be.’ This experiential element appears to present a challenge to the physicalist assertion that all mental processes are explicable in terms of physical brain states, biochemical reactions and the laws of physics. Frank Jackson presents this argument in his 1982 thesis Epiphenomenal Qualia. Whilst Jackson’s argument occupies a seminal position in philosophy of mind, whether he adds anything new to knowledge of the nature of conscious experience, is debateable. Thomas Nagel’s What is it like to…show more content…
He presents Mary, a scientist who focusses on colour processing in the brain, whilst having never left a black and white room, or experienced colour. Jackson’s argument rests on the premise that upon seeing colour she will learn something new, and given that she knew everything there was to know about the physical world, there must be epiphenomenal qualia which physicalism fails to explain. Brian Loar rejects Jackson’s conclusion on the basis that he has misinterpreted Mary’s learning. He suggests the knowledge she acquires is merely “new concepts of the same properties that she learned about before her release,” and not necessarily proof of ‘non physical’ knowledge. Arguably, Jackson’s aim is too rigid to add anything considerable to knowledge of the nature of consciousness. All it requires to be discredited is that one of its premises be disproven, which predisposes it to destruction in a way that Nagel’s more circumspect argument does not. Furthermore, how can we accept an argument as useful whose advocate later completely abandoned his view and reverted to a physicalist position? Nagel’s argument is harder to refute, owing to its lack of definitive conclusion. Nevertheless, its effectiveness remains debateable. It is interesting that he embraces the incomprehensibility of
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