The Serpent and the Rainbow

If you know that you are not a zombie, then phenomenal character is conceptual and inverted spectra (color qualia being inverted relative to your conceptualizations) are impossible.

Regarding the supposition that you know that you are not a zombie, I interpret this as meaning that you know that you now have states with phenomenal character or qualia. It is useful to compare this kind of knowledge to more ordinary cases of knowing that something is the case. Take for example, my knowing that there is a dog in the room. In order for me to know this, there must be some set of properties that the dog has and that I am able to conceptualize. I can be relatively neutral on exactly which conceptualizations will get the job done. Maybe my conceptualization is that there’s a four-legged furry barker in the room. Maybe my conceptualization is that there’s a domesticated wolf-descendant in the room. Maybe my conceptualization is simply that there’s a dog in the room. But however it goes, there must be some set of properties of the dog (e.g. being domesticated, being wolfish) and I must have some set of concepts adequate for the accurate representation of those properties (e.g. the concept of domestication, the concept of wolves).

Now, my knowledge that I now have states with phenomenal character is seldom if ever analogous to the case in which I simply conceive of the dog as a dog. I am not now simply conceiving of myself as having phenomenal states. There are specific phenomenal states that I conceive myself as having. As I type this note and take breaks to sip coffee there’s a whole slew of qualia that I conceive my states as having. In particular, I conceive myself as seeing my coffee mug as being blue. I have a blue quale and am able to conceptualize it as such. I reject, then, the statement that there is no absolute correct orientation of the color spectrum. I think there is. It involves conceptualizing a blue quale as blue and a yellow quale as yellow and so forth.

Now, if qualia are distinct from my conceptualizations, as they would need to be if inverted spectra are possible, then it would be theoretically possible for my qualia to become inverted without my noticing. My quale that I currently conceptualize as blue would actually be yellow and vice versa. My current conceptualization as having a blue quale would be false, then. And it would be false without my noticing. Further, if qualia are distinct from my conceptualizations, I could have all the same conceptualizations without having any qualia at all, and my belief that I’m not a zombie would be false. If it’s possible for my belief that I’m not a zombie to be false, then I can’t know that I’m not a zombie. Thus does self-knowledge of non-zombie-hood lead to the impossibility of inverted spectra.

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4 Responses to “The Serpent and the Rainbow”

  1. mt says:

    You lose me at knowledge of the dog. First of all, it’s not a dog until the fat lady sings, and she never will–it could be a robot, it could have chinchilla DNA, you can always approach the dog and otherwise investigate more closely/deeply/authoritatively. Second, you have no fixed set of dog-knowing principles you could articulate, and so reflecting on your conviction that you see a dog never yields proof or certainty, only more confidence. If “knowing a dog” refers to anything besides bestiality I’d say it’s a set of qualia or a feeling you identify as knowing a dog.

  2. Pete Mandik says:

    I don’t quite see what the relevance of your dog skepticism is supposed to be. I’m trying to spell out what would follow from the supposition that one knows that one has qualia by drawing an analogy to what would follow from knowing that there is a dog in the room.

    So you don’t want to grant that anyone knows that there’s a dog in the room. So what? Is there any proposition that anyone knows the truth of? If so, the argument still can go through. If not, have fun with your global skepticism and don’t let anyone catch you claiming to know anything.

  3. mt says:

    O.K. , I could believe my point was irrelevant. I don’t know the inverted spectrum test, only vaguely what “zombies” and “qualia” refer to, and doubt I know what you really mean from beginning to end. I thought I’d spotted a flaw that released me from having to try to make sense of it.

  4. Pete Mandik says:

    One interesting issue that contemplation of skeptical resistance to this argument raises is the issue of just how essential appeal to knowledge is in my argument and whether I might instead make do with simply true belief.

    The points raised concerning the requirement of concepts of properties had by the dog could made in terms of “true belief” just as well as “knowledge”. So, if one is to have the true belief that there’s a dog in the room, then one has to have concepts that pick out properties that the dog actually has.

    However, by the time we get to the last paragraph, in particular this part: “If it’s possible for my belief that I’m not a zombie to be false, then I can’t know that I’m not a zombie.” Then it looks like appeal to knowledge is playing a role that mere true belief can’t. Consider that if we replace “know” with “have the true belief” in the quoted sentence, then we go from something plausible to something plainly false.