Swamp Mary’s Revenge: Deviant Phenomenal Knowledge and Physicalism

I’m pretty happy to be able to announce that I’ve got a paper coming out in Philosophical Studies. It’s “Swamp Mary’s Revenge: Deviant Phenomenal Knowledge and Physicalism” (linked file is a draft. The original publication will be available at www.springerlink.com).

This paper grew out of presentations I made this year at Toward a Science of Consciousness in Tucson and at the University of Cincinnati “Churchlandpalooza“. These talks grew out of discussions from this here blog. See especially Wanted: An Actual Argument for the Knowledge Intuition and Knowledge Intuition Fight Club.

Anyway, have some abstract.

Abstract: Deviant phenomenal knowledge is knowing what it’s like to have experiences of, e.g., red without actually having had experiences of red. Such a knower is a deviant. Some physicalists have argued and some anti-physicalists have denied that the possibility of deviants undermines both anti-physicalism and the Knowledge Argument. The current paper presents new arguments defending the deviant-based attacks on anti-physicalism. Central to my arguments are considerations concerning the psychosemantic underpinnings of deviant phenomenal knowledge. I argue that only physicalists are in a position to account for the conditions in virtue of which states of deviants constitute representations of phenomenal facts.

And here’s why google Image Search is the best thing in the world (from the first page of returns on the search string, “swamp mary”:

There's Swampthing About Mary

There’s Swampthing About Mary from Worth1000.com [link]

3 Responses to “Swamp Mary’s Revenge: Deviant Phenomenal Knowledge and Physicalism”

  1. Eric Thomson says:

    Congrats on all the recent productivity! An interesting paper, which I didn’t fully understand. I had one question. You said:
    It should be immediately obvious that Quotation and Actual Cause are
    unavailable to anyone—physicalist or anti-physicalist—embracing the possibility of deviants. A deviant like Swamp Mary is stipulated to know what it’s like to have a red experience without ever having had a red experience.

    Couldn’t they temper such views a bit to make it more plausible? E.g., the quotation view could say that phenomenal concept RED is obtained when they are able to produce the ‘faint’ copy in the same way someone could that had actually seen red? Swamp Mary still has never seen red, but she can now evoke the ersatz experience of red required for having the concept RED.

  2. Pete Mandik says:

    Hey, Eric! Thanks for the note.

    It sounds to me that the sample view you sketch would fall under what I call in the paper, Nomological.

    Swamp Mary is in a state that isn’t itself an experience of red (thus this isn’t Quotation) and isn’t itself caused by an experience of red (thus this isn’t Actual Cause), but is a state that is able to cause an experience of red (though a faint one). What’s the link to phenomenal redness that sustains the state’s being a representation of phenomenal redness? I’m guessing it’s going to be the counterfactual causal link: it’s a state that would, under certain circumstances like imagination, cause the ignition in Swamp Mary a red quale (though, perhaps a faded one).

    Or maybe this is Descriptive-isomorphism? I don’t know. As you describe it, I’m inspired to think of Swamp Mary’s state as like a blueprint for a faded red quale. How is it that blueprints represent? Like, for instance, the blueprint of a house? Is it that they can cause houses to get built under such-and-such circumstances? Or is it that they describe or are isomorphic to future houses? Either way, blueprints of an unbuilt house can’t be either quotations of (samples of) or causal effects of the house of which they are blueprints.

  3. Eric Thomson says:

    That sounds reasonable. Thanks.