Something else about Mary the neuroscientist

After writing my recent post about Sue Barry, the real-life example of Frank Jackson's Mary the neuroscientist, I received a very interesting email from... Sue Barry. Prof. Barry's email was generous and insightful, and I felt fortunate that she took the time to write me. I just wanted to mention a couple other striking things (for philosophers, at least) about her case, which came up in both her email to me and the NPR story about her that (at least here in Pittsburgh) was broadcast a day or two after my original post.

1. Sue had studied descriptions of what stereoscopic vision was like before she acquired it herself. She thought, back then, that she could imagine (at least roughly) what having stereoscopic vision was like. After getting such vision, though, she discovered that what she imagined it was like was completely different from the actual experience.

2. In describing the difference between her previous and current visual perceptions, Sue says that she can now perceive space, whereas she (now realizes that she) couldn't before. This strikes me as interesting, because we (and here I mean both philosophers working on particular problems in epistemology and philosophy of mind, as well as non-philosophers) usually think of the objects of perception as things, or attributes of things, or the like. (Consider: 'What do you see?' Compare "I see an apple" with "I see space".)

Finally, one thing that comes out clearly in the New Yorker article, the NPR story, and the email is that Prof. Barry is a generous, magnanimous person -- and that she is now getting a great deal of pleasure from an aspect of her perceptual system that most of us take for granted.



Happy birthday

This blog started one year ago today. Blogging has actually been a more rewarding experience than I expected, mostly because it's put me in contact with smart and interesting folks (in both cyberspace and meatspace) that I otherwise would not have met. It's repeatedly been extremely helpful to hear other people's reactions to what's bouncing around inside my head.

I'm not sure what the future holds for Obscure and Confused Ideas. On the one hand, I start my first academic job in just under 2 months, and everyone tells me that the first year is pretty brutal -- so if anything is squeezed out by time pressures, it might be blogging. On the other hand, it'll be the first time in seven years that I won't be surrounded by 30 or so other people interested in history and philosophy of science, so I may have to bounce my ideas off the online community instead of my current offline community. We'll see.

Just so this post contains something other than insufferable self-absorption, I'm linking to a Colloquium Bingo game card, produced by the grad students at Johns Hopkins's Program in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology. And one other thing: I was looking over the Experimental Philosophy blog again recently, and was filled with a mixture of admiration and envy -- for it looks to an outsider like me that they really have a genuine online research community there. People post new papers-in-progress, which are given careful and serious feedback my several people, and the authors engage in a substantive conversation about their work. It appears to be a model of what people wish the web would do -- link up people, in a real and almost intimate way, separated by thousands of miles. I wonder why Experimental Philosophy has succeeded here, while other blogs with the same basic idea (for example, Philosophy of Biology, which has apparently disappeared) have not done as well.