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.

1 comment:

"Q" the Enchanter said...

The locution 'sees space' is suspect in the way 'sees time' would be. I think "has a visual sense of space" or "visually perceives space" seem more neutral, and capture the fact that space (like time) isn't an object of perception as much as it is a precondition of it.