A Response to the Knowledge Argument
The knowledge argument wants to show us that the world contains more than physical facts.
Mary is a colour scientist, and has studied every possible fact about colour, from how light-waves work, to how it’s processed on the human brain. However, Mary has been raised in a black and white room, and has never seen colour. One day Mary steps out of the room, and sees a red rose for the first time. At this point, she has learnt something new about the colour red.
If we admit that Mary has learnt something new about the colour red, then we admit that facts about the physical world cannot tell us everything, because Mary already had all the facts in the world, but learnt something new by having a real experience. This experiential quality counts as new knowledge.
I’d like to offer a counterproposal, for I am Malin the metal scientist.
Malin learns all true facts about metal, but then one day he gets magnet implants in his fingertips, and can feel ferromagnetic materials. On this day, he learns something new about metal.
Putting a strong magnet in your fingertips really will let you feel ferromagnetic metals from a small distance. You could also feel microwaves, speakers, and a few other materials.
If this sounds confusing, here’s a video on my magnet implants.
My argument here has two basic parts:
- My example is analogous Mary the Colour Scientist in all the right ways.
- My example is ridiculous.
If you’re not convinced by premise 1, then I can only say that you don’t get an opinion until you’ve got magnets in your fingers. I can feel microwave radiation pouring out of the devices. AC feels like an angry bee-hive. DC feels like an elastic band pulling me in. I can feel metal and electromagnetic radiation.
As to premise 2, the problem is that that this argument extends too far and too fast.
If this counts as new information (rather than simply just a new experience) then we can add a new metal sense by adding a speaker to my ears that beeps when metal is near, then three more which beep in different ways depending upon the quantity of the metal. After that, I’ll add a vibrating piece of metal which reacts to the Earth’s magnetic poles, giving me a perfect sense of direction, then write a lot of obscure poetry about the feeling of ‘North’. I can keep adding millions of pieces of electronic equipment on top of and inside my body, then a few pieces in the distance which communicate by flashing lights (and after looking at them long enough I will internalize them as a new sense).
An endless array of new information comes at me. At every point, a scientist specialised in metal spectroscopy would have to admit that I can find out facts about metal faster than they every could. However, it is not clear that I have learnt anything new about metal with the addition of each gadget. Every single one feels different, so I have clearly gathered lots of feelings, and those feelings undoubtedly relate to metal in a very real way. However, these we have no new facts about metal, only different interpretations and feelings about metal.
Some people with synaesthesia feel as though they can taste words, or see notes as floating colours. Following the colour of Mary the Metal scientist, we should believe that each of these people ‘know’ something that most others do not, because most people cannot taste words.
Mary the colour scientist follows the same pattern. She has felt a new feeling, and this feeling shows her colour, but the feeling communicates no fact about colour that she did not already know - it only communicates faster.