There’s a pretty interesting post up on Brain Pains about the next step in evolution of the ability replies to Mary’s room.
I plan on talking more later about this paper by Derek Pereboom but just want to get a couple basic ideas on the table for now.
Derek defines the phenomenal this way, “the phenomenal property is as it is introspectively represented.” This captures the supposed one dimensional aspect of qulia, that it is what it is. Our feeling of red might distort reality, but that feeling can’t be wrong. It doesn’t matter what kind of phobia we have of needles, if we think we’re in pain, we’re in pain.
Derek makes the case that the above description isn’t guaranteed to be true. If I understand him right, he’s driving a wedge between the property and the introspection by representational languge. He elaborates the dualist/nonreductionist definition of qualia, “An introspective mode of presentation accurately represents the qualitative nature of a phenomenal property.”
This allows him to raise the question, what if it doesn’t accurately represent? He then argues that there is good reason to believe that it’s possible that it might not accurately represent, and if it doesn’t physicalism would be saved.
One important way this argument improves on the ability arguments (he claims) is that it is iterative in a way that keeps up dualist’s regress. An obvious problem with the ability argument is that while it may save knowledge, there is something else, the ability to know red in a different way, that resists physicalism. The same objection could be made here, the introspective mode of presentation might be said to resist physicalism even if qulia do not. But Derek thinks the key insight in his representational definition could be extended to that case, and any nth cases beyond it so that there is always the possibility of innacuracy open for the dualist’s next nonreductive term.
How he acheives the “possibility” is interesting. There doesn’t seem to be a direct way to argue for it since we can’t transgress our own introspection, but he thinks there are parallel problems which give us reason to suppose his claim might be true.
As just one example, he gives self-referencing sentences. These kinds of sentences parallel our own indubitibility about our feelings. The sentence, “This German sentence has six words” he says represents correctly in one way and incorrectly in another. So, “for all we know” the case might be the same for our own phenomenal introspection. It’s an open possibility. And if he’s right, that would diffuse qualia arguments.