Jan 082018

Photo of eyeWhen you have a lot of trouble reading books, that is, seeing the big picture, absorbing details, able to build up the narrative in your memory, learn and retain the learning, etc., etc., studying philosophy of mind gets a little discouraging. Unbelievably exhausting too. Enter videos. When you can’t read, watch!

Video courses may have been set up for normal, busy people who want to learn in their spare time, but they’re a boon for people with disabilities who would like to go to class but cannot due to various limitations. Financial is a big one, too, because the unemployment rate and medical expenses for people with disabilities, especially brain injury, are rather high. Not much left to pay for courses or ways to compensate for one’s limitations.

One of the perks of winning NaNoWriMo was a discount on Great Courses Plus. When I found out they had a series on Philosophy of Mind, I signed up! I began watching the series right away. Brain injury makes everything slow going. I just finished watching lecture 7 of 24 of Mind-Body Philosophy. It’s the second time I’ve watched it. I couldn’t recall this morning the last lecture I’d viewed before Christmas, this one didn’t seem familiar, loaded it, went, oh yeah, I have seen this, but kept watching because I hadn’t understood what the eye had to do with consciousness. This go round I got it . . . I think.

If consciousness is like a picture, then I guess the point of this lecture is that what the eye sees should be the same as what our conscious mind is aware of. It isn’t. Prof. Grim (no, no typo) showed two card tricks you can do with your vision. One is without seeing what it is first, you hold up a playing card way out to the side while looking straight ahead. Now see if you can tell what colour it is. You won’t be able to tell if it’s black or red until you move your arm closer to the front of your visual field. For whatever reason, with both eyes, I can tell much earlier than he could. The right side was more of a blank white with one playing card until I held the card at a particular angle. Perhaps I have more cones in the periphery than normal . . . ???

But it was the other card trick that made me realize something. On a white card draw an ‘x’ and a black dot, about 2 cm apart. Cover the right eye, hold the card up straight ahead with the ‘x’ on the right side of the card, and bring the card slowly toward you keeping your left eye focused on the ‘x.’ At one point the dot will disappear; as you keep bringing it closer the dot will reappear. If you draw lines around and over the dot, the dot will still disappear but the hatching will not.

The current view of philosophy of mind philosophers is that the brain is the mind. If that is so, then why does the dot disappear? It disappears because of the physiology of the eyeball. But the brain can “see” the hatching that is over the dot. In other words, the brain is very, very good at filling in our blind spot. I have personally experienced how good the brain is at approximating depth perception (which I realized only last year when I acquired true depth perception and what the difference is). But if consciousness is the brain, then when I am conscious that there is a dot on the card, my brain should still be able to see the dot. If brain is consciousness and consciousness knows the dot is there and the brain is really good at “filling in” missing info, then the dot should not disappear.

When I took Philosophy of Mind Oxford short course online, I became convinced of the dualist argument. The mind is not the body. The brain is not the mind. This dot test, is one confirmation of that.

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