mind blindness and mary the colorblind color scientist

Philosophy of mind was one of my favorite classes in college. Because high school debate involved so much philosophy, I thought I’d major in it until philosophy of mind made neuroscience seem more interesting and practical. If I’m autistic and have “mind blindness”, that reminds me of Mary the Colorblind Color Scientist:


Apparently, normal people have a kind of sixth sense that makes the social dimensions of situations obvious to them. I can say that no amount of learning social skills however I learned them has given me access to something like that. I read about all kinds of things and I’m good at recognizing patterns. Consciously-learned skills can become unconscious habits, but that’s not the same as an innate skill.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m better than average at perceiving the structural aspects of social situations. I might recognize a racist trope or the fucked up implications of something someone said very quickly. Today, I walked to the park and sat on a bench on my lunch break. A woman rode up on a bicycle and stayed on the next bench over, playing with her dog. I avoided eye contact. Was that right? There were some teenagers across the field, standing around a car. I walked across the field to go home, and the whole group of them tried to wave me down. I smiled, waved back, and kept walking awkwardly. They laughed and made some comment like I thought I was too cool.

When people approach me in a situation and it’s off-script, I suck. Why would a group of people want to talk to me from a distance for no reason?

I have successfully defended a dissertation and sold computer security services to large corporations over the phone. I’m good at being a teacher/explainer/aspie rambler, where I know all the answers and the conversation never goes somewhere confusing like the hockey season.

It’s like…Mary can get by without her spectrophotometer in certain situations. She’s not using it to make original oil paintings.

I always thought there was a problem with the Mary thought experiment, and with Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?” They’re supposed to support property dualism, or the belief in “qualia”, the subjective properties of experience not reducible to something physical.

The problem is that they’re stuck in a Cartesian mindset more than they realize. What does neuroscience actually predict? It says that neurons connected in a certain pattern, active in a certain pattern, produce certain conscious phenomena. To experience those phenomena ourselves, our own nervous systems would need to enter those same states or simulate them. Or nervous systems can do everything.

The thought experiments have a hidden premise: understanding the mechanism of consciousness generation would mean that we could arbitrarily change our own consciousness.

Would you expect learning about social situations and society to make me not autistic?

A recent conversation with a friend made me think of a reason I had an affinity for philosophy of mind: the theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Witnesses don’t believe in an immaterial soul that survives death. They also don’t believe in Hell. When you’re dead, it’s just nothingness. However, God can remember you and reconstitute you at a later time. The reward for being good is resurrection and everlasting life on Earth, unless you’re one of the 144,000. In that case, you spend a day in heaven as a spirit creature and return to Earth in a normal body 1000 years later (time moves faster in Heaven).

It makes you wonder: is resurrection resurrection if there’s no physical continuity? All the original atoms are long since spread out, involved in new bonds, etc. When God puts “you” back together, will it be like waking up or will it be like a clone of you being born? The Witnesses take the position that what comes back is you.

The 144,000 are maintaining identity across 3 different substrates: their present body, their Heavenly body, and their future, perfect body. It’s like the question of whether you can upload your mind to a computer, or how much of your brain could be replaced by circuitry before you stopped being yourself.

You have to think about those conundrums specifically because there isn’t any soul that persists after death. Strong and counter-intuitive positions in philosophy of mind are part of their religious beliefs.

Either that or, logically, they’re using “God’s memory” as the permanent repository of someone’s identity, which persists across time. We go through life, and our souls are files in God’s memory somewhere. They go into suspended animation when we die. There’s always a physical separation between a person and their soul.

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