Mediator Questions or What Mary Knows

2010 January 23
tags: mind & brain, mindfulness, neuroscience, philosophy, transformative mediation
by dialogicmediation

Last February, I published a post entitled, Where is the mind situated?, that suggested that such a question already presupposes the type of answer that will be given, viz. that the mind is a thing, a substance, with a physical location in space.  Instead of this materialist or physicalist conception of the mind, an alternative is proposed by the law professors quoted in the post that views the mind in terms of an array of abilities or processes.  I remarked that this type of theorizing resonates with ancient Buddhist psychology.

I recently came across another post on the website, Talking Philosophy, that, at least at its outset, refers to a philosophical argument that adopts much the same view:

In his paper Epiphenomenal Qualia Frank Jackson invites us to consider the imaginary case of Mary, kept in a monochromatic room from birth and who, presumably out of boredom, spends her time becoming acquainted with all that neuroscience can tell us  regarding the mechanisms that underlie our experience of colour vision. Mary herself has never seen a red object, but when it comes to the physical facts that attend such an experience, she knows them all. What, Jackson asks, would happen were she to be released from her room and to see a red object for the first time? Would she learn something new? Surely she would: she would learn what the experience of seeing a red object is like. But in that case would it not follow that, since she already knew all the physical facts about “seeing red”, what she learns must be a “non-physical fact” (a fact not present in the developed neuroscience of colour vision)? And if there are such “non-physical” facts does it not follow that physicalism is false?

The significance of this counter-argument for me as a mediator is the power of questions and preconceptions to structure what is seen or concluded.  We find what we look for, or so goes the old saying.  To put it in grammatical terms, mind  may not be a noun but rather a verb, not a name for a thing but a doing or acting in the world.  The question then becomes who exactly is carrying out this doing or acting, a question that resembles a Zen koan.

Again, quite apart from the philosophical and neuroscientific interest in this issue, it raises the problem of the extent to which a mediator’s questions may direct the parties in the process.  Such a directive influence may undermine the parties’ self-determination and autonomy to have the conversation they want to have, in the way they want to have it.

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