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My Challenge to Dr. Novella: The Materialist Color Tutor's Dilemma.


Dr. Steven Novela believes that the brain (matter) entirely explains the mind. I challenge him to answer the question raised by this thought problem:

Imagine a tutor who specializes in teaching children about color. He's a materialist, named...Steve. He knows all that is known about color. He knows the physics, the optics, the chemistry, the neurobiology, everything. A family retains him to teach their child, a prodigy, all that can be known about color.

Tudor Steve goes to work. He teaches the little genius about quantum mechanics with relevant application of string theory to flesh out the more subtle issues, then goes on to teach the precocious child chemistry, optics, neurobiology, all of the material and physical facts about color. The child excels in color class in school, acing all of the exams on the physics and the chemistry and the neurobiology.

Then, one day, the boy confides in tutor Steve: the child is color-blind. He has learned all of the physical facts about color, but he has no idea what color looks like. He knows that tutor Steve is a materialist, so he assumes that all there is to know about color can be explained from a materialistic standpoint, including what color looks like. That's why the child's parents hired Steve the materialistic color tutor.

So the boy asks tutor Steve:

"Please explain to me what color looks like."

Materialist color tutor Steve has a dilemma. Material facts about color can, of course, be taught. But can 'what it is like to see color,' the subjective experience of color, be taught? If it can't, then there is knowledge of color that is not material knowledge. Therefore materialism cannot completely explain the subjective experience (the qualia) of color. Therefore subjective experience is something in addition to matter. And therefore dualism is necessary to explain the mind.

How would materialist tutor Steve explain what color looks like to a person who is color blind?