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Mary's Room: A philosophical thought experiment - Eleanor Nelsen

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Imagine a neuroscientist who has only ever seen black and white things, but she is an expert in color vision and knows everything about its physics and biology. If, one day, she sees color, does she learn anything new? Is there anything about perceiving color that wasn’t captured in her knowledge? Eleanor Nelsen explains what this thought experiment can teach us about experience.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Eleanor Nelsen
  • Director Maxime Dupuy
  • Animator Maxime Dupuy, Arnold Feder
  • Editor Maxime Dupuy
  • Designer Maxime Dupuy
  • Art Director Maxime Dupuy
  • Storyboard Artist Maxime Dupuy
  • Illustrator Maxime Dupuy
  • Character Designer Maxime Dupuy
  • Composer Martin Pinon
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
Additional Resources for you to Explore
You can read Frank Jackson’s original paper on his thought experiment, as well a follow-up paper that responds to a few criticisms of it. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a useful resource for a rigorous description of qualia and the knowledge argument, as well as physicalism and other philosophical concepts.

Neuroscientists V. S. Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard may have found the closest real-world analogue of Mary in a colorblind synesthete who does not have fully functional color receptors but nevertheless experiences color in response to numbers. Based on this example, Hubbard and Ramachandran argue that Mary, too, would experience color in some way.

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Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Eleanor Nelsen
  • Director Maxime Dupuy
  • Animator Maxime Dupuy, Arnold Feder
  • Editor Maxime Dupuy
  • Designer Maxime Dupuy
  • Art Director Maxime Dupuy
  • Storyboard Artist Maxime Dupuy
  • Illustrator Maxime Dupuy
  • Character Designer Maxime Dupuy
  • Composer Martin Pinon
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Addison Anderson