Mary’s Room

This is another post on a youtube video I watched called Mary’s Room: A philosophical thought experiment – Eleanor Nelson. You might have noticed that I spend a large amount of time watching a lot of random educational videos on youtube… I posted this video, and I recommend you watch the video first before you continue on reading.

Here is a brief summary:

Mary’s Room is a thought experiment proposed by Frank Jackson in 1982. The experiment proposed a scenario where a person, who was given the name Mary, is a neuroscientist who is an expert in color. However, Mary lives in a room isolated from color. If one day, Mary experiences color for the first time in her life, would she learn anything new? Is there a difference between knowing and actually experiencing a phenomenon?

Most people will say yes to the proposed question immediately. However, this thought experiment still does not have a definitive answer still today. Some say that if Mary learns anything new from experiencing color for the first time then she wasn’t truly an expert. Other’s like myself would say that colors/experiences cannot be explained in some cases. I don’t think I have ever met someone that could explain the color red to me without my prior knowledge of the color or by anything superficial like saying it is warm.

This concept I thought could be applied to civil engineering and most majors in general. I think many of use chose to be civil engineers because we wanted to experience a project come to life. We study for four, or may be more, years to become knowledgeable in our area of interest and when we get our job we, for the first time, get to experience what it is like to see a design on paper slowly be constructed into reality. Much like how Mary is an expert in color, we become experts in our study. But we won’t know how it feels like when we finally complete a project until we’ve actually done so. I think we pursue for experience because there’s a limit to what we can gain from reading or studying. The one or several moments our hard work comes to fruition is the reason why many continue their education.


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