Can a person who was born blind know what "red" looks like? Is there any way you can explain it to him/her so that he/she can perceive it the way we do?

There are two different, but related, issues here, on neither of which is there universal agreement among philosophers (but, then again, is there ever?).

First, there's "Molyneux's problem": Can a person born blind who later gains sight distinguish a cube from a sphere merely by sight (assuming the person could distinguish between them by touch)? There's some empirical evidence that the answer is "no". The psychologist Richard Gregory has investigated this.

But closer to your specific question is the philosopher Frank Jackson's thought experiment about "Mary", a color scientist who lives in a completely black-and-white world but who is the world's foremost expert on color perception. She has never experienced red. Would she learn anything if she experienced it for the first time? I.e., is there anything "phenomenal" to the experience of red over and above what physics can tell us? Jackson originally argued that there was, i.e., that Mary would learn something from the experience of red, namely, what it's like to see red, but he has recently changed his mind. The novelist David Lodge has explored the Mary story in his novel Thinks....

For more on Jackson's thought experiment, see the anthology edited by Peter Ludlow, Y. Nagasawa, and D. Stoljar, There's Something about Mary (MIT Press, 2004).

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