Are women philosophers more insightful than their male counterparts?

I don't think that there's any special reason to think that female philosophers are more insightful than male philosophers -- or vice versa, for that matter. Nonetheless, it may be true that female philosophers on occasion have different insights from their male counterparts. For example, feminist critiques of traditional ethical theories (like those offered by Kant and Mill) suggest that those theories focus on masculine values and ignore values that are of fundamental importance to women. Feminist philosophers have worked to develop an "ethics of care" that looks at moral questions very differently from traditional theories.

Question 156 asked about thought with the absence of the common human stimuli, and the consensus seemed to be that someone deprived of their senses does not develop to a “normal” mental state. However, this brings up the question of what a “normal” mental state actually is. Isn’t it possible that there are beings, even within the examples you cited of those deprived of their senses in early life, who do not share our senses and stimuli but nevertheless have complex thoughts and even a possibly firmer grasp on the existential questions we discuss here? Isn’t it possible that these beings are simply unable to communicate these thoughts with us because we do not share a “common ground” of communication or a common interpretation of reality?

Let's separate two questions. One is the question of whether there could be beings with mental lives far different from our own, who process the world far differently from the way we do, and with whom we can't presently communicate. I am inclined to answer that question "yes." Perhaps we are already familiar with such creatures. (Dolphins? So long and thanks for all the fish.) The second is the question of whether human beings who are radically deprived of any early sensory stimuli and whose brains thus fail to develop normally nonetheless have complex thoughts that they are just unable to communicate to us. Here I am inclined to answer "no."

Is it possible to travel back into time?

I don't think that we know the answer to this one yet. Leaving aside the question of whether travel back in time violates any physical laws, there are some reasons to think that it is conceptually incoherent. For one thing, there is the well-known "Grandfather Paradox." Suppose you were to travel back in time and kill your own grandfather before the time your mother was conceived, thus preventing her conception and obviously your own as well. This leads to a logical puzzle, since you would cause something to happen that would make it the case that you had never existed. It is very hard to tell a coherent time travel story. Science fiction representations of time travel often involve some kind of paradox. Very often, they fall victim to the "second time around" fallacy -- they depict events in some year, say 2005; our hero travels back in time and makes some crucial change; when he then returns to 2005 things are different. But this suggests that we have 2005-the-first-time-around and 2005-the...

Is John Searle's Chinese Room parable a fundamental proof that computers do not have consciousness?

Searle is actually primarily concerned with intentionality , not with c onsciousness - that is, he takes up the question of whether the computer fundamentally understands the meanings of the outputs that it is producing. By way of the Chinese Room thought experiment, he takes himself to have shown that computers (or at least computers that proceed by way of symbol manipulation) do not have intentionality.

I´m a Computer Scientist with a new found interest in philosophy. In particular I'm interested in the philosophy of mind. I have two questions: 1) What is the big fuss about Frank Jackson's knowledge argument? I read the paper and found it quite silly - how could we ever imagine what it would be like to have all physical knowledge? How is it possible that this argument has generated so much debate? 2) Is it really that hard to imagine that we at some point will be able to build a computer that has a consciousness? I mean, apparently there is already such a machine - our brain! von Neumann said something cool once: "Tell me exactly what it is [consciousness] and I will build it". I believe him. In other words, how can there be so much controversy on this matter, when there is still no clear definition of what consciousness is? Thanks.

There are certainly philosophers who share your intuition about Jackson's thought experiment -- Daniel Dennett, for example, in Consciousness Explained claims that the problem with the argument is precisely the one you've pointed to: Jackson misimagines what it would be like to have all the physical information that there is. On the other hand, I think many people do agree with Jackson that when Mary the color scientist leaves her black and white room and sees red for the first time, she will have an "Aha" moment -- "Aha, so that's what red looks like." As an interesting side note: Jackson has recently recanted and he no longer thinks that this argument proves that physicalism is false. (Although his reasons for thinking that the argument does not succeed are different from yours.)

It seems that most of my thoughts are expressed as reflections of familiar stimuli received through the agreed-upon 'five senses' (this includes spoken and written language). Is there any appropriate way to speculate on what form the thoughts of a hypothetical person born without access to sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste might take? I guess what I mean is: "please speculate!"

There was a real life case of a girl named Genie (a pseudonym) who was deprived of any real sensory stimuli for much of her young life because of the abuse of her father. Her story is told in a book called Genie by Russ Rymer. Her case suggests, in line with what Alex says above, that the absence of early senory stimuli prevents a human being from developing a normal mental life.

How do you tell the difference between a reductio and a surprising conclusion?

The conclusion of a reduction need not be surprising. Suppose I am trying to prove that 2+3 =5. I might proceed as follows: Assume that 2+3 does not equal 5. Since 2 = 1+1, and 3 = 1+1+1, that would mean that (1+1) + (1+1+1) does not equal 5. But (1+1) + (1+1+1) does equal 5. So our original assumption must be false, in other words, 2+3=5. This example isn't that interesting, but the point is to show that you can use the reductio strategy without ending up with a surprising conclusion.

I am a psychologist, and have to introduce my Introductory Psychology students to consciousness. Is there an acceptable, concise definition of "consciousness"? Most psychology textbooks seem to fall woefully short. For example, David Myers defines consciousness as "our awareness of ourselves and our environment." ACK! Thanks for any feedback you might provide for me and my students.

That's a good question. There is one description that philosophers typically use that might be helpful to you. Philosophers often talk about being conscious in terms of "what-it's-like" (going back to Tom Nagel's article, "What it's like to be a bat?") There seems to be something that it is like to be a bat, but not to be a rock -- and this seems to capture our sense that the bat, but not the rock, is conscious. This focuses on what philosophers call phenomenal consciousness. There are other senses of consciousness in play (for example, sometimes "conscious" is just used as a synonym for "awake"), but when philosophers are worried about the problem of consciousness, they are typically worried about phenomenal consciousness.

I have always been wondering whether the behaviours of philosophers in daily life are greatly influenced or even somehow dominated by their study, e.g. when he/she is buying a T-shirt, will he/she keep thinking this shirt is not red as people normally think but some kind of colour that could never be discovered and described or will he/she think of whether all the things still exist inside of the room everytime he/she leaves the room and closes the door? These may not be good examples but I hope I have made myself clear. Thanks!

This question reminds me of a passage from Hume in his Treatise . First Hume works himself up about the problem of skepticism: "Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of every member and faculty." But he then steps back and notes the following: "Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium ... I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hour's amusement, I wou'd return to these...

Recently a friend had an operation in which she was given medication to make her forget the operation (it was an eye operation done under local anaesthetic, and apparently the "scalpel coming at your eye" memory causes nightmare reactions). So, she must have had an instant of terror on seeing the scalpel cutting into her eye, but now has no recall. If so... was she ever terrified? If there is no memory of it whatsoever, can we call it terror? If so, how do any of us know that we haven't been similarly terrified?

Let's assume that had she not been given the amnesic medicine , we would agree that she experienced terror when the scalpel approached her eye. The question then becomes: why should the administration of the amnesic medicine change our view? Given your description of the medicine, it does not cause her not to have an experience; it just causes her to forget her experience. So, to answer your question, yes, she was terrified. She had an experience of terror, and she is now unable to recall that prior experience of terror. You seem to be assuming that we must be able to remember an experience in order for it to have been truly experienced. I am inclined to deny this assumption. To help see why we should deny the assumption, consider a slightly different case. Suppose someone has an instant of terror and then dies. Would you want to deny that she experienced the terror, even though (due to her death) she never was able to form a memory of the terror?