Philosophy of Perception and Biology

by Aaron Spink

The short video presents some interesting facts about the mantis shrimp in a comical way and it emphasizes how unusually the shrimp’s eyes are when compared to other animals. This video can be implemented discussing philosophy of perception, philosophy of biology, and empiricism.

Find the video here:

What relationship do our bodies have with our conscious experience and can we even imagine sensing something entirely new? Thomas Nagel asked us what would it be like to be a bat? But imagining being a bat would be easy when compared to imagining it would be like to be a mantis shrimp. Students are often convinced that the reason why we can only view three primary colors, and why they cannot imagine any more than that is because there cannot be any more than three. However, the mantis shrimp can not only punch faster than a speeding bullet but it can also see at least 12 different wavelengths of light—or can it? How can we know?

This clip can be a good introduction to reductive materialism or empiricism. For example, does the mantis shrimp’s number of photoreceptor cells give us any information about how that creature experiences the world? Can we figure out what it is like to be a mantis shrimp from studying its eye?

On the other hand, I often use this clip to introduce empiricist philosophers. This clip would work well for challenging students to think of something they have not yet perceived (i.e. to justify Hume’s copy principle) or to motivate the problem of other minds.

Possible Readings:

  • Nagel, Thomas. “What is it like to be a bat?.” The Philosophical Review 83.4 (1974): 435-450.
  • Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature.
  • Berkeley, George. An Essay Toward a New Theory of Vision.

Aaron Spink is currently a senior lecturer at the Ohio State University and works primarily on early modern philosophy.

This section of the Blog of APA is designed to share pedagogical approaches to using humorous video clips for teaching philosophy. Humor, when used appropriately, has empirically been shown to correlate with higher retention rates. If interested in contributing please email William A. B. Parkhurst at parkhurst1@mail.usf.edu.

Source: Philosophy of Perception and Biology

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