"Believing in not Seeing: Teaching Atrocity Without Images." AfterImage, 2013.

Sharrona Pearl

In 1982, philosopher Frank Jackson proposed a thought experiment challenging the notion that all knowledge is entirely physical. In his construction, a color scientist named Mary knows everything there is to know about color, but has never herself seen it, existing entirely in a monochromatic environment. What, Jackson asks, would Mary see were she finally exposed to color? Jackson’s scenario sparked a vigorous debate in the philosophical world, culminating in a range of responses in the 2004 edited volume There’s Something About Mary: Essays on Phenomenal Consciousness and Frank Jackson’s Knowledge Argument. While Jackson and his colleagues were interested in forms of knowledge acquisition broadly construed, I ask a more humble—if equally abstract—question: how effective is it to picture an image without seeing it? Or: what happens to verbally painted portraits when assembled only in the mind’s eye? I ask the two sides of this one question in order to grope, clumsily, toward a greater understanding of the ethics of teaching atrocity through visual media.

Published in Volume 40, Number 6, pages 16-20