The Swapper

The Swapper

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TJ  [developer] Jun 1, 2013 @ 2:13am
Some Further Reading
When we were writing The Swapper we made a conscious effort not to overtly push a particular conception of mind at the player. We don't want you to come in with the same idea about the mind as us, and then just have that idea endlessly reconfirmed to you with Randian gusto. Rather, whatever assumptions about the mind you come in with we want to challenge them.

Still, this is hard to do because I'm a fairly dyed-in-the-wool materialist (the mind is mere matter), as most philosophically-minded people are these days. To combat that, I wanted to fit in as many convincing arguments against materialism as I could - and there are some great ones, which is what makes the topic so fascinating.

In the end we stayed away from anything crushingly academic in the game, and I think it was the right choice; but it meant I couldn't make a as strong a case against materialism as I would have liked. In case you're still feeling secure in that belief, here's one of the most fun.

Mary's Room
Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’. [...] What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not?

That's from: Jackson, Frank (1982). "Epiphenomenal Qualia". Philosophical Quarterly (32): 127–136.

The idea is that if Mary has never been exposed to colourful stimuli she will not know what it is like to see colour. Correspondingly when she is released from the room she learns something new about the world when she sees colour for the first time. However, the premises of the argument maintained that Mary knows everything there is to know about the physical world. If it's true that she learns something new on release then whatever it is she learns must not be about the physical world, and there must be some other mental plane of existence.

There are lots of inventive physicalist responses that I won't go into here. Certain kinds of eliminativist theory get around this by denying that the experience of colour perception is any kind of knowledge at all. We might alternatively respond by saying that Mary doesn't, in fact, have all the physical information; that some knowledge is not propositional in this way.

Further Reading
As if it weren't enough that I finished my Philosophy MA exams last week, I'm now going to forward the reading onto you!

Seriously, if you played The Swapper and are interested in hitting up some entry-level philosophy of mind then you could do worse than starting off at:

Chalmers Resources:

Dennett Resources:
Last edited by TJ; Jun 1, 2013 @ 2:18am
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Showing 1-15 of 20 comments
Silenceborn Jun 1, 2013 @ 5:08am 
As I explained in my thread, personally I do not see mind as simple and static as many believe it is. It is not like the individual being acquires its individual consciousness by developing it, by practice or experience (though all phenomenons can and do affect the individual mind). Pure consciousness metaphorically as the background of everything is present and immanent in everything we observe. We individual relatively conscious beings (humans, animals) are the cosmos itself appeared/manifested as individuals.

In the case of Mary, she does not need to add something new to her seemingly so-called mind. 'Mind Streams' of her, manifested as Mary with all her identity and attributes in a vessel (body) which is fitted to Mary's state of awareness. Mary as a human being experiences the world, defines things and creates concepts and in general projects the reality of her own based on her state of awareness.

In other words, individual conscious beings and their state of mind do not work like computers and they do not process things like computers with a database. Take a look at the honey bees researches for instance, as it is one of the known cases where scientifically there is not any answer to that. The bees seemingly small brains based on classical studies can not process huge and complex path finding / routing processes. Moreover the bees are almost perfectly aware of their partners and other bees at the same time. Some researches offered quantum theories to fight these dilemmas but even quantum theories can not be convincing as quantum mechanic theory itself has so many gaps and holes in it.

This is of course a very broad subject and can not be discussed briefly but all in all I do not think universe and cosmos is just there as static images (in a way unconscious). Everything included rocks, tables and chairs are also conscious but the state of consciousness could be different. In some stages the cosmic consciousness manifests as individual conscious agents like humans and this could be really confusing because humans then can not comprehend so-called higher states of consciousness/awareness of their own kind and therefore can not prove or disprove any higher realities unless they themselves raise their state of mind.

C.G.Jung in his latest masterpiece 'The Red Book' beautifully explains this from his point of view which could be really helpful. In fact the Tibetan Mandalas, Indian or hermetic Mantras and yantras and many other techniques are there to shift and raise this level of awareness.

"Reality can be experienced only with the eye of understanding, not just by a scholar. What the moon is like must be seen with one's own eyes. How can others do it for you?" -Adi Shankaracharya-

"Tao, the subtle reality of the universe cannot be described. That which can be described in words is merely a conception of the mind. Although names and descriptions have been applied to it, the subtle reality is beyond the description." -Tao Teh Ching-

TJ  [developer] Jun 1, 2013 @ 5:29am 
I don't see an argument here. Perhaps you're approaching this in a more continental vein?

I'm pretty sure the workings of honeybees are explicable by science. I'm sure some very simple rules can be shown to account for what appears to be quite complex behaviour. But even if honey bees are cramming some incredible intelligence into their little minds I don't see why this should imply anything in particular.
Last edited by TJ; Jun 1, 2013 @ 5:46am
rotopenguin Jun 1, 2013 @ 10:51am 
Man, imagine if Mary were a brilliant astronomer, and was exposed to greyscale-mapped images of something utterly unseeable, like X-rays! How does NASA keep their heads from exploding all the time?

Does she look like this[], or is there some possibility that her eyes have escaped the never-see-color premise? If you have to fill the subject's retina with Maxwell's Demon's Souls* to enforce the conditions, there might be a flaw already lurking in the question.

(Hmm, what if she could see herself in color for the whole experiment? Would her visual cortex -> body map wiring[] assume that colored things are "self", and anything black & white is "other"? Suddenly having the visual cue that Everything Matches Self would be a heck of a God complex.)

What if Mary had her cones replaced with rods at about birth, and we switched her back to cones upon escaping the test chamber? Before, with an all rod makeup, she was getting higher pixel resolution than the average person with all those extra rods. After putting the cones back, she's seeing that some objects are dark in 1, 2, 3 / foruths of the pixels, in an impossibly fixed and fine texture. That may appear to her as a Moiré pattern, a shimmer, but it's something that will she will immediately find more annoying than Unmoving Plaid[]. Her visual cortex might just go full vertigo and she gets sick looking at color. Maybe her brain fails the former-cones as unreliable data, and mutes them out of the image. Finally, the visual cortex might actually rewire for color processing, but do it at the wrong layer so that, say, Mary can't process rapid movement or facial expressions in color.

I don't see how my slightly more itsy-bitsy-surgical approach to replacing rods and cones is so different from providing Mary with a perfect Black & White life. Every color subpixel that your Mary has ever seen has responded in lockstep with the general luminence, so the visual cortex has no reason to wire them differently from any other rod. I don't think the brain has any wire labeling, any sense of "plug this side up" to the nerves as they dump off into the sensory centers. Instead, the brain looks for coincidences, move an object across the view and the ripple of nerve firings defines which pixels are next to each-other. Give the baby a blue toy, and the fact that certain sub-pixels generally fire when gazing on it, but others seldom do, causes those wires to be treated as different. I can't figure a way that the pulses moving down my Mary's optic nerve would be meaningfully different from yours.

As to the question of "are our Mary learning"[], the first thing she would likely want to learn would be where the talented experimenter that did this to her lives. Seriously, what do you want to count as learning? Her brain is definitely in a different configuration after the experiment, though a rodent could manage the same. She's given to be a functional scientist, so she should learn about as much from inside the experiment as the guy controlling the cage.

However, if we're just arguing what it means to have infinite knowledge of a system that Mary, the infinite knowledge holder, is also a part of, then Mary already is God. Can she have a thought that's so heavy that she can't think it? What's the color of infinite angels dancing on the head of a perfectly silvered pin? Why does Mary allow bad things to happen to good people? Here's a better philosophical question - does she have all that system knowledge by copy or by reference? What is the matter/energy/entropy cost for Mary knowing everything about Earth, its inhabitants, and Mary's own brain? Is there any way that this line of reasoning doesn't end in Akira?

*Sorry, couldn't resis't.
Last edited by rotopenguin; Jun 1, 2013 @ 12:54pm
I like games :3
There are cultures that live in jungle areas that have very fine tuned reception to shades of green. When taking experiments they can quickly identify tiny differences in green shades that people not of that culture see as the same color and cannot see any different. As a possible side effect these people with the heightened sense of green tones cannot distinguish the color blue from green.

I would imagine Mary would develop an increased sensitivity to shades of grey and could possibly have to re-learn actual color when released from her cell.
Last edited by Wₒᵣₗd ₒf Bₐₗdwᵢₙ; Jun 1, 2013 @ 12:34pm
FURIOSA Jun 1, 2013 @ 1:20pm 
TJ, and everyone else at Facepalm, congratulations on a really great game. Before reading your above explanation I actually had thought I detected a significant bias towards anti-materialism in the game. Now I realise that this is probably a result of your efforts to challenge your own assumptions, in which case there may have been a slight overcompensation. Admittedly my (over)sensitivity to pseudoscience may also be at fault, everytime I heard mention of "souls" I was tempted to palm my face.

I don't have anything else to add, just some annoyed grumblings on the state of public discourse regarding science and philosophy. It's a good thing that stimulating games like The Swapper exist, and that I can get my usual fix of "crushing academia" from my Doctor friends.
Boink Jun 1, 2013 @ 2:13pm 
This is an old problem, and has long been solved.

What Mary will *actually* do is percieve 1,000's of shades of grey via her TV (presuming it's in HD and we posit that it can show an equal number of grey shades to color percepion that her retinas can physically handle, but it's pointless if this isn't the case), then she will learn everything there is to know about wave length, color relational theory, biological / chemical expression of color and she will form a mental map which *exactly* matches the color relations of human sight but that is *expressed* in grey scale to her.

When she steps out into the color world, she'll probably experience rainbow unicorn levels of experience (aka L.S.D) and her internal *knowledge* of colors will shift from her grey scale distinction onto the new data. (Epistemology vrs Empirical experience). Interestingly, she'll probably have an extra set of *new* epistemological relations within the greyscale than most humans will possess, because they simply don't experience that much Greyscale in the normal world - it's largely only found in human made products, such as Art / our TV etc. Early humans who relied heavily on night sight shift to blues, not black & whites, for reference; if you train your night-sight well enough, only a bright full moon will bring out *actual* black / white contrasts.

She found her tetra (4) sighted individual btw, who can see far larger ranges of color shades than usual. "Normal" people are have 3, while Mantis shrimp have 12 - 16 types! (Which allows them to see in ultraviolet). However, it turns out, they simply don't have big enough neurons to use them that well.

To earlier commentators: the old chesnut about "Such-and-Such Culture had no word for Blue!" or "They made no distinction between Blue and Green!" is largely a semantic / language issue, nothing to do with their color perception. Languages distinguish the important concepts around you (there's work that shows reds are first labelled distinctly and so on).

People have long used this to support the "theory" that they couldn't percieve the colors:

*It gets stranger. Not only was Homer’s palette limited to only five colors (metallics, black, white, yellow-green, and red), but a prominent philosopher even centuries later, Empedocles, believed that all color was limited to four categories: white/light, dark/black, red, and yellow. Xenophanes, another philosopher, described the rainbow as having but three bands of color: porphyra (dark purple), khloros, and erythros (red).*

However, this is largely nonsense, especially when you consider that all Greek statues were not white marble, but painted like psychadelic neon signs and color was extensively used in Greek life. To use a bit of Kant, this is a Category error, nothing more. Aka; their language wasn't sophisticated enough to describe their world as precisely as we do, but since everyone *knew* what color a sky looked was, or honey or whatever, it really didn't matter. e.g. If you used the word "sky", the color is contained in it. When Homer says "wine-dark sea" he's talking about an expression of that concept, not a color. i.e. The difference between a calm, nice flat safe sailing sea and the dark stormy dangerous Poseidon version. He might use "burnished bronze" if it was reflecting the sky etc.

As for Xenophanes, it helps to know what his body of works were expressing: it also helps if you don't make stuff up:

*Not only does he conceive of stars or comets as clouds, but also of, “she whom they call Iris,” the Greek goddess of the rainbow--“purple, red and greenish-yellow to behold.” Xenophanes here offers a material description of a deity instead of a mythological one, which is very characteristic for his materialist Weltanschauung.*

Xenophanes was describing a Goddess (probably Satirically, since he didn't believe in anthropocentric descriptions of Gods / Goddesses) as an *actual* rainbow - the colors here aren't really the point; it would be shocking enough to the audience to have her described as the actual thing-in-itself. They'd all know what a rainbow looked like: that the Goddess = Rainbow would be the mind breaker. (And given it's a poem, you have to consider what scans in whatever meter he was using. You drop the "orange" because nothing rhymes with it.)


Hope that helps - quality game btw, hope it pays better than the teaching side of MAs /PHDs ;)

p.s. No such thing as Dualism! As for pure materialism, you should look into emergent properties of complex systems - no need to be a reductionist in this day & age!!
Last edited by Boink; Jun 1, 2013 @ 3:04pm
Boink Jun 1, 2013 @ 2:32pm 
(And yes, I'm keeping this very simple for a Steam forum: ELI5). As for Mantis Shrimp, I meant to say "big enough *clusters* of neurons", but you get the drift.

Visual processing takes a lot of brains: which, if it interests you, is why binocular vision, found in most predators and us, takes a lot of energy & is expensive to run, and is probably why most predators are only dichromal (2), not our 3, but that's a different story...
Boink Jun 1, 2013 @ 3:13pm 
Oh dear. I said I was using ELI5 language (explain it like I'm 5), and you post a video targeted towards 10-13 yr olds. Put it this way: this is undergraduate level philosophy, and isn't very useful.

Proof Greeks etc saw the same colors: DNA. We have access to their DNA (indeed, we have access to neanderthal dna) and we can pretty much show that they have the same (3) receptors. Dennet is wrong btw (which is why I posted about a tetrachromatic individual as someone who *really can* see more colors than you); if you want a long lecture why, I'm pretty much sure it's far too high-brow for a Steam Forum. He's useful for undergrads, but nothing more.

Like the game's author, I have letters after my name (which isn't to say that this an appeal to authority, but a signal to you that you shouldn't think posting a basic level intro to Dennet is going to teach me anything, given I've read most of his work, critiqued it, and think he's rather boring & outdated).

In terms of this *game* it was nice that someone was introducing gamers to Dennet, but please. Hint: go re-read what I wrote, especially regarding Mantis Shrimp + neuron clusters. It might be that people with *more interconnected* brains (not grey matter, connections are more important here) or with *altered brain chemistry* (Van Gough <> mental illness) see more *variations* of colors, or (far more likely) *have colors connected to experiential modes that most people do not*. That's a difference from Qualia & Dennets simple model.

Go look up synesthesia:


You get the same input; the amount of focus you apply is different. Your DNA determines the possible range of inputs you get; your internal workings determines how you react to these; your experience determines how you relate to them. More simply put for you: with training *everyone* with the same amount of receptors can be *trained* to see the nuances of color distinctions, but *most people do not need nor utilise said training*.

The usual example is between someone who eats ice-cream for fun, and a professional ice-cream taster. (Although, there's counter-evidence, especially around blind tasting for wine buffs that suggests the internal perceptual cognition is over-layed towards projecting an image rather than actually describing a pure experience, but we're jumping around here).

After all, there's nothing saying that Homer never used the word for "blue" because he had an irrational fear of it, is there?
Last edited by Boink; Jun 1, 2013 @ 3:28pm
rotopenguin Jun 1, 2013 @ 4:40pm 
Originally posted by Boink:

"Normal" people are have 3, while Mantis shrimp have 12 - 16 types! (Which allows them to see in ultraviolet). However, it turns out, they simply don't have big enough neurons to use them that well.

My bet is on the Mantis Shrimp using that full range of color receptors to get a quick read on the sonoluminescence of their absurdly fast punches. Our way of having fewer, wider band color receptors and weighting them against each-other is easy math in neurons, and makes for much better use of limited retina area. The Shrimp solution should be better at having lower latency, and has to slaughter us at assigning a color to very fast pulses of light.

Any accusation of me running a Mantis Shrimp Fight Club is entirely false and without merit.
Last edited by rotopenguin; Jun 1, 2013 @ 4:40pm
Boink Jun 1, 2013 @ 5:25pm 
Originally posted by rotopenguin:

Any accusation of me running a Mantis Shrimp Fight Club is entirely false and without merit.

You deserve many hugs for that comment. Consider yourself hugged by a friendly loving source. (Cue that Seal Meme)

They use it for mating (spotting tail coloration, ultraviolet), signalling (again, ultraviolet - given their main predator is octopi, who are rediculously complex neuron wise, and masters of color mimicking, you can see the appeal) and target acquisition, as you've stated.

Bottom line - it's probably because their main predator is obscenely good at color that they evolved into having silly amounts of receptors. When a proper scientist (*ahem* not running a Fight Club for Mantis Shrimp) runs some tests against their ability to spot *RAPID COLOR TRANSFORMATIONS* then I'll get excited. They're probably wery wery wery wary of anything that shifts color fast, and that's why they can spot <a lot of colors> but <only if they change fast> (see the above science paper wondering cluelessly why they're not good at minute differentials in color - answer: they don't care, it's not going to eat them).

Oh, and for the undergrads: just gave you a PHD + prize winning original thesis there, for free! (I did say I liked the game). To explain to the Steam forum why it'll get them a prize: Octopi have innate color mimicking as a *defensive* strategy, while being predators themselves. Not many organisms use their predators *passive* defenses as a tell to how to avoid them; it's an extremely novel adaption. Do enough work on it, you'll get tenure.
Last edited by Boink; Jun 1, 2013 @ 5:37pm
TJ  [developer] Jun 2, 2013 @ 7:51am 
♥♥♥♥♥ just wrote out a long reply and deleted it. Philosophy is good security against uninformed beliefs, but it's no substitute for common sense!

tldr (too long didn't re-write)

Originally posted by BOLEGIUM:
TJ, and everyone else at Facepalm, congratulations on a really great game. Before reading your above explanation I actually had thought I detected a significant bias towards anti-materialism in the game... Admittedly my (over)sensitivity to pseudoscience may also be at fault, everytime I heard mention of "souls" I was tempted to palm my face.

The philosopher inside this game developer hates having to take valid arguments and seudo-science them up for accessibility and brevity when presented in the game, but such is life. I thought long and hard every time Chalmers mentions the 'soul', because it switches me off like it does you; but it's also useful shorthand for her position. In fact the first time she mentions it I think I intended to redraft and take the reference out; but then I saw a playthrough vid where someone plays that section and they comment on it like, "Hey, wait, what, who mentioned anything about the soul?" and it seemed to draw them in. Suddenly there's an ideal at stake in the story, and I like that.

Originally posted by rotopenguin:
*Sorry, couldn't resis't.
LOL, I think these concerns are rather too empirical to be of concern to philosophy!

Originally posted by Boink:
This is an old problem, and has long been solved.

Thanks for raising the bar! This kind of scientifically/empirically motivated response is out of my field of expertise (in fact, so is the whole of philosophy of mind, so let's hope my next job has something to do with politics), so just some quick ideas.

I'm not confident that all studies of colour recognition in different cultures can be explained by linguistic tendencies alone. I've no doubt that not having a word for red, because there's little red in your culture and environment, will make it harder for you to distinguish the colour in a test. However, when given 10 colour swatches of which one is red and the rest blue, the subject isn't asked 'What is this colour?' but 'Which of these colours is different?" If it's not their qualia (their conscious experience) which is different to ours but their language they ought still be able to identify the red swatch.

All the same, let me see if I have what you're getting at. The non-reductive physicalist response to Mary's Room has to be that Mary isn't really learning anything new, or that what she learns is somehow still a physical fact, despite all the physical facts having been made available to her already.

Your argument seems to be that, while her epistemological situation changes in some way (her knowledge will shift to the new data) she really learns nothing new because all of the relations between the data (the actual functional role of her visual experience) are identical. The qualia themselves don't constitute knowledge; their functional roles do.

I'm sure something like this is a good answer. To play devil's advocate, though, I wonder if a dualist reading this might still be justified in asking: why shouldn't those qualia constitute knowledge in addition to their functional roles? What captures the sense that there is something Mary is missing when she is in the room?
Last edited by TJ; Jun 2, 2013 @ 7:52am
Boink Jun 2, 2013 @ 8:52am 
...because she's a being, not Dasein. (Ahh, didn't think you were going to get ambushed by a Continental, did you?)

Or put another way, if you posit she has perfect knowledge, but is lacking in external stimuli, you've just made a (rather obvious and crappy) paradox, since those stimuli are part of the Information feedback loop, and a *perfect* knowledge of them *has* to contain their information. It's meaningless to suggest that the boundary between "the mind" and "the world" exists as anything but a false boundary issue. cf Your body is not just yourself, it's a massively complex set of interactions between your DNA and a host of other beasties, such as flora & fauna of the gut. You also replace all your matter continuously, because you're an expression of a complex system (emergent out of matter) rather than the old & incorrect view of a static being. Just because we are stuck in thinking that the self (I) exists in solitary doesn't mean it's true. A better (and more scary question) is why / how the "mind" (if we're using Dennet's distinctions) tricks itself into thinking it's coming up with all of these novel ideas *itself* and not as part of a feedback loop. You never know, your mind could be in a state of color denial, before it sees the color version ;)

You're a part of a web, man! You're made of Star dust! (and the internet is largely a mirror, scary, eh?). Or... "You can never step into the same river twice". You *are* the river.

Anyhow, grats on the MA. One nitpick - the game's story shows that 3 minds can exist in one body, so the ending (if you pick survival) creates a new 2 in 1 identity, not a singular one. All bow down to the Hivemind!
Last edited by Boink; Jun 2, 2013 @ 8:59am
foofner Jun 2, 2013 @ 10:38am 
TJ, could you please post the plaintext of the articles that you link to in the first post? Really intrigued by the Chalmers/Dennett pairing. I'm unable to access the articles from that site for whatever reason. "Error establishing a database connection." Thanks!
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