Mary’s room experiment: A philosophical thought experiment


Interesting question.
When I am travelling to a new country I do substantial planing of what to expect. When I physically go to the country I see things somewhat new but I know I already know about it.

I have a friend who does not like planning her overseas trips and she travel with organised tour operators. She says when she plan the trip herself it is less exciting as she already know what to expect.


In meditation and ordinary life when the mind throws different suggestions to distract it from concentrating on a chosen object, - Try asking the mind like this before you do any movements:

Are you sure that this distraction is about something I never heard or seen before?

My mind becomes even more still when asked direct questions like that, and the false agent is busted easily with the right question.

About the question asked or implied, - I experience that moments of direct knowing removes doubt in a more efficient way than indirect experiences … tends to do

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Helen Keller saw and heard more than many people who could see and hear. Perhaps we tend to box ourselves in Mary’s Room.

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I may know a great deal about maleness. If i transformed to male, would i learn something new?

i may know a great deal about London. If i lived there, would i learn somerhing new not available except by experience?

i may know a great deal about a monastic life… :slight_smile:

This thought experiment can be run in the mind in a very abstracted way, or not. And that may give one a handle on observing mind, and views and hindrances which get in the way of seeing as it is.

and is “the way it is” generic, or inextricably connected to space time vehicle?

An ancient simile is the taste of :honey_pot:. We can have it described to us, it can be compared to things like sugar, but we will only realise what the taste is - the truth of the matter - when we eat it for ourselves.

No amount of factual information can replicate the taste of honey. The same with formless states of natural stillness - the description is not the described.

Liberation cannot be reduced to words. We could memorise all the wise teachings of the Buddha and, still be completely clueless when it comes to there meaning - in truth.

When the process generated and perpetuated by ignorance (stops) there is liberation - this much can be said or recorded.

"So Angulimala the bandit addressed this verse to the Blessed One:

“While walking, contemplative,
you say, 'I have stopped.'
But when I have stopped
you say I haven’t.
I ask you the meaning of this:
How have you stopped?
How haven’t I?”

[The Buddha:]
“I have stopped, Angulimala,
once & for all,
having cast off violence
toward all living beings.
You, though,
are unrestrained toward beings.
That’s how I’ve stopped
and you haven’t.” - Angulimala Sutta


Mary might not learn something new about color, but maybe she learns something new about her responses to the fresh stimuli?


I’m reminded of the similie of the tadpole turning into a frog which Ajahn Brahm tells so brilliantly… Is it in Opening The Door of Your Heart? I can’t remember now…?


Hey @Kay :slight_smile:
Thanks for reminding that simile, it’s so profound yet he explained that in such a simple way!
It was in “The art of disappearing”, Chapter 6, you can see here


Ah! Brilliant! I thought it had to be somewhere! :slight_smile:

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