ⓘ Qualia

                                     

ⓘ Qualia

In philosophy and certain models of psychology, qualia are defined as individual instances of subjective, conscious experience. The term qualia derives from the Latin neuter plural form of the Latin adjective quālis meaning "of what sort" or "of what kind" in a specific instance, such as "what it is like to taste a specific apple, this particular apple now".

Examples of qualia include the perceived sensation of pain of a headache, the taste of wine, as well as the redness of an evening sky. As qualitative characters of sensation, qualia stand in contrast to "propositional attitudes", where the focus is on beliefs about experience rather than what it is directly like to be experiencing.

Philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett once suggested that qualia was "an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to us".

Much of the debate over their importance hinges on the definition of the term, and various philosophers emphasize or deny the existence of certain features of qualia. Consequently, the nature and existence of various definitions of qualia remain controversial because they are not verifiable.

                                     

1. Definitions

There are many definitions of qualia, which have changed over time. One of the simpler, broader definitions is: "The what it is like character of mental states. The way it feels to have mental states such as pain, seeing red, smelling a rose, etc."

Charles Sanders Peirce introduced the term quale in philosophy in 1866.

Clarence Irving Lewis, in his book Mind and the World Order 1929, was the first to use the term "qualia" in its generally agreed upon modern sense.

There are recognizable qualitative characters of the given, which may be repeated in different experiences, and are thus a sort of universals; I call these "qualia." But although such qualia are universals, in the sense of being recognized from one to another experience, they must be distinguished from the properties of objects. Confusion of these two is characteristic of many historical conceptions, as well as of current essence-theories. The quale is directly intuited, given, and is not the subject of any possible error because it is purely subjective.

Frank Jackson later defined qualia as ".certain features of the bodily sensations especially, but also of certain perceptual experiences, which no amount of purely physical information includes".

Daniel Dennett identifies four properties that are commonly ascribed to qualia. According to these, qualia are:

  • intrinsic ; that is, they are non-relational properties, which do not change depending on the experiences relation to other things.
  • private ; that is, all interpersonal comparisons of qualia are systematically impossible.
  • ineffable ; that is, they cannot be communicated, or apprehended by any means other than direct experience.
  • directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness ; that is, to experience a quale is to know one experiences a quale, and to know all there is to know about that quale.

If qualia of this sort exist, then a normally sighted person who sees red would be unable to describe the experience of this perception in such a way that a listener who has never experienced color will be able to know everything there is to know about that experience. Though it is possible to make an analogy, such as "red looks hot", or to provide a description of the conditions under which the experience occurs, such as "its the color you see when light of 700-nm wavelength is directed at you", supporters of this kind of qualia contend that such a description is incapable of providing a complete description of the experience.

Another way of defining qualia is as "raw feels". A raw feel is a perception in and of itself, considered entirely in isolation from any effect it might have on behavior and behavioral disposition. In contrast, a cooked feel is that perception seen as existing in terms of its effects. For example, the perception of the taste of wine is an ineffable, raw feel, while the experience of warmth or bitterness caused by that taste of wine would be a cooked feel. Cooked feels are not qualia.

According to an argument put forth by Saul Kripke in his paper "Identity and Necessity" 1971, one key consequence of the claim that such things as raw feels can be meaningfully discussed - that qualia exist - is that it leads to the logical possibility of two entities exhibiting identical behavior in all ways despite one of them entirely lacking qualia. While very few ever claim that such an entity, called a philosophical zombie, actually exists, the mere possibility is claimed to be sufficient to refute physicalism.

Arguably, the idea of hedonistic utilitarianism, where the ethical value of things is determined from the amount of subjective pleasure or pain they cause, is dependent on the existence of qualia.

                                     

2. Arguments for the existence

Since it is by definition impossible to convey qualia verbally, it is also impossible to demonstrate them directly in an argument; so a more tangential approach is needed. Arguments for qualia generally come in the form of thought experiments designed to lead one to the conclusion that qualia exist.