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Mysteries of Qualia and Consciousness

How would you characterize, in one sentence, the mystery of consciousness?


Does matter dream or do dreams matter, and should one being true imply that the other cannot be?


What Does It Take To Have Qualia?

Assuming that Descartes was in error to believe that animals were automata and lacked what current philosophy calls qualia (the subjective or qualitative properties of experiences), what is the least sophisticated life form that could have qualia?

Because of the presence of distributed intelligence, it seems to me that qualia could extend at least to the level of ants. They certainly seem to act upset when something disturbs their nest. And, going to an even smaller scale, bacteria have quorum sensing. Wouldn’t such a behavior hint of qualia? If I am excessively anthropomorphizing, feel free to point it out.

Personally, I don’t see any particular reason to assume that qualia is limited to biological phenomena, although it seems that phenomena which seem inert to us would at most have very primitive qualia. In fact, I think of the universe as essentially made of qualia, of experiences, and that it is only the sense of disproportion and entropy which gives us the strong impression to the contrary.

What this means is that physical forces and fields – attraction and repulsion, need not be presumed to be disembodied rules which act on bodies by ‘Law’, but rather that all physical dynamics we can be aware of are merely the spacetime/public tip of a private iceberg of experience which extends not only to the beginning of time, but perhaps from an eternal now to a locally diffracted now.

I know this sounds like gobbeldygook to most people, but I am happy to explain further if anyone is interested. The bottom line is that if we apply relativity to experience, just as general and special relativity are applied to space, time, matter, and energy, then we can see qualia and quanta, subjectivity and objectivity as a continuum which is warped around the participant, but it is also anchored to the absolute frame of reference. We see things which are very slow or fast, huge or tiny, or very different from ourselves as being mechanistic, while we feel our innermost thoughts and imagination to be highly participatory. If my view is correct, then these are both half true. If I were to bet, I would say that we exist as human beings because the qualia is richer and deeper up here.

Things which exist on the outskirts of our capacity to perceive and relate really are less aware than we are, but on top of that, our perspective relative to them screens out most of what they are from our experience. It’s like we perceive the roads as being pretty solid and straight, but give them a few centuries without human maintenance and they will break apart into the environment. Without humans around to feel that a year is a long time, a thousand years can become a short time, and a superhighway can become, if you pardon the expression, dust in the wind.

There is a lot more to this idea. I think that while it is very strange and confusing at first, the understanding that physics, relativity, and perception are really the exact same thing, and that they all supervene on sensory-motor experience (sense) is ultimately clear and fairly simple. It’s a matter of understanding that experience itself is the primary principle, so that it’s not a matter of which is the least sophisticated life form to have qualia, but which forms are publicly represent of the least sophisticated qualia.

I call this Pansensitivity, as opposed to Panpsychism, which has more anthopmorphic connotations I think. As the relativity of qualia warps sense itself into unity/collapse at the edges (like a fisheye lens), our view of what is unlike us is drained of personal identification. This is locally true – as long as we live human lives, we are constrained by human proportions of size and frequency of experience, but beyond that, I would guess that all experience is a single, eternal totality of qualia.

  1. August 13, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    I like this “Pansensitivity” – again so very well stated

  2. August 19, 2013 at 12:53 am

    Does this answer the Fermi paradox? Might it be that, given what sense IS, it’s always spatially localized with less aware experiences represented as spatially and temporally DISTANT events and more aware experiences as spatially and temporally close. Perhaps we are the center of the universe after all …

    • August 19, 2013 at 1:41 am

      Yes, I think that sense is the center of the universe, and our access to sense as human beings is through our subjective experience. The universe is fundamentally “here” and “now”, with all theres and thens being derived.

      As far as the Fermi paradox goes, yeah, I mean the Absolute nature of sense opens up a lot of crazy possibilities that people won’t like. There’s too many weird things about Earth to deny the possibility that our human reference frame comes with an Earth-like theatrical presentation…or that possibility is the dual of the anthropic-fluke-Earth model presented by astrophysics. These two frames of reference hang in superposition – as insane as that sounds, it is really no less scientific than superposition is on the microcosmic level. The single moon of Earth that just so happens to be the apparent size of the sun most of the time is what really gets me. The procession of the seasons and harmonic nesting of the orbits…it’s all too obviously an instruction manual for sense. It’s too poetic of an invitation for record keeping and analysis. Everything is an encyclopedia of its own sense. It’s pretty nuts.

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