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Qualia, Information, and Brain

Is it possible that qualia are properties of experience that don’t affect information processing in the brain?

Yes. Sort of. Information processing does get affected, but only because it consists of qualia processing qualia. Let me explain.

The idea that the brain is ‘processing information’ is only true metaphorically. The brain is composed of concrete physical structures, not abstract logical functions. To say that there is information processing in the brain is like saying that there is profit in a dry cleaning business. It’s true in an informal, naive sense, but there’s no ontological difference between ‘profit’ and the excess of dollar bills in the cash register or the electronic states in a computer when the owner checks their bank account. The profit is an idea that we have about how the business is running, but the business itself doesn’t know that it’s profiting.

The same confusion exists when we talk about ‘information’ being processed ‘in’ a brain or computer. We are dazzled by both the depth of knowledge required to understand neurology or computer engineering, and by the feeling we get when we use sophisticated, trendy terms like ‘information processing’, so we don’t generally question the nature of information itself. If we did question it, we would find that there is no good reason to consider information anything more or less than the property of a mental experience in which our thinking is informed – that is, when our thinking seems like it has acquired new and potentially useful thoughts. The physical world of brains and computer hardware, if it were strictly physical and unconscious, would have no use for any such mental property as information, since every aspect of the world would be governed by deterministic forces and blindly probabilistic causality branches. If you have charge and momentum, mass and energy, etc, then there is no need for any kind of signals or accounting. The gears would simply turn because they have to, not because there is some process of accounting and comparison telling the charge to change polarity or strength.

To sum up – there is no need to invoke any informative entity to explain any physical process in a physical universe. Physical processes, especially on the quantum level, certainly remind us of how we think and are informed, but if such a process were informing itself nonlocally or faster than light, retrocausally etc, there is no compelling reason to label it ‘physical’. In fact, when we cross the classical limit into quantum theory, we have left all pretense of materiality behind and have moved into a realm of pure abstraction…interpretations of interpretations. It is just as useful to think of the quantum world as microphenomenal (based on low level experiential interactions, aka sensory-motive qualia) is it is to think of quantum as microphysical (form/field-force) or information-theoretic. If we are going to insist on quantum mechanics existing in the absence of all awareness, then we would have to understand exactly why and how it could ever appear that it does not.

Physical mechanisms should reduce to chain reactions of forms or forces. The should not need to know or detect anything. There should not be any role for a conscious perceiver or participant in shaping their behaviors. Church-Turing Thesis, which is considered to be one of the foundational pillars of computer science and of all computing that really exists today, shows that any problem which is computable can be executed by blind mechanical functions. Just as we can solve any simple arithmetic problem by counting on our fingers, all problems that can be solved by computation will be equally valid when we use properly configured physical switches, gears or electronic substances that can be set in a way that causes other settings to change or prevent change. As long as *we* (conscious seers, counters, and thinkers) can see and count and logically think about the significance of the result of such switches switching, the result will be reliable and potentially useful to us (informative).

In other words, computer science proves that computation need not involve any information processing at all, but rather only a chain reaction of changing formations. A physical machine has no ‘in’ or ‘out’, no ‘ones and zeros’, only charged field surfaces and volumes in motion or stasis. A ‘program’ is literally nothing but the sequence of moving parts of a machine.

Anyhow, now that we have made clear why it is not logical or parsimonious to conflate any physical phenomenon in a physical world with the presence of disembodied ‘information’, we can do the same thing with qualia. This has been done several times in the history of philosophy – Searle’s Chinese Room, Leibniz Mill, Plato’s Cave, etc. Alfred Korzybski’s phrase ‘the map is not the territory’ is a bit more general, so it applies to both the relation of information to physics, information to qualia, and physics to qualia. Information is an intellectual map* of a territory that is composed of either physical or mental qualia. Physics is a perceptual map of hypothetical qualia.

I know that it will sound outrageous to many readers to assert that physics is the map and qualia is the territory, but that is only because our physical theory includes the fallacious premise that it is not a theory. The only thing that we know for sure about physical phenomena is that they are reliable features of most of our waking experience – they are a category of qualia which subjectively seems to transcend our subjectivity, but so do other non-physical things like math and logic. In my understanding, it makes more sense that all phenomena are more like qualia or ‘dream-stuff’, then they are like ‘star-stuff’ or ‘number-stuff’**.

The irony is that it is pragmatic logic that tells us this. We don’t have to believe in anything supernatural or mystical to understand it. All that we have to ask is how the physical brain’s activity would change if there were no such thing as sight or sound or feeling. Would the rhodopsin molecules in the retina not become isomerized by a certain range of electromagnetic stimulation? Would the same neurons not release glutamate that cascades into other molecular releases along the optic nerve and visual cortex? No, logically, nothing would change if there were no such things as colors, shapes, and images. As long as there are atoms, molecules, cells, and bodies (setting aside for the moment the fact that they too are only known to be tangible-touchable qualia), nothing about the behavior of those bodies would change. Nothing about the way that chemical reactions in the brain ‘process information’ would change. If we believe that qualia does not have to exist, then we cannot logically justify that qualia could possibly exist. Neither information processing or formation collisions could logically lead to any ‘emergent properties’ without qualia/consciousness, but both physics and information could be derived by splitting and masking properties of qualia.

*an informational map is itself made of the intellectual qualia of thinking. I use the pretentious term ‘cognitive-cogitative’ qualia to reveal the parallels that I suggest between thinking and other qualia modalities, such as ‘visible-optical’, ‘aural-sonic’, and ‘personal-social’. More on that here.

**regardless of how many dreamers we believe the universal dream belongs to. If Monotheism were true, the physical universe would be part of the dream of a single God. If theism were false, the belonging relation may not need to exist at the absolute level. Experiences of God, or of being God could still exist, but they would just be features of an even larger dream in which are also dreams in which those experiences of divinity cannot be accessed. My absolute truth here is that what can always be accessed is qualia. Whether we believe in God or gods or computation, its all forms of qualia.

 

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