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Representational Qualia Theory asserts that qualia are (or are derived from) our internal representations. It opposes theories that suggest qualia are properties of what we are perceiving or that they arise directly from those properties. Instead, we are only aware of our internal representation of the objects we perceive, and we are not aware of the objects themselves.
For example, when we look at a strawberry that reflects light with approximately 650nm wavelength, our brain builds a model of the strawberry to correspond with the stereoscopic information observed by our eyes. This model is our awareness of this strawberry and any phenomenal properties we experience are part of (or are derived from) this model.
Whether the strawberry has any kind of phenomenal properties, or not, is something that cannot be determined via cause and effect observation. The “red” that we see is how our mind models the physical causal property of reflecting light with certain wavelengths. Consequently, the possibility of inverted qualia as portrayed in the below image, is predicted by this theory. For example, my redness could be your greenness, if my mind builds the same representation for green light as your mind build for red light. Alternatively, my redness could be something you've never experienced before in your life (unless some other factor, such as similar genes causing our brains to develop in similar ways, ensures that our minds represent “red” in the same manner, as seems likely).
People often imagine that the redness of the strawberry amongst the greenness of the leaves is in the scene before them, and that we are directly aware of such colors, but this is a mistaken view - an optimization selected by nature. We typically think that redness is a property of the strawberry, when in fact it is only a property of our knowledge and representation of the strawberry. Since the representative models in our head lack complete notions of physics, they substitute “phenomenal redness” for the more complex causal property of reflecting light with a 650nm wavelength.
In other words, this theory predicts our minds contain a complete model of everything we consciously know about the world and reality. This is the very definition of what it means to “know about”, or be “aware of” such things. An important part of this modeled (represented) world is our body-image. When you stub your toe, the pain is in your representation of the toe, not in your real toe. All somatic sensations, including ‘phantom’ limbs and phantom limb pain, are located in the body image not in the physical body.
If another person’s quale could be inverted from, or possibly completely different than anything we’ve ever experienced, this impels the question, might there be some way to know. If we are observing whatever it is that is responsible for something like redness, and if it appears 'grey' to us, obviously we're miss interpreting what we are perceiving. This has been referred to as the "Quale Interpretation Problem". Overcoming this problem has been referred to as "effing" the ineffable.
The various sub camps of this Representational Qualia Theory camp unanimously agree that in various ways consistent with the predictions of each camp, there will be some way to know what other’s qualia are like, as surely as we know what our own qualia are like, and how they are different.
Some people have troubles accepting the idea of effing the ineffable because they think everything we experience with something like ‘redness’ is inseparable from that redness ‘quale’. They think of the emotion, the anticipation of the sweet taste, warmth, memory of love, and so on are all inseparable from what a redness quale is. Some even think of all of consciousness as one single quale. Given this, they believe the only way to know what someone else’s quale is like, is to completely become them, or a significant part of them - which would not be possible without becoming something drastically different than their personal quale.
However there is lots of evidence that everything we can experience as associated with qualia, can be separated from just a raw quality of redness. For example, there is Associative Agnosia, where people experience raw qualia without any other cognitive information along with it. Another example is some people will know they are looking at something white, but they won’t know what it is, even when it is something as recognizable as a white house. Blindsight, in some ways, is the opposite. People have the cognitive information that is normally bound to a red ball they might be able to catch - however the visual redness of the ball is completely missing from their cognitive knowledge. Psychonauts experimenting with psychedelic drugs also describe drug induced ‘trips’ where everything in their mind completely dissociates, and is no longer unified together. While it is true, that one’s experience of all of consciousness is a very complex phenomenal ‘painting’ - and to entirely duplicate the entire painted experience, would require far more than just ‘effing’ something like a raw redness quality our brain may use to paint one small part of consciousness experience with.
Shannon Information Theory is the idea that you cannot have information content greater than that which is physically represented. We consider this to be a law. Given this, representations of some sort are responsible for every idea, impression, and feeling that occurs in the human mind. It is impossible, therefore, to experience a quale without forming a corresponding representation somewhere within our consciousness. The difference between the "redness" of a strawberry and its causal property of reflecting 650 nm light is exactly the difference between our mental representation of the strawberry and the physical strawberry.
Some people still have troubles accepting representationalism because of the “Homunculus Argument” (aka “Cartesian Theater”). In order for an AI system to think or talk intelligently about anything, including itself, it must have something in ram representing all this knowledge enabling such intelligence. Nobody says there must be a robot perceiver perceiving this knowledge. We predict this knowledge in our head, for the same reasons, does not need an additional ‘perceiver’. This knowledge in our head, including knowledge of us perceiving it, is just what we, the perceiver know.
The only position asserted in this camp is that subjective experiences of qualia are mental constructs that are formed to represent perceived properties of things in the physical world. More specific claims about the nature of qualia, whether qualia can be epiphenomenal, the possible existence of dual phenomenal properties, theories about the nature or formation of representative models, and so forth are all made in child camps. In order to describe the assertions of this camp, we defined "qualia" very broadly as the subjective experiences that we feel like we have, for whatever reason. The precise definition of qualia, however, is not an essential part of many philosophical disagreements. Thus, by remaining very broad in its definition of qualia, this camp is compatible with a wide variety of theories, from Daniel Dennett's theory that qualia is partly illusory [Consciousness Explained P. 375], to the various theories that imply that qualia arises from something else, non illusory, beyond the structure and function of traditional physics [for example see David Chalmers, “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness”.
The following Q&A may help readers find the right camp:
1- If a tree falls in the woods and no one is present, does it make a sound? (Obviously, it makes compression waves that pass through the air. By “sound”, we mean the phenomenal experience that occurs when people hear sound.) 'Yes, the phenomenal properties of sound are part of the compression waves.' Representational Qualia Theory probably is not the right camp for you. You might consider checking out some of the competing peer camps. 'No, phenomenal experiences only occur within the human mind after human senses are stimulated by some physical interaction.' Yep, you belong within this camp. Continue to #2.
2- In order to create experiences of qualia, do our brains need to do anything more than manipulate abstract information using currently-known causal physics? 'Yes, qualia requires either some kind of phenomenal information (which differs from the abstract information used by a typical computer), or some kind of phenomenal operation (which differ from the operations performed by a typical computer) in order to create qualia.' You sound like a property dualist (which is a child-camp of this camp). 'No, a representation comprised of only abstract information, and created only using only the operations available to a turing machine, is sufficient to represent an awareness of having experienced qualia, and having such awareness is what constitutes an experience of qualia.' You are probably a representational functionalist (which is a child-camp of this camp).
Supporters can delegate their support to others. Direct supporters receive e-mail notifications of proposed camp changes, while delegated supporters dont. People delegating their support to others are shown below and indented from their delegates in an outline form. If a delegate changes camp, everyone delegating their support to them will change camps with them.
Topic Name: Theories of Consciousness
Camp Name: Representational Qualia
Title: Representational Qualia Theory
Key Words: real, representational, brain
Related Nick Name:
Parent Camp: Approachable Via Science