As we are all aware, a biologist's assertion that pain 'is' the firing of C-Fibre neurones in the brain is an erroneous one. It does not in any way explain the sensation of pain; I may have never felt pain in my life, and upon having heard this assertion I would be no more enlightened as to how it really felt.
This is one of the core issues of the philosophy of mind: the idea that there is a certain qualitative aspect of feelings and sensations that is not captured merely by descriptions of their biological cause. An easy to understand example of this is thought; while we know that thought is made up of various electrical impulses within the brain, it is clear that there is some dichotomy between these electrical impulses and the specific thought content which they entail, that is, what you're actually thinking.
The issue the theory addresses is this one: what exactly is this qualitative aspect?
Thomas Nagel, in his 'What is it like to be a bat?' famously concluded that with the current model of understanding the universe we would never be able to objectively quantify true conscious experience as it is, by its nature, a subjective thing. The more objective of an explanation of the consciousness we attain, he claims, the further away we are from its essence, which is of subjectivity.
The study of epistemology, on the other hand has shown us that there is next to nothing in this world which we can consider to be objective fact, showing that everything that is held in the mind is entirely subjective, including any knowledge or sensation of the world around us. The only exception to this, as Descartes shows, is the knowledge of the existence mind itself, for to deny its existence would be a self-contradiction as one would have to have a mind in order to do so. In each case, the two philosophers are clearly referring to two different levels (or more accurately, types) of objectivity.
The reason I mention these points is because many see the ultimate goal of the philosophy of mind as being to objectively quantify the consciousness, and I wish to dispel this notion. Nagel's argument is wrong as far as I can see, because the same problem that exists with the consciousness itself from his description exists with any aspect of experience. Any aspect of experience is, like the consciousness itself, private to each person who experiences it. And, as with consciousness, we are not given a full description of how a given aspect seems to another person by its mere linguistic description. Take the example of the age old problem 'How do I know for sure that objects we both describe as red do not appear to me as objects we both describe as green appear to you?'. This is a clear example of how language does not truly objectively convey aspects of experience.
Despite this, colour is something which Nagel would have probably have identified as being objective but he didn't think that consciousness itself would be able to achieve this degree of objectivity. It is clear however, that colour and other aspects of experience which are typically described as 'objective' are really no more so than the consciousness itself. The point here is that if you consider the likes of colour to be an objective descriptor at all, then you will find we already have an objective way of describing the consciousness in words and phrases like 'sad' or 'angry' or 'in pain'. And, since Descartes shows, through his cogito, that the only thing which is truly objective (that is, unsusceptible to doubt) is the existence of the conscious mind, it is unavoidable to conclude that we already have as objective an account of the consciousness as we ever will have.
Subjectivity versus objectivity aside, as I said, I'm now going to try and show exactly what the consciousness is and how it fits into the world around us.
The concept of dimensional reality will no doubt be known to most reading this, but there are those who may believe that a dimension is essentially a universe, hence the large amount of reference to an 'alternate' dimension in popular culture. Bluntly put, however, what I mean here when I say dimension could really be seen as being synonymous with 'aspect' (indeed, anyone familiar with Spinoza will be aware of the parallels between his theory of mind and my own).
The first 3 dimensions then, are the aspect of an object to which we most commonly relate, that is, its physical structure or place in the world. Thanks to Einstein we now know that time is the 4th dimension, however, such could have been deduced without abstract mathematics using some very simple logic.
-An entity cannot rationally described to be part of some group or category if it is not at least compatible with the typical descriptors of that group (example, try to find a mammal that does not lactate).
-Time is not compatible with the typical descriptors of the first three dimensions (It does not have a breadth, height, or width).
-It can therefore not rationally be described as being within the first three dimensions.
-This being the case, and with Occam's razor in hand, time should be considered to be the 4th dimension.
If one looks, a similar problem can be seen with the consciousness and the currently described dimensions.
One can say serotonin concentration in the brain affects moods, or one can say the amount of time a particular concentration of serotonin last determines the lasting period of a particular mood. One can also say that the air resistance of an object determines how long it will take to fall.
And yet, giving precise details of an object's shape and relative air resistance, no matter how comprehensively, cannot explain directly how long an object will take to fall. We may infer that data from calculations, but in describing the length of flight we do not invoke details of shape and size - we talk about specific lengths of time; in other words, revert to another dimensional plane (as shown in the above syllogism). In the same way as air resistance does not tell of flight length, brain chemistry does not tell of emotion: it only allows one to infer the emotion occurring - and to explain that emotion we revert to different language; no longer talking of concentrations and locations - we talk of sadness or happiness, elation or pleasure, or any other emotion, and we talk of those emotion's strengths.
These emotions are the current objective standard by which we can comprehend how another human being is feeling, and yet, they are so rough, imprecise and lacking in standardisation that if the same treatment were given to time no one would ever get anything done. I feel my theory should give us a starting point for fixing this issue, as well as answering questions about the nature of qualia.
It goes as follows:
-An entity cannot rationally describe to be part of some group or category if it is not at least compatible with the typical descriptors of that group.
-Consciousness/qualia is not compatible with the typical descriptors of the first 4 dimensions (see above example).
-It can therefore not rationally be described as being within the first 4 dimensions.
-This being the case, and with Occam's razor in hand, consciousness/qualia should be considered the 5th dimension.
This makes perfect sense; while other theories contrive to squeeze the square peg of the qualitative consciousness into the round hole of the first 3 dimensions, boggling our minds in the process, ours accepts their distinctness and provides for them their own niche in which they are liberated to be what they are.
The first objection to this theory that I have thought of is that if it is indeed the case then all objects must have a consciousness, e.g. thermometers must have a sense of temperature, clocks must have a sense of the passage of time etc. My first response is the obvious fact that we in our brains have a vast, complicated, but ultimately structured, network of thought, memory, vision and all the senses that other objects, such as thermometers simply do not. We couldn't feel heat without nerves, so what's so special about thermometers that they can? None, because they can't. I see the 5th dimension as requiring a degree of structured complexity to come through as consciousness, because as we acknowledge, the loss of an aspect of the brain's complexity, such as losing the part of your brain that deals with vision, results in a reduction of consciousness (the consciousness of sight).
The proper (fancy) response to this argument is well documented and was meted out by Searle in a rebuttal to one of the responses to his famous Chinese Room experiment. The response to which I am referring is the conjunction fallacy; the idea that any conjunction or pattern of objects or events can form an intelligent system; if a thermometer can feel heat then perhaps, if enough willing participants could be found, we could recreate a human consciousness simply by having people stand in particular patterns which represent the cell structure of the human brain. This idea is obviously absurd, and yet, what is the brain, if not a conjuncted system? What is so special about the cellular level connections of the brain that make them more capable of creating consciousness than a group of people holding hands, or indeed a highly advanced computer program, for that matter? The answer is of course, nothing.
What are we left with then?
Before I move on to answer that question I must clarify something. One thought which may have been ringing alarm bells in your head (as it certainly did mine for many a headache inducing night of thought) is this 'Why is there an entire dimension, presumably created at the big bang, which only ever represents itself in meaningful emotions and sensations? There is no place for such intentionality in the impersonal cosmos science has shown us to live in.'
My answer to this is simple; these qualia have no meaning at all, not on their own â€“ they merely appear to because they are apprehended by other brain events which have their own qualia. That is, they seem to have meaning because, for example, while we may have a sensation of pleasure in our brain, the rest of our brain is considering this sensation (or at least, the intellectual part is, the part that will later go on to ask the above question) and this 'considering' has its own qualitative character. An analogy to help explain this is to imagine a bundle of sticks, stacked, without the use of glue or any adhesive, into the shape of a pyramid. Imagine each stick as a particular qualia.
In this analogy, each stick only has value as it relates to the whole pyramid - without the other sticks, we would just consider it an ordinary stick, and yet alongside the other sticks, it has a purpose and meaning, and that is roughly how I imagine qualia get their meaning, that is, in conjunction with all the other qualia.
And now for that earlier question about the specialness of the brain and the seemingly untenable problem which it creates. My answer to it however, is quite simple and already has a small following of people who have deduced it, for other reasons of course. It is the electro-magnetic field. It represents the brain's complexity, the brain's bundle of sticks, if you will, quite sufficiently (therefore allowing for the consciousness) and it does not suffer from the problem of conjunction as it is one, whole, analogue entity, not a collection of several arbitrarily connected atoms or cells.