Representational Qualia Theory
We believe that our conscious knowledge is represented with qualia. Information theory mandates that information or knowledge must be represented by something. When we pick a red strawberry from a field of green leaves, there must be something that is each point of diverse colored knowledge that we have of the strawberry patch. In computers, abstract ones and zeros represent knowledge. By design, what these ones and zeroes are represented with does not matter, as long as you properly interpret the representations. Qualia, (i.e. red vs green) like ones vs zeros, can also represent information, but unlike ones and zeros, what is doing the representation, what they are phenomenally like, and the fact that the system is aware of such, is all important.
As we pick a red strawberry, the causal properties of the surface of the strawberry initiate the perception process, but the first causally downstream representation (i.e. 700nm light), though it can be interpreted to represent the causal properties of the strawberry, are not fundamentally or phenomenally anything like the original. This is why qualia are ineffable, and why we are blind to anything of the surface of the strawberry, other than it's causal properties.
The final result of this perception process is our conscious knowledge. This knowledge is represented by qualia which are unified into the conscious world that is our awareness. This unification process allows us to know all at the same time what the red is like, and how it is different from the green which we represent the leaves with.
Many people often compare the idea of qualia to many failed theories of the past such as vitalism, phlogisten, either and so on. The problem with many of these arguments is they entirely miss classify the nature of qualia as John Gregg
states in his essay on the hard problem
"The problem is that subjective consciousness (or qualia) is not
something we drag into the picture to explain something or other
that we observe, as elan vital was invoked to explain what we
observe about life, or to use another example reductive
physicalists like, as the luminiferous ether was invoked to explain
light waves in the 19th century. Consciousness is the raw data,
the observed thing that needs explaining. It is the light, not the
People like Daniel Dennett make similar categorical errors when they claim we don't have qualia "it just seems like we do" (Consciousness Explained P 375). The very meaning of 'to seem' is to have knowledge that doesn't accurately represent its referent. Qualia have to do with the nature of our seeming. Whether or not they are mistaken representations is irrelevant.
This long cause and effect chain of representations that is the perception process is initiated by the reflection of photons by the surface of a physical object. Intermediate events are those in the retina, optic nerve, optic thalamus, optic radiations and a number of stages in the visual cortex. The final result of the perceptual process is the appearance of a visual sensation in the phenomenal visual field (A). This is associated with the acquisition of cognitive knowledge relating to the external physical object (B).
Processes A and B are mediated by different brain mechanisms. In associative agnosia the patient has intact phenomenology but defective epistemology about visual objects. In blindsight the opposite occursâ€”no phenomenology but functioning epistemology. Visual phenomenology(A) and visual epistemology(B) are processed by different brain mechanisms and correspondingly lost by damage to these regions.
The word 'red' can be used in its common sense mode as naming a causal property of an external object that reflects 700 nm light such as a common strawberry. But this usage can be misleading or misdirect us from the true location of the important sensation involved and its true phenomenal nature. It is theoretically possible to add an inverter to the optical nerve causing the abstracted red and green signal contained therein to be inverted. This would result in the still reflecting 700 nm light strawberry being represented with phenomenal green, and the leaves to be represented with phenomenal red in the visual field of such a person after such an inverter was activated. Dreams, hallucinated strawberries, after-images, and other things in our visual field can also be composed of phenomenal red.
The fact that a strawberry causes 700 nm light to reflect in a certain pattern has nothing to do with a phenomenal quality red other than our brain happens to use phenomenal red to represent it. This is absolutely proven by the fact that we can represent the same thing with an inverted 'green' phenomenal sensation. True phenomenal 'red', like all phenomenal properties, are the final result of the perception process. There is no phenomenal color, taste, warmth, sound, or pain, beyond our senses. There is only the causal behavior of reflected electromagnetic radiation of a certain wavelength, chemical content, kinetic energy motion of molecules, acoustical vibrations, bodily damage or other cause and effect behavioral properties which our brain uses phenomenology to represent.
We think the phenomenal red strawberry amongst the green leaves we are aware of is out beyond our eyes, and that we are directly aware of it. But this is a misrepresentation - an obvious optimization selected by nature. In reality, these sensations are entirely after the perception process, in a conscious spirit world* model of the reality we perceive. Phenomenal properties are not properties of what initiates the perception process, they are properties of the final result of the perception process.
At the center of this phenomenal 3D world modeling reality beyond our senses is our experience of the body-image. This is the model of the physical body that we experience and that is also constructed by a representative mechanism. All somatic sensations, including 'phantom' limbs and phantom limb pain, are located in the body image not in the physical body.
Inside our experience of our body-image is an experience of our "self" or "spirit" or "I". This "I" is represented as looking out of our experience of our eyes within this body image. But of course, this spirit image, unlike most everything else in this phenomenal world, has no referent in reality. However, though it has no referent in reality, this in no way means our spirit does not exist. This phenomenal "spirit" is what we really, literally, and spiritually are. During "out of body experiences" this image of our spirit* leaves our body-image, all in the phenomenal world of our conscious awareness, all dependent on our brain.
We know the difference between the green leaf and the red strawberry, precisely because of the phenomenal difference between red and green sensations. When there is a red strawberry represented in the left hemisphere (right field of vision) and a green leaf represented in the right hemisphere (left field of vision) we are aware of all this together in a unified phenomenal world. Something, surely in some way via the corpus callosum, unifies these parts of fields of vision into one conscious whole where we can compare and contrast their conscious differences.
This theory predicts it will be possible to use similar mechanisms to produce artificial hemisphere like structures integrated into our visual fields that can reliably reproduce various phenomenal sensations upon command within one single phenomenal world of awareness with the red, green, and everything else we are already phenomenally aware of. With such an enhanced mind, we should be able to throw a switch and say something like: 'This is what my red is like'. To which the augmented person may say - "Yes, that is the same as red for me." Or, we might be surprised to find that she represents 700 nm light with something dramatically different. We refer to such a phenomenal communication ability as 'effing'
Various brain interface experiments are increasingly getting close to 'effing' abilities. Just one demonstration of such is documented in this wired article
. If we should achieve even a remote and rare but reliable ability to 'eff' the ineffable as predicted by this theory via any such methods this will demonstrably prove this theory to be THE ONE true theory. It will do this by falsifying all theories that claim qualia do not exist, all theories that claim we will never be able to eff the ineffable, theories that claim there is no 'hard problem', or any theories that claim we have been aware of phenomenal properties beyond (or causally upstream from) our senses.
We believe that with such abilities to understand and eff the ineffable, the only remaining requirements for full understanding of the brain will be 'easy problems' of complexity and information theory. In other words, nothing else beyond effing understanding and sufficient complexity and engineering theory will be required to fully read, understand and artificially reproduce conscious minds in their entirety.
We believe it is absurd to think the only way to determine the nature of another consciousness is only through a "Turing Test". To phenomenally know the nature of such, the most important question to ask a something like: "What is Red like?" And to know if the conscious entity is telling the truth, you must know something about the representations being used in the remote mind, and have the ability to at least causally observe such neural correlates and have something like 'effing' abilities to ground these abstracted cause and effect representations. In other words, you must really know what it is phenomenally like.
There are myriads of theories about just what and how these phenomenal sensations in our visual field are and how they are unified into our phenomenal world of awareness. See the various Representational Qualia Theory sub camps for descriptions of these various competing theories.
A few people claim to be representationalists, while promoting the use of terribly confusing and ambiguous terms such as our representations are 'transparent' in a way that allows us to be aware of what we are looking at. Or they say things like "every qualia is a representation". As soon as you say something ambiguous like our representations are 'transparent' this allows people to quickly jump to the obviously erroneous conclusion that phenomenal red is really on the surface of the strawberry, and that our representations, because of their 'transparency' allow us to be aware of such. You can see terribly confused people struggling with these ideas all over the place because of terribly unclear terminology such as this. See liberal usages of this word in the works of Michel Tye
, Thomas Metzinger
When you say something like 'every quale is a representation', again this confuses the issues and does not accurately mechanically portray what is the representation, and what is being represented. Such an idea is what allows philosophers to make terrible mistakes such as thinking: "We don't really have a red phenomenal property, it only seems like we do." We believe it is much more mechanically accurate to simply say qualia represent.
A few so called representationalists also name something they call the phenomenal principle - "That if there sensibly appears to a subject to be something which possesses a particular sensible quality then there is something of which the subject is aware which does possess that sensible quality." And they deny such a principle. We believe such a principle, but think it is much better to simply say our brains use qualia to represent things and that our knowledge is made of such. What these qualia are like, how they are different, and how we are aware of such in a unified way, is critically important to the process.
In a way our skulls are phenomenal and mortal prison walls. Though there are unified, grand and glorious phenomenal spirit* worlds within each of ours, our spirits are still trapped behind this phenomenal veil of perception. Our cause and effect based senses and their extension via traditional scientific instruments and communication tools allow abstracted communication between these worlds, and about the causal behavior of the world in general. But, beyond this abstracted information about only the behavior of what is outside, we are still phenomenally isolated and blind to any phenomenal properties beyond what is in our own world of conscious awareness. When we hug someone, we still only know half of what is important.
We believe science is on the verge of getting an objective handle on these blind to traditional cause and effect observation phenomenal properties that will soon enables technologies such as 'effing' the ineffable. This discovery will finally resolve how they work, how they are unified, and many other conundrums of self and epistemology philosophy has been struggling with for so long. We believe such a discovery will be the most significant, profound and world changing of scientific achievements to date. For such an achievement will literally ultimately enable the piercing of these spirit prison walls and eventually allow our phenomenally unified spirits to be freed into a world that is surely much more than just cause and effect behavior. If this theory turns out to be true our spirit* worlds, in addition to being shared and merged, will soon be growing in resolution, extents, diversity of phenomenal qualities, and many way's we surely can't even fathom yet, let alone know what it will be like.
- That we know of, V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein were the first to propose the idea of effing the ineffable (though they didn't call it such) in their seminal Three Laws of Qualia paper in 1997. Some people think there is a better term to use than 'eff'. Please see this survey topic and 'vote' for what you think is the best term to describe this process of communicating that which is ineffable.
- In Nov, 2009 David Chalmers et al did a PhilPapers Survey. Question number 21 of that survey was: "Perceptual Experience: Representationalism, Qualia Theory, Disjunctivism, Sense-datum Theory?" Though this camp shares doctrines of many of the choices such as qualia and representationalism, the members of this camp consider the Sense-datum Theory choice to be the closest to what is described here.
- There is a canonized list of the most favorite publications about representational qualia theory here.
- This theory makes profound predictions about what things like uploading and "escaping from our mortal spirit* prison" will be like, should it turn out to be true. A detailed description of such predictions in story form is contained in chapters 5 and 6 of the short story by Brent Allsop entitled "1229 years after Titanic" available here: http://home.comcast.net/~brent.allsop
It isn't easy to describe what we are talking about here with common English. Terms like 'phenomenal' and 'spiritual' get close, but can also be misleading because these terms are so often used to mean other things than what we are talking about here. Though this 'world in our head' has many similarities to what people commonly think of when they use the term 'spirit world' it should be very clear that what we are talking about here is completely contained in our skull, and is dependent on, or a property of the living matter that makes up our brain. We do believe in 'spirits' as defined here, but we do not believe in ghosts.