Representational Qualia Theory
Representational qualia theory predicts that our conscious knowledge of things is represented by qualia, in our head, as indicated in the above image by Steven Lehar. When a strawberry is the target of our perception, the perception process is initiated when the strawberry reflects 650 nm (red) light. The final result is our knowledge, which is a 3D model of the strawberry constructed by our brain out of phenomenal qualities or qualia like redness and greenness. The strawberry reflects red light. We perceive redness. Since this theory predicts qualia are physical things in our brain, we should be able to detect them. We cannot currently, only because our current methods of observing physical reality are “qualia blind”. Qualia blindness is fully described in the Google doc draft of Qualia are Physical Qualities
being prepared for publication at the Long Island Philosophy Society 2019 Conference
Briefly, we are qualia blind, because we are culturally trained to perceive reality in an abstracted way. The only information we have about the true nature of physics is abstract representations of such. Think of the word “strawberry." Do you taste it? What color is it? How does it smell? None of these come from the string of letters we put together to describe it. Words are abstractions of experience. Red light is not a redness experience. We are qualia blind when we confuse abstracted representations (like the word “red”) for the experience of redness. Confusion between these two important and very distinct concepts is common:
- The physical properties that are the target of our observation, the initial cause of the perception process (i.e. when the strawberry reflects 650 nm (red) light).
- The physical properties of the final results of the perception process, our conscious knowledge of a red strawberry in our brain we directly experience as redness.
In other words, this theory predicts there is some set of physics, possibly some we already abstractly know all about, that is the physics of the redness we experience. Each sub camp is predicting various candidates for the physical properties we experience as redness.
For example, “Representational Functionalism”
predicts “functionality” is primal, and that a redness qualia can “arise” from many physically different computational systems correctly implementing the “redness” functionality. “Representative Materialism”
, on the other hand predicts that physical matter is primal - without the right matter, no redness.
What “Representational Qualia Theory” provides is a way to falsify various theories of experience described in each subcamp. The last theory standing then becomes “the one” (until it is falsified, or another better one comes along). For example, a prediction that glutamate reacting in a synapse is what we experience as redness is falsifiable; If anyone experiencing redness without glutamate, the theory is falsified. (Note; “glutamate” is used only as an example, and it is not important what redness really is, except to say that it is some measurable and consistent thing) We simply must test for multiple possibilities, including all the theories described in all subcamps, using the non qualia blind methods described in this paper, until we find a theory that describes qualia in a way that holds in all experimental cases, and is thereby consistent (not falsified).
The Representational Qualia super-camp predicts that once experiments are performed in a non qualia blind way, they will soon discover what qualia are - enabling the objective discovery of things like two people possessing inverted qualia (see image below). If this is achieved, we will finally have bridged the “explanatory gap”
, pierced the “veil of perception”
, and falsified all theories of consciousness except the one.
The qualitative understanding of all other consciousness, and what it is all like, will just be ever more complex and subtle variations on the same qualitative method of not being qualia blind.
Unification of 3 theories
The supporters of this camp agree with the general ideas presented in Integrated Information Theory
and Global Workspace Theory
, and that they can both be productively unified with Representational Qualia Theory. These theories make attempts to deal with the qualitative nature of consciousness. However, neither of these theories provides any kind of insight into how we might bridge the explanatory gap and determine if two people are or are not red/green qualia inverts. They don’t provide an experimentally verifiable definition of qualia that Representational Qualia Theory provides. This is required for “effing of the ineffable” nature of qualia.
RQT describes elemental physical qualities like redness and greenness being “computationally bound together”, but says nothing more about “computational binding”. This is what Integrated Information Theory provides. It denotes the amount of integration by the greek letter phi Φ, which is the same thing as the amount of computational binding of elemental phenomenal qualities. Finally, all this integrated qualitative information results in exactly a “momentarily active, subjectively experienced event in working memory,” which is the Global Workspace in the Global Workspace Theory.