Representational Qualia Theory
“Representational Qualia Theory” predicts consciousness is composed of qualia or qualities of something in our head. Redness is not an intrinsic quality of the strawberry, it is a quality of our knowledge of the strawberry, in our head. We gain information about the world in 2 different ways. There is perception and there is direct apprehension of the qualities of the conscious knowledge that is the final result of perception. For more information see this section in the video
Physicists can describe much of the physics and chemistry in the brain, but these descriptions tell us nothing about any intrinsic qualities they may be describing. This is for the same reason you can’t communicate with words what redness is like to a person who has never experienced it. . Most of our abstract reporting of observations of the brain is done in a ‘qualia blind’ way. Qualia blindness refers to the misconception that an abstract word is the same thing as an experience in the brain. However, the physical qualities that comprise what happens in the brain when we experience redness are not illuminated by the word “red”. Red is a word, and words symbolize concepts. The word “dog” is not a dog, just as “red” is not “redness”. Red is the symbol while redness is the experience. Here is a questionnaire designed to help people understand what it means to be qualia blind: Are you Qualia Blind?
Despite this information having been published in multiple conferences and peer reviewed journals, few are getting the message. Most people still have no idea that physicists can’t tell us the intrinsic qualities of colors, smells, or sounds. The simplest description of what “redness” is, is beyond our current abilities, but not beyond our abilities to explore with science.Once experimentalists put various hypotheses about consciousness to the test with experimental data, some will be rejected. As more and more ideas are falsified, the remaining few will be the focus of intensified experimental scrutiny. Eventually, scientists will converge around a consensus camp that will connect the objective with the subjective. This requires identifying the correct set of something that is sufficient to explain what happens during a redness experience. So if you want to help push this field forward, please sign this camp, as if it was a petition to all the experimentalists, so they will finally get the message, so we can finally resolve this so-called “hard problem”. Then get all your friends and colleagues to do the same.
Perception of things is done at a distance via chains of causal intrinsic properties. There are at least two sets of intrinsic properties that must be considered if one is not qualia blind
- “red:” The intrinsic property of objects that are the target of our observation, the initial cause of the perception process (i.e. when the strawberry reflects 650 nm (red) light). A label for anything that reflects or emits light at the wavelengths we will experience as redness.
- “redNESS” The intrinsic property, distinct from red, of our knowledge of red things. Redness is the final result of our perception of red.
We perceive red things, but we don’t perceive ‘redness.’ Redness is the last intrinsic quality in the chain of perception, which we directly apprehend as our knowledge of red things. Our intrinsic redness is our qualitative definition of the abstract term ‘red’. Since this model of consciousness defines multiple terms, it is not blind to intrinsic qualities or qualia. Providing intrinsic definitions enables one to bridge the explanatory gap with statements like:
- ”My redness is like your greenness, both of which we call red.”
Most theories of consciousness agree with the general ideas at this camp level. Even Daniel Dennett’s
current “Predictive Bayesian Coding Theory”
is now in a supporting sub camp to this “Representational Qualia Theory”. Many would consider most of the ideas captured in camps in this topic as worthless mysticism, or what some refer to as “crap in the gap” theories. “Crap in the gap” is similar to the evolutionary God of the Gaps idea
, and it references the fact that unsupported and unworkable ideas have sprung up to fill holes where we lack hard falsifying data. The amount of consensus for representational qualia supports the idea that most people agree we have qualia. The main disagreements center upon the nature of qualia. Because of qualia blindness,
most people don’t distinguish between symbolic representations and intrinsic properties, and these mystical ideas exist in this gap. Once we can verify which of the testable descriptions of intrinsic properties that occur in the brain and are consistent with redness, we can narrow the field of contenders through scientific falsification. As consensus builds for the last remaining theories, scientists can focus their attention on more fruitful experiments.
For example, the most straightforward and easiest to falsify theory is Molecular Materialism
. many people
argue it is too simple, therefore already falsified. Though this and other arguments have not yet converted everyone
, this falsifiability is the point. It predicts that something like our description of glutamate reacting in a synapse is at least partially responsible for intrinsic redness. This is easily falsifiable for everyone
, if anyone experiences redness without glutamate. Once that is falsified, we
then substitute glutamate for the next most likely theory and jump to that camp until we find a necessary and sufficient set of descriptions that is redness that can withstand attempts at falsification. Non qualia blind reporting of experimental science ultimately corralling reasonable people into a definitively measured in real time scientific consensus. We would finally understand the intrinsic colorness qualities of nature, and be able to support whether or not an AI is conscious, beyond philosophical ponderance.
Connecting the Subjective and the Objective
Our understanding of “red” is limited to the unexamined conformity with the social convention of applying the label to objects that emit certain wavelengths of light. We cannot currently define intrinsic “redness”, but that does not mean that such a definition is impossible. For example, before we understood the electrochemical nature of the transmission of nerve impulses, it was a mystery how we could interpret a stubbed toe. Does the pain reside entirely in the toe, or must some signal be sent to the brain first? The development of anesthetics offered clues, as we eventually developed a model that worked.
The only difference between the two people in the above image is that one has a red/green inverter somewhere in their chain of perception. Even for those who agree that a redness quality has something to do with light, the question remains, “whose redness?”
Intrinsic qualities of conscious knowledge, like redness and greenness, which are the final result of the perception process aren’t perceived, they are directly apprehended. Objective information, like the label ‘red’, is some set of intrinsic properties being interpreted, with a dictionary, as something different. Subjective information, like redness, is just a qualitative fact that is directly apprehended. The intrinsic redness quality we know is our definition of the term ‘redness’.
- Redness is a subjective label.
- Glutamate is an objective label.
Objective perception alone provides no qualitative definition of anything. Similarly, all we know of redness is what that intrinsic quality feels like to us, personally. We don’t know which of our perceived objective descriptions of stuff is a description of our intrinsic redness quality we can directly apprehend. Until we make the connection between the objective and the subjective, we will remainqualia blind'
If we objectively observed, from afar, the causal behavior of whatever it is, in our brain, that we directly apprehend as redness, what would we have? We would have an abstract objective mechanistic description of redness behavior. But of course, the description of how redness behaves, would not be intrinsically red. The same is true for our description of glutamate, and our abstract descriptions of how glutamate behaves in a synapse. Our descriptions of glutamate behavior tells us nothing of what that glutamate behavior, itself could be qualitatively like, should it be directly apprehended. Is there anything wrong with assuming a conjecture like the following could be true, at least until it is falsified?
- Redness and Glutamate are labels for the same thing.
The single remaining gap argument: “Science doesn’t yet account for qualia” that many subscribe to and employ in support of their favorite ideas about qualia, simply ought to be closed. It remains a possibility that even some of the so-called ‘crap in the gap’ theories could be experimentally supported, but all science is characterized by falsification: if a hypothesis cannot be put to the test, then it cannot be scientifically explored. Not all truths are testable, but all science is. Science is a specific process that we use to explore our reality. The resolution to the debate about the explanatory gap will not be found in our individual preferences for any particular camp. It will be resolved with the focused application of experimental science targeting the relevant questions about the “Veil of Perception”
Definition of Consciousness
- ”Computationally bound elemental intrinsic qualities like redness and greenness.”
In addition to this being the definition of consciousness, we consider this to be the definition of subsets of consciousness such as Intentionality, Rationality
, free will, higher order knowledge
, intersubjective knowledge
, self-awareness, desire, love, spirits, and all other similar concepts. These are all just computationally bound “composite qualitative experiences.” This camp posits that all of the functionality of homo sapiens, including everything above from intentionality through self-awareness, can be achieved with both abstract and phenomenal programming mechanisms. Abstract systems represent knowledge with words like “red” while the knowledge of conscious systems have intrinsic qualities that are like something such as redness and greenness. People talk about “Philosophical Zombies”
. An abstract system can be thought of as a ‘zombie,’ however, “Philosophical Zombies”
are often described as being “physically identical” to conscious systems. We predict this will not be the case and that there will be an objectively observable difference between systems that represent knowledge with abstract words like ‘red’ and those that represent the same with knowledge that has an intrinsic quality like redness.
Functionalist camps predict redness and greenness arise from software that is functioning correctly, so if knowledge has redness and greenness qualities, which arise from the 1s and 0s of software functioning correctly, this would be considered conscious, unlike a mechanism that simply represented red knowledge with an abstract word like red, there being nothing that is intrinsically redness. A machine that measures the wavelength of light, and outputs the word “red” when it detects red light has not experienced redness.
For example, if you ask a conscious mechanism a question like: “What is your redness like?” and if the objectively verifiable correct answer is something intrinsically phenomenal like: “My redness
is like your greenness
”, that is considered conscious. If the objectively observable accurate answer is “My knowledge is red and to know what I mean by that requires a dictionary,” this is not considered conscious.
We consider the notion of ‘elemental intrinsic quality’ to be the lowest level required to fully describe any conscious experience. For example, if the description of glutamate, reacting in a synapse, is objectively verified to be a description of subjective redness, you could of course break down glutamate into its constituent atoms, and these atoms further into sub atomic particles and so on. You would not be required to describe this subatomic level of detail to entirely reproduce elemental redness. This would be similar to the way that you don’t need to describe the atomic and subatomic makeup of each pixel of paint on a painting. You only need a sufficient set of pixel values, with enough depth to capture all possible color variants for each pixel.
We almost never experience elemental intrinsic qualities, without them being bound with other intrinsic qualities, memories, anticipations, and so on. Completely effing the ineffable nature of a composite qualitative experience would be difficult, as memories, motivations and such would also need to be reproduced and bound. A statement like “My redness
is like your greenness
.” is assumed to be only referring to elemental redness, not everything else that could normally be bound up with anyone’s experience of elemental redness.
In his paper on “Infonomy & Information
” Deepak Loomba coins the term "infonomy
.” This is a helpful concept when distinguishing between reality and knowledge of reality. The way our brain normally represents perception, is as if the strawberry is the initial cause of the perception process. But in reality, the big bang is the initial cause of the light landing on our retina, to say nothing of the increasingly smaller levels of physics, down to and beyond the quantum level, that make up the strawberry. All this is labeled as infonomy. Our perception system selects a subset target of all this to ‘perceive’ and represent with conscious knowledge. The strawberry out there is ‘infonomy’, our knowledge of the strawberry is ‘information’ representing only the important target part of infonomy.
Higher level cognitive ideas and thoughts, like additional knowledge of ourselves being aware of redness, are qualitatively different from colorness qualities, even more so than recalled memories of colors. But all these are still considered to be phenomenal like redness and greenness. For anything like this we can be conscious of, there must be something that is that piece of conscious knowledge. If we have conscious access to or awareness of knowledge, there must be some kind of computational binding enabling this access awareness to it.
The minimum required to be considered conscious is at least two values or pixels, each of which can have at least two different intrinsic qualities, like redness and greenness. These two pixels must be computationally bound, resulting in a “composite qualitative experience”. For example, a thermostat could be engineered to have a heat sensor wired to redness and greenness, rather than eyes sensing light. When the temperature got hot enough, the redness would change to greeness, resulting in the heater turning off, and vice versa. An equally functional mechanism that is only abstract could be a CPU with two registers, with enough discrete logic hardware to compare or bind these two registers with a computation operation like difference. Both mechanisms could tell whether the two values were the same or not. One would be phenomenally conscious, the other would only be abstract. So, yes, according to this definition, you could engineer a conscious thermostat
, for which everyone could know that it was like
the redness a certain percentage of the human population uses to represent red things with. That is as soon as we find out what it is that has that intrinsic redness quality.
Some people wouldn’t want a conscious thermostat, thinking of the possibility for it to rise up against them. But the important difference between us and computers has nothing to do with complexity or intelligence. Thinking of a trivially conscious thermostat, with only two pixels of phenomenal knowledge, and no ability to ponder any attacks, proves intelligence isn’t necessary. The important difference is computers achieve their equivalent functionality running on abstract 1s and 0s, using dictionaries to enable them to run on any hardware. We, on the other hand, run directly on intrinsic qualities like redness and greenness. All a computer can ever have is an abstract word like ‘red’. Even a consciousness without enough complexity to represent all the letters in a word like ‘red’, can still know the intrinsic definition of ‘red’ or what it is like.
Qualia Blind Terminology
Almost all literature, today, uses sloppy terminology making it near impossible to clearly communicate about intrinsic qualities of qualia. They only use terms like ‘red’ or ‘color’. You can’t tell if they are talking about the intrinsic qualities of light, or the very different intrinsic qualities of our knowledge or qualia. Perhaps people should be more precise with their terminology. It would be more precise to use the term ‘color’ as a label for anything that reflects or emits a particular pattern of light and use a different term like ‘colorness’ to refer to intrinsic properties of our conscious knowledge. When you say “I am happy”, do you mean that you are a word, or are you expressing the emotion better described as happiness?
Otherwise most people will completely misinterpret what is being said, and remain qualia blind. Possible diversity of color should also be stressed, by pointing things out like: “my redness is like your greeness, both of which we call red.” And the fact that we can bridge the explanatory gap if one simply defines their terms, as is done in that statement. Whenever people are using sloppy terminology, when talking about perception like this, their language should be called out as ‘qualia blind’.
Unification of Many Theories
The supporters of this camp agree that each of the above theories covers an important / unique part of consciousness / qualia, and that they can all be productively unified with Representational Qualia Theory. With the exception of the Symmetry Theory of Valence, the other theories do not provide any kind of insight into intrinsic qualities of the nature of consciousness or how we might bridge the explanatory gap. RQT describes elemental intrinsic qualities like redness and greenness as being “computationally bound together”, but says nothing more about “computational binding”. This is what “Integrated Information Theory provides. It denotes the amount of computational integration by the Greek letter phi Φ, which is the same thing as the amount of computational binding of elemental phenomenal qualities. All this integrated qualitative information results in exactly a computationally bound “momentarily active, subjectively experienced event in working memory,” which is the “Global Workspace” in the “Global Workspace Theory”. Global workspace is the diorama and everything else bound together, probably via some type of resonating waves in nature as described in “Resonance Theory of Consciousness”. Finally, the “valence” or motivational “intrinsic attractiveness/’good’-ness” of various qualia is covered by “Symmetry Theory of Valence”.
The supporters of this camp also agree that there are no ‘hard mind body problems,’ and that the only problem is simply a result of sloppy epistemology of color and other intrinsic qualities, smells, and so on. We are simply still qualia blind and don’t know the intrinsic quality of anything. The prediction is that using traditional science in a non-qualia blind way will eventually uncover everything necessary about consciousness to completely take it all apart and put it back together in extremely amplified and computationally connected ways.