Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Qualia and Consciousness

Rama had Paul MacGeoch forwarded me this link that features Francis Crick and his apostlte Christoph Koch talking about consciousness and "qualia":

With all due respect to them, I find their remarks to be some of the most philosophically naive and historically uninformed on these topics I have yet to hear. With so-called "qualia" all they seem to have done is rediscover what Christian von Ehrenfels called "Gestalt qualities" over 100 years ago, and consciousness is scarcely even a scientific concept the way they use it, apparently unaware as they seem to be that it is the starting point of all scientific investigation rather than something secondary or superflous that automata lack. Not once do they even mention the visual world in their discussion of visual consciousness (whatever that is), let alone its structure.


  1. I have always campaigned against the use of "qualia", which replaces the grit of having the hard reality of a sensation thrust upon one's awareness with the fluff of a cloud nine debate with one's self about hat "it is like" to have a sensation.

  2. Peter Hacker has pretty well hacked away the whole vague notion of qualia in his "Bat" paper, but the fact remains that wholes do have holistic properties, as extensively studied by the Gestalt theorists and Ganzheit theorists. Reductionism tends to do violence to them, and I can understand what might prompt a vision scientist such as Thorne Shipley to write a book as he did late in his career to challenge reductionist theories of mind: "Intersensory origin of mind: a revisit to emergent evolution"

  3. I think one of the most interesting things about sensations (or qualia, if one prefers) is that they are famously subject to change: A yellow spot can turn into an orange one and then into a red one. If there is nothing more to a sensation (or quale) than being yellow, orange, or red, how is it then that this change can occur? Surely one cannot very well say that "something" is changing from yellow to orange to red without positing that there is a constant component to every sensation as well as a changeable one, otherwise one might say that the yellow patch is slowly destroyed while an orange one comes into existence in its place, only to be succeeded by a red one. But that won't work, because the change is often continuous, even in ordinary experience. If one were to liken it to a change in physical temperature, then it would "map" to differences in motion. But a yellow, orange, or red patch can be totally stationary as the color changes.

    In any case, physical science seems to be of no help to us here!