Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Qualia

MelbournePhilosopher

It might be useful to discuss the idea of qualia. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia) Where do our motivations come from, and what makes us happy? Why is it that some people get angry or frustrated while other bear up with equanimity? We all experience these emotions from often differing causes, and qualia is a term introduced to help us talk about what it's like. There's something about anger which is independant from its cause - anger has some ineffable nature which is general, regardless of the cause of the anger, or the other emotions that may be playing across our mind. Qualia is the collective noun for "what it's like to be angry", "sad", "joyous" etc. Each has a particular "quale". Due to the clumsiness of using foreign conventions for plurality, most people just use the word qualia to refer also to a single emotion.

Qualia need not be restricted only to emotions. Describing qualia as "what it's like" to be angry is the best way to understand the word, but it may also be that there are qualia for purely intellectual states of mind.

It becomes almost impossibly to talk about the theory of mind without using the word qualia in every other sentence, where it forms one of the central points of disagreement. It is completely impossible to describe qualia as one can't genuinely describe the experience of redness, or blueness etc. People more or less accept that other humans have minds, but describing how a brain somehow gives rise to qualia leaves everybody speechless. Terms such as "emergent behaviour" are used to suggest that somehow the complex relationships of brain components "give rise" to the ability to experience qualia. Attempting to discuss what other kinds of brain might give rise to minds often hammers at this ability to experience qualia.

It also has linguistic and cultural relevance. While languages differ, to the best of my knowledge, every language has words for all the same qualia. That is, while the cultural importance of things like colour or music or even death vary, there is descriptive equivalence when it comes to talking about qualia. It would be very interesting to try to establish whether there were any "qualia words" (like anger, for example) which are absent in any language, modern or dead. It would also be very interesting to study language in other animals to see the use they make of qualia words. (This is not some Dr. Dolittle fantasy - chimpanzees have been taught to use sign language. While they don't make the same creative uses of it as humans, they _do_ use it form communication, which gives an almost frightening, and definately awe-inspiring, insight into another kind of brain). I would be very interested to see if they could be taught emotive words. It would be my expectation that the chimps would be unable to remember or understand words for which they have no mental object in correspondence.

As I hinted earlier, qualia also has reference for understanding our motivation. I regard motivatedness to have a particular qualia, and to be a concept in and of itself. That is to say, I believe there is something called "motivatedness" which is common to the experience of "motivated-by-fear", "motivated-by-love", "motivated-by-reward" etc which reflects your enthusiasm and mental willingness in engaging with any tasks to hand. This, perhaps, could be seen as Nietzche's will to power (or will to life), the mysterious instinctive, irrational and undeniable mental pressure that we feel to simply live.

Cheers,
-MP

1 Comments:

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5/09/2014 02:38:00 AM  

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