Don't have an account? This chapter examines the origin and coherence of a certain candidate notion of qualia. Qualia are supposed to be special properties, in some hard-to-define way. By exposing the groundlessness of qualia-based insights, this chapter undermines the notion of qualia as absolute non-relational , atomic properties of phenomenal experience. Whether such notions of the properties of phenomenal experience are the same as those countenanced by others is a moot point.
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As is so often the case with philosophical jargon, it is easier to give examples than to give a definition of the term. Look at a glass of milk at sunset; the way it looks to you --the particular, personal, subjective visual quality of the glass of milk is the quale of your visual experience at the moment. The way the milk tastes to you then is another, gustatory quale , and how it sounds to you as you swallow is an auditory quale ; These various "properties of conscious experience" are prime examples of qualia.
Nothing, it seems, could you know more intimately than your own qualia; let the entire universe be some vast illusion, some mere figment of Descartes' evil demon, and yet what the figment is made of for you will be the qualia of your hallucinatory experiences.
Descartes claimed to doubt everything that could be doubted, but he never doubted that his conscious experiences had qualia, the properties by which he knew or apprehended them. The verb "to quine" is even more esoteric. It comes from The Philosophical Lexicon Dennett c, 8th edn. To deny resolutely the existence or importance of something real or significant.
But I am not kidding. My goal is subversive. I am out to overthrow an idea that, in one form or another, is "obvious" to most people--to scientists, philosophers, lay people.
My quarry is frustratingly elusive; no sooner does it retreat in the face of one argument than "it" reappears, apparently innocent of all charges, in a new guise. Which idea of qualia am I trying to extirpate? Everything real has properties, and since I don't deny the reality of conscious experience, I grant that conscious experience has properties.
I grant moreover that each person's states of consciousness have properties in virtue of which those states have the experiential content that they do. That is to say, whenever someone experiences something as being one way rather than another, this is true in virtue of some property of something happening in them at the time, but these properties are so unlike the properties traditionally imputed to consciousness that it would be grossly misleading to call any of them the long-sought qualia.
Qualia are supposed to be special properties, in some hard-to-define way. My claim--which can only come into focus as we proceed--is that conscious experience has no properties that are special in any of the ways qualia have been supposed to be special. The standard reaction to this claim is the complacent acknowledgment that while some people may indeed have succumbed to one confusion or fanaticism or another, one's own appeal to a modest, innocent notion of properties of subjective experience is surely safe.
It is just that presumption of innocence I want to overthrow. I want to shift the burden of proof, so that anyone who wants to appeal to private, subjective properties has to prove first that in so doing they are not making a mistake.
This status of guilty until proven innocent is neither unprecedented nor indefensible so long as we restrict ourselves to concepts. Today, no biologist would dream of supposing that it was quite all right to appeal to some innocent concept of lan vital. Of course one could use the term to mean something in good standing; one could use lan vital as one's name for DNA, for instance, but this would be foolish nomenclature, considering the deserved suspicion with which the term is nowadays burdened.
I want to make it just as uncomfortable for anyone to talk of qualia--or "raw feels" or "phenomenal properties" or "subjective and intrinsic properties" or "the qualitative character" of experience--with the standard presumption that they, and everyone else, knows what on earth they are talking about. Endnote 1 What are qualia, exactly? This obstreperous query is dismissed by one author "only half in jest" by invoking Louis Armstrong's legendary reply when asked what jazz was: "If you got to ask, you ain't never gonna get to know.
If I succeed in my task, this move, which passes muster in most circles today, will look as quaint and insupportable as a jocular appeal to the ludicrousness of a living thing--a living thing, mind you! My claim, then, is not just that the various technical or theoretical concepts of qualia are vague or equivocal, but that the source concept, the "pretheoretical" notion of which the former are presumed to be refinements, is so thoroughly confused that even if we undertook to salvage some "lowest common denominator" from the theoreticians' proposals, any acceptable version would have to be so radically unlike the ill-formed notions that are commonly appealed to that it would be tactically obtuse--not to say Pickwickian--to cling to the term.
Far better, tactically, to declare that there simply are no qualia at all. Endnote 2 Rigorous arguments only work on well-defined materials, and since my goal is to destroy our faith in the pretheoretical or "intuitive" concept, the right tools for my task are intuition pumps, not formal arguments.
What follows is a series of fifteen intuition pumps, posed in a sequence designed to flush out--and then flush away--the offending intuitions.
In section 2, I will use the first two intuition pumps to focus attention on the traditional notion. It will be the burden of the rest of the paper in to convince you that these two pumps, for all their effectiveness, mislead us and should be discarded. In section 3, the next four intuition pumps create and refine a "paradox" lurking in the tradition. This is not a formal paradox, but only a very powerful argument pitted against some almost irresistibly attractive ideas.
In section 4, six more intuition pumps are arrayed in order to dissipate the attractiveness of those ideas, and section 5 drives this point home by showing how hapless those ideas prove to be when confronted with some real cases of anomalous experience. This will leave something of a vacuum, and in the final section three more intuition pumps are used to introduce and motivate some suitable replacements for the banished notions.
The Special Properties of Qualia Intuition pump 1: watching you eat cauliflower. I see you tucking eagerly into a helping of steaming cauliflower, the merest whiff of which makes me faintly nauseated, and I find myself wondering how you could possible relish that taste , and then it occurs to me that to you, cauliflower probably tastes must taste? A plausible hypothesis, it seems, especially since I know that the very same food often tastes different to me at different times.
For instance, my first sip of breakfast orange juice tastes much sweeter than my second sip if I interpose a bit of pancakes and maple syrup, but after a swallow or two of coffee, the orange juice goes back to tasting roughly? Surely we want to say or think about such things, and surely we are not wildly wrong when we do, so.
This "conclusion" seems innocent, but right here we have already made the big mistake. The final step presumes that we can isolate the qualia from everything else that is going on--at least in principle or for the sake of argument. What counts as the way the juice tastes to x can be distinguished, one supposes, from what is a mere accompaniment, contributory cause, or byproduct of this "central" way. One dimly imagines taking such cases and stripping them down gradually to the essentials, leaving their common residuum, the way things look, sound, feel, taste, smell to various individuals at various times, independently of how those individuals are stimulated or non- perceptually affected, and independently of how they are subsequently disposed to behave or believe.
The mistake is not in supposing that we can in practice ever or always perform this act of purification with certainty, but the more fundamental mistake of supposing that there is such a residual property to take seriously, however uncertain our actual attempts at isolation of instances might be. The examples that seduce us are abundant in every modality. I cannot imagine, will never know, could never know, it seems, how Bach sounded to Glenn Gould. I can barely recover in my memory the way Bach sounded to me when I was a child.
And I cannot know, it seems, what it is like to be a bat Nagel, , or whether you see what I see, colorwise, when we look up at a clear "blue" sky. The homely cases convince us of the reality of these special properties--those subjective tastes, looks, aromas, sounds--that we then apparently isolate for definition by this philosophical distillation. The specialness of these properties is hard to pin down, but can be seen at work in intuition pump 2: the wine-tasting machine.
Could Gallo Brothers replace their human wine tasters with a machine? A computer-based "expert system" for quality control and classification is probably within the bounds of existing technology.
We now know enough about the relevant chemistry to make the transducers that would replace taste buds and olfactory organs delicate color vision would perhaps be more problematic , and we can imagine using the output of such transducers as the raw material--the "sense data" in effect--for elaborate evaluations, descriptions, classifications.
Pour the sample in the funnel and, in a few minutes or hours, the system would type out a chemical assay, along with commentary: "a flamboyant and velvety Pinot, though lacking in stamina"--or words to such effect.
Such a machine might well perform better than human wine tasters on all reasonable tests of accuracy and consistency the winemakers could devise Endnote 3 , but surely no matter how "sensitive" and "discriminating" such a system becomes, it will never have, and enjoy, what we do when we taste a wine: the qualia of conscious experience! Whatever informational, dispositional, functional properties its internal states have, none of them will be special in the way qualia are.
If you share that intuition, you believe that there are qualia in the sense I am targeting for demolition. What is special about qualia? Traditional analyses suggest some fascinating second-order properties of these properties. First, since one cannot say to another, no matter how eloquent one is and no matter how cooperative and imaginative one's audience is, exactly what way one is currently seeing, tasting, smelling and so forth, qualia are ineffable --in fact the paradigm cases of ineffable items.
According to tradition, at least part of the reason why qualia are ineffable is that they are intrinsic properties--which seems to imply inter alia that they are somehow atomic and unanalyzable.
Since they are "simple" or "homogeneous" there is nothing to get hold of when trying to describe such a property to one unacquainted with the particular instance in question. Moreover, verbal comparisons are not the only cross-checks ruled out. Any objective, physiological or "merely behavioral" test--such as those passed by the imaginary wine-tasting system-- would of necessity miss the target one can plausibly argue , so all interpersonal comparisons of these ways-of-appearing are apparently systematically impossible.
In other words, qualia are essentially private properties. And, finally, since they are properties of my experiences they're not chopped liver, and they're not properties of, say, my cerebral blood flow--or haven't you been paying attention?
They are, after all, the very properties the appreciation of which permits us to identify our conscious states. So, to summarize the tradition, qualia are supposed to be properties of a subject's mental states that are 1 ineffable 2 intrinsic 3 private 4 directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness Thus are qualia introduced onto the philosophical stage.
They have seemed to be very significant properties to some theorists because they have seemed to provide an insurmountable and unavoidable stumbling block to functionalism, or more broadly, to materialism, or more broadly still, to any purely "third-person" objective viewpoint or approach to the world Nagel, Theorists of the contrary persuasion have patiently and ingeniously knocked down all the arguments, and said most of the right things, but they have made a tactical error, I am claiming, of saying in one way or another: "We theorists can handle those qualia you talk about just fine; we will show that you are just slightly in error about the nature of qualia.
They think I am setting up and knocking down a strawman, and ask, in effect: "Who said qualia are ineffable, intrinsic, private, directly apprehensible ways things seem to one? I reply: it all depends on what "qualitative or phenomenal" comes to. Shoemaker contrasts qualitative similarity and difference with "intentional" similarity and difference-- similarity and difference of the properties an experience repre sents or is "of".
That is clear enough, but what then of "pheno menal"? Among the non-intentional and hence qualitative? Might these very properties be the qualia Shoemaker speaks of? It is supposed to be obvious, I take it, that these sorts of features are ruled out, because they are not "accessible to introspection" Shoemaker, private correspondence. These are features of my visual state , perhaps, but not of my visual experience.
They are not phenomenal properties. But then another non-intentional similarity some of my visual states share is that they tend to make me think about going to bed. I think this feature of them is accessible to introspection--on any ordinary, pre-theoretical construal. Is that a phenomenal property or not? The term "phenomenal" means nothing obvious and untendentious to me, and looks suspiciously like a gesture in the direction leading back to ineffable, private, directly apprehensible ways things seem to one.
Endnote 4 I suspect, in fact, that many are unwilling to take my radical challenge seriously largely because they want so much for qualia to be acknowledged. Qualia seem to many people to be the last ditch defense of the inwardness and elusiveness of our minds, a bulwark against creeping mechanism. They are sure there must be some sound path from the homely cases to the redoubtable category of the philosophers, since otherwise their last bastion of specialness will be stormed by science.
This special status for these presumed properties has a long and eminent tradition. I believe it was Einstein who once advised us that science could not give us the taste of the soup.
Could such a wise man have been wrong? Yes, if he is taken to have been trying to remind us of the qualia that hide forever from objective science in the subjective inner sancta of our minds.
There are no such things. Another wise man said so--Wittgenstein , esp. Actually, what he said was: The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something ; for the box might even be empty. The conclusion was only that a nothing would serve just as well as a something about which nothing could be said.
Endnote 5 Qualia are not even "something about which nothing can be said"; "qualia" is a philosophers' term which fosters Endnote 6 nothing but confusion, and refers in the end to no properties or features at all.
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