Re: Qualia trickery (was Re: How To Live In A Simulation)

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Sun Mar 18 2001 - 07:36:16 MST

Emlyn wrote:
> There is a major camp in the consciousness debate
> (Dennett et al) who say that qualia are so difficult to describe and define
> because they are not real. Personally, I still lean toward qualia existing
> and meaning something, but I could be swayed the other way... the jury is
> definitely out on this question.

In _A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination_,
Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi attempt to offer a physical
interpretation of qualia.

I mentioned this book in the long overview of Edelman
I posted here last year
( ),
which contains the following paragraph:


The concept of consciousness as a dynamic core, and of the brain
as its own observer, are used by Edelman and Tononi as a
springboard to tackle the difficult problem of qualia (UoC
Chap. 13): "The specific quality, or 'quale' of subjective
experience -- of color, warmth, pain, a loud sound -- has seemed
beyond scientific explanation" (UoC p. 157). To provide a
scientific basis for qualia, the authors first recast the dynamic
core as an N-dimensional space, where N is the number of neuronal
groups currently participating in the core (a "large number, say,
between 10^3 and 10^7" [Uoc p. 165]): "Since a functional cluster
identifies a single, unified physical process, it follows that
the activity of these N neuronal groups should be considered
within a single reference space [a set of axes having a common
origin]" (UoC p. 165). "The number of points that can be
differentiated in this N-dimensional space -- which make a
difference to it -- is vast, as indicated by high values of
complexity... however, a large number of participating neuronal
groups alone [a large value of N] is not a guarantee of high
complexity... If, for example, the firing of the N neuronal
groups... were synchronized to an extreme degree, as is the case
during epileptic seizures, the actual repertoire of neural states
available to the dynamic core would be... just a few positions in
the N-dimensional space" (UoC p. 166). "[E]very discriminable
point in the N-dimensional space defined by the dynamic core
identifies a conscious state, while a trajectory joining points
in this space would correspond to a sequence of conscious states
occurring over time. Contrary to common usage by many
philosophers and scientists, we suggest that... **every conscious
state deserves to be called a quale**" (UoC p. 168). The
conscious experience of a quale therefore corresponds to the
discrimination of one particular state (one particular point in
the N-dimensional space) out of all the possible states of the
dynamic core.


A larger context for the above paragraph can be found in:
(search down the page for "Universe").

This book came out in paperback a couple of weeks ago; see:

Jim F.

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