Re: qualia

Dan Fabulich (
Tue, 30 Nov 1999 00:41:05 -0500 (EST)

'What is your name?' 'Brent Allsop.' 'IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOUR NAME IS!!!':

> With your usage of "believed" and "SEEMS" you are making the
> same mistake Danial Dennett makes when he says there are no qualia "It
> only seems like there are" in Consciousness explained.

I recognize that my approach to this was unclear; on account of this, you have entirely misunderstood my argument. I attempted to use TWO distinct approaches to the problem, one eliminative, in Dennett's style, the other reductive.

When I was arguing eliminatively, I argued that qualia do not exist, as Dennett did (does).

However, I then tried a different approach, arguing reductively. Under this approach, I argued that "experiences" DO exist, and that they just ARE the objective phenomena in question. Another way of saying this might be to say that "qualia" do exist, but they aren't subjective phenomena. (I later went on to question whether it was worth calling these "qualia" at all.) The passage you quoted came from the "reductive" argument, and is entirely at odds with the eliminative argument's vocabulary.

So, imagine that there are two of me, using two vocabularies. I'll aid in the supposition by responding to your argument twice.

> What do you mean when you use such terms? A false believing
> or a "seeming" is a representation in our conscious mind that is not
> accurately representing its referent. For example, when we place a
> straight pencil in a glass of water it "seems" to be bent. In other
> words, our representation of the pencil in our consciousness is truly
> and really bent, while the pencil beyond our senses is not bent at
> all. Though the seeming is an inaccurate representation of it's
> referent, it still really is what it is in our consciousness.

Reductive: We begin by taking seriously the computational theory of the mind: that the brain is a computer, and that the "mind" is simply what the brain does. In light of this, there IS a false representation, literally, in the brain. Note that I'm using the word "representation" in the same sense as I'd use it when I claim that if I were to write "the pencil is bent" on a piece of paper, there would be a false "representation" on the paper, scratched out in pen. Remembering that the brain itself is a computer, then what the computer is doing, by definition, is processing symbols (information). Just as I can encode a false claim onto a piece of paper by writing on it, so can the machinery in my eye encode a false sentence, false information, into my memory (with the help of a few other compartments of my brain). That sentence is not encoded in English, but it would nonetheless be best translated "the pencil is bent," and it is false. That's what it means to hold a false belief: the symbols in your brain, which refer to things in the real world (just as symbols on paper do), turn out to represent falsely.

Eliminative: That reductive guy got it basically right, but he insists on using words like "mind" and "belief." The word "mind," as used in the literature, in no way agrees with the way the Reductivist used it above: he'd be better off just saying that the "mind" does not exist, rather than attempting to coopt the word for his own purposes, asserting that the "mind" is what the brain does. Similarly, he went through this whole rigamarole trying to show how and why it makes sense to say that people have false "beliefs," when, in fact, "belief" doesn't exist either, not according to the definition used by actual people. He can try to redefine "belief," but at the risk of conflating it with the word used by everybody else. I'd say we're better off saying that "beliefs" don't exist either, but that some things which are similar to beliefs, call them belief*s, exist. In these terms, we don't have "qualia," or a "mind," and we certainly don't BELIEVE that we do, even if we believe* that we do.


-unless you love someone-
-nothing else makes any sense-

e.e. cummings