Quale Segues

I have talked about the stupidity of dualistic conceptions of mind, and the tendency of philosophers to reify, to portray as real in the concrete sense of, say, a block of concrete, such things as a point of view. I could talk about the highly dubious tension there between on the one hand demanding that mind be understood as fundamentally different to matter, and yet also insisting that mental ‘objects’ be treated as concrete-real. But I won’t.

All I want to reference are what philosophers call ‘qualia’ (singular ‘quale’), and which are the discrete entities constituting the qualitative part of our mental experience. Upon viewing the sky, for example, our perception contains the quale ‘blue’ (at least, in some countries). Of course things that are blue are so because of the particular wavelength of light they reflect, but for philosophers there is also this other thing, which is the blueness in our perception.

If only it stopped there. I stopped there. Of course there is an experience I have, in a manner of speaking, when looking at the sky, but it is nothing more than that. There is no thing more than the reflected light and the electrochemical reactions it stimulates in part of me. It is a convenient fiction, a linguistic device, to refer to discrete perceptions, just as it is convenient to talk of other worlds when considering alternatives and counterfactuals. But just as it is too expensive to commit oneself to infinite real other worlds simply to make the device work (or at least sufficiently expensive to outsource the whole matter to physicists) it is too expensive to countenance these utterly implausible qualia.

I wish to illuminate by means of mockery. The worst cul-de-sac this area of philosophy has built is that of epiphenomenalism. This is a consequence of the non-physical, yet real, nature of qualia. Since they aren’t physical they cannot be caused by, or cause anything in, the brain. And yet even dualists cannot really get by with saying mental objects and experiences have no link to the brain at all. So epiphenomenalism comes to claim that each and every brain event has its corresponding (but utterly causally unconnected, remember) mental event, its quale.

There is no mechanism to explain this. There is no attempt to restore a sense of causality. And, seemingly, there is not a universal pause among all involved where stock is taken and they see a wrong turning must have occurred. Again, this is because of an agenda. There is a desire to continue believing mind, qualia, are not physical. Whether that is because mental states are so special and different to most people they simply cannot grasp that it is a case of organisation of matter, rather than type, which accounts for them, or because they are vested eschatologists who find non-physical entities better candidates for immortality than meat, I leave to the individual.

Either way it seems the worst kind of transgression for anyone who values reason. An abandonment of intellectual integrity, of honesty.


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