Chapter 4

Theorem III: Qualia are Physical Phenomena

Qualia are mental phenomena that are consciously experienceable, as defined in section 3.1. Because they are mental phenomena, they must be non-material. But what is the general nature of these non-material phenomena: are they physical or non-physical phenomena? And what is the exact nature of these phenomena: are they exotic new entities that have never been known before or some intrinsic entities that have always been present but overlooked all along? Regarding the first question, some people think that qualia may be non-physical phenomena – happening without physical rules, such as occurring or not occurring unpredictably in people and occurring differently among people arbitrarily. This kind of thinking leads to the concept of p-zombie, which is defined as “a being that is physically identical to a normal human except that it lacks qualia and conscious experiences” [1-11], and the concept of variable qualia, which are qualia (of the same thing) that appear variedly among people (such as the quale of color C may appear as red in some people but as blue or green or other colors in other people) [12-16]. However, others believe that qualia are physical phenomena, occurring consistently and similarly among people under some physical rules. Therefore, this chapter will examine whether qualia are physical phenomena or not. As for the exact nature of these phenomena, which is more difficult to ascertain, the issue will be examined in the next chapter..

4.1. Physical properties of qualia

Like mental processes, qualia have many properties. Some are physical properties, which are properties that are directly related to the physical world and can be investigated physically; some are functional properties, which are properties that are related to qualia’s functions, such as  being ineffable, intrinsic, and private [11,12,15-18], being irreducible [18], being directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness [12], being irrevocable, having output flexibility, enduring in short-term memory [19], having transparent phenomenal states, involving temporal aspect, and having enormous multi-variability and combinatorial capacities [20]. However, in order to determine what qualia physically are, it is necessary to examine their physical properties, which are as follows:

Physical properties of qualia (PQ)

PQ1. Defining physical properties

PQ1.1. Their nature is non-material mental phenomena.

PQ1.2. Their characteristics are consciously experienceable.

PQ2. Additional physical properties

PQ2.1. Their activities are fast, dynamic, and information-intensive.

PQ2.2. Their occurrences and existence are with their specific neural processes and are consistent.

PQ2.3. Their places of occurrences are selectively and specifically limited to some specific neural processes.

PQ2.4. Their capacities are limited and identical to those of their specific neural processes.

PQ2.5. Their details are identical to those of their specific neural processes.

PQ2.6. Their structures are definite and determined by their specific neural processes.

PQ2.7. Their changes are with their specific neural processes.

PQ2.8. Their interactions are via their specific neural processes.

PQ1. Defining physical properties

Defining physical properties are physical properties that qualia are observed to possess and that are used to define qualia in their definition. They are as follows:

   PQ1.1. Their nature is mental phenomena.

This follows from the definition of a quale (section 3.1.): a quale is a mental phenomenon that is consciously experienceable. Because mental phenomena are phenomena of the mind, which is non-material; mental phenomena, and thus qualia, must be non-material as the mind is, too. Also, because the mind always occurs with the functioning brain, qualia must be non-material phenomena that occur with the functioning brain, as well. This property will help us find the exact nature of qualia in the next chapter.

   PQ1.2. Their characteristics are consciously experienceable.

This comes directly from the definition of a quale. What does this property mean physically?

   Fist, as discussed in section 3.1., for a quale to be consciously experienceable, the following must occur:

#1. The mind has the awareness of the quale’s existence, that is, the quale’s existence is registered into the information and the processing systems of the mind.

#2. The mind has the awareness and experiences of what the quale is like (e.g., what the vision of the house is like, what the sound of the song is like, what the odor of the rose is like, what the thinking of something is like, what the feeling of happiness is like, etc.).

#3. The mind can share the information of the qualia to its various parts that include the cognition part, the symbolizing part, and the storage part. Thus, it can intentionally think about, analyze, compare, etc. the quale, it can represent the quale with symbols: written signs, sounds, gestures, etc.; and it can intentionally memorize and recall the quale, at least with some details and for some time.

Physically, this means that qualia must be readable by the consciousness neural process so that #1 (the registration of their existence into the information and the processing systems) occurs and must be able to induce the conscious experience and the conscious awareness of itself in the consciousness neural process so that #2 (awareness and experiences of what qualia are like) and #3 (the sharing of qualia’s information to other parts of the brain) occur.

Second, characteristic #2 specifies that the mind has the awareness and experience of what the quale is like (what the vision of the house is like, what the sound of the song is like, what the odor of the rose is like, what the thinking of something is like, what the feeling of happiness is like, etc.), so the quale must manifest what it is like in the mind. But for the quale to manifest what it is like in one’s mind, the quale must be information about something; otherwise (if the quale is not information about something), there would be no information to create the manifestation of the quale in the mind. For example,

– a visual quale of a house is the visual information about the house,

– a sound quale of a song is the auditory information about the song,

– an olfactory quale of a rose is the olfactory information about the rose,

– a memory quale is the information about a past event, and

– a happiness quale is the information about a personal feeling of happiness,

and from these various kinds of information, various types of manifestation of what each quale is like can be created accordingly. Thus, being information about something, the quale can manifest what it is like in the mind, and the consciousness can create the awareness and experience of what the quale is like subsequently. Thus, qualia must be information about something.

     Third, as discussed in section 3.1, other characteristics that are inherent in the quale’s manifestation of what it is like in the mind are ineffability and uniqueness in quale’s manifestation. Let’s examine ineffability or being indescribable based on anything else first. Physically, this means that the consciousness neural process has no information to describe the quale except the information of what the quale is like that the quale elicits in the consciousness neural process. This requires the following two properties.

– A quale must be information about something that is not the quale itself. For example, the quale “red” (Figure 4.1) is information about the 700-nm light that it is representing, but it is not information about the quale itself.

Information of a red color quale

Figure 4.1 The quale “red” is information about the 700-nm light, not about itself.

In other words, the quale “red” describes the 700-nm light but does not describe the red quale itself. As a result, the consciousness neural process has some information to describe the 700-nm light (i.e., describe it as red) but has no information to describe the red quale.

– The quale must not react with anything other than the consciousness neural process. As a result, there are no phenomena other than the experiences of what they are like that they create in the consciousness neural process to yield information about them. Thus, except for the experiences of what they are like, the consciousness neural process has nothing to describe them.

Noticeably, this is different from information from other sources, such as the information of the 700-nm light from a paper, TV, or computer. This kind of information of the 700-nm light has the carriers (the dye, paper, TV, or computer) that yield information about themselves (such as the dye, paper, TV, or computer can be seen, touched, and tested with various devices) too (see Figure 4.2). Thus, we can describe both the 700-nm light (as red) and the carriers of the information (as the dye, paper, TV, or computer) – that is, the carriers are describable. For qualia, which are the carriers of the information, this is not the case – except for the feeling of what they are like, the consciousness has nothing else to describe the qualia.

Information from a physical source

Figure 4.2 A paper with a printed red disc gives 3 information: the information about the reflected 700-nm light, the information about the dye, and the information about the paper.

A subtler example is the “red” information that is carried on a radio wave in TV broadcasting. Although the carrier (the radio wave) of the information is intangible and cannot be seen, it interacts with electromagnetic devices and creates phenomena that we can detect in our devices in measurable forms as frequency, amplitude, polarity, etc., and we can use these to describe the radio wave. But qualia do not react with anything else other than the consciousness neural process as discussed above, and there are no sensory receptors (or other kinds of sensors) to sense or to get information about qualia. Overall, there is nothing that describes (give information about) qualia. Consequently, all qualia are not describable by anything except the conscious experiences of what they are like that occur in the consciousness neural process.

     Fourth, the second characteristic inherent in the quale’s manifestation of what it is like is uniqueness in quale’s manifestation – what does it mean physically? When the consciousness experiences each quale, it will observe that each quale (visual, auditory, emotion, thought, etc.) is unique in manifestation – the quale’s manifestation is different from those of all other qualia. Physically, this means that each quale must have unique form of information so that, when the consciousness neural process reads it, the consciousness neural process observes the information as unique in form. Because the information that a neural process reads from another neural process is in the form of a signaling pattern, that each quale has unique form of information means that it must have a unique kind (form) of signaling pattern.

In summary, that qualia’s characteristics are consciously experienceable means that, physically, a quale must

  1. be readable by the consciousness neural process and able to induce the conscious experienceand the conscious awareness of itself in the consciousness neural process,
  2. be information about something that is not itself,
  3. not react with anything other than the consciousness neural process, and
  4. have a unique kind of signaling pattern.

Therefore, anything that proves to be a quale must have these physical properties.

PQ2. Additional physical properties

Additional physical properties are physical properties that qualia are observed to possess in addition to their defining properties. They are as follows:

   PQ2.1. Their activities are fast, dynamic, and information-intensive.

Because qualia, such as visual qualia of the dynamic scenes of the external world, the auditory qualia of lively sounds in the outside world, and the actively changing thoughts, appear and disappear suddenly and usually change their highly structured details frequently and rapidly in milliseconds, their activities must be dynamic and fast. Also, because qualia, such as visual images of various scenes in the external world, sounds of speeches, and the complex thinking, calculating, or recalling past events, have a lot of details, their activities must be information-intensive. Thus, physically, qualia’s activities must be fast, dynamic, and information-intensive.

   PQ2.2. Their occurrences and existence are with their specific neural processes and are consistent.

Qualia always occur, exist, and disappear with their specific neural processes. For example, visual qualia occur and exist with the visual perception neural processes whenever the neural processes start functioning (when opening eyes to see, when having a migraine aura or an epileptic visual aura, when being stimulated by an electrical or magnetic stimulation, etc.) and disappear whenever their neural processes stop functioning (when closing eyes, when having an acute bilateral occipital stroke, when being inhibited by a magnetic stimulation, etc.), emotion qualia occur and exist with the emotion neural processes whenever the neural processes start functioning (when encountering something fearful, when being stimulated by psychedelic drugs, when being stimulated by an electrical stimulation, etc.) and disappear whenever their neural processes stop functioning (when suppressed by cognitive control, when modulated by meditation, when tranquilized by medications, etc.), and thinking qualia occur and exist with the thinking neural processes whenever the neural processes start functioning (on waking up from sleep, on recovering from general anesthesia, on convalescing from cerebral concussion, etc.) and disappear whenever their neural processes stop functioning (when falling asleep, when being suppressed by general anesthesia, when becoming dysfunctional by cerebral concussion, etc.). Qualia have never been found to occur or exist independently without their specific neural processes.

To be noted here is the consistency of qualia’s occurrences. If qualia occur with certain neural processes, they always occur with those neural processes – it is not that they sometimes occur with those neural processes but sometimes do not. Conversely, if qualia do not occur with certain neural processes, they always never occur with those neural processes – it is not that they sometimes do not occur with those neural processes but sometimes do. So, qualia do not occur haphazardly – they either consistently occur or consistently do not occur with certain neural processes. For example, whenever we open our eyes to experience visual qualia of the outside world, if the visual perception neural processes and other parts of the visual system are intact, the visual qualia always occur and continue to exist as long as we open our eyes to see. We never experience episodes of perception with visual qualia alternating with episodes of perception without visual qualia, when we open our eyes to see the world. Vice versa, qualia never sometimes occur and sometimes do not occur in the perceptions of blood sodium levels, blood glucose levels, blood cortisol levels, or blood levels of other constituents – qualia never occur in the perceptions of these blood levels.

The consistency of qualia’s occurrences and existence extends across time and across biological changes too. For example, visual qualia have always occurred whenever we open our eyes to see the world since when we were babies up until now, even if our visual neural processes have been changing biologically throughout the time (and we now are quite different biological entities from what we were when we were babies). Memory lapses put aside, it never occurs to us that, at times, we did not have visual qualia when we opened our eyes, yet we were able to go about not hitting things in the way and were able to describe the appearances of things in front of us correctly (even if we did not have visual qualia of them!). If such episodes ever occurred, it would mean that we sometimes had visual awareness without visual qualia occurring. But this never happens. And this is true for other sensory perceptions as well. (Blindsight [21-24] and anopsognosia [25], the conditions that a patient seems to have unconscious visual perception without conscious visual perception and visual qualia, are not evidence that visual qualia do not consistently occur in people with normal visual systems because people with blindsight or anopsognosia have abnormalities in their visual systems. Also, it is to be noted that their unconscious perceptions, which do not have perception qualia occurring, are not as good as conscious perceptions, which have perception qualia occurring.)

The consistency of qualia’s occurrences and existence extends across people and across places as well. For example, people anywhere with normal visual systems always have visual qualia when they open their eyes to see the world. It is not that some people (with normal visual systems) have visual qualia but some do not. This is evident by the fact that when people with normal visual systems talk about visual qualia, there is no surprise or confusion in what the term “visual qualia” refers to. If some people never experience visual qualia, they will not have information about visual qualia in their minds and will not be able to match the word “visual qualia” with anything they have experienced and thus not be able to know what the term “visual qualia” refers to. They will certainly be surprised when they learn that other people have something they do not have. At least some of them will certainly query what other people are talking about, what qualia are like, and why they do not have these qualia. Philosophers and neuroscientists who do not have qualia will likely report the absence of qualia in their minds to the scientific community and formally establish in the literature that some normal people, such as them, do not have qualia. They will certainly not engage in discussing this matter or participate in doing researches and experiments about this matter seriously as if they had these phenomena without letting other people and the scientific community know that they do not have them. (This is also conversely true for us. If some people say that they have qualia of the blood level of sodium or other blood constituents and are discussing these qualia and doing some researches and experiments about them, we will be surprised and tell them that we do not have those qualia. We will certainly not engage in discussing those qualia with them comprehensively as if we had the qualia or participate in doing experiments about those qualia seriously as if we had the qualia. Instead, we will query them what their qualia are like, how many basic components their qualia have, what the manifestation range of their qualia is, etc.) Some of the people who do not have visual qualia will probably seek medical advice. And this did happen – a patient with cerebral achromatopsia from a stroke sought medical attention because of a colorless sight (a sight without perceivable visual qualia) even if he still had subconscious color perception (i.e., he was able to describe the colors of objects correctly to some degree even if he denied perceiving those colors) [25]. In this patient, the absence of visual qualia occurred from the absence of the color perception neural process. But this never happens in people with normal color perception neural processes. Clinically, there are no medical records about people who have normal visual systems but do not have visual qualia. Therefore, it can be concluded that the absence of visual qualia in people with normal visual systems never occurs and that visual qualia consistently occur in people with normal visual systems. This is also true for other kinds of qualia.

Therefore, qualia always occur and exist with their specific neural processes no matter when, where, or in whom they are. Qualia’s occurrences and existence are thus consistent. This indicates that qualia’s occurrences/non-occurrences and existence/non-existence are not arbitrary or haphazard but are strictly determined by some characteristics of their neural processes so that they must keep occurring and existing consistently with certain neural processes and not occurring and not existing consistently with certain neural processes.

   PQ2.3. Their places of occurrences are selectively and specifically limited to some specific neural processes.

Qualia have never been found to occur anywhere other than in the functioning brain. And in the functioning brain, they have so far been found selectively in some specific neural processes only – those involved in the final-stage sensory perceptions (such as the final visual perception neural processes and the final auditory perception neural processes) and those involved in the highest-level cognitive and executive functions (such as the neural processes for emotion, thinking, making decisions, and commanding volitional movement), as noted in section 3.5. These neural processes are exclusively the neural processes in the latest-evolved parts of the brain. This selectivity indicates that some specific characteristics of these neural processes must be the factors that enable them to produce qualia. And the fact that qualia occur selectively in the latest-evolved parts of the brain, not in the more primitive parts of the brain (such as the basal ganglia, brainstem, and cerebellum) or not scatteredly over the whole nervous system, indicates that some kind of evolutionary processes is involved in this selectivity. Thus, it is probable that some characteristics of neural processes such as unique neural circuitries with unique signaling patterns have evolved for qualia to occur.

Moreover, the occurrences of qualia of each kind are specifically fixed and limited to neural processes of that specific kind only. For example, visual-kind qualia (color, brightness, shape, etc.) occur with only visual neural processes and never occur with auditory, emotion, thought, or other kinds of neural processes; vice versa, only visual-kind qualia, not any other kinds of qualia, occur with visual neural processes. This specificity can be demonstrated by investigations such as fMRI, EEG, MEG, intracortical recordings, and event-related potentials: when a subject reports an occurrence of a visual quale, only visual perception neural processes will be demonstrated to become active; when a subject reports disappearance of that visual quale, those visual perception neural processes will be demonstrated to become inactive; and, vice versa, when the visual perception neural processes are stimulated to become active, only a visual quale, not any other kinds of qualia, will be reported to occur. This specificity is true for all other kinds of qualia too. It thus indicates that some specific characteristics of the neural processes are the factors that determine which kind of qualia (visual, auditory, olfactory, etc.) occurs with which kind of neural processes.

In conclusion, the selectivity and specificity in places of occurrences of qualia indicate that

– which neural process has qualia (or where qualia can occur) is determined by some specific characteristics of that neural process (the selectivity),

– which type of qualia (visual, auditory, olfactory, etc.) occurs with a certain neural process is also determined by some specific characteristics of that neural process (the specificity), and

– these characteristics that determine qualia’s places of occurrences are the result of neural process’s evolution.

Thus, qualia’s places of occurrences are not haphazard but are strictly determined by some evolved characteristics of their neural processes.

   PQ2.4. Their capacities are limited and identical to those of their specific neural processes.

Qualia’s capacities, or ranges of information that the qualia can attain, are not unrestricted but limited and identical to those of their neural processes. For example, a visual quale’s visual field extent and color spectrum range are limited and identical to those of the visual perception neural processes, and an auditory quale’s sound frequency and amplitude ranges are limited and identical to those of the auditory perception neural processes. If this is not the case, then the excess capacity of the quale will be found to exist, such as there will be visual qualia occurring outside the visual field of the visual neural processes (such as in the visual field that covers the back of the head, which [i.e., this kind of visual field] does not exist in the visual neural processes) or there will be auditory qualia occurring below or above the frequency ranges of the auditory neural processes (such as in the infrasonic or ultrasonic range, which does not exist in the auditory neural processes), but these have never been found to occur.

On the other hand, excess capacity of the neural process may exist that is not manifested in its quale. However, the portion of the neural process that has this excess capacity can be considered not part of the specific neural process of that quale, and only the portion of the neural process that has the identical capacity to its quale will be considered the specific neural process of that quale.

   PQ2.5. Their details are identical to those of their specific neural processes.

Qualia’s details, or information that the qualia contain, are not random but identical to those of their specific neural processes. For example, a visual quale’s details (e.g., color, brightness, and movement information of each point in the visual image) or an auditory quale’s details (e.g., pitch, timbre, and loudness of the sound) are identical to those of the respective neural process. If the quale’s details are not identical to those of its neural process and if the quale can have extra details that its neural process does not contain, then there must be some quale’s details that do not exist in its neural process manifesting (such as there must be some extra image manifesting in the visual perception quale even if the object of that image is not seen by the subject or even if the extra image is not created in the neural process because of hallucination – which, in both cases, there is no information about that extra image in the neural process) or there must be some quale’s details left manifesting after the neural process stops functioning (such as there must be some part of the visual perception quale left manifesting even after the eyes have been closed or the occipital lobes have been destroyed). But these never happen. On the contrary, it always happens that, whenever the information in the neural process changes or disappears, the information in the corresponding quale changes or disappears accordingly. For example, when there is a lesion in the ventral or caudomedial occipitotemporal or ventromedial occipital cortex, which functions to create color information of the opposite visual field, visual qualia in the opposite visual field will inescapably lack color-information, resulting in achromatopsia (color blindness) in that visual field [26-29].

Like capacities of neural processes, extra details that are contained in the neural process but are not manifested in its qualia are possible. However, the portion of the neural process that contains these extra details can be considered not part of the specific neural process of that quale, and only the portion of the neural process that has identical details to its quale will be considered the specific neural process of that quale.

   PQ2.6. Their structures are definite and determined by their specific neural processes.

Structure of qualia

One important characteristic of qualia’s details is that each kind of qualia has a definite structure across people. The structure of qualia of any kind consists of

  1. the number and types of basic components of that kind of qualia and
  2. the spectral characteristicsof that kind of qualia.

   For example, visual qualia always have a fixed number of basic components such as six components; their basic components are always color, brightness, shape, dimension, acuity, and velocity*; and they always have definite spectral characteristics (see Figure 4.3), such as the definite wavelengths where they change their hues along the spectrum (for example, the light spectrum always changes its hues markedly at wavelengths around 410, 490, 570, and 620 nm) and the definite relation between colors at different wavelengths (such as colors at wavelengths 380 and 440 nm [60 nm apart] are markedly different in their hues while colors at wavelengths 660 and 720 nm [also 60 nm apart] are quite similar in their hues)

Figure 4.3 Visible light spectrum characteristics

(* The number and types of basic components may vary according to the opinions of various authors. However, the point is the definiteness of the number and types – it is the same across all people. For example, if the correct number of basic components is 5 or 7, it is 5 or 7 across all people, and the types of components, whatever they are, are the same across all people.)

Another example is auditory qualia. They always have five components of pitch, loudness, timbre, envelope, and duration* – which are not equal to and not the same as those of visual qualia. The sound spectrum of a musical scale always has musical notes perceived similarly (but in different pitch) every octave higher or lower (see Figure 4.4). For example, C4, C5, and C6 sound similar to human ears (but in different octaves). This does not happen with hues in a light spectrum.

Figure 4.4 A Musical scale from C4 (261.63 Hz) to C6 (1046.5 Hz)

The spectral characteristics of each kind of qualia are unique and different from those of other kinds. For example, the sound spectrum of a musical scale does not exhibit irregular changes in pitch or loudness along the scale as a light spectrum does in their hues and their brightness along the spectrum. Moreover, the combinations of different musical notes result in new phenomena – they result in musical chords, which are distinct auditory phenomena from the musical notes. This is different from the combinations of different colors – they result in just new colors, which are not distinct visual phenomena from other colors.

Thus, although we cannot be sure whether other people experience the same visual or sound qualia as we do or not (e.g. whether other people experience our red as blue or our note C as note G), we can be certain that the qualia structure (i.e., the number and types of basic components and the spectral characteristics) of each kind of qualia is the same across people (e.g., the qualia structures of visual qualia and sound qualia in us are the same as in other people), because, if it were different among people, we would be able to observe that we had different experiences of the qualia. But such different experiences among people, in all places and time, have never been observed, so the qualia structure of each kind must be definite and the same across all people, places, and time. The definiteness in qualia structure (definiteness in number and types of basic components and definiteness in spectral characteristics) across people, places, and time indicates that the details of qualia do not occur randomly by themselves but are determined by some physical factors.

Current evidence in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology indicates that the number and types of basic components of each kind of qualia are determined by the number and types of basic component neural processes of that kind of qualia. For example, the number and types of basic visual quale components (e.g. color, shape, direction, etc.) are determined by the number and types of basic component neural processes (e.g. for color, for shape, for direction, etc.) of the visual perception in different brain areas. There are no basic quale components that occur by themselves and are not determined by any component neural process. The spectral characteristics of the qualia are also determined by the corresponding neural processes too. For example, the spectral characteristics of visual color qualia and sound pitch qualia are determined by the color perception neural process and the sound frequency perception neural process, respectively. If these neural processes are affected, the spectral characteristics of the qualia will be affected too.

   PQ2.7. Their changes are with their specific neural processes.

When there are changes in neural processes, the corresponding qualia will change identically and simultaneously. For example, in physiologic conditions, visual qualia always change details identically and simultaneously with the visual perception neural processes when a person looks around, and auditory qualia always change details identically and simultaneously with the auditory perception neural processes when a person listens to a speech or a song. In pathologic conditions: acute infarction of the left occipital lobe, abruptly damaging visual perception neural processes of the right visual field, will immediately cause visual qualia to have defect in the right visual field, and a tumor of the left post-central gyrus, destroying perception neural processes for touch sensation slowly, will impair touch qualia on the right side of the body gradually.

   PQ2.8. Their interactions are via their specific neural processes.

Qualia cannot interact with other mental processes directly – they have to interact via their specific neural processes and connections. For example, to consciously experience the red color quale, the consciousness cannot experience the red color quale directly – it has to experience it through the neural connection between the color perception neural process and the consciousness neural process. This is evident by the fact that, if there is a lesion that destroys either of the neural processes and/or the connection between them, the consciousness will not be able to experience the red color quale, even if the red color quale has occurred.

4.2. Theorem III

The consistency of qualia’s occurrences/non-occurrences and existence/non-existence, the selectivity and specificity of qualia’s places of occurrences, and the definiteness in the qualia structure discussed above are consistently true for billions of people everywhere, now and in the past. These consistencies indicate that qualia are not arbitrarily occurring phenomena. For these consistencies to be true, qualia must be phenomena that are governed by some physical rules, that is, qualia must be physical phenomena. Moreover, because their occurrences, existence, places of occurrences, structures, capacities, details, changes, and interactions are completely associated with their specific neural processes, which are physical processes and predictable by physical laws, their occurrences, existence, places of occurrences, structures, capacities, details, changes, and interactions are predictable by physical laws, as well. Therefore, it can be concluded that qualia are physical phenomena – phenomena that are governed and predictable by physical laws – that are completely associated with their neural processes in the senses that have been discussed above. This theory asserts this fact as a theorem:

Theorem III: Qualia are completely neural-process associated physical phenomena.

The above is the specific form of Theorem III. The basic form of Theorem III can be stated as:

Theorem III: Qualia are physical phenomena.

4.3. Predictions

  1. Qualia’s occurrences, places of occurrences, existence, capacities, details, structure, changes, and interactions will be predictable with accuracy by instruments that can investigate the corresponding aspects of the neural processes with accuracy.
  2. A quale (such as a visual image of a house, a thought of a situation, or an emotion of happiness, that appears phenomenally in the mind) will always be found to occur with a certain neural process (such as a visual perception neural process, a thinking neural process, or an emotion neural process) – it will never be found to occur without a certain neural process. This means that, whenever and wherever there is a quale, there must be a neural process that the quale is completely associated with, then and there. A neural process can be verified to be the one that the quale is completely associated with by experiments that manipulate the neural process. If the neural process is the one, there will be corresponding changes in the quale when there are changes in the neural process.
  3. Every event of a quale (such as a dynamic visual quale of a movie, a dynamic thinking quale of a situation, or a dynamic emotion quale of alternating happiness, sadness, and indifference) will always be found to be associated with an event in a certain neural process (such as an event in a neural process in the occipital cortex, in the frontal lobe, or in the amygdala, which can be investigated by EEG, ECoG, MEG, fMRI, etc.) – it will never be found to occur without a corresponding event in a certain neural process.
  4. For a pair of a quale and a neural process in 2., the predictions that are valid for the neural process in any event or experiment that affects the neural process in any aspect that the quale is completely associated with the neural process, such as that the neural process will occur, change, or stop functioning, will be valid for the quale.

4.4. How to test qualia’s occurrences in people

To test qualia’s occurrences in people, we use their cardinal property: PQ1.2 – their characteristics are consciously experienceable. This means that they can induce conscious awareness and conscious experiences of themselves in the consciousness of people in whom they occur. Such people will have conscious awareness and conscious experiences of the qualia, such as conscious awareness and conscious experiences of what it is like to see the red color, to hear the musical note C, to smell the rose odor, to feel happy, and to relive a past event, occurring in their minds. Even though people may not be able to describe what these phenomena are like to those who never have experiences of these phenomena, they can tell that these phenomena are phenomenally different from each other and that there is a unique experience that they can be consciously aware of occurring in each of them.

This is in contrast to unconscious awareness and unconscious experiences, such as of the blood level of sodium, cholesterol, hormones, etc. People do not have conscious awareness and conscious experiences of what it is like to have the blood level of sodium, cholesterol, hormones, etc. at various levels even if they are unconsciously aware of them and react to them all the time. And compared with conscious awareness and conscious experiences, they will report that there is no unique experience that they can be consciously aware of occurring in each of these unconscious experiences.

So, for any phenomenon in question, we can ask the person the following questions to ascertain whether a quale occurs in that phenomenon:

  1. Does he/she know what it is like to experience that phenomenon, such as does he know what it is like to see the red color, does she know what it is like to have the blood level of sodium at 135 mEq/L, and does he/she know what it is like to experience the phenomenon in question? If the answer is yes, then a quale and a conscious experience occur, but if the answer is no, then a quale and a conscious experience do not occur.
  2. Does the phenomenon in question manifest itself differently from the red color, the musical note C, or the rose odor that he/she has consciously experienced before? If the answer is yes or no, then a quale and a conscious experience occur, but if the answer is he/she cannot tell because the phenomenon in question does not manifest anything that he/she can compare with the red color, the musical note C, or the rose odor, then a quale and a conscious experience do not occur.
  3. Compared with the unconscious experiences of the blood levels of various substances, in which a person does not know that he/she is experiencing them, does he/she know that he/she is experiencing the phenomenon in question? If the answer is yes, then a quale and a conscious experience occur, but if the answer is no, then a quale and a conscious experience do not occur.
  4. Compared with the unconscious experiences of the blood level of various substances, in each of which there is no unique experience that he/she can be consciously aware of occurring, and compared with the conscious experiences of the red color, the musical note C, and the smell of the rose odor, in each of which there is a unique experience that he/she can be consciously aware of occurring, is the experience of the phenomenon in question similar to the first kind of experiences or the second kind of experiences, in the aspect of whether there is a unique experience that he/she can be consciously aware of occurring? If the answer is that the experience is similar to the first kind, then a quale and a conscious experience do not occur, but if the answer is that the experience is similar to the second kind, then a quale and a conscious experience occur.

More objectively, as discussed in section 3.3., when a quale occurs and a subject has conscious awareness and experience of the quale, many neurophysiologic phenomena occur, such as a sudden intense ignition of widespread neural activities, especially those of bilateral prefrontal and parietal regions; an appearance of a slow wave, P300 wave, over the vertex of the head, about 300 – 500 milliseconds after the quale’s stimulus onset; a massive increase in high frequency gamma-band oscillation, starting around 150 – 300 milliseconds after the quale’s stimulus onset; and a massive synchronization of electromagnetic signals across distant cortical regions, also starting around 300 milliseconds after the quale’s stimulus onset [30-44]. These phenomena can be used to check whether qualia occur in subjects that cannot answer the question (due to some disabilities, such as generalized paralysis, aphasia, or deafness and blindness). From current evidence, if these phenomena occur, qualia together with conscious awareness and experiences of the qualia occur.

The next chapter (Chapter 5 – Theorem IV) will examine and find the true nature of qualia and answer the interesting question of whether what you see as red in your mind can appear as blue, green, or other colors in other people’s minds.

Next: Chapter 5 – Theorem IV >

Back to Chapter 3 – Qualia and Conscious Awareness


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