Proof That Qualia are Physical Phenomena

Qualia have physical effects and are physical phenomena

First, let us be clear about what qualia are. Qualia that we are talking about here are phenomena that we can be consciously aware of and can consciously experience—such as the vision of a house, the sound of a song, the smell of a rose, the happy emotion, and the thought of a past event—in our minds (see the figure below).

Figure: Qualia are phenomena that we can be consciously aware of and experience

That we are consciously aware of and consciously experience qualia means that we have awareness and experiences of their occurrences and of what they are like occurring in our minds, meaning that we can tell that the qualia have happened, can describe what they are like, can hold them in working memory for some time, can intentionally memorize them for later usage, and can think about and do other cognitive activities regarding them. For example, for the qualia just mentioned, we have awareness and experiences of the occurrences of the vision of a house, the sound of a song, and the smell of a rose and of what the vision of a house, the sound of a song, and the smell of the rose are like occurring in our minds—we can tell that the vision of a house, the sound of a song, and the smell of the rose have happened, can describe what they are like, can hold them in working memory for some time, can intentionally memorize them for later usage, and can think about and do other cognitive activities regarding them. This is different from phenomena that we cannot be consciously aware of and cannot consciously experience. Such phenomena occur subconsciously or unconsciously, such as perceptions of blood levels of electrolytes, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hormones, nutrients, waste products, etc. Although we are subconsciously or unconsciously aware of them and respond to them appropriately all the time, we cannot tell that those perceptions have happened, cannot describe what they are like, cannot hold them in working memory for some time, cannot intentionally memorize them for later usage, and cannot think about or do other cognitive activities regarding them.

Now, because we can be consciously aware of and experience qualia with the results that awareness and experiences of their occurrences and of what they are like occur, qualia must induce these awareness and experiences. But awareness and experiences in the brain need functions of some neural circuits; they cannot just occur in the brain alone without functions of any neural circuits. Therefore, because neural circuit functions are physical functions, qualia must have physical effects, at least by inducing these physical functions to occur. Moreover, we can perform several physical activities, such as thinking, talking, and writing about qualia, memorizing and recalling them, and having conferences and doing experiments on them; even the reader is reading this article about them and studying them. Therefore, because all these activities are physical and occur because of qualia, qualia must have physical effects; otherwise, all these physical activities would not have happened.

Additionally, qualia are predictably affected by physical interventions, and their changes conform to physical laws. For example, visual, auditory, olfactory, emotion, and thinking qualia are predictably affected by physical interventions, such as mechanical impact, electrical/magnetic stimulation, and pharmacologic administration, to neural circuits that are associated with visual, auditory, olfactory, emotion, and thinking qualia—for instance, we can predict and verify when a visual quale will appear, change, or disappear by observing and manipulating various visual areas in the brain, and we can predict how it will change after we deliver physical interventions to those visual areas.

Because qualia have physical effects, they must be physical entities, obeying physical rules. And the fact that qualia are predictably affected by physical interventions confirms that they are indeed physical entities.

What are the physical effects of qualia?

At present, there is no conclusive evidence for what the physical effects of qualia are. However, it can be deduced that their overall effects must benefit the species possessing them. This deduction comes from the fact that a) qualia are physical phenomena that occur in the brain, b) any physical phenomena that occur in the brain require resources in creating, maintaining, and processing the phenomena and may have some adverse effects, c) if their overall effects do not help increase the survival chance of the animals that have the phenomena, those animals and the phenomena will likely become extinct in the evolutionary process, and this is especially true for major phenomena in a critical organ as in the case of qualia in the brain, and d)  qualia still exist today. This indicates that they must have overall effects that are beneficial to the animals’ survival so that they have been selected to remain in the evolutionary process. That is, their overall effects must help increase the survival chance of the species that have them. Hence, qualia, in the form that they are—phenomenal qualia or qualia that appear phenomenally in our mind—are evolved phenomena to help increase the survival chance of the species, including humans, that have them.

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