Proof That Qualia are Signaling Patterns

The nature of qualia can be deduced from their physical properties:

a) because qualia such as visual qualia and auditory qualia of the active surroundings can appear and disappear suddenly and change their content rapidly and continuously and because there are no brain materials that can do this, qualia must be non-material and very dynamic,

b) because qualia such as visual qualia of a crowded, big city and sound qualia of a symphony orchestra are full of information, qualia must be information-intensive,

c) because qualia always co-exist, co-vary, and co-function with functioning neural circuits (e.g. visual qualia always co-exist, co-vary, and co-function with functioning visual perception neural circuits and auditory qualia always co-exist, co-vary, and co-function with functioning auditory perception neural circuits), qualia must be something that is closely associated with functioning neural circuits, and

d) because qualia’s information are transmittable between neural circuits (e.g., information of visual qualia can be transmitted from the visual perception neural circuits to the consciousness neural circuit and to the memory, emotion, thinking, speaking, and writing neural circuits with the consequences that we can be consciously aware of and experience visual qualia and can remember/recall, have emotion about, think about, speak about, and write about the visual qualia), qualia must be transmittable information-wise between neural circuits.

In summary, qualia must be phenomena that are non-material, very dynamic, information-intensive, closely associated with functioning neural circuits, and transmittable information-wise between neural circuits.

Now, in the brain, where uncountable neural circuits reside, there are several non-material phenomena occurring, such as the information signaling among neural circuits and the non-material value-changing of the metabolic activities, blood circulation activities, mass, energy, entropy, and other physical indices of the neural circuits. But the only non-material phenomena that have all of the above properties discussed, especially the properties of being extremely dynamic, information-intensive, and transmittable (information-wise) between neural processes, are the information signaling of neural circuits. So, qualia must be or be part of the information signaling of neural circuits.

Next, the information signaling of a neural circuit consists of information signaling of the whole neural circuit from the neural cell bodies through their axons to the synaptic junctions, but the part that transmits information between neural circuits is the signaling pattern of the signaling at the synaptic junctions. Thus, of the whole information signaling, the signaling pattern of the information signaling at the synaptic junctions must be the quale – that is, a quale must be the signaling pattern of the information signaling at the synaptic junction. For example, when the consciousness neural circuit reads the signaling pattern that is transmitted from the visual quale-bearing neural circuit (physiologically, this is the final-stage visual perception neural circuit) at their synaptic junctions, not from other parts of the signaling, awareness and experience of the visual quale occur.

But how can signaling patterns be qualia – how can patterns of electrical activities, occurring here and there and now and then in the physical mass of neural circuits, be the visual and other qualia, which appear with phenomenal appearances in our mind – why are they not just blips of signals here and there without any phenomenal appearances occurring? How can physical processes like information signaling have phenomenal appearances? Is this identity – that signaling patterns are qualia –explicable or predicted by current physical rules?

The answer is yes.  

Look at the signaling between neural circuits in the picture below. From the view of an outsider who looks at the brain or the third person’s point of view (O), what appears to occur is innumerable electrical signals (red arrows) being sent from neurons in one circuit (A) to neurons in another circuit (B) incessantly and EPSPs or IPSPs occurring at the synaptic junctions here and there almost continuously. From this view, those electrical signals and their patterns do not appear to be or be able to be phenomena with phenomenal appearances (i.e., those visual, auditory, emotion, thinking, and other qualia that occur in our mind); they are just lifeless/phenomenal-less, physical, electrical signals. But for electrical signals to appear as described, the observer must observe (by using instruments, in general cases) the signals from the outside of the signaling circuits. And it is very important to note that, in this view, the information that is in the signaling is not read, it is only looked at!!! We will see that this is different from the following case and that the difference is most crucial.

How signaling patterns can be qualia
Figure: Neural signals (red arrows) in the view of an outsider (O)

From the view of the neural circuit (B) that is receiving the signals or the first person’s point of view, how the signals appear to it is different because its point of view and its way of observing the signals are different from those of an outside observer:

a) from its position, the neural circuit (B) itself cannot observe the signals from outside of the signaling circuit because it is part of the whole signaling circuit of the two circuits (A & B),

b) it does not have sensing organs or instruments to observe the signals from the outside and report the view from the outside to it, and

c) how the incoming signals appear to the neural circuit or how the neural circuit reads the incoming signals depends, instead, solely on how the incoming signals affect the neural circuit – if they do not affect the neural circuit, they will appear as nothing to the neural process, if they transmit some information to the neural circuit, they will inevitably appear to the receiving neural circuit as something that is composed of that information.

Now, if the information of the incoming signals can be consciously experienced, the incoming signals will appear to the receiving neural circuit as something that can be consciously experienced too, that is, the incoming signals will appear as qualia* in the view of the receiving neural circuit.

(*qualia, as discussed before, are something that can be consciously experienceable)

We can know whether the incoming signals indeed appear to the receiving neural circuit as qualia by checking the report that the receiving neural circuit sends to other neural circuits that can report what has happened to the outside world (by verbal, written, or other types of language). Because these neural circuits function to report to each other and to the outside world truthfully, if these neural circuits report that the incoming signals appear to the receiving neural circuit as qualia, the incoming signals must indeed appear as qualia to the receiving neural circuit. And this is the case when one sees the red color or hears the music or experiences other qualia and the signals from those perception neural circuits finally reach the consciousness neural circuit, the visual qualia, the sound qualia, and other qualia do indeed occur in the consciousness neural circuits – the evidence is that one reports that the qualia has occurred in his/her mind and he/she has consciously experienced them.

Summarily, the receiving neural circuit cannot and does not “look at” at the signaling; it “reads” the signaling! If the incoming signals have the information of qualia, they naturally and inevitably appear to the receiving neural circuit as qualia because they affect the receiving neural circuit with that specific information. There is no justification or any theoretical basis to expect something with information of qualia not to appear to be qualia to those that can read and interpret the information.

An approximate analogy is the working of a cathode-ray tube (see the picture below). The beam of electrons representing a beautiful flower streaming out of the emitter does not seem to be any colorful flower (or any picture at all) to an outsider observing the stream from the outside (O) – to him/her, it is just millions of electrons rushing from the emitter to the screen. But from the point of view of the receiver of the electron beam (R), if he/she uses the correct kind of screen that can correctly decode the information residing in the electron beam, the image of the beautiful flower sent in the electron beam will appear on the receiving screen. It is essential to emphasize that, for the correct image sent in the signals to occur, the screen must be the specific screen that can decode the signals correctly; otherwise the signal will appear as something gibberish or unintelligible or even something else on the screen. It is not that any screen put in the path of the electron beam will do.

Analogy: Cathode-ray tube and qualia occurrence
Figure: The electron rays in the cathode-ray tube appear differently to O and R

The difference between the cathode ray tube case and the neuron case is that, in the former case, the outside observer (O) can move to the receiver of the electron beam (R), becoming the receiver of the signals, and see for his/her own eyes what appears on the receiving screen, but unfortunately, one cannot do this in the latter case. In the latter or neuron case, we cannot move to the first-person point of view (the neural circuit’s point of view) and directly receive the signals of those millions of neurons, nor do we know how to decode those signals correctly even if we could receive those signals. So, we cannot directly verify with our own eyes or instruments that the incoming neuron signals indeed appear as qualia. Yet, as discussed above, we can verify this by checking other neural circuits that have the report from the receiving neural circuit.

In conclusion, it is simply that the signaling pattern, when viewed from the third person-point of view, appears to be just a complex composition of physical electrical signals, but this signaling pattern, if it has the information of a quale, will appear to be the quale when viewed (read) from the first person (neural process) point of view. This is because the qualia information in the signaling pattern cannot display itself when viewed (looked at) from the outside but will do so when viewed (read) from the receiver’s (neuron’s) point of view – as it has the opportunity to interact with the receiving neurons and reveals itself.

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