Proof That Qualia are Signaling Patterns

This section proves what qualia are ontologically and physically. Although this problem has been a mystery for centuries, the answer is straightforward. The nature of qualia can be deduced directly from their physical properties as follows:

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 material substances that have these characteristics, 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 able to accomodate a large amount of information;

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 is 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 information-wise transmittable between neural circuits.

In summary, qualia must be phenomena that are non-material, able to accomodate a large amount of information, very dynamic, 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 properties discussed above, especially the properties of being able to accomodate a large amount of information, very dynamic, 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 dendrites to the neural cell bodies then 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 an experience of the visual quale occur.

How can signaling patterns be qualia

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 phenomanlly in our minds—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 and predictable by current physical rules?

The answer is yes.  

Look at the signaling between neural circuits in the picture below.

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

From the point of view of an outsider who looks at the brain or the third person’s point of view (O), what appears to occur is that innumerable electrical signals (red arrows) are sent from neurons in one circuit (A) to neurons in another circuit (B) incessantly, and EPSPs or IPSPs occur at the synaptic junctions here and there at B almost continuously. In this view, those electrical signals and their signaling pattern do not appear to be or be able to be phenomena with phenomenal manifestations (i.e., those visual, auditory, olfactory, emotion, thought, and other qualia that occur phenomenally in our minds); they are just phenomenality-less, physical, electrical signals and pattern. But for the signaling to appear as in this view, the observer must observe it (by using instruments, in general cases) from outside 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.

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

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

   2) How the signaling appears to neural circuit B or how neural circuit B reads the signaling depends, instead, solely on how the signaling interacts with it because any neural circuit reads a signaling by interacting with it (in the same way that how the eyes see things or how the light waves reflected from those things appear to the eyes depends on how the light waves interact with the eyes’ retinae). For example, if the signaling does not interact with the neural circuit and thus does not affect the neural circuit, it will appear as nothing to the neural circuit (in the same way that sounds do not optically interact with the retinae and thus appear as nothing to the retinae); but if the signaling interacts with the neural circuit by transmitting some information to the neural circuit, it will inevitably appear to the receiving neural circuit as that information (in the same way that the reflected light from a rose and thus having information about the rose interacts with and transmits this information to the retinae will appear to the retinae as the rose, not something else).

Consequently, if the signaling has information about something that is consciously experienceable and if the receiving neural circuit is the consciousness neural circuit (which can interpret this kind of information), the signaling will naturally and inevitably appear to the receiving consciousness neural circuit as something that is consciously experienceable. That is, the signaling will and must appear as a quale* in the view of the consciousness neural circuit. Subsequently, the consciousness neural circuit, with its inherent ability, will form conscious awareness and a conscious experience of the quale. Consciousness of the quale thus occurs.

(*a quale, as discussed before, is something that is consciously experienceable)

We can know whether the signaling indeed appears to the consciousness neural circuit as a quale by checking the consciousness neural circuit’s reports (of how the signaling appears to it) that are sent to other neural circuits. Some of these neural circuits can reveal those reports 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 factually, if they reveal that the consciousness neural circuit reports to them that the signaling appears as a quale, the signaling must indeed appear as a quale to the consciousness neural circuit.

And such is the case in everyday life. For example, in the case of looking at the red color, we can know how the neural signaling of the red color appears to the consciousness neural circuit by asking the person who looks at the red color. Because, for a visually healthy, cooperative person, he or she reports (by verbal, written, or other types of language) that he or she sees and experiences what the red color is like in his or her mind, it means that those neural circuits that report this event (by speaking, writing, or other signaling) have received reports from the consciousness neural circuit that the neural signaling of the red color appears as the red color quale to it. Therefore, in the brain, the physical, phenomenality-less (when looked from the outside) neural signaling of the red color must appear as the phenomenal red color quale to the consciousness neural circuit that is reading (not looking at) the signaling—a physical, phenomenality-less (when looked from the outside) neural signaling can appear to a reading physical neural circuit as a phenomenal quale, indeed.

Summarily, the receiving neural circuit does not “look at” at the signaling from outside of the signaling circuits; it interacts with and thus “reads” the signaling from inside of the circuits! If the signaling has the information about a quale and the receiving neural circuit is the consciousness neural circuit, it naturally and inevitably appears to the consciousness neural circuit as the quale because the consciousness neural circuit has the ability to interpret this information as the quale and form conscious awareness and experience of the quale. There is no justification or any theoretical basis to expect something with information of a quale not to appear as the quale or to appear as something else altogether to the consciousness neural circuit.

An approximate analogy is the working of a cathode-ray tube in the picture below.

Cathode ray tube analogy
Cathode ray tube analogy

Figure. The electron rays in the cathode-ray tube appear to O and R differently.

The rays of electrons representing a beautiful flower bouquet streaming out of the emitter do not seem to be any colorful flower (or any picture at all) to an outsider observing the streams from the outside (O)—to him or her, they are just millions of electrons rushing from the emitter to the screen, and the pattern of signaling does not seem to be anything close to an image of a flower bouquet, either. But from the point of view of the receiver of the electron rays (R), if he or she uses the correct kind of screen that can correctly interact with the electron rays and thus can correctly interpret (decode) the information residing in them, the image of the beautiful flowers sent in the electron rays will appear on the receiving screen!

At this point, it is essential to emphasize that, for the correct image sent in the signaling to occur, the screen must be the specific screen that can correctly interact and thus can decode the signaling correctly; otherwise, the signaling will appear as something else, something gibberish, or even nothing on the screen. It is not that any screen that can receive the electron beam will do.

How qualia are signaling patterns
Figure. O sees streams of electrical signals, but B sees a rose quale.

This is the same in the case of signaling in the brain. The practical difference between the cathode ray tube case and the brain case is that, in the former case, the outside observer (O) can move to the receiver of the electron beam (R) position, becoming the receiver of the signals, and see for his or her own eyes what appears on the receiving screen, but unfortunately, one cannot do this in the latter case. In the latter or brain case, it the brain is not our own brain, we cannot move to the first-person point of view (the neural circuit’s point of view or B in the figure) 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 them and send them to be displayed on our instruments. Thus, we cannot directly verify with our own eyes or instruments that the signaling indeed appears as a quale. Yet, as discussed above, we can verify this by checking other neural circuits that have the report from the receiving consciousness neural circuit.

In conclusion, it is simply that the signaling, when viewed from the third person’s point of view, appears to be just a complex composition of physical, phenomenality-less electrical signals because it is only looked at, not read. But this signaling, if it has the information about a phenomenal quale, will appear as the phenomenal quale when viewed or, to be exact, read from the first person’s point of view by the consciousness neural circuit because the information in the signaling is interpreted. That is, the quale information, which is in the form of the signaling pattern of the signaling, cannot display itself when observed or looked at from the outside but will do so when read and interpreted from the receiving consciousness neural circuit’s point of view.

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