RE: [agi] What are qualia...

From: Philip Sutton (
Date: Sat Jan 22 2005 - 07:46:27 MST

Hi Ben,

> how the subjective experience of qualia is connected to the neural
> correlates of qualia. ........but the tricky question is how a physical
> system (the brain) can "generate" subjective, phenomenal experiences.

Oh dear....having jumped in I feel like I'm in over my head already! :)

What follows is just intuition, with no research or deep reading foundation at

Let's say I look at something and I see/feel "red" colour. First my brain lumps
lots of different frequencies under a limited pallete of colours that have a
network in the brain. So pure frequencies and mixtures of light frequencies
are all routed to the same colour network. Also my brain corrects for light
intensity and context etc. So many different external light stimuli trigger a
certain 'redness' network in the brain. This colour network has evolved since
colour vision exisited and also has a particular evolutionary history leading to
humans - so chances are most humans know they are seeing the 'same' red
because the recognition system has, through evolution, created much the
same response structure in most human brains (exceptions for colour
blindness phenomena, also cultural and training experience will modify the
response). My guess is that the pallete of colours (smells, tastes, tactile, all
other sense feelings) we see is a bit like a hard-wired language - especially
important in social beings that need to intuitively understand each other (ie.
the system evolved a long time before word-based language) and relates to
the value of social animals being able to 'mind read' ie. it is valuable for
coordination to have a set of similar qualia experiences going in on in many
brains so that the animals are working to the same 'story'. Also my guess is
that qualia are linked fairly closely to the neural 'attention system' - are qualia
apparent to anyone if they are not paying attention to a phenomenon? My
intuition is to say they are not.

My guess is that when we pay attention to sensory, or other data that our
brains connects with a quasi-sensory response, the data is tagged with labels
that are used to trigger a suite of qualia responses - deep hard-wired patterns
and associations built up through life - linking to memories, emotions etc. My
guess is that it is the richness of associations that makes the qualia feel rich.
But this would be very demanding of brain processing capacity so I imagine
that is why 'qualia triggering' would only be done in relation to things we are
paying attention to.

Am I right in feeling that many people associate the experience of qualia with
the inuitive/folk notion of 'consciousness'? If so, the connection might be the
'attention system' linkage?

I don't know whether any of what I've said deals with the 'hard problem' that
you felt I had not addresses in my last message. Let me know! :)

Cheers, Philip

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