Re: [agi] What are qualia...

From: Dimitry Volfson (
Date: Sat Jan 22 2005 - 08:16:17 MST

Hi, Ben and Philip,

This is my first post to this list.

Paul Watzlawick makes a useful distinction in his book: _The Language of
Change_ (also in _How Real is Real?_); this is my interpretation of it:

First-Order Reality (1OR): The Physical topology of "matter" (whatever
that means).
Second-Order Reality (2OR): Our Perceptions-Of and Thoughts-About 1OR
(and 2OR).

It may be useful for some purposes to define further orders, but two are
sufficient for most things.

I think it's also useful to realize that "realness" is itself 2OR; as are
all concepts people develop.

To me, qualia are sensory-revived bundles; for example, colors generate
the quality/qualia of warmth (synesthetically): blue=cold; red=warm.
These are associations (and/or generalizations) from experience.
wood=warmth, family-togetherness, etc. Qualia are often specific to the
individual; people learn (associate) in different and unreproducible (in
fine detail) patterns.

Subjective experience (as qualia) connects to the neural correlates by
association networks. In other words, stimuli (external or internal)
trigger association networks which associate to (and revivify) other
sensory/emotive/body-sense modalities, and highly-valued concepts (which
have their own revivified sensory-bundle sets); and people call the
resulting cascade of _experienceS_ of the cognitive-trace activation:
"qualia". Most of this happens unconsciously, so it feels avolitional
(just like arm-levitation ratification in classical hypnosis feels), and
so some mystical ideas seem to have been associated with the concept of
qualia. Some people think it supports the mind-body duality idea, for

The survival value (1OR) of particular qualia associations and the
resulting cognitive-trace patterns (2OR); determines their
ideo-socio-bio-evolutionary development.

I could go on, but I don't have a good idea of what would be most

Dimitry Volfson

On Sat, 22 Jan 2005 08:06:34 -0500 "Ben Goertzel" <>

Hi Philip,

Interesting thoughts, but IMO they don't address the so-called "hard
problem" of consciousness, which is how the subjective experience of
qualia is connected to the neural correlates of qualia.

You say "qualia are properties generated in the brain relating to the
*experience* of real world" ---- but the tricky question is how a
physical system (the brain) can "generate" subjective, phenomenal
experiences. What is the nature of the "generation" that you mention?

So far as I can tell, your comments don't address this at all...

-- Ben

-----Original Message-----
From: []On Behalf
Of Philip Sutton
Sent: Friday, January 21, 2005 11:49 PM
Subject: [agi] What are qualia...


I just been thinking about qualia a bit more recently.

(I have to make a disclaimer. I know next to nothing about them, but
other people's ideas from this list have been fermenting in my mind for a

Anyway, here goes......

How about the idea that qualia are properties generated in the brain
relating to the *experience* of real world. They are artifacts that are
generated as ways of embedding labels or evaluations of data from the
real world into the data streams that, in the brain, are tagged as being
'real'. eg. 'red' is an identification label, a 'stink' is a safety

Using qualia is probably the quickest way to compile data about the real
world into a digested form that contains everything from data that is
relatively close to what the real world is like together with other
subjective responses from within the brain that is convenient to be
transferred through the brain tightly bound to the data that might be
considered more objective.

Given that biological systems have had hundreds of millions of years to
evolve this 'objective'/'subjective'data bundling it is no wonder that it
seems marvellously rich and seemless and carries an overwhelming sense of
being reality.

Once complex brained / complecly motivated creatures start using qualia
they could play into lifepatterns so profoundly that even obscure trends
in the use of qualia for aesthetic purposes could actually effect
reproductive prospects. For example, male peacocks have large tails that
look nice - clearly qualia are playing a role in the differentiation
process that decides which peacocks will be more or less successful in

Cheers, Philip

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