RE: What are qualia...

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sat Jan 22 2005 - 10:46:21 MST


Calling qualia a "substance" is indeed an error, and one which many
philosophers have avoided. E.g. in Peirce's metaphysics, qualia are First
whereas substance is Second.

However, the fact that no substance of qualia exists, doesn't eliminate the
mystery. Nor does it mean that talk of "qualia" is meaningless. Words
(such as "qualia") can meaningfully denote non-substances...

I long ago gave up on trying to convince hard-core empiricists that
non-empirical, non-"substantial" phenomena (like experiences or qualia) can
actually exist. I don't seem to have a common grounding for the word
"existence" with such people. (And I'm not sure if you fall into the
category of hard-core empiricists or not.)

As I understand it, hard-core empiricists believe that there is a physical
reality which is actually existent, and we humans are physical systems
within this reality, and "mind" is a way of talking about some of the
activities of these physical systems.

While I respect this as an often useful perspective, I can also take the
perspective that my mind is primary, and sensations and ideas arise within
it, and among these sensations and ideas are the ideas of the physical
world, a body, a brain, science, physics. From this point of view there is
nothing at all mistaken or nonsensical in thinking about qualia as existing
separately from physical reality, yet still being in a sense fully existent
and real.

I know of no way to convince a hard-core empiricist that the subjectivist
view of the world is at least equally valid.

What's funny to me is that I see hard-core empiricism as a form of
dogmatism, somewhat similar to religious fundamentalism. From an inner,
experiential point of view, both "God" and "physical reality" are ideas that
the mind conceives in order to organize its experiences. Clinging onto any
one of these ideas as absolutely real and existent is IMO a mistake.

-- Ben

> -----Original Message-----
> From: []On Behalf Of Eliezer
> Yudkowsky
> Sent: Saturday, January 22, 2005 10:42 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: What are qualia...
> Qualia are the modern version of a very, very old mistake, that
> of reifying
> a mystery as a substance. Cognitive phlogiston.
> --
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
> Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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