Re: qualia, once and for all

From: Norm Wilson (
Date: Tue Jun 22 2004 - 10:11:38 MDT

Sebastian Hagen wrote:

> > [...]Subjectivity is important.[...]
> That statement looks like a very good summary of your
> basic assumptions that I see as unnecessary, unhelpful
> and therefore to be avoided according to Occam's
> Razor.

I have two basic objections here:

1. Using objective reasoning to eliminate subjectivity commits the logical fallacy of begging the question.

2. Subjectivity is important because it can never be fully removed from observations about reality.

First, to deny the reality of subjective experience (e.g., the "hard problem", qualia, conscious awareness, etc.) on the basis that it cannot be explained by our current understanding of physics is not reasonable. The only fact that any of us can know with absolute certainty is that "I am". Subjective experience is primary, immediate, and obvious, and everything else is belief. In fact, subjective experience is so obvious that many people (materialists) claim not even to see it. In truth, we ASSUME the existence of an objective world because it's the best way to explain our subjective experiences. However, we cannot ultimately prove anything beyond our own subjective experience, and the best that science can do is to provide theories that align very closely with our observations. We believe in science because it consistently explains our world in a way that makes sense to us on a fundamental level. Ultimately, though, science can only yield theories and approximations of the real world.

In most contexts, the connection between subjective experience and the objective world is implicit. To constantly qualify our statements by saying "assuming that the objective world is real, it follows that..." would be redundant and monotonous. Such a premise can be assumed whenever one is making statements about the objective world. However, the premise does become relevant when attempting to make objective statements about subjective experience. While science has created a very consistent and compelling model of the external world, taking the objective universe as more fundamental than subjective experience is a logical error. Because subjective experience is primary and the objective world is assumed (however convincingly), making statements about subjective experience from the objective perspective is in fact begging the question of whether the objective world exists, and more importantly, whether it exists in the manner that we believe it does.

Of course, I'm not claiming that the objective world doesn't exist or that science doesn't provide a consistent discription of it, but only that we can't use assumed knowledge to refute primary (immediate, obvious) knowledge.

Second, granting for the sake of argument that the objective world does exist, our knowledge of the physical world is incomplete. Science provides only abstract models of the "real world" (of which our subjective experience is a part) and we can never assume those models to be completely accurate. It's a fallacy to take facts derived from the model to be more correct than those found in what's being modeled. If our model of the world does not explain, imply, or at least leave room for our subjective experience, then the model should be revised. In short, any version of physics that does not explain that which is most obvious (e.g., subjective experience) is obviously incomplete.

Norm Wilson

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