Re: qualia, once and for all

From: Paul Fidika (
Date: Tue Jun 22 2004 - 20:14:14 MDT

Sebastian Hagen wrote in reply to Metaqualia:
> > The knowledge argument: mary is born in a room with no colored objects.
> > studies every physical phenomenon connected with colors and light. Then
> > steps out of the room and sees actual colors. Will she learn something
> > If so, the third person interpretation of color is not sufficient to
> > all of the phenomena concerning color.
> Assuming that mary is a transhuman and therefore has sufficient abilities
> absorb all of current physics, including everything we know about light,
and all
> present knowledge about evolution of lifeforms in general and humans in
> particular, and that she actually does absorb all of this knowledge before
> leaves the room, then no: she won't really learn anything new.
> Studying every physical phenomenon with colors and light on her own is
likely to
> be insufficient if she merely has human intelligence (it took all of
> quite a while to come up with our current understanding), though a
> intelligent transhuman would probably be able to arrive at the same
> if she has access to the right tools.

::sigh:: That's the problem with Jackson's so-called "knowledge argument";
he postulates a being whose power and knowledge vastly exceeds our own, and
then supposes that he can intuit what that being does or does not know. Well
how about a new argument (which, as far as I am aware, is original):

(1) Assume that there is something it is like to see a Tesseract (an object
analogous to a cube which occupies 4 dimensions rather than 3).
(2) I already know everything there is to know about a Tesseract, namely
that it consists of 8 cubes, 24 squares, 32 edges, 16 vertices, and so on
and so forth. Furthermore, if any question is asked to me regarding the
properties of a Tesseract, I could, using abstract mathematics, answer the
(3) Nonetheless, I have never seen a Tesseract; I cannot imagine one in the
same sense that I can imagine a cube or a triangle.
(4) Suppose that my visual-cortex is now suitably modified so that I can
imagine a Tesseract, or any other such 4-dimensional object.
(5) By our assumption that there is something it is like to see a Tesseract,
and by the fact that I have never seen a Tesseract before, we can conclude
that I now know something genuinely new about Tesseracts; what one looks
(6) However, this contradicts the fact that I already know everything there
is to know about Tesseracts.

(Note: If one REALLY feels motivated to doubt (1) or the possibility of (4),
an analogous argument can be made by using an individual who is born without
a visual cortex, masters geometry, and then is given a new visual cortex.)

How did we arrive at this contradiction? We have not stated precisely what
is meant by "know", and our reliance upon its everyday common meaning leads
to (6), a contradiction. "Know" seems to be playing double-duty for two
different concepts in the above. In (2), we are talking about "knowing" in
terms of abstract, mathematical knowledge, while in (5) we are talking about
"knowing" in terms of seeing, perceptually. I will leave the former type
with its usually associated term; knowing or knowledge, whereas I will call
the latter type of knowing qualia. Thus qualia is not something which we can
be substituted for with abstract knowledge, nor can we say whether or not an
agent has a particular quale by relying purely upon the agent's input-output
behavior, as my current self and my self with 4-dimensional vision would
give the same answers to all questions asked to us (unless you asked me
whether or not I could see in 4-dimensions, I being such an honest
individual ;-p ).

As an aside, one should be highly skeptical of anyone who uses qualia to
argue for a new type of physics, or for some sort of dualism; the above
argument is wholly compatible with modern physics and (certain versions of)
Functionalism. In fact, the problems of the existence of qualia and the
detection of the existence / inexistence of a particular quale in a
particular agent is almost certainly one which can be wholly addressed using
suitably modified versions of information theory and computer science.
Furthermore, one should be highly skeptical of anyone claiming qualia can be
used as a basis for an objective morality; it is difficult to see where the
"Good" or "Evil" (with a capital G and a capital E) is in visions of
Tesseracts or the redness of red--this smacks me as
"religious-meme-leftovers" in a new guise.

~Paul Fidika

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