vintage photo. photographer unknown. (contact us if you know)

vintage photo. photographer unknown.
(contact us if you know)

A Case for qualia

‘Qualia’ (plural of the Latin quale) is a term used in consciousness and philosophy studies to refer to an individual subjective experience of the world. As Joseph Levine writes:

Examples of qualia are the smell of freshly ground coffee or the taste of pineapple; such experiences have a distinctive phenomenological character which we have all experienced but which, it seems, is very difficult to describe.

Since the continuing encroachment of consciousness studies onto modern science, qualia has continued to prove to be a divisive and problematic concept. How can there be a universal and undeniable experience, which is at the same time completely subjective and totally unquantifiable? The concept seems to lie literally in between our perceptions of the self and the interactive outer-world.

More pugnacious and empirically minded modern scientists have responded to the question of qualia either by denying its actual existence or by anticipating it to be another weird and, to date, unexplained evolutionary by-product.

However, the phenomenon of qualia has already been incredibly well described and explored for thousands of years … that is through literature, art, music, cookery, or basically any other act that springs from the creative impulse.

It is quite possible … that we will always learn more about human life and personality from novels than from scientific psychology. – Noam Chomsky

And yet, while these creative arts have literally mapped out the history of human consciousness, it is not to say that areas such as qualia cannot continue to be advanced scientifically; indeed, the contest is unnecessary. Creative exploration should constitute a knowledge that is complementary to scientific knowledge. As Nicholas Maxwell argues, the two disciplines must be combined if we are to achieve true wisdom.

For more information on qualia and consciousness read David Lodge’s essay, ‘Consciousness and the Novel’






Published: September 16th, 2014

Previous in this series:

A case for Klein Blue

You may also like:

A Case for Otium

Leave a Reply