Qualia, in short, are an individual’s subjective experience of something. Sometimes referred to as the “phenomenal properties” of experience, qualia are the ways things appear to each of us. It is the subjective aspect of “mind”; what it’s like to have an experience (what we are aware of when see, hear, touch, taste or smell).
I may not be explaining this to the best of my ability, so for example: QUALIA would be the way you feel when you look at a red rose, compared to the way you feel looking at a pink rose; the way you feel when you hurt your leg vs. the way you feel when you hurt your toe; the way you react to jumping into a pool of cold water vs. warm water.
My threshold for pain varies from yours, along with the way I see the roses & react to different temperatures. Each experience is entirely subjective. The qualiaof these experiences are what set them apart, what gives each of them their “feel”.
Originally believed to be of philosophical orientation, qualia have gained momentum in an array of scientific fields. With that, it has also gained a great deal of surrounding controversy. Like Consciousness itself, it is believed by some to be qualitative. Yet, for qualia to be accepted with legitimacy by the scientific community, “subjective” and “phenomenal” experience must be technically defined. The idea of quale itself is such an important philosophical topic, as it’s a true example of the metaphysical chasm between mind and body.
Many believe there is no such thing as quale at all (Dennett, D.C., 1988; 2005). Molecular biologist & chemist, A.G. Cairns, writes about the nature of consciousness in Evolving the Mind. I really found this to be a “difficult” book, as I hold a more open & philosophical orientation towards life in general. I also don’t necessarily agree with many of his theories, for example, that consciousness is physical and ever evolving …which he also believes to be the case with qualia (feelings of pain or hunger are adaptive). Many other cognitive scientists believe there must be a physic-chemical cause of qualia.
But, could it be that some things simply cannot be understood and explained by the human mind? Are humans even THAT evolved? Personally, Im not much of a believer in anthropocentrism. Human beings are one of TRILLIONS of conscious beings scattered throughout our vast universe. I believe in panpsychism, or non-duality; that consciousness is a universal component (in varying degrees) of ALL things.
Physician and scholar, good ol’ Deepak Chopra, believes that all qualia emerge from the same fundamental, base-line field of consciousness. He argues that consciousness is a field of perception each of us are born with. Birth begins one person’s quale, while death ends it. Qualia are not by any means evolutionary, but specific to each individual. Our subjective realities make up a large “box” of qualia.
I’m fascinated by qualia and all things related to consciousness and perception. These are the things I think about when people ask if I’m “bored” or “day dreaming” lately……. Hopefully I can touch upon this topic in future posts, once o research and truly delve into the nature of qualia a bit more….