The "Problem" of Qualia

[updated 13 June 2020 to add Davies quote]
[updated 25 July 2022 to provide more detail on "Blind Mary"]
[updated 5 August 2022 to provide reference to Nobel Prize for research into touch and heat; note that movie Ex Machina puts the "Blind Mary" experiment to film]
[updated 6 January 2024 to say more about philosophical zombies]

"Qualia" is the term given to our subjective sense impressions of the world. How I see the color green might not be how you see the color green, for example. From this follows flawed arguments which try to show how qualia are supposedly a problem for a "physicalist" explanation of the world.

The following diagram shows an idealized process by which different colors of light enter the eye and are converted into "qualia" -- the brain's internal representation of the information. Obviously the brain doesn't represent color as 10 bits of information. But the principle remains the same, even if the actual engineering is more complex.

Figure 1


Star Trek: Into Darkness

Almost four years ago my daughter and I went to see the J. J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek. Yesterday, I took her to have lunch with a co-worker and, after eating, she and I made a spur of the moment decision to see Star Trek: Into Darkness. The movie was filled with plot holes the size of solar systems. Nevertheless, after the final credits rolled, she remarked "that was amazing!" I can only agree. I loved the line, "If you can't even break a rule, how can you be expected to break bones?" It was Trek at its finest: using the backdrop of space to explore humanity.

Proud Father, IX

I haven't said anything about Jonathan marrying Shari on September 8 last year in Illinois, or David and Mary Ann being wed April 6 this year here in Atlanta. Or how pleased I am to have these two fine women in our family. If I haven't posted anything about them due to a (perhaps misplaced) sense of privacy, I cannot refrain from announcing the arrival of our first grandchild, Elizabeth Lee, born yesterday at 7:09 PM central daylight time to Shari and Johnny.

A friend of the family remarked to Becky today that she looks like me. My most deep-felt apologies, little one. You'll outgrow it. As I texted your dad today, "don't blink or twenty years will flash by."


I Still Need A Life