Can there be a scientific explanation of consciousness without qualia?
Document Type:ASSC Conference Item
Topics:Theory of Consciousness
Keywords:qualia, hard problem, mechanism, panpsychism, panexperientialism
Deposited by:Steve Deiss
Date of Issue:2010
Event Dates:24-27 June 2010
Event Location:Toronto, Canada
Event Title:14th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Event Type:ASSC Conference
Abstract:ASSC is founded on the premise that the methods of science are the proper approach to a true understanding of the nature of consciousness. Science is rooted in materialism and physicalism. Few would question that human awareness supervenes on an intact brain. However, does it follow that all awareness supervenes on an intact mammalian brain? What about a starfish or a microbe? This talk will be about a little acknowledged "chicken and egg" problem. Which comes first - qualitative conscious awareness or scientific observation? To answer that preliminary questions need to be answered. What are qualia? What role do they play in consciousness studies? What role should they play in science? Should they be eliminated? I will argue that qualia are about neither 'the redness of red' nor 'what it is like.' Qualia are basically information theoretic having to do with detectable differences. They are fundamental for doing science. This also clarifies what consciousness is as a process, including scientific observation in particular. However, to fully appreciate the role of qualia in science, we have to acknowledge and reexamine some of our most basic presuppositions in science about mechanisms and laws. Mechanism is one of the most frequent words heard at any scientific meeting. Everyone is looking for them. But what are they, and what necessity do they carry? I will argue that our mechanistic world is a theoretical construct that results from how we habitually interpret qualitative sensations. There are alternatives to be considered. Conscious awareness as defined here is epistemologically prior to scientific observation. The upshot is that science has is limitations when practiced by individuals. Science can transcend those epistemological limitations through consensus as it has all along. However, consensus comes one conscious observer at a time. As Protagoras once said, “Man is the measure of all things.” While I would argue that this was a great overstatement, qualia will always have their place enabling observation.
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