December 01, 2010

On "Qualia"

Community is a topic in may of the circles I flow through and a big part of the conversations that I am part of have questions related to social media and other web-based technology at their heart.   Related questions include: "What does it mean to be part of a community in this day and age?"  "How do radical changes in communications and digital media affect our relationships with each other and with ideas?"

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has launched a new web site as part of their thinking on this front.  The MemberCentral site was created for AAAS members and includes blogs, profiles and other content designed to spur thought and interaction.  I have been writing for their Qualia blog and my most recent post reflected on the meaning of that blog's name.  That post is mirrored here...

As I write this, I am listening to Coltrane and drinking my morning coffee.  My mind is in an introspective state and I am experiencing all of the sounds and tastes in a certain and subjective way.  If you were here with me, you would be subjected to the same inputs, but it is far from clear that our subjective experiences would be the same.  These types of experiences are referred to as “qualia”  by philosophers.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has this to say about “qualia”:

Philosophers often use the term ‘qualia’ (singular ‘quale’) to refer to the introspectively accessible, phenomenal aspects of our mental lives. In this standard, broad sense of the term, it is difficult to deny that there are qualia. Disagreement typically centers on which mental states have qualia, whether qualia are intrinsic qualities of their bearers, and how qualia relate to the physical world both inside and outside the head.

In simpler terms, qualia are things like the subjective experience of seeing red.

As I have thought about qualia and their relationship to the AAAS blog I have come to the conclusion that perhaps the intention of [Qualia] is to perturb our subjective experience and through that perturbation enrich our experience of Science.  Certainly that is my intention in reading and writing here.  Just as participants in the philosophical debates surrounding “qualia” are striving to advance our knowledge, vigorous discussions here will advance our understanding of the world and hopefully enrich our subjective experience of it.

Now on to Tom Waits.

Credit where credit is due: Sara Shopkow provide editorial assistance on this post that made the ideas much clearer and hopefully improved your subjective experience of it.