Qualia: The Science of Experiences

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An exciting field is emerging in the worlds of science and philosophy that may explain our thinking. The concept of qualia has intrigued philosophers since 1929, when the term was first introduced. In simple terms, qualia (singular: quale) are the experiences we have. The experience of seeing the color blue, the experience of hearing a musical note, and even the feeling of being hungry would all be considered qualia. However, qualia should not be confused with physical properties. For example, an apple may physically be red, but you may experience red the way someone else experiences blue. Moods such as anxiety and irritability are composed of qualia. Although the existence of qualia seems probable, qualia are mainstream in neither science nor philosophy due to something called the Hard Problem of Consciousness.

According to the widely accepted theory of physicalism, everything that exists must be physical or caused by something physical. If some movement of molecules can produce the sensation we associate with thirst, this theory would be satisfied and there would be no question at all. However, it is hard to prove whether qualia are physical, or whether they even exist. This is what the Hard Problem of Consciousness aims to address. Some pessimistic philosophers say it is downright impossible. 

There are many arguments against physicalism, the main one being the hypothetical story of Mary, a person who was imprisoned in a black-and-white room. She had learned all there is to know about color from the black-and-white books given to her. One day, she was let out into a garden and was finally able to see the red roses and green grass. It was then that she finally experienced seeing red and green. In other words, she had a quale. Although her brain had already learned all the physical information about color, she still couldn’t experience seeing the different colors while trapped in the room. Thus, according to opponents of physicalism, qualia are beyond the physical realm. But, if qualia are not produced by our mind, what are they and where do they come from? 

These are questions still unanswered even today. To even begin to look for answers requires deep research and understanding of qualia. If answers are found though, they could revolutionize the way we think and possibly provide a reason for why we experience the world the way we do.

About the Author

Sadkrith Malladi
Hello! My name is Sadkrith and I am a junior living in 1505. I enjoy playing chess, casual basketball, reading, and of course writing.

1 Comment on "Qualia: The Science of Experiences"

  1. This article was a joy to read. Your passion for the subject matter really shone through in your writing.

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