How do you know that you know what you are talking about when you talk about qualia?

I am interested in the exploring the possible answers to this post’s titular question available to those who answer “yes” to the following questions. Do you have qualia? Can others have qualia?

At first glance, it seems that there would be two general options in answering “How do you know what you are talking about when you talk about qualia?”;

option 1: by description.

option 2: by inner ostension.

One “problem” with option 1 is that it opens the door to the identification of qualia with physical and/or functional kinds. This, of course, is not really a problem unless you were hoping you would get to be a dualist at the end of the day.

Option 2 leads to similar “problems”. The first is that if your physical or functional doppleganger has states that it knows by inner ostension, then what is there to prevent the identification of such physical/functional states with qualia? If the answer is that you can imagine your dopplganger having those phys/func states w/o having qualia, then there’s a serious question of whether you do indeed know what you are talking about when you answer yes to the question of whether others can have qualia. This leads to the (Wittgensteinian?) question of how you can coherently conceive of this sort of thing, a thing you know by inner ostension as an element of your awareness, as existing independently of your awareness. How is it that inner ostension gives you the grasp of something that may also exist outside of your mental act of ostension? The trick will involve answering this latter question in a way that isn’t simply a tacit switch from option 2 to option 1.

Figs. 1 & 2: Neon Color Spreading. Are the gaps beetween the black and the blue being filled in by your brain with qualia? If you answer that question, how do you know that you know what you are talking about?

7 Responses to “How do you know that you know what you are talking about when you talk about qualia?”

  1. I’m not sure this will help, but phenomenologically I find it hard to think of a qualia as some private things… In most cases I notice things in a publicly accessible space, i.e. in the world.
    For example in the case of the neon color illusion, I’m noticing a translucent cyan-colored forms “floating” over the background containing black circles there (points to the monitor).
    If someone asks me “what are you talking about?” in normal circumstances, I would use pointing, but my attention wouldn’t be to something phenomenologically in me, but something which exists outside of me, and is publicly accessible, hence accessible to other’s attention too. In that act of pointing I would expect that other (having access to the same thing) possibly has same sort of “what that neon color spreading illusion is like” including “what that translucent cyan form is like”, including “what that specific cyan color is like”, etc… Again, because I see the thing in its specific appearance outside in the world.
    After all it has to appear somehow, it can’t just appear but not be somehow.

    I published extended comment on the topic here, but I’m not sure if the rest is relevant as it goes to tangential issue.

  2. Pete Mandik says:

    Thanks for the comment, Tansije. I tend to agree that what ever attention and pointing is invovled in picking out appearances is done in terms of publicly accessible objects and their properties. I’d add that insofar as we do come to conceive of appearances themselves as properties of events inside of us, that act of conceving is the employment of a bit of theory about ourselves, not an unmediated grasp of an inner event’s intrinsic property.



  3. Sanne Lodahl says:

    Well, another answer some might give you, is that there is a dichotomi between what you’re talking about and the experience itself (which is what a quale is, immediate experience). So, that leaves a bifurcated story about the experience and what you’re ‘talking’ about when referring to mental states. You know qualia by experience, but that doesn’t necessarily (logically) mean that that’s also what you’re talking about (when referring to inner states).

    That, of course, leaves you with a gap between epistemology and metaphysics. Also, if you also want to claim to know that others have qualia, you’ll have to tell a story of nomological necessities and ties to the physical domain.

    It is still a metaphysically sound story though, albeit pragmatically impossible (i.e. you’ll always think your immediate experience is causally linked to your reports).

  4. Pete Mandik says:

    Sanne, thanks for the response. I’m not sure, though, I understand what the suggestion is supposed to be. Would someone who propounded such a view really be saying anything at all? If a person says “there are experiences but experiences are not what I’m talking about now” while “what I’m talking about now” refers to their current utterance, haven’t they somehow undermined their initial claim that “there are experiences”?

    Statements like “There are experiences and not even I can talk about them” have the self-undermining character of statements like “This sentence is meaningless”.

  5. Sanne Lodahl says:

    Right, a ‘paradox of epiphenomenalism’ (that I’m mistaken in pragmatic convictions of what I think is the basis of my actions). So, in effect, in this worldview, if I say “there are conscious experiences” there is no way this utterance is about the conscious experiences. That I know I have conscious experiences will not in this sense go beyond the mere experience. The utterances must then be (causally) linked to the closest physical correlate to the experience, but never to the experience itself.

    A statement like “there are experiences and not even I can talk about them”, is not self-undermining in the sense that even my zombie-twin will be able to utter this sentence, even though she has no experiences. The reference to ‘experiences’ in this context will then be a deflationary concept.

  6. Pete Mandik says:

    I think maybe I’m still missing something about this worldview you are talking about.

    Isn’t every world in which the worldview is meaningfully stated a world in which the worldview cannot be true?

  7. [...] also: [How do you know that you know what you are talking about when you talk about qualia?] [Transcending [...]