Is phenomenal consciousness real?

Discussions relating to conciousness, spirituality, and the great dilemma between materialism and dualism

Is phenomenal consciousness real?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Sat Jan 02, 2010 11:57 pm

Is phenomenal consciousness a real thing? Do qualia exist? Or is this just an illusion that comes from people wanting to believe that their experience, which is nothing more than physical brain processes, is somehow special?
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Re: Is phenomenal consciousness real?

Postby Rich G on Mon Nov 22, 2010 10:39 am

Hey Brandon its been a long time but I finally am able to access your site again. I am trying to understand qualia better. I'm not sure if this question is being asked under the proper section. But I just wanted your opinion on two sections of the bible. I know that you think the book is fiction but put that aside for a moment.

John 12:28-29
Father, glorify you name. Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it and will glorify it again." The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, " An angel has spoken to him.

Here we have a group of people that are at the same place but experience different things. Some hear thunder, some hear the voice of an angel, and maybe a third group that reconized the voice as God's voice.

Acts 2:1-13
I'm not going to type the whole thing but it's where the Holy Spirit fills Christ's followers and they are able to speak in different tongues. Some of the people heard there own language while others (scoffers) heard something that made them think that Christ followers were drunk. I just thought you might find it interesting.
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Re: Is phenomenal consciousness real?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Mon Nov 22, 2010 10:58 pm

Hi Rich, nice to hear from you again. This site has been pretty quiet in recent months, but that's quite alright with me. I set this site up to get some feedback from others on my ideas and also to see who is interested in these topics. Recently I have been working hard on producing a thesis that can be accepted by a university and published. This will take quite a bit of work, but I might end up with a PhD if I can see it through all the way. There will be lots of professors and also other students who will be trying to find flaws in my work, because this is part of the process. I know I'm not ready for that level of scrutiny. I need to read a lot more and develop my thesis so that is can withstand the criticism. Also I am working full time now in order to pay the bills and save up money for my future academic pursuits.

So anyways on to your last post - I think you provided a solid analysis of those Biblical passages. What you are talking about is more about the difference between perception and reality. Like how different people can perceive reality differently or how people can even create their own reality even though they seem to be experiencing the same thing. Now, qualia is related to this because essentially qualia is conscious experience.

From what I can tell, how the concept of qualia is related to Biblical concepts is that I believe it is traditionally understood as Biblical teaching that humans have souls and animals do not. I don't know what Bible passages might mention that humans have souls but animals do not. Perhaps the creation stories in Genesis could be interpreted as such.

Now I do know of some Christians who believe that animals do have souls, but for those who believe that only humans have souls, they would also believe that only humans have conscious experience and therefore only they have qualia. So under this assumption, when an animal seems to be conscious or seems to be experiencing something, it is actually just a zombie-like process. Kind of like, if you will, a robot that is programmed to seem like it can feel pain an pleasure. You know, I can write a computer program that has an image of a dog that would seem to be happy at times and suffer at times, but this would of course not be conscious because it would just be a computer program. No qualia there. I experience the redness of red, the actual sound of people's voices, the actual feel of touching something. The computer program I write, or a robot that someone might build, almost certainly does not have this actual experience. Such things might seem to be conscious, but looks are often deceiving.

The connection between consciousness and the soul is that both of these are nonphysical things associated with the body. The soul is the true essence of one's self, while qualia is that which the soul experiences. You see, the body is physical and being as such, it cannot actually experience anything. So your body is actually quite similar to that of an animal. The biggest difference is that the animal has no soul and thus there is nothing to experience redness or sound of touch. The animal appears to have this experience from it's outward actions, but there just isn't anything actually having these experiences. This is my theory of qualia. I understand there are others who will disagree with me. So hopefully all of this will help you understand the concept of qualia.
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Re: Is phenomenal consciousness real?

Postby Rich G on Fri Nov 26, 2010 12:41 pm

Congratulations on finding a job. They're not that easy to find these days. In regards to your thesis, I hope that criticism that you receive is constructive in nature and ultimately speeds the process of getting your PhD.

After thinking on your last post I have another question. Do you think there could be two types of qualia? I stated somewhere in a previous post that I thought there is a difference between soul and spirit. Soul being what connents us to this earth and spirit being what connects us to God. The idea isn't mine but I've read somewhere (I just can't recall) from an Orthodox priest. Or for you it might be easier to think of the spiritual qualia as something that connects you to the supernatural.

I would say insects don't experience qualia and are as you have described going along a zombie-like process. But I think the higher developed animals may have a soul, in that may experience qualia but they don't have a spirit or they don't experience spiritual qualia.
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Re: Is phenomenal consciousness real?

Postby Rich G on Mon Nov 29, 2010 11:35 am

Just to continue on my last post. Do you think there could be a test to determine whether something has qualia? I mean if red can be experienced, then maybe appreciation for art would hint that the subject is experience qualia. I'm not sure how to figue out that something experiences the art; maybe some sort of brain scan? You would probably need a PhD to figure that out. :P
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Re: Is phenomenal consciousness real?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Mon Nov 29, 2010 10:53 pm

Rich G wrote:After thinking on your last post I have another question. Do you think there could be two types of qualia? I stated somewhere in a previous post that I thought there is a difference between soul and spirit. Soul being what connents us to this earth and spirit being what connects us to God. The idea isn't mine but I've read somewhere (I just can't recall) from an Orthodox priest. Or for you it might be easier to think of the spiritual qualia as something that connects you to the supernatural.

Well, I suppose there could be two (or more) types of qualia. I think that if there is any differentiation between what connects us to the earth vs. what connects us to God, it would be that qualia is determined by the perceptions that come into our physical bodies (though, importantly, not the same thing as this) while our free willed actions were allowed by God to be our own free choice, not determined by God, and thus this is what seems to connect us most to God. Qualia and free willed actions are distinct from each other just as they are both distinct from material substance.

Now, regarding your theory that we have both a soul and a spirit, I actually don't see a reason for believing this. I think that this is more of a linguistic difference than anything. Both of these words translate to the same word in other languages. I'm pretty sure both translate to "psychos" in Greek. But then the related English word "psyche" has come to have purely physical connotations in modern science. Well, if we try to look past these linguistic difficulties that can confuse us and just focus on the concepts, which I think our souls can do independently of language because this is the capacity given to us by God (side note that I acknowledge our limitations in thinking - God did not make us perfect). If we just focus on what concepts that "soul" and "spirit" might refer to, depending on what you have in mind, there might be a difference. I do not, however, see a reason that my own essence might be split in two. I have one essence, and this can be called "soul" and it can be called "spirit".

Rich G wrote:Just to continue on my last post. Do you think there could be a test to determine whether something has qualia? I mean if red can be experienced, then maybe appreciation for art would hint that the subject is experience qualia. I'm not sure how to figue out that something experiences the art; maybe some sort of brain scan? You would probably need a PhD to figure that out.


You can only test if you have qualia because this is only known from personal experience. Any physical creature can be programmed to appear as though they have qualia, when this is not necessarily the case. Actually we can get a pretty good idea from analyzing a being's behavior. If a being's behavior is too simple to allow for the kind of body-soul interaction that you know from your own personal experience, then perhaps you can conclude that this being has no soul. You seem to have already gone through this thought process if you concluded that insects have no soul. Dogs and such are a more difficult question. I have concluded that the soul exists to make moral decisions. If a being does not appear to be intelligent enough to make moral decisions, then it could not have a soul. God could not give a soul to some physical thing that he makes that is just not complicated enough to allow for body-soul interaction. Certainly God can make any soul He wants, but God's reason for making souls seems to be to allow for moral decision making so the soul can choose for itself whether to be selfish or altrustic, whether to be loving or hateful, whether to follow God or its own interests above all else.

God set this up to require interaction with a mechanistic body in the physical world. The body must have sufficient complexity to allow these moral decisions to take place. I don't think that any animal can truly understand other beings enough to make moral decisions. They don't communicate with language, which indicates to me that they don't understand complex concepts. This one is a tough call, but I'm going to have to conclude that animals do not have souls.
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Re: Is phenomenal consciousness real?

Postby Rich G on Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:11 am

Brandon Norgaard wrote:Both of these words translate to the same word in other languages. I'm pretty sure both translate to "psychos" in Greek.

I looked it up: Psuche translates to soul, Pneumati translates to spirit. But your right in as far as the word translate to same word in other languages. It wasn't my theory that we both have a spirit and a soul but an Orthodox priests that I once read on the difference between the two. I happen to agree with that theory. But you don't have to believe that thoery. We have different world views. I have questions on those two passage for awhile and thought that understanding qualia would help me better understand those passages.

Brandon Norgaard wrote:If a being does not appear to be intelligent enough to make moral decisions, then it could not have a soul.


OK. Based on your statement I would agree with you. Actually I was thinking an animal a little higher than a dog, such as an ape may have qualia. But I don't know.
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Re: Is phenomenal consciousness real?

Postby robert hand ferry on Fri Jun 15, 2012 1:41 am

i used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. then i realized who was telling me this. - Emo Phillips
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