The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Qualia

The problem of phenomenal qualities has puzzled philosophers for centuries. There is no “red” around me, just particles. Where does the “red” that I see come from? That red exists in my mind, but it does not exist outside my mind. Red is in me, not in the world.

How can a reality made of atoms of finite size be generating my feeling of something as uniform and continuous as the color red?

In 1929 the US philosopher Clarence Lewis called them “qualia” (from the Latin “quale”, which is the dual of “quantum” and refers to the subjective aspect of a thing). Qualia are qualities that are subjective, directly perceived and known in an absolute way. The taste of something, the color of something, a pain or a desire are associated to qualia, to “feelings” of those things.

Qualia are subjective: I cannot be sure that another person’s “red” is identical to my red.

Qualia are known in an absolute way: in another world red could correspond to a different frequency of light, and we would have to change the branch of Physics that deals with colors, but what I see as “red” I would still see as red.

Why does Nature present itself to my senses in two contradictory ways? If I believe my immediate perceptions, there is red. If I try to make sense of my perceptions, I work out a theory of Nature according to which there is no red, but only a vast mass of floating particles.

As a matter of fact, matter is “inscrutable” to our consciousness. We would like to think that, if nothing else, we know what the world is. We may be puzzled by the nature of mind, but we do know what matter is. At closer inspection, even matter turns out to be a bit of a mystery. We cannot perceive, and therefore conceive, what matter ultimately is. Our mind presents us with a game of illusions, whereby the world is populated with objects, and objects have shapes and colors. Science, on the other hand, tells us that there are only particles and waves. We cannot perceive that ultimate reality of matter. Matter is inscrutable to us.

We know what consciousness is because we feel it. We know what matter is because we sense it. Because we can sense it, we can build scientific theories on the nature of matter. But we cannot feel it, we cannot feel what matter ultimately is. Because we can only feel it, we cannot build scientific theories on the nature of consciousness. Although we can feel it.

 


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