Academic journal article Behavior and Philosophy (Online)

The Broad Perception Model and the Transparency of Qualia

Academic journal article Behavior and Philosophy (Online)

The Broad Perception Model and the Transparency of Qualia

Article excerpt

When I have a throbbing headache, feel inexplicably elated, or savor a bowl of chocolate ice cream, my mental states have a certain quality that is uniquely phenomenal; there is something that it is like to be in these states. What has been dubbed as the "hard problem" in philosophy of mind is the problem of giving an account of the nature of this characteristic of mental states, their phenomenal character. There certainly seems to be a special quality of hearing nails scratch a chalkboard, tasting espresso, or smelling bread baking, but what exactly is this property? Although a number of distinct questions have been raised about the phenomenal character of experience-is it a physical property? a functional property? a representational property?-the present paper is concerned with shedding light on a problem with one account of phenomenal character, specifically qualia realism, in something of a roundabout way.

According to qualia realism, the phenomenal characters of experience, or what are called qualia, are intrinsic, non-representational properties of mental states. A classic sort of argument for qualia realism is the inverted spectrum argument. The general strategy in this sort of argument is to use a thought experiment to show that two subjects' experiences could be representationally the same but phenomenally different, thereby demonstrating that the phenomenal does not supervene upon (or reduce to) the representational. For instance, we might imagine Fred and Mary. In the presence of red things, Fred has experiences that are phenomenally like those of a normal perceiver in such circumstances: red things seem red to him. However, Mary has inverted experiences. Mary's experience of the red tomato is phenomenally like the experiences normal perceivers have when looking at green things. If both Fred and Mary are having an experience of a red tomato, then their experiences are representationally the same. If their experiences are phenomenally different, then the phenomenal quality of their experiences is distinct from the representational properties of the experience. If this is indeed a possibility, then there are potentially devastating implications not only for representationalism but for functionalism and possibly even physicalism.

The denial of qualia realism is the view that the phenomenal character of mental states just is a representational feature of those states. Representationalists do not deny that there is something that it is like to feel a pain or an itch, to taste chocolate or anchovies, to feel scared or anxious; they just deny that these qualities of experience are intrinsic to these states. If you were to take away the representational content of these experiences, then you would take away what it is like to have them, says the representationalist.

One strategy that representationalists, most notably Harman (1990) and Tye (1995, 2000), have used to argue against qualia realism is to point to the apparent transparency of qualia to introspection. When we try to attend to any intrinsic properties of experience via introspection, we end up focusing on what the experience is of or about or its felt location; that is, introspection reveals only the representational features of experience and not any qualia.

The transparency of qualia to introspection provides prima facie reason for rejecting qualia realism in favor of a representational theory of phenomenal character. Nevertheless, a qualia realist might try to respond to the problem of transparency either by reconciling qualia with phenomenological transparency or by denying the transparency of qualia altogether (for example, see Block, 1996, 2000 and Kind 2003, 2008). The latter strategy would seem to rest on showing that via introspection we become directly aware of qualia in way that is analogous to the direct awareness we have of the properties of perceptual objects. The qualia realist would have to show that we can become introspectively aware of the phenomenal quality of one's experience of seeing green asparagus in much the same way as one is perceptually aware of the greenness of the asparagus. …

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