Make your own free website on Tripod.com

 


Qualia     wpe5.jpg (75651 bytes)

Objective versus Subjective Experience


Qualia are internal, subjective qualitative states such as the redness of red, aesthetic experiences of beauty and revulsion, pain, happiness, boredom, depression, elation, motivation, intention, the experience of understanding something for the first time, etc. Such states are subjective and private and are distinct (though causally related to) physical and neural activities.

The experimentally accessible processes, such as projection of images on the retina and the resultant neural firings etc, are describable in terms of manipulation of symbols (typically binary states such as fired/not fired, matrices of pixels or strings of pulses). However, how these symbols and the processes that manipulate them give rise to qualitative experience is one of the major areas of difference between the materialist and Buddhist viewpoints.

To the materialist, all perceptions - sight, hearing, touch taste and smell - arrive in the brain as bitstreams,  a sequence of 1's and 0's like the bitstream which is bringing this information to you down the telephone wire. The 1's and 0's are physically implemented as electro-chemical impulses of neurons.  The neural nets within the brain process these raw bitstreams,  firstly into data, then into information and finally into knowledge.

Buddhist philosophy has no difficulties with this process up to and including the point of generating information. However it points out that no mechanistic explanation appears to be able to bridge the gulf between information and knowledge, ie from symbols (whether on the printed page, or in the brain) to actual experience.  There seems to be no bridge between the data about a rose, no matter how they are processed and arranged, and the actual subjective experience of the rose. The immediate knowledge of the rose consists (among other things) of the qualia of red, green, and the smell of its perfume, not to mention the very immediate and unpleasant sensation I get when I attempt to pick it up by its thorny stem.

The Buddhist does not doubt that the brain does some very sophisticated ordering of its incoming nerve impulses into the datastructures which are the objects of knowledge.   But when all is said and done, those data structures remain as objects. They are not themselves knowledge, neither are they that which performs the function of knowing.

A datastructure by its very nature must have form. But according to Buddhist beliefs, the mind is formless and is capable of grasping any object of knowledge, including facts about the mind itself, which then become objects of knowledge in their own right.   Consequently the mind is potentially unbounded.

Buddhist philosophy states that the the gap between information and knowledge cannot be bridged from the data-object side, it can only be bridged by the mind reaching out or going to its object   (as it appears to do in certain quantum phenomena such as the 'spooky action at a distance' discussed in the section on quantum phenomena).  Thus the mind is not a extension of the dataprocessing capabilities of the brain either in terms of hardware, datastructures or algorithms. It is something totally different in its fundamental nature from all of these.

There is no one-way chain of causation between neurological events and qualitative mental states. Rather the mind appears to impute or project reality over the contents of datastructures within the brain, much as a PC operator would impute text, graphics, windows etc over the two dimensional array of dots that comprise a computer display.

- Sean Robsville

See also:

Arguments against Buddhism
' ....People get spiritual experiences under the influence of electromagnetic fields such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS),   and from psychedelic drugs such as mescalin, LSD, Psilocybe semilanceata and Amanita muscaria. All these transpersonal experiences are simply delusions caused by disruption of the normal electrochemical activity of the neurones.'

' ...Yes and No. There's no doubt that people experience other realms of reality under the influence of TMS  or psychoactive drugs. In these conditions the functioning of the brain is indeed abnormal.  But - you've got to ask yourself - what is the purpose of the normal functioning of the brain? The brain is a device which has evolved by selection of the fittest (not the most truthful) to project the delusion of the inherently-existing self onto the mind. This delusion of a permanent, unchanging self is 'imputed' over the ever-changing transitory collection of biochemical building blocks that makes up the physical aspects of a sentient being. Disruption .... by biochemical or biophysical agents, enables the mind to temporarily push the doors of perception ajar and peek beyond mundane biologically-determined appearances.... '

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
'...Computationalism or philosophical AI, (sometimes also known as Strong AI),  which is the view that all human mental activities are reducible to algorithms, and could therefore be implemented on a computer...'

Automaton
'...The internal states, inputs and outputs of an automaton have no inherent meaning. Any meaning (semantics) must be assigned from outside the system...'

Bardo
'... To the western materialist, the state of a 'dead' mind is OFF / Non-Existent / No Activity.  It is the ultimate Quietus -  no experience  whatsoever. To the Buddhist it is impossible to envisage 'no mind'. The state of a disembodied mind is active, hallucinatory and, depending on its karmic imprints, sometimes nightmarish...'

Behaviorism
'...It is amazing that no-one ever realised that all phenomena - from atoms to galaxies - can only be known via internal mental states. If internal mental states do not exist then the things that become manifest through them cannot exist - or at any rate must always remain totally innaccessible to understanding.  (But presumably this doesn't matter because understanding, being an internal mental state, also cannot exist!)...'

Buddhist Teachings
on the mind, personal relationships, meditation and the spiritual path.

Compassion
'...compassion is the root of a Buddha because all Buddhas arise fom the mind of compassion, it is the root of Dharma because Buddhas give Dharma teachings out of compassion for others, and it is the root of the Sangha because it is impossible to become Sangha without practising compassion.'

Dharma and dogma
'Buddha Shakyamuni never claimed to have any higher authority for his teachings than his own experience.'

Dukkha
'Dukkha is sometimes translated as suffering but in actual fact encompasses all senses of unsatisfactoriness,  even including pleasure (which evolution has contrived  will always be a transient sensation - lest it detract too much from the grim business of survival).'

Emergence
The mind cannot be an emergent property of the brain or any other physical system, since emergent properties and emergent phenomena are psychological in origin, and require the pre-existence of an observer's mind in order to become manifest.

Empty set - the origins of number
'...in the final analysis the entire number system has been generated by the play of mind on emptiness, in the complete absence of the need to refer to any material thing, or things, which are being counted.  Numbers are therefore fundamentally devoid of inherent 'Platonic' existence..'

Epiphenomenalism
'Epiphenomenalism avoids some of the absurdities of the behaviorists by claiming that consciousness and thought-processes do actually exist, though only as epiphenomena generated by the physical activities of the brain. However,  thoughts have no causative functions!  The illusion of free-will remains precisely that - an illusion'.

Evolutionary Psychology
'Our genes drive us along paths of action which appear to minimise suffering, but in many cases increase it. Greed and acquisitiveness are natural reactions designed to increase the survival of our genes, and decrease the chances of our competitors. After a certain point, the more you've got the more you've got to lose, and so the more you've got to worry about.'

Feminine spirituality, philosophy and science
'Why is God male rather than female? Gender is required to allow DNA to recombine and evolve in different and potentially novel combinations.  Patriarchal religions preach that God is a single unborn, uncreated, unevolved, non-biological entity who does not reproduce and will endure for all eternity. He hasn't undergone evolution Himself,  so why does He need to be sexually differentiated at all?.

Feud between Science and Religion
'Many (most?) scientists believe religions to be irrational, obscurantist and anti-scientific  The problem goes back to Galileo, who discovered that the earth goes round the sun, rather than vice-versa as stated in the Bible.'

Formless mind
'The description of the root mind as 'formless' doesn't just refer to its non-material nature, but it emphasises that it is unlimited, non-mechanistic and totally free from any structure or topology. . In Buddhist psychology the root mind is non-physical and non-algorithmic.  The mind cannot be understood in terms of circuit diagrams and flowcharts. It is pure awareness.'

God
'For in Him we live, and move, and have our being'

Laws of physics - their anthropic origin
'Both quantum theory and Buddhist teachings on sunyata suggest that as soon as an observer's mind makes contact with a superposed system, all the numerous possibilities collapse into one actuality. At some instant one of these possible alternative universes produced an observing lifeform. The first act of observation by this mind caused the entire superposed multiverse to collapse immediately into one of its numerous alternatives'

Mahayana
'The Mahayana practitioner's objective is to achieve advanced spiritual states (culminating after many lifetimes in Buddhahood), in order to guide, teach and ultimately rescue all unhappy sentient beings from their suffering. To do this she needs to develop a number of attributes including great compassion (bodhicitta). '

Mathematics - Its unreasonable effectiveness in science and engineering
So we are left with something of a mystery. According to the physicalist worldview, the mind (including mathematicians' minds) is an epiphenomenon of matter which has evolved solely to ensure the survival of the selfish genes which code for it. Why should this 'top-level' phenomenon have such intimate access to the 'bottom level' phenomena such as quantum physics? After all, the two levels are supposedly separated by less well-understood (in some cases) explanatory layers such as evolutionary psychology,   neurology, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and chemistry.

Meditation
'
There can be a number of objectives of meditation from simple relief of stress, through improving the long-term peace of mind in this life, up to stabilising and clarifying the subtle (permanent) mind that goes on to future lives.'

Meme theory and memetics
'A novel view of meditation might be that it is like running a virus check on your mind.  Lurking memes, such as rubbish left over from childhood indoctrination, can be brought to the surface and examined. Residues of self-referential belief systems - those driven by fear, guilt, wanting to conform, wanting other people to conform, or alternately pride in being better than non-believers - can be recognised for what they are and cleared out.'

Parietal Lobe and Mystical Experience
To the average Westerner, deliberately cultivating the idea that your ego doesn't exist as a fixed entity may seem weird and scary, but in fact it can be immensely liberating.   As one of the researcher/meditators taking part in the study said "It feels like a loss of boundary. It's as if the film of your life broke and you were seeing the light that allowed the film to be projected"

Particle physics
Basically, what quantum theory says is that fundamental particles are empty of inherent existence and exist in an undefined state of potentialities. They have no existence 'from their own side' and do not become 'real' until a mind interacts with them and gives them meaning.


Rebirth - reincarnation
The belief in rebirth is not confined to Buddhism..... few Christians realised the importance of the concept of reincarnation or rebirth in Judaism, where it is known as 'gilgul' or 'ibur'.   This  has raised the question: 'If belief in rebirth occurs in Judaism, why was it not carried forward into Christianity?'   The Buddhist and Jewish beliefs are similar in that it is the very subtle, non-material mind which survives death. Since this is the only thing that we can take with us to the future, we need to make the best use of our present life to improve its state. 

Science of the mind?
Science will never be able to analyse such phenomena... because these 'things' do not have any structure - they do not have any nuts and bolts for the dismantling tools of science to get a grip on. 
The phrase 'Science of Consciousness' is thus a self-contradiction.

Sentient beings
What make a sentient being different from an automaton?

Symbiotic mind
Animals above a certain level of development require more than automatic reflexes in order to survive. Advanced organisms need motivation and intention in order to function in complex environments. Motivation and intention are chiefly driven by dukkha - the need to avoid suffering or unsatisfactoriness and the restless but futile search for lasting happiness. It is the suffering and grasping of their minds - the need to avoid pain and seek pleasure - that provides the driving force for survival and reproduction of complex animals.

Symbolism
Evocative symbols are interpreted by and affect the more subtle levels of the mind. Evocative symbolism is associated with art, architecture and poetry, especially where there is a spiritual aspect.

Tantra and Tantric Meditation
All phenomena are free from inherent existence, that is they are not definable in terms of themselves, but are dependently related to other phenomena.  The same line of reasoning can be applied to our own identities, for if we search hard enough for our Self or Ego -  we find it isn't there!

Tat Tvam Asi - That Thou Art
Is the mind of God separate from the minds of His creatures?   Do we all have a spark of universal mind?

Tibetan Death Chart

Transpersonal Psychology
Transpersonal Psychology grew out of the rejection of the mechanistic or behaviorist model of the mind which was the orthodoxy of the mid-twentieth century academic establishment .   Charles T. Tart refers to this orthodoxy when describing his college experience in the 1960's: 'As to things like mystical experiences, if they were mentioned at all, which was rare, they were relegated to the fringes of psychiatry as being undoubtedly schizophrenic in nature and just showed how sick religions were to be associated with superstitious nonsense like that'


Wicca - an intuitive reaction against materialism?
'As both Tibetan Buddhism and Wicca are growing rapidly in the English-speaking countries, there will come a time when there will need to be an interfaith dialogue between the two paths. The purpose of this article is to examine the similarities and differences between Wicca and Tibetan Buddhism.'

 

RATIONAL BUDDHISM
If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking religious faith?

 

Christian versus Buddhist worldviews

 

Buddhism in Everyday Life
The Daily Meditation