The Edge of Awareness

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V.S. Ramachandran

In Self Awareness: The Final Frontier by V.S. Ramachandran, we’re treated to a neuroscientists take on what he calls “One of the last remaining problems in science is the riddle of consciousness.”

Especially interesting is his treatment of qualia, and how even if we could effectively break down the function of the brain, we would still miss the transmission of the ineffable nature of things:

The qualia problem is well known. Assume I am an intellectually highly advanced, color-blind martian. I study your brain and completely figure out down to every last detail what happens in your brain—all the physico-chemical events—when you see red light of wavelength 600 and say “red”. You know that my scientific description, although complete from my point of view, leaves out something ineffable and essentially non-communicable, namely your actual experience of redness. There is no way you can communicate the ineffable quality of redness to me short of hooking up your brain directly to mine without air waves intervening (Bill Hirstein and I call this the qualia-cable; it will work only if my color blindness is caused by missing receptor pigments in my eye, with brain circuitry for color being intact.) We can define qualia as that aspect of your experience that is left out by me—the color-blind Martian. I believe this problem will never be solved or will turn out (from an empirical standpoint) to be a pseudo-problem. Qualia and so-called “purely physical” events may be like two sides of a Moebius strip that look utterly different from our ant-like perspective but are in reality a single surface.

So what might we call the “thingness of things”?

(Bows, integral praxis)

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