RE: More on qualia of consciousness and occam's razor

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Tue, 03 Feb 2004 22:19:17 +1100

I am using terms like "information" loosely when discussing subjective
experience precisely because I cannot think of a way to formalise it.
Perhaps its defining characteristic is that it cannot be formalised. One can
imagine that if we made contact with an extraterrestrial civilization,
however alien it is, we could eventually exchange information about the
natural sciences, mathematics, history, anything "objective". It would
effectively involve finding an algorithm to convert from one formal system
to another, or one natural language to another. But although the aliens may
be able to explain how their physiology has evolved so that gamma rays which
are an odd multiple of a certain wavelength cause them to feel a pleasant
sensation while even multiple rays cause them to feel a completely
different, unpleasant sensation, we as humans would have absolutely no idea
what these sensations are like to experience.

So, in addition to the empirical data, there is this extra bit of
information, neither contained in the data nor able to be derived from it
using the laws of physics: what it actually feels like to be the one
experiencing the subjective sensation. If someone can think of a better way
to describe it than "extra bit of information" or can come up with a way to
formalise it, I would be happy to hear about it.

I suppose there will still be some who insist that if you know all about the
physiology etc. behind the alien response to gamma rays, then you know all
there is to know. I think this response is analogous to the "shut up and
calculate" attitude to the interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Stathis Papaioannou

>From: "Ben Goertzel" <>
>To: "Stathis Papaioannou" <>, <>
>CC: <>
>Subject: RE: More on qualia of consciousness and occam's razor
>Date: Mon, 2 Feb 2004 11:34:22 -0500
> > ; you might even be able to "read" the brain, scanning for neuronal
> > activity and deducing correctly that the subject sees a red
> > flash. However,
> > it is impossible to know what it feels like to see a red flash unless
> > have the actual experience yourself.
> >
> > So I maintain that there is this extra bit of information -subjective
> > experience or qualia - that you do not automatically have even if
> > you know
> > everything about the brain to an arbitrary level of precision.
>In what sense is a quale "information"?
>formalizing this might help me to understand your hypothesis better

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Received on Tue Feb 03 2004 - 06:23:16 PST

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