Explaining Qualia

  • Jeffrey Foss


There is something very odd about the sensuous qualities as seen from a scientific point of view. The goal of a science of consciousness is, ultimately, to understand consciousness. Understanding is to be achieved via scientific explanation. But, though we can see how the blue of the sky or the red of the sunset can be explained scientifically, it is a completely different matter to explain why blue or red looks the way it does. In Nagel’s (1974, 1979) terminology, though we can give a scientific, functional account of seeing the color blue, we have no way of explaining what it is like to do so. In Chalmer’s (1996) terminology, the first are “easy problems,” while the latter concerns “the hard problem” of consciousness. In this chapter I will present an imaginary scientific investigation, and explanation, of a quale, as a demonstration of the thesis that qualia can in principle be scientifically explained.


Explanatory Model Background Model Scientific Model Grand Unify Theory Color Perception 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes to Chapter 4

  1. [2]
    Epiphenomenalism, which is usually thought to have been authored by T. H. Huxley, is the metaphysical view that the physical affects the mental, but not conversely. This has the odd result that whatever anyone (physically) says, it is never caused by the speaker’s (mental) thoughts. Thus, if epiphenomenalism is true, it is never said to be true because it is true. At best, brain events cause us to profess epiphenomenalism, which may, for completely different reasons, happen to be true. Huxley’s own view, I believe, was meant to eschew such metaphysical conclusions in favor of mere scientific observations. “…there is as much propriety in saying that the brain evolves sensation, as there is in saying that an iron rod, when hammered, evolves heat…. Is there any evidence that these states of consciousness may, conversely, cause those molecular changes which give rise to muscular motion? I see no such evidence” (1874, p. 575). This is meant solely as an observation of a causal regularity. Just as heat never causes an iron rod to be hammered, so consciousness does not cause brain events. hi Huxley’s mind this conclusion in no way is inconsistent with the completeness of science, which logically requires only a commitment to the “universal validity of the law of causation” while fully recognizing “that universality cannot be proved by any amount of experience” (1886, p 121). I read him as a fellow traveler, one who would have generally approved of 4M, particularly its placing of method before metaphysics. He repeatedly professes agnosticism concerning the metaphysical categories of the things that may be found causally related, though his interpreters stubbornly refused to get the message. “Tolerably early in life I discovered that one of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to presume to go about unlabelled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog, not under proper control” ( 1886, p. 134 ).Google Scholar
  2. [3]
    David Lewis seems to arrive at the same conclusion for the general case in his “Extrinsic Properties” (1983a).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey Foss
    • 1
  1. 1.University of VictoriaCanada

Personalised recommendations