We may observe the essential 'problem' of qualia as something like this:
1) A given someone may argue that human experience is experienced as meaningful and derives its meaning from many sources. Human experience cannot be described as can states of the physical universe because human experience has meaning, whereas physical states unto themselves do not. We experience the world as having meaning and these meanings are derived from complicated biological and societal practices. How these experiences can be split into facts which are logically independent of one another (as say science may want it) is not clear. Human experience is the experience of an animal with certain biological attributes moulded within a complex set of institutions, systems and codes called culture writ large. Our experiences have the meanings they have because these conditions and meanings are not logically independent.
2) From here we may give a brief story so far of the mind: Cartesian dualism has the virtue of accommodating the view that human consciousness with its subjective point of view does not sit happily with a scientific worldview which strives for objectivity. It does this by claiming that the mind is radically different from the body existing outside the material universe. The problem with this view is one of mental causation, that is, how the hell a supernatural, occult, non-spatial, super-mind entity causally interacts with the physical spatial body? Cartesian dualism makes the existence of consciousness puzzling for how did it come into being? If no material cause (the operation of the brain) could bring it into existence, then are we to presume a god did this, because like minds, a god is also immaterial? To combat the dubious conclusions of dualism, materialism (stemming to Aristotle) came in and stated that all in nature is material. However, the problem with this is that certain features of consciousness and its contents resist being construed as or reduced to features of the material, that is, qualia
, and intentionality
Today, the most popular theory of mind for most philosophers is Functionalism
and we may observe the following argument:
Premise 1: Functionalism is the view that mental states can be defined in terms of their causal role in the control of the organism.
Premise 2: Conscious mental states seem to have 3 properties
- its functional properties that form a part of our explanations of behaviour
- a material basis in the physio-chemistry of the brain
- Qualia, mental states that have phenomenological qualities, specific looks and feels of which the person experiencing them is aware.
Premise 3: The first and third properties are not equivalent.
Premise 4: The second and third properties are not equivalent because descriptions of qualia cannot be analysed in terms of descriptions of physio-chemical conditions.
Conclusion: Therefore functionalism is an incomplete theory of the mind, because it leaves out qualia. Why? Well, descriptions of brain activity record events that are publicly observable, and descriptions of qualia record events which are private and subjective. Thus, the two types of events have different properties. They are different types of statements which are both equally true. In this way, the statements describing one event are not logically equivalent to statements describing the other.
From here we arrive to a very real requirement for a theory of the mind. This theory must relate 3 disparate elements.
- Functional Organization (the way mental states function in bringing about behaviour).
- Physical Constitutional (the way mental events are related to physical ones).
- Subjective Appearance (phenomena such as qualia and aboutness). The problem we have is B is still unknown.
Now here we enter into another mind-body argument. There is a conceptual link between being conscious and having a subjective point of view built into one's mental experiences. To be conscious means to experience the world from the point of view of an individual. The facts of experiences are accessible only from one point of view, and these experiences are private and not objective. The assertion that to be conscious means to experience the world from a point of view has startling consequences for science:
Premise 1: Modern science uses method which seeks to discount the point of view of any particular type of mind, notably the human mind. Science seeks a species independent objectivity.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, if there is anything in the world which is by nature essentially subjective it cannot be investigated by using the methods of physical science.
Premise 2: Conscious experience and human conscious experience by its nature involves a point of view or is by nature subjective.
Conclusion 2: Therefore human conscious experience which is subjective cannot - at the moment - be accounted for by science.
Conclusion 3: Therefore, current science cannot give a complete account of one class of things, namely subjective experience and so science is incomplete.
It appears, then, that the mind-body problem can not be just another science. Because mind-body problem needs a theory that can include subjectivity. That is, the mental and physical being construed as aspects of a reality more fundamental than them both. The implications of such an idea are revolutionary.
For a matter of coherency, Heidegger did try to answer this aged old problem in sections 9 to 13 of Being & Time. A given 'solution' was suggested which has been influential in current movements and development of A.I notably at M.I.T and Harvard.
I hope I have set out the 'problem' in an informative way.