Question Oswald Social Sciences


What is qualia?

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Answer Internal Staff

‘Qualia’ is a term which is used in philosophical discourse to refer to the subjective aspect of what an experience feels like. It can also be described as the ‘phenomenal character’ of an experience. This ‘data’ appears to have some unique properties; such experiences cannot be shared by describing them and it is not possible to infer qualia by way of reasoning or imagination. In other words, on the face of it, qualia appears to involve a unique type of knowledge that can only be acquired via direct perception.

A standard example to illustrate this point is the following: imagine that a world-famous neuroscientist lives their whole life in a monochrome room. Suppose that they have learned everything that there is to know about how yellow objects interact with the eye and with the brain, and have also read works from the most articulate and evocative writers on the subject of yellow things. Despite arguably having perfect knowledge of yellow from within the monochrome room, it seems plausible that the neuroscientist gains some new information upon seeing a banana for the first time. It is this new information that is meant by the term ‘qualia’.