Posted by: Xhyra Graf | 15 January 2007

Qualia as untransferable

Referring back to the Dennett post/note:

The breakdown/description of Qualia as problematic is primarily based on its ‘non-verbal’ nature.  It is ‘ineffable’ less because qualia are some indefinable thing not clear to the experiencer than because it is difficult to describe effectively. To say that something is only knowable by direct experience is, on the one hand, simply to say that it is difficult to describe verbally since a large portion is not based in language; because, on the other hand, though no one likes to admit to this – the verbal is not the only or necessarily most efficient way of imparting information or knowledge.

Example from my own experience:  At work – I am in the middle of a ‘discussion’ with a colleague.  Another colleague walks up and it is obvious that he needs to talk to me about something.  I put a hand on his arm while I continue to speak with the initial person before beginning to make motions toward closing the discussion.  The hand on the forearm, without my having to turn from my conversation or interrupt the flow of speech and my attention to the initial person, allows for recognition of the new person – ‘saying’ the following things:  “I know that you are there”, “I am interested in what it is you have to say” and “Do not leave”.  It lets the person know that I will be turning to him in a few moments.  The idea of qualia and its difficulty comes about in the layers of this experience because in addition to what I have described there were all kinds of other ‘non-verbal cues’ going on in those few seconds that it would take too many more words to ‘describe’.  For instance, how I knew he needed to speak to me not the other person, why it was important that I keep the gaze and attention of the first person in those few seconds and how to touch a colleague on the forearm in a way that conveys what I have just described as opposed to “I will be turning around in a few minutes to begin rubbing your forearm and possibly other areas of your body.”

This is not what makes such an experience ineffable perse, with enough work I could describe the minutiae including the additional layers. [Especially because I am me.] However it does make it Quale.  In those moments I ‘realized’ that this was a unique read and response to a given situation.  Yes, I did.  It was a few milliseconds of that ‘external observer’ feeling.*  And this was many years ago, before I even returned to school to actually study this stuff.  I have been saving that experience to analyze what that flash of insight meant; as a mundane version of something I thought only happened within the parameters of creative or religious experience.  Yeah, I’m special.   I thought, at the time, of it as being a cumulative event. Someone else would respond differently to the very same situation; this is where we have to take into account a strong version of Qualia – as incommunicable by any other means than direct experience. [Specifically experience being me, which is impossible. Vulcan Mind Meld Anyone?]  The person I describe this to in detail will still not ‘know’ what it was like to have this experience because the experience comes at the end of the layering of my single, unique existence and the myriad of individual experiences within that existence [including the built relationships with the two people] that contributed to and informed the experience and my reaction to it.  In other words, my “qualia” includes the history of my singular physical existence-along with the penchant to pay attention to and analyze the varieties or particular types of experiences.

Qualia is a primarily visceral experience which leads to the idea of it being directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness. Yeah, I can’t jump that hurdle right now.  It is so.  I know all there is to know about my own qualia right in the moments of experience.  There are portions of it that cannot be known by another person, for the reasons I describe above…but I’ll come back to this when I’ve thought about it some more.

As a matter of fact, I am going to have to add this to the ‘elaborate’ category [removed from elaborate category 2-12-07] and spread it across several posts. [See Masters Paper-Part 2]

*Which I will argue that if you don’t ‘know’ or are not experienced with the varieties of creative or religious experience [experience in general, no one pays enough attention to the experience of the present] you cannot know what I mean by or could not have had enough experience to pinpoint an ‘external observer’ feeling.  Where in the few seconds [specious time?] while having the experience you are able to observe and analyze the experience.  I wonder what would be said about that in ‘attention’ research.


  1. […] the Qualia as Untransferrable Post.  The Dennet post will be referenced there and from the four […]


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