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2 questions on qualia: theory-laden perception and recursivity of qualia

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My first question is about how much of the information perceived in a sensation is theory-laden vs how much information is inherent in qualia themselves. Here I am not looking for anything normative, like guidance on how to reach insights around this. I am, rather, interested in a positive account (hopefully from one or several of you who have reached deep insights) of qualia and their relationship with raw sense data.

Consider some bodily sensation, an itch in the left leg, for example. In my (unawakened) mind, perception of this sensation is heavily theory-laden… and the binding SEEMS pre-cognitive. The sensation I perceive has location, direction, magnitude, embodiment, etc. When I think of the signal processing my brain had to do on the raw data of the sensor (my nerves in the leg I guess), it makes sense to me that I would get this coherent signal with all that information pre-packaged. It isn’t clear to me though that the qualia of itches in legs would need to follow the coherent construction of some signal like this though. Maybe there are qualia of a leg itch, and higher levels of insight could decompose that into the various qualia of the components of the signal, “raw itch” (the quale of an itch with no more data… just the FEEL), location, intensity, etc. Of course, this is just all speculation because I have no experiential knowledge of this at all. Can someone who does please take a shot at explaining “simple” or “atomic” qualia? Or if it even makes any sense at all to think of qualia in these terms?
 
My next question relates to insights themselves. Suppose one day I directly perceive the three characteristics of some sensation. Now I have some new qualia… about some other raw or base quale. They’re like meta-qualia, which shouldn’t be surprising because I suppose that is what thoughts themselves are: qualia which use prior qualia (whether physical or mental) as functional inputs. But thought of in this way, qualia can be highly recursive and self-referential. Now suppose one becomes awakened. I guess I had previously thought “awakened” sort of meant one had reached all the insights of mind and consciousness possible. But this conceptualization of recursive qualia sort of suggests to me that “fully awakened” is ill-defined and that further insights are always possible. Can someone weigh in on this?  Please feel free to shit on the conceptualization itself or my conclusions from it.  Thanks!

Hi again aponysus, I'll take a swing at this one too.

First, I would be careful about looking for 'atomic' qualia. This is similar to Ayer's original logical positivism in which he tried to break everything down into atomic propositions and raw sense data. The project broke down because there was no 'atomic' sense input that could be understood separately from human concepts. The same applies here - everything is conditioned and in flux there is no raw building block of sensation. However, the rest of your first point is bang on - yes you can decompose those sensations right down in to their components. It is called Vipassana!  Highly recommended, but it takes lots of practice. Your observations about qualia are a good start to that practice.

Second, it seems to me that lurking in your second question is a similar quest for certainty. Seeing the final truth of all sensations and attaining certainty? That's not the Buddhist project. The Buddhist project is to see right through the clinging self so that you are no longer chained to your impulses and habits and desires. Yes you do need to fully understand the process that generates qualia (or vedana, emotions and mind states, to use Buddhist terminology). But no you don't need to continuously or fully observe all possible qualia. New qualia can and do arise.  And pass away.

Maybe somebody else can have a go too!

Malcolm

Can someone weigh in on this?

Yes:

Practice meditation and see for yourself. It's as if rather than doing the work (meditation) and reaping the rewards (getting answers to the questions being posed) folks prefer to ruminate over what might happen... and get nowhere.

RE: 2 questions on qualia: theory-laden perception and recursivity of quali
Answer
6/27/19 6:19 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:

folks prefer to ruminate over what might happen... and get nowhere.

I am guilty, your honor. 

curious:

First, I would be careful about looking for 'atomic' qualia. This is similar to Ayer's original logical positivism in which he tried to break everything down into atomic propositions and raw sense data. The project broke down because there was no 'atomic' sense input that could be understood separately from human concepts. The same applies here - everything is conditioned and in flux there is no raw building block of sensation. However, the rest of your first point is bang on - yes you can decompose those sensations right down in to their components. It is called Vipassana!  Highly recommended, but it takes lots of practice. Your observations about qualia are a good start to that practice.

Hi, Malcolm. Thanks so much for the response! I'm not familiar with Ayer and logical positivism, so that'll be very interesting to look into. Sounds a lot like Wittgenstein's "atomic facts" ideas.
When you say "yes you can decompose those sensations right down in to their components", are you saying that through Vipassana the mind can decompose the qualia into components, which are themselves qualia?  And if so, would those constituent qualia be further decomposable (with a sufficiently attuned mind)?  And if not, would those consituent qualia not be the base qualia of that specific experience? I don't mean atomic in the universal  or general case, but just in that specific experience. I.e., does each experience have basic (even if utterly unique) indivisible components? Or does the fact of impermanence make this a meaningless notion? While typing this it occurs to me that when you mentioned "everything is conditioned and in flux"... that almost entails that everything that has ever happened since the big bang up until any given experience is a component of that experience...

Regarding "Second, it seems to me that lurking in your second question is a similar quest for certainty":  As a statistician, I'm dubious of certainty! emoticon But point well taken.  Thanks again for your great response. I'll respond in the other thread once (and if) I can get my crazy kids to bed.

RE: 2 questions on qualia: theory-laden perception and recursivity of quali
Answer
6/27/19 8:23 PM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Hibiscus Kid:
Chris Marti:

folks prefer to ruminate over what might happen... and get nowhere.

I am guilty, your honor. 


lol, definitely nothing to feel guilty about. The notion that it is a waste to spend any time ruminating about an experience rather than pursuing it is asinine and would lead to an impoverished attempt at a contemplative and intellectual life.

"And if so, would those constituent qualia be further decomposable (with a sufficiently attuned mind)? And if not, would those consituent qualia not be the base qualia of that specific experience? I don't mean atomic in the universal  or general case, but just in that specific experience. I.e., does each experience have basic (even if utterly unique) indivisible components?"

Think of it as a network, rather than a chain.The paths of activation that flux through the network depend on the strength of connections, the recency of their activation, the number of connections, the activating stimulus (I am borrowing directly from memory theory for this analogy). So you will never get to the end of the network (networks don't have ends, right?) and you will never crystallise it into a single state, as the current activation of the network inherently depends on recent and current events.

And even current idea of qualia is just a provisional representation dreamed up by Frank Jackson, so I wouldn't invest it with atomistic truth. Rather, it is by definition an epiphenomenal non-physical experience.  emoticon  (Sorry for undergraduate philosohpical prattiness - couldn't resist).

Chris Marti gives good advice by the way ... and if you look inside you might just see what I have described ...  

Hi aponysus,

Basically, I think Dependent Origination is coming into play here, or at least that part which doesn't involve metaphysics. In the beginning is the feeling - pleasant or unpleasant - which I suppose for an itch in your leg would be slightly unpleasant. The mind begins layering on top of that, with craving. This is a basic tendency of the mind to either want to get rid of the feeling if it is unpleasant or wanting more of it if it is pleasant, known in D.O. lingo as craving (even for the "getting rid of" mind movement). For the itch, that would be to get rid of it some fashion cause it's vaguely unpleasant, which since it isn't very strong, is to mask it off somehow. This basic movement of the mind sets up a kind of dualism between the feeling and you. Craving then turns into clinging, where the mind elaborates on the sensation, embellishing it with the kind of cognitive tagging and baggage you mention below, increasing the wanting to get rid of or wanting more of. This then moves on to birth, which, in the metaphysical reading of D.O. is interpreted as physical birth but can equally well be the birth of a conscious thought around the itch, like "this itch comes with these qualia: location, direction, magnitude, embodiment, etc." as you describe below. If the conscious mind perceives the itch as strong enough, then the hand goes down to scratch it.

So, in answer to your questions from the D.O. standpoint:

1) Qualia are precognitive to cognitive, in the sense that the qualia themselves are precognitive but the labelling of them is cognitive, and basically are part of the way the mind takes raw sense data and constructs experience with you in the center of it.
2) The three characteristics aren't like qualia. Technically, your mind makes contact with emptiness, which is the nature of ultimate reality. The moment in which that occurs is defined in the Theravadan Abhidharma as a path moment. Recognition of the three characteristics happens just prior to the arising of the path moment, they are its heralds, so to speak.

Hope that helps.

The notion that it is a waste to spend any time ruminating about an experience rather than pursuing it is asinine and would lead to an impoverished attempt at a contemplative and intellectual life.

The objective of most folks who post or read the comments here is to develop a meditation practice and see the fruits of that practice at some point. I pointed to the futility of achieving that if all one does is intellectualize about it.  I've done plenty of ruminating and meditating, but those activities produced very different results. Folks can, obviously, do as they please.


aponysus:
My first question is about how much of the information perceived in a sensation is theory-laden vs how much information is inherent in qualia themselves. 


Consider some bodily sensation, an itch in the left leg, for example.


  Please feel free to shit on the conceptualization itself or my conclusions from it.  Thanks!


   If it itches, scratch it.

   You're welcome!

(wink)

aponysus:
Hibiscus Kid:
Chris Marti:

folks prefer to ruminate over what might happen... and get nowhere.

I am guilty, your honor. 


lol, definitely nothing to feel guilty about. The notion that it is a waste to spend any time ruminating about an experience rather than pursuing it is asinine and would lead to an impoverished attempt at a contemplative and intellectual life.

I resemble that conclusion.