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Physical state to subjective Qualia and evolution - why?

  1. Nov 25, 2009 #1
    Physical state to subjective "Qualia" and evolution - why?

    I'll try to make the points I'm getting at as concise and clear as possible.

    We all have sensations/emotions of pain, joy, hot, warm, cold, fear, curiosity, and the direct senses of light, sound, etc.

    Let us for the moment forget about anything beyond classical physics and just consider evolution in such a classical world.

    My question is why is it *necessary* to have a*link* between a particular brain state and another particular emotion/sensation, etc? For example, why can't fear merely *be* an accelerated processing of internal information so that the perceived danger is avoided. There seems to be so much inefficient "baggage" of perceptions / emotions associated with certain stimuli that "evolution" has created.

    Example: "pain" in pure evolutionary mechanistic sense would imply merely an algorithmic representation of something the biological organism will "avoid" for the means of survival. It need not be anything more than that from an evolutionary mechanistic sense. Yet from our subjective sense of qualia it seems to be more than that.

    Is there perhaps something more sophisticated than classical mechanistic evolution that gives rise to this "association" between the algorithm of avoidance of certain stimuli to the qualia of "pain"?

    Basically the crossover links between the body state and the subjective states do not make a lot of sense from a purely evolutionary standpoint of maximizing reproduction of the next generation from a specific member of that species.

    An explanation I'm pondering is that there is a evolution of the evolution itself in a self-referential recursive way that in a subtle way changes the evolution such that it is no longer based on the promotion of copies of the biological "organism" to survive and produce the self for the next generation.

    It is instead turned into an evolution of competition between "ideas". I mean "ideas" in broad undefined term because I don't know how to precisely define the ideas (collection of sensations/collection of qualia/derivative entities that consist of sub elements of these qualia / or something even more complex and recursive). Something more complex than the classic ideas of a "meme". Perhaps some kind of Platonic "form" of ideas that are evolving?

    A thought experiment along this line will be for example let's pretend there is a gene alteration in an organism that "removes" the ability of the organism to sense the qualia of pain while all other congnitive/algorithmic neural processes remain intact (not sure it that is possible but bear with me).

    From an external behavorial/evolutionary perspective, this organism should conceptually have *exactly* the same chance of survival as it was when it could experience pain qualia since there is not *actual* change in behavior. Therefore evolution presumably did not (and could not) select for this "pain" qualia to selectively exist.

    But if that is the case, then why is harmfull stimuli to a complex evolved organism associated with pain qualia? Why not any other given qualia, like the color "red" or "pleasure" or a "tickling sensation"? Why this specific qualia? (again assuming there is some commonality among organisms of this subjective qualia of pain, which sounds intuitive..).

    Or perhaps some other genetic alteration could make it such that the organism experiences some other qualia instead of pain and see what happens.

    Perhaps (ethical) genetic experimentation could actually test such a thought experiment in some way in the future to provide a semblance of empiric evidence...

    I'd be interested in any comments. Obviously some of the effects may also arise from the physical substrates that do not include classical physics as we know that classical physics is not the whole picture.

    I consider myself a novice at this stuff, but these are my thoughts...
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 26, 2009 #2
    Re: Physical state to subjective "Qualia" and evolution - why?

    Have you ever head about the babies that are born without the ability to feel pain? Its pretty sad but that is an example of why pain is important.
  4. Nov 26, 2009 #3
    Re: Physical state to subjective "Qualia" and evolution - why?

    You are right, these case reports of some babies born with no apparent sense of pain are tragic events, however I do not think these babies are an example of the scenario I describe in the original post.

    Why? Because it seems to me these babies have not only lost ability to sense pain but ability to sense that harmfull stimuli (traumatic injury) has occured to their bodies. I am separating out the qualia of pain from the mere *sensory data* that trauma to the body has occured.

    So if these babies could sense body trauma but not sense the pain associated with the trauma they could functionally be able to live their lives with the same risk of injury as anyone else (all things being equal). They will sense and react to any damage to their body but it will not be "pain" to them, just a sensation that some damage has occured (whatever other qualia that may be, so long as it is different qualia from other types of qualia to distinguish it and it is not pain).

    I suppose one could argue that this is not possible. Well there are numerous other senses we have such as touch, vision, hearing where we get the sensory data and react to it (like your vision while driving prevents you from driviing straight into a building) that are able to keep us safe, avoid and react to danger without sensing pain itself.

    So what is the evolutionary usefullness of the qualia "pain" *in addition* to the sensory data that damage has occured and how does this arise as discussed in the original post.
  5. Nov 26, 2009 #4


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    Re: Physical state to subjective "Qualia" and evolution - why?

    Hi SMERSH, welcome to the board. Have you heard of philosophical zombies? p-zombies or just zombies for short. A zombie is a hypothetical person that acts as if it feels pain, and in fact experiences all qualia the same as you do except the zombie is as dead as a rock inside and experiences nothing whatsoever. The concept helps to highlight that there is a difference between behavior and phenomenal experience.

    Your OP touches on a few different topics though, including:
    1) Zombies
    2) Mental causation
    3) Evolutionary advantages of phenomenal experience
    4) Emergence and downward causation

    As I see it, cognitive science doesn't have answers to any of these issues. All there is right now are opinions of what is correct. For instance, mental causation would imply that mental experiences influence the physical basis on which it supervenes (ie: mental experiences influence the neurons in your brain and cause them to fire). Mental causation leads to some serious problems though, so even something as seemingly obvious that mental events cause physical events is a hotly debated topic. Understanding that there is much in the literature that pertains to your overall question, it might be easier to pick one issue and try to understand it rather than try and grasp at all the different issues as a lump.
  6. Dec 1, 2009 #5
    Re: Physical state to subjective "Qualia" and evolution - why?

    Obligatory SEP link: http://plato.stanford.edu/search/searcher.py?query=qualia

    I was going to find more specific entries but going down the search results list will pretty much cover it. The "concise" encyclopedia background to the questions raised runs at around 1000 pages :smile:.

    I think all of what you've proposed has been argued for, so I don't really know where else to start!
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