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What's this type of knowledge called?

  1. Mar 29, 2012 #1
    Greetings everyone,

    This is just a vocabulary question, rather than a conceptual one. Is there a word for "qualitative knowledge"?

    For example, through science we have quantitative descriptions of all sorts things - the color blue, for example, is described as photons with wavelengths in the area of about 475nm. But this says nothing about the way in which we perceive blue - when I picture blue in my head, I can't really describe it qualitatively as anything except "blue" - it's just that thing with blueness. Telling someone who had never seen blue that it is 475nm would not help them in the least with picturing it (especially considering that different people perceive that same wavelength in different ways).

    So I'm looking for a phrase of the form ______ knowledge, meaning, for example, the knowledge of what blue's blueness is.

    Sorry I can't word this any better - I'm just hoping that what I said above gets the idea I'm trying to get across.

    Thanks for any help you can give.

    -HJ Farnsworth
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  3. Mar 29, 2012 #2


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    It seems a significant portion of that kind of knowledge would be culture-based.

    For example, white often symbolizes 'purity' or 'innocence' in Western cultures, but it signifies 'death' or 'mourning' to some Eastern cultures.

    I guess I'd call that 'cultural' knowledge?
  4. Mar 29, 2012 #3
    You can't really define it as a word in which its perceived. It comes down to the product of qualia.
    You can read multiple arguments of qualia in philosophical text but it is more a question of philosophy rather than science.
    "The sensation of colour cannot be accounted for by the physicist's objective picture of light-waves. Could the physiologist account for it, if he had fuller knowledge than he has of the processes in the retina and the nervous processes set up by them in the optical nerve bundles and in the brain? I do not think so."

    Erwin Schrödinger said this, and I believe hes quite right.
  5. Mar 29, 2012 #4


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    In my world, we call it "street smarts".
  6. Mar 29, 2012 #5


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    This is how wiki defines color science.


    Now I am wondering, if a really bright light shines on a tree in the forest and there is no one there to see it...................never mind
  7. Mar 29, 2012 #6
    Thanks for the responses. What I'm looking for isn't quite a cultural thing - it's a lot closer to what physicsLover was talking about. I agree completely with the statement by Schrodinger that was provided. In fact, a large part of why I'm interested in this is because it seems to me like a subject completely untouched by science. Continuing with the example of color, a question like, "why does blue look like this?" seems completely unanswered by anything in science, or in fact in philosophy and human knowledge in general.

    I want to emphasize that I'm just using color as an example. I could as easily use music, so that the question becomes something like, "why is it that higher notes sound like this and lower notes sound like that". Or I could ask, "how does a bat perceive sonar"? I could also probably extend it beyond perception.

    But even though I can't answer any of the above questions in scientific terms, I know what blue looks like and what notes on a scale sound like. I assume that there is a word for this type of knowledge that is in a way "inherent" to me, so I'm trying to figure out what this word is, because I'd be interested in doing some further reading about it.

    So I think this description of what I'm looking for is considerably better than my last one (though probably still not perfect). Does anyone know what the word I'm looking for is?

    Thanks again.

    -HJ Farnsworth
  8. Mar 29, 2012 #7
    Looks up the word "Qualia" and read up. Also some works by V.S. Ramachandran might be of some interest to you as he goes into detail of different processes in the brain and sometimes touches on this aspect of the mind.
    Or maybe even some stuff by Antonio Damasio.

    That is the closest you will find to a "word" or "phrase" to describe it.
  9. Mar 29, 2012 #8
    Hi PhysicsLover, so I just looked up qualia - and I think it's pretty much what I'm looking for.

    Thanks again for the responses everyone.

    -HJ Farnsworth
  10. Mar 30, 2012 #9


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  11. Mar 30, 2012 #10
    I agree that what you're talking about is qualia. This shouldn't be put under the heading of "knowledge", though, because the whole point of the concept is to describe an important aspect of experience that is not believed to be objective. This is most obvious with color. There is nothing inherent in a certain rage of wavelengths of light that should so radically distinguish them from other wavelengths. The rainbow as we know it is artificially created in the brain. That being the case, what other things we experience might also be artificially created?

    While the duration and intensity of a given sound might be objective, there is no guarantee the exact property of a sound has any objective basis. The air vibrations might be processed and presented to consciousness in a multitude of different ways. The exact form it takes for us is the result of evolution. Had things taken a different turn at some point, our current experience of the sound of a footfall might be different than it is. What's important is that we can perceive it at all, and that the specific qualia is of practical use, in recognition, and in distinguishing one thing from another.

    People who experience synesthesia, whereby qualia are elicited in normally non-participating senses on top of the normal one, come to find it useful and incorporate it into making judgements about how to maneuver through situations. Having a visual experience in response to a sound, which is what some synesthetes experience, demonstrates how different any given qualia might have evolved to become had natural selection taken a different route.

    To interact with the environment we have to sense it. The exact experience that results from the sensing is probably ultimately immaterial so long as that experience is useful for practical reasons. A pit viper is believed to have something like a visual experience of heat, while ours is a sensation on the skin. Both are practical given the needs of the entities in question.
  12. Mar 30, 2012 #11
    Could this be described as symbolic knowledge? The word "blue" is pinned as a symbol for the property of blue.

    I always wondered if everyone's perception of the color blue was the same, aside from all of the physical meanings, as if the brain can interpret the color uniquely. Say your blue is purple to me, but I call my purple blue. I don't know how you could test for this.

    Kind of like how you could replace the symbols for the numbers 3 and 5, and the number meanings wouldn't change, they'd just have different symbols.
  13. Mar 30, 2012 #12
    According to functionalists qualia are possibly subjective. We all learn to call the color of the sky blue, but that doesn't mean we all experience the same color when we look up at the sky. There is also growing evidence that our senses are normally cross-wired to some extent and, for example, different sounds can affect how things taste.
  14. Mar 31, 2012 #13
    Qualitative knowledge = experiential knowledge. At least wrt one way of using those terms.
  15. Apr 1, 2012 #14
    How about sensory knowledge?

    Our various sensory faculties resonate within certain frequency ranges in response to impinging wavefronts generated in certain media. For hearing, the medium is air. For sight, it's the electromagnetic field. Not sure about taste, touch and smell. But I vaguely remember reading something about smell being a vibratory phenomenon also.

    The mechanics of how the raw sensory data is translated into what we call subjective experience is a subject of ongoing research, afaik.
  16. Apr 1, 2012 #15
    The word qualia described pretty much exactly what I was looking for - in fact, when I looked it up on Wikipedia, it mentioned almost the exact examples I used in trying to describe the phenomenon.

    Earlier I said:

    I think I was wrong when I thought I could extend the type of thing I was looking for beyond perception, since I can't think of a way something could be subjective without being perceived.

    I agree that it's not objective at all. I still might put it under a type of "subjective knowledge" category though, since I do "know" how I perceive a color (though I cannot know how anyone else might perceive it). However, whether or not I categorize it as knowledge seems like it's just based on the definition of knowledge I used, and whether it can include non-objective things. I feel like a discussion of how knowledge should be defined could go (and has gone on) for thousands of years. It's always a fun one though.

    That sounds like interesting research - I can't even think how you would go about doing it. How would you even know when the sensory data is translated into the experience? Would they define that as some localized change in the orientation of neurons or something?

    In my original post, I was only looking for a phrase of the form "____ knowledge" because I had assumed that there was an "official" term of that form that people used when discussing the subject I was trying learn about. That assumption was wrong - the "official" term people use is "qualia". However, I think if I were to use a word to describe the knowledge I was looking for, it probably would be either "subjective" or "sensory".
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