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Why Do Qualia and the Mind Seem Nonphysical?

José M. Musacchio
Synthese
Vol. 147, No. 3, Neuroscience and Its Philosophy (Dec., 2005), pp. 425-460
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20118669
Page Count: 36
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Why Do Qualia and the Mind Seem Nonphysical?
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Abstract

In this article, I discuss several of the factors that jeopardize our understanding of the nature of qualitative experiences and the mind. I incorporate the view from neuroscience to clarify the naïve view from the first person perspective. I suggest that the most misleading factor in the understanding the nature of the mind and conscious processes is the transparency of experiences and the imperceptibility of the neurobiological processes that realize them. Transparency reflects the biological advantages provided to organisms by avoiding the proliferation of superfluous sensing and the regress implied in sensing the sensors and analyzers ad infinitum. The downside of simplicity and the price for biological efficiency is that through introspection, we cannot perceive the inner workings of the brain. Thus, the view from the first person perspective creates the pervasive illusion that the mind is nonphysical. Sensing the environment requires encoding information into neural surrogates, which I conceive as contingent processes that when incorporated into conscious processes become qualitative experiences. They are cognitive shortcuts with a variable degree of isomorphism, which partially falsify reality. Thus, the what-it-is-like is not the what-it-is. The first person perspective seemings should be corrected by the objective approach provided by neuroscience. To compensate for the contingency of experiences, organisms learn to rely on the aboutness of associated phenomenal concepts. Experiences have high biological value, because even in the absence of language, they allow organisms to make intelligent choices. Qualia are also necessary to ground words and language, which are essential to develop higher forms of cognition.

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