Saturday, October 01, 2005

pratitya-samutpada and qualia

I was hoping to write a Buddhist critique of the substance dualist position, but something occurred to me and now gives me pause: would a Buddhist even care?

In Buddhist metaphysics, all phenomena are dependently co-arisen. This is observable in the physical world, and perhaps less obvious (but no less true) in the apodictic realm (think: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, etc.). The basic idea of dependent co-arising (Skt. pratitya-samutpada) is that all things are intercausally related.

It might not be at all relevant to the Buddhist that qualia are radically subjective, and that this radical subjectivity somehow indicates the presence of immaterial consciousness. The Buddhist would first note that consciousness-- be it material or immaterial-- affects and is affected by the outside world: a clear demonstration of dependent co-arising. By the substance dualist's own reckoning, a knife entering the skin causes a pain quale. The quale's existence depends on factors outside itself. Multiply this example times all the qualia we experience in our lifetimes*, and you see that qualia are no less a part of the web of intercausality than any other phenomena. What good, then, for the Buddhist to speculate on whether qualia are the products of immaterial consciousness?

Many Buddhists, for various reasons, already subscribe to some notion of immaterial consciousness. I think I once gave the example of the Korean Zen master who claimed to have "followed my dog's spirit" after the dog died, at which point he ended up at the residence of a couple who'd just had a baby. The monk was delighted to discover that the baby-- none other than his dog in a new guise-- recognized him.

My point isn't to make a claim about what all Buddhists do or should believe, metaphysically speaking. I'm simply noting that there are Buddhists who have no trouble with the idea that the aggregates of consciousness/personhood aren't tightly linked to one's material body (which is, after all, only one of the five skandhas-- the rupa skandha, to be specific-- matter/form).

Later on, though, I hope to delve a bit into Daniel Dennett's "Quining Qualia," a paper that, to my mind, does seem to adopt a quasi-Buddhist approach to the problem of consciousness (and qualia in particular). Dennett's goal is to show that, as you peel back the layers of what qualia supposedly are, you end up with no core concept, nothing that can be a quale-in-itself.

More on this later.

*Can qualia be numbered? This is an important question. Dennett's paper mentions the visual experience of "a glass of milk at sunset," but is this experience a single quale or a complex of qualia?


No comments:

Post a Comment


All comments are subject to approval before they are published, so they will not appear immediately. Comments should be civil, relevant, and substantive. Anonymous comments are not allowed and will be unceremoniously deleted. For more on my comments policy, please see this entry on my other blog.

AND A NEW RULE (per this post): comments critical of Trump's lying must include criticism of Biden's lying on a one-for-one basis! Failure to be balanced means your comment will not be published.