Qualia Project Homepage

The analytic, Anglo-American tradition of philosophy typically defines qualia as what is left after all objective aspects are subtracted from experience, i.e., qualia are the subjective feeling tones of experience; the usual examples are feeling tones of atomic perceptions, such as a patch of red, for which the quale is "the redness of red." I believe that this definition is much too narrow, as well as highly misleading.

Qualia are phenomenological, because tehy are based on human experience, so the only way to understand them is to examine human experience carefully. Such an examination shows that qualitative experience cannot be separated into distinct subjective and objective components, and that embodiment and immersion in the world are necessary aspects of experience. Very similar insights can be found in continental phenomenology (e.g., Husserl and Heidegger), Gestalt psychology, and areas of modern cognitive science, especially cognitive linguitics.

Building on these insights, this project defines qualia to be salient chunks of human experience, which are experienced as unified wholes, having a definite, individual feeling tone. Hence the study of qualia is the study of the "chunking," or meaningful structuring, of human experience. An important, and seemingly new, finding is that qualia can have complex internal structure, and in fact, are hierarchically organized, i.e., they not only can have parts, but the parts can have parts, etc. The transitive law does not hold for this "part-of" relation. For example, a note is part of a phrase, and a phrase is part of a melody, and segments at each of these three levels are perceived as salient, unified wholes, and thus as qualia in the sense of the above definition - but a single note is not (usually) perceived as a salient part of the melody. Moveover, qualia can involve simultaneous perceptions in different sensory modes, sequences of perceptions, emergent properties of blended perceptions, and complex emotions; also, sensory and conceptual discrimination limitations, short and long term memory, and other factors arising from concrete embodiment with a particular sensory and mental basis, play an important role in the phenomenology of qualia.

The flow of time, the change or motion of experience through time, and the anticipation of change seem to be crucial for understanding qualia. For this reason, music is an excellent site for studying qualia, as several works listed below demonstrate. The first describes some experiments with simple musical stimuli that establish claims made in the previous paragraph, along with many others. The second paper proposes a theory (or model) of qualia that uses an "energy" function based on a novel structural hierarchical theory of information, such that the most desirable structures for qualia have minimum energy; this use of a complexity measure as energy makes ideas from nonlinear dynamical systems theory applicable, including phase space, bifurcation, and chaos. In addition, a generalization of blending, in the sense of cognitive linguistics, is used to explain how qualia are composed and transformed in complex structures, and an evolutionary explanation for the emotional aspect of qualia is given. The third and fourth papers describe applications of this theory to free jazz improvisation; we consider this the beginnings of a new musicology, suitable for contemporary musical and multimedia forms (as well as older forms). The sixth item is an artistic expression of some ideas from qualia theory, and the final two items are abstracts from an early stage of this project. The fifth item is the abstract for a workshop to be held at the 2006 Towards a Science of Consciousness conference. The sixth item is an artistic expression of some ideas from qualia theory, and the final two items are abstracts from an early stage of this project.

  1. Time, Structure and Emotion in Music, by Joseph Goguen and Ryoko Goguen; a Japanese translation by Sumi Adachi will appear in the book of Special University Lectures at Keio University in the 2003-2004 academic year, edited by Hikaru Sakamoto; there is also an English postscript version.
  2. Musical Qualia, Context, Time, and Emotion, in Journal of Consciousness Studies 11, 3/4, pages 117-147, 2004 (special issue with focus on music, entitled Art and the Brain, Part III). This is a paper on the philosophy and cognitive science of music. A postscript version is also available.
  3. Rivers of Conscousness: The Nonlinear Dynamics of Free Jazz, by David Borgo and Joseph Goguen, to appear in Proceedings, Annual Meeting of International Association of Jazz Educators, Long Beach CA, 5 to 8 January 2004. Sorry, it is in MS Word.
  4. Extended abstract of Sync or Swarm: Group Dynamics in Musical Free Improvisation, by David Borgo and Joseph Goguen, and shorter abstract, in Proceedings, Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology, Dept. Musicology, University of Graz, 2004; the short abstract appears on pages 52-53, and the extended abstract in the attached CD. Held in Graz, Austria, 15-18 April 2004. Sorry, both are in MS Word.
  5. Abstract for Qualia, Nonlinear Dynamics and Improvisation: Experiencing music and poetry, workshop by Joseph & Ryoko Goguen, at Tucson VII - Towards a Science of Consciousness 2006, 4 April 2006, Tucson AZ.
  6. November Qualia, poem by Joseph Goguen, November 2004, in J. Consciousness Studies 12, No. 11, November 2005.
  7. Abstract of lecture/demonstration, Qualia in Music, by Joseph and Ryoko Goguen, University of Vienna, Depts. Computer Science and Art, 20 March 2003.
  8. Abstract of lecture/demonstration, Metaphor, Blending and Information in Music, by Joseph and Ryoko Goguen, University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Vienna, 25 March 2003, Dept. of Music.

See also information about the performance, The Griot Sings Haibun on 28 October, celebrating opening of the California Institute for Tececommunications and Information Technology building, in cooperation with the UCSD Center for Research in Computing and the Arts. The performers were: Bertram Turetzky, contrabass; David Borgo, saxophones & flutes; Ryoko Amadee Goguen, piano; Joseph Goguen, poetry performance and polypoem source; D. Fox Harrell: Griot Implementation and polypoem execution. Link to Program for the whole concert.
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Maintained by Joseph Goguen
Last modified: Mon Jan 9 09:59:09 PST 2006