Required reading before this article: An Introduction to Reality
In everyday life we assume that our Experience is laid out as a simple transfer of information from each retina to create a copy of the features of the world around us. This is not the case. Our Experience is carefully created and arranged by our brain using data from our eyes. We can see this in the following visual illusion (The Waterfall Effect). Stare at the dot in the centre of the moving image below for a half minute then at the pattern below:
Notice that the pattern appears to flow slightly inwards. This shows that the contents of Experience can be rearranged fairly rapidly by our brains. In normal life it is rearranged to overlay the projected positions of objects in the world around us. Another interesting aspect of this illusion is that content is being placed on a fixed background that does not move which suggests that our Experience is like a canvas of fixed size on which events are drawn.
Also notice that when our gaze moves to the lower pattern the frame of the lower pattern shrinks slightly and stays smaller than the frame above while the contraction effect is operating. There appears to be a continuous inward flow of the lower pattern but on close inspection the flow is a series of contraction-like events that are around a half to one second long.
We can also experience the fixed background by spinning round and round. When we stop spinning our visual image briefly continues to rotate but this moving image occurs on a fixed background or "frame of reference". Somewhere there is a fixed grid, a steady set of physical things that receives the data we experience. The data changes but the frame of reference, the grid, is constant. Sounds do not spin with the visual image, maintaining their position in the fixed reference frame within which the model of the body and vision spins.
When we glance from place to place in the view our eyes move over a constant image even though the images on our retinas are changing wildly. When we move our heads the whole image changes and is no longer constant. Our view is like an image on the inside of a large sphere that has our head inside it.
If we spin round and round with our eyes and heads fixed in position relative to the body and attempt to walk forward the image becomes unstable and it is difficult to maintain balance. This is an amusing party trick for the young.
When we are stationary the centre of the view is set by the position of our head. Our vision is a sphere of events that can be inspected with eye movements and wholly rotated by head movements.
When the visual sphere is being rotated it seems to move against a deeper, fixed background.
If we spin round and round the position of the sound of a loudly ticking clock in Experience will remain fairly constant relative to the fixed position of the clock in the world and it is our body that is spinning. Even when we stop and our visual sphere is still spinning the sound from the clock is in the same stable place. This separation of the modelling of sounds, sights and other sensations from visual events suggests that they have differently managed contents that seem to be projected as different layers. There is even a layer that contains a crude map of our surroundings. A more appropriate term than "layers" is "Nets" which emphasises the looseness of the interpenetration of sound, vision, body position etc.
Most nets correspond to a type of sensation. Some nets, such as that which displays sound, stretch right around our heads and bodies. Vision is an exception because it includes events from in front of us but not from behind us. This results in the visual field seeming to be a zone that slides over the other nets when we are dizzy.
If we are blindfolded and rotated in a quiet room we lose track of the location of doors and chairs etc. A remaining source of position data, apart from gravity, is the space where our arms and legs can move, this is closely based on our body image and the net for body position survives most manipulations.
Provided we are not stressing the system by deliberately rotating our bodies etc. the various nets that contain events in the world are aligned so that we can reach out to pick up a ticking clock and see it in its proper place. The spherical nets are separate but interpenetrate each other.
Contents are being placed in our Experience all the time but what are these contents? Different places in our Experience have different qualities. In some places there are blue patches, in others grey zones with sounds attached and so on. There is a type of quality for each sense, such as smell, touch, sight etc. Qualities are the various contents of our Experience.
Qualities occupy space and last for a period of time. If something has no extent or exists for no time at all it is not possible to have it in our Experience. Qualities exist because they have an extent and a duration. Qualities also have simultaneous parts. When we look at a white page all the tiniest parts of what we see as "white" on the page are present at the same time, they are simultaneously in the view. That we have extended objects in Experience is due to their having simultaneous parts. Although it is possible to calculate if two separated events occurred simultaneously they can only be immediately evaluated as simultaneous at a point, such as our observation point.
Notice that the different types of quality can overlie each other at a particular patch in Experience. We hear the sounds of words coming from the red lips of a speaker so that sound overlies vision but does not replace it.
Within each type of quality there are individual qualities such as a particular red or the sound “middle C”, each of these is called a “quale”. Each small dot of visual Experience seems to host a quale of colour, intensity, edge etc. within its own time extension. Colour, intensity, pitch etc are types of quale. Individual types of quale replace each other so that, for instance, lips cannot be red and also blue at the same place.
The plural of the word "quale" is "qualia".
It is tempting to imagine that these qualities, these events in our Experience, are simple material objects that are illuminated by some inner light. Lets take a closer look.
The illustration above is an “Auto-stereogram”. If you look at it with your eyes relaxed so that you are looking into the distance, with your eyes focussed beyond the image, you can see a “3D” image of a loop around two eyes and a mouth (all crudely rendered like a smiley face).
If you cannot see the loop try lying straight out on your back and holding this page up at the level of your waist then adjust your toes so they are just above the image. Look at the image and try to focus your eyes at the same time on your toes. The “3D” image should appear as a loop that floats above the surface of the page. If you have not seen an autostereogram before it is worth the effort of adjusting your eyes to see it. A smiley face floating in a sort of clear aquarium on the page is uncanny.
Having seen the “3D” we can move our heads from side to side and notice that the background moves faster than the smiley face. We can also see that the “3D” image is crisper and brighter than the 2D pattern from which it is derived – being synthesised and directly in our brains. If you tilt your head slightly to the left or right the smiley face disappears and then reappears in about 0.5 to 1 second.
Once you are able to see the “3D” image, try covering the right hand quarter of the image on the page with a finger held midway between your eyes and the image. Notice that part of the “3D” face disappears. Auto-stereograms need information from large areas of the physical image to create the floating image in our Experience. Everything in Experience is much more than a simple thing. The content of Experience is the end point of neural processing at any instant and so is itself what we currently know.
The image containing the autostereogram in our Experience seems to be divided into two planes composed of the background and the smiley face at different distances in front of our observation point and not at the same distance as the surrounding page. We know that the image on the actual page is flat so the autostereogram is yet more evidence that our Experience is a model in our brains.
The “3D” image is in our brain, the image views itself and the separation between the viewing point and the image is probably a separation in time.
This is a very important point: our Experience is the end of the line, where the data from our senses stops. The bit of brain that contains this data extends in time and so “views” itself. See the Appendix.
Types of quality, such as vision, hearing etc., are like separate nets of events, they are complicated spaces containing events that overlay and are weakly connected to each other. The term "net" is used because, as we saw with the autostereogram, each patch or dot is composed of contributions from all over the space. Each dot is an octopus drawing in its surroundings.
There are separate nets for sound, vision, smell, touch, kinesthetic, somesthetic and taste sensation etc. Imagination can weakly populate these nets and sensation strongly populates them.
Notice that sensory qualities are never at a point out there in the view – they are always spread over a patch – and they cannot occur for no time at all – they are always extended in time. Sensory qualities are composed of events in a whole zone of each network. Qualities are not simple physical phenomena but zones of events in a net and between nets that are brought together.
How are these different types of quality that reside in their own spaces, or nets, brought together?
We have already noticed that our observation point is simultaneously connected to the contents of our Experience. In the same way each dot in our Experience is connected to the content of the nets around it.
Its all connected and all the connections are connected as the observation point brings together all the connected patches in each net.
Green, red, middle C, a pain in your finger etc. are complex, they seem to be one, simple thing but they are actually many things at each dot in Experience. But what is it like to have many things at every small dot in our Experience? Look at a violinist from a distance, we hear and see many things where the musician's bow touches the instrument. Think of the sound, sight, movement pattern and tiny puff of rosin around the violin.
Memory is involved in qualities in two ways, the first is Direct Memory where the events in experience are coloured or formed with parts derived from memory. We have already covered "saccades" which show that most of our Experience is internal. Experience is updated in small sections so most of Experience has not been updated in the last second or so and is composed of very recent Direct Memories. If we are experiencing familiar objects we may also populate our Experience with qualities linking to much older, prior events. As an example, we might assume that a familiar face has a moustache and see the face with a moustache even though its owner shaved off the moustache yesterday. The memory is still direct because we look straight into it.
The second way that memory affects qualities is through Recalled Memory. As an example the sight and form of a guitar has the potential to evoke weak views containing its associations that can overlay the original. The kaleidoscope of associations evoked by an object appear to be accessed from the observation point because. even if these associations are realised as recalled words or images, the associations are in a view based on the observation point.
Some memories, for instance those of a guitarist playing a malaguena on a cool evening in a Spanish church, are not directly attached to the things we are sensing now. These memories seem to have a place of their own in our Experience. Where are these memories in our Experience? As we are listening to a piece of music we may recall a phrase whilst the music is happening, if we are not very musical the phrase may be sung “la la la di, la la la di..” or if we are musical we may imagine the sound of the instruments. The recalled sounds are overlaid on the sensed sounds near to our heads, like an interposed layer. This is similar to the way that each type of sensation overlays Experience. Memories and imaginings can have their own nets.
Each type of quality, such as a sound, sight, smell etc, is only weakly linked to other types of quality. For example, sound and colour are linked in the sense that the sound of speech comes from the red lips of a speaker but the link is not obligatory because we can easily wrongly position sounds or have sounds without any visible source such as a bird tweeting behind the foliage of a tree.
Each type of quality has its own arrangement in space that overlaps that of the other types so that, for instance, the arrangement of auditory events is not perfectly linked to the arrangement of visual events.
The various types of quality are distinguished by being transparent to one another. We can see this transparency when we lift our hand to obscure the image of a guitarist and the music from the position of the guitar continues uninterrupted. In the case of sound and vision the transparency is nearly perfect.
The time extension of qualities varies between types of quality. About half a second to a second of sound exists in our Experience but this can be divided into several different qualia, for instance a whole bar of a tune can be in Experience but it might be composed of four different notes.
Visual Experience usually extends less than a tenth of a second. When we visually track a moving object it is both the short time extension of the visual object plus the time extension of other types of quality that give the visual object motion. The short duration of the visual object at each point in its path is hosted in the longer durations of the time extension of eye muscle movement etc.
But what are these qualities in themselves, what sort of physical event is a quality? Blue exists in space and time. There is no blue that exists for no time and no blue that occupies no space. Blue is a four dimensional object. Blue and other colours are popping into and out of Experience as whole objects. The colour of an object in our view seems specific to that object but on closer inspection each “material” object is composed of contributions from related things. As an example, when we first hear the tweet of a bird the sound is not as clear and complete as when we recognise on the second tweet that it is a blackbird. Sounds carry with them various relations to their source and colours have relations such as where they have been seen before. Every part of the view shares the ability to be a place where the relations of that part of the view are brought together. When we have blue in our view each dot of the blue is a connection to its relations. The blue in Experience is a matrix of connections that are connected to each other at the place in Experience where the blue occurs. At the far end of the connections there are probably real materials distributed in space and time that, when connected together are merged into the new entity, a Quale. A quale is a connection point.
To immediately know that two patches in an area of blue or white have the same colour the two patches need to be compared. This comparison involves taking a bit of data from both patches and bringing the two bits together to make another, single bit that means "same colour". The white of this page has thousands of patches, it becomes an area of white in our Experience because all the thousands of white patches are connected as a single "white". The "white" or "blue" etc. in Experience lies in the connection point. It is a quale. The smallest patch of "white" that we can have in our Experience still occupies an area and so consists of at least one connection (comparison).
The creation of a quale probably uses the same physics as is used to create the observation point to enable the connections that are out there at each quale.
When we do eventually discover the physical events and forms that create blue in our Experience these events will only be blue if they are slotted into that Experience. Obviously descriptions of these events will not be blue, only the conjoined events are blue.
Can we imagine a colour that we have never seen? Or, more correctly, can we have a colour in our Experience that we have never previously derived from retinal stimulation? In the case of blue, as for any quale, there are physical events somewhere in the brain that are connected in it. If the connections to these events are activated we will have a blue quale in our Experience. The events that compose a quale need not be derived from sensation, for example dreams can generate colours. Each quale in a dream can extend to a physical part of the brain that contributes to a colour in Experience. If we had never experienced blue in the world but had the capacity in our brain to generate a blue quale it is not impossible that we could have dreams containing blue despite never having seen blue with our eyes.
The layout of qualia in sensory Experience can be very similar to the layout of the things in the world that create this sensory Experience. This strongly implies that it is the early parts of the sensory pathways that supply much of the qualia. Our Experience has a haziness until we focus on particular objects and this suggests that the core of Experience is of low definition in a part of the brain that crudely integrates sensation but extends to contain the content of other areas of the brain. The multilayered nature of Experience, with overlaid nets of qualia, would also suggest a low definition conscious part that can connect to other areas of the brain. Experience is like opening windows to more distant parts of the brain.We have focused on vision but each type of sensation, such as touch, hearing, taste etc. has a separate net on which it is displayed with qualia in each net being heavily interconnected. The nets overlie and relatively weakly, connect with each other.
Look around and focus on a colour. The patch of colour is a connection into its relations which extend from the sensory input at the eye to other experiences containing that colour. Every patch spreads out to its relations. The extension in time that lets us know these relations is discussed in chapter 4.
Experience is patterns of activity that are either passing over or creating nets. Does our Experience exist in the activity or in the nets? The difference between Experience being in the pattern of activity or in activated nets is somewhat similar to the difference between a cinema screen and a computer screen. Cinema screens are passive with an image passing over them whereas modern "LED" computer screens actively change colour to create the image. If the nets are solely composed of the patterns of activity, and created by that activity, then they should disappear when the activity disappears.
If you wear a blindfold in a darkened room the visual net contains black qualia. There is still a visual space despite the absence of input to visual experience. A similar space and time composes the other sensory and mental nets. If the visual net can be solely black qualia this would imply that Experience is embedded in material objects such as cells or parts of cells even when there is no obvious activity. Experience would be a property of the nets and not solely of the activity passing over them.
An important consequence of the existence of nets that do not contain data is that it is possible that they are substantial, material things inside our brains such as the membranes of, permanent fields on, or protein strands within, brain cells rather than the transient electrical impulses that feed data into the nets.
To put it in another way, our Experience resides in permanent components of our brain. It could, for instance, reside in the membrane potential of nerve cells because even when the cells are resting they have a membrane potential. If nerve impulses pass through a nerve cell they change the membrane potential but the membrane potential exists before the impulses and is still there after the impulses have gone. There are other possibilities for the physical basis of experience such as microtubules inside cells or cell membranes.
If we rapidly rotate our heads from one view to another we can experience the whole visual net being re-loaded with data every time we stop as the fine detail takes about half a second to be loaded. We do not seem to reload some of the other nets such as those that contain sound and the general mapping of our location. The sound and mapping nets extend right around our heads so do not need to be updated as our head moves whereas the visual net is forward facing and needs to be updated as its contents change. The visual net aligns with the part of the sound and map nets that correspond to where our heads are pointed in the world. This allows long time extensions to exist in the sound net as the qualia for each sound stay at the same place in their net.
The short time extension of the parts of the visual image (less than a tenth of a second) means that moving objects can be rapidly re-drawn in the view. This short time extension also allows the fairly accurate positioning of moving objects.
Moving visual objects lose their fine detail, whereas moving sounds, such as a bird cawing as it flies, lose their positional accuracy.
Objects in Experience are collections of qualities and the most immediate attribute of any quality is usually it’s position. Position is also the most important attribute of whole objects. Green grass belongs on lawns and meadows which belong on the ground. Experience is objects within objects within objects. Each quale belongs in an object and each object is contained in other objects.
Objects connect to qualia and qualia connect to objects. The connection of qualia to objects is not as intuitive as the connection of objects to qualia. The quality "black" is a general colour that could appear anywhere but the quale "black" exists within an object. The particular black of this letter “T” is connected to where it appears so it is a particular “T black" on a page of text. Experience is objects within objects within objects and in the opposite direction connections to objects that connect to objects etc.
All black qualia have one thing in common, they all contain connections to parts of the visual system and ultimately they connect to parts of the system that are not being stimulated by light.
The quality "black" should probably be called "general black" where it refers to sensory events. Sensory qualities are connections from sensory events and objects and qualia are nodes that host the connections.Experience is the container of all our current objects and objects contain qualia. The distinction between objects and qualia is loose and an object might also be described as a quale that contains qualia. A bar of a tune might be described as an object that contains notes which are qualia. But even individual notes are unlikely to consist of a single connection and so are also objects. The term "quale" is retained to emphasise that a quale is a most peculiar thing, a connection node.
The central node of Experience is our observation point which is connected to all of the qualia in Experience simultaneously. This means that Experience is similar to a single quale in its origin.
A quale cannot exist for no time at all so each quale is a time extended object. Each Quale that is out there in Experience is connected to itself through time.
The connection at the observation point is between the quale and the rest of Experience. This is a very important distinction: a quale out there in experience connects to its relations and its previous state whereas the observation point interconnects various qualia at different places and times in Experience.
This gives us an insight into the nature of the observation point. How can many things be at a point? They cannot flow into the point because they would jam it up and to propose a flow contradicts our experience because we do not have any observation containing flow from things out there, in Experience, into the observation point.
Were we unable to see or hear and only had the other senses it would be obvious that no flow is needed within Experience to create its geometry. We have no rays or waves of touch yet the geometry of Experience still occurs with the qualia of touch apparently "out there" but also at an observation point. Experience is a geometrical phenomenon.
Nothing flows yet everything in Experience is simultaneous at the observation point. The only obvious alternative to flow is the idea that space disappears between the observation point and the contents of Experience. Experience is a geometrical phenomenon but involves one of those mathematical geometries such as are found in Relativity Theory that can mix space with time so that space itself can shrink or expand.
We know the content of Experience is in our brains so nothing that we have in Experience can in reality be more than a few centimetres from any observation point yet because the content is a projection from a point we regard our Experience as having the scale of the world around us. That scaling would stay intact even if Experience were a centimetre or a millimetre or effectively no distance at all from the observation point.
The Experience containing light or sound has two components, the apparent emitter of the sound or light (apparent because nothing is emitted) and the connection of this quale at the observation point to the rest of Experience. The apparent transmission of light or sound is what the connection between a quale and the rest of experience is like.
The connections should be construed as the disappearance of space and time between the components rather than as a movement of the components.Look through one eye. Our vision is qualia arranged radially around a point. The qualia could be near or far from the point but their arrangement will stay the same. Space could disappear between the observation point and the qualia but the radial arrangement would stay the same.
We observe no flow into the observation point so the most likely explanation is that there is no space between the observation point and the qualia that surround it. Such a possibility sounds absurd but it is not impossible according to physics. Relativistic length contraction is a disappearance of space so if qualia were electromagnetic in origin the disappearance of separation might not be impossible, similarly the instantaneous connection of entangled particles is suggestive. Of course neither of these may be the source of the observation point but we should not let a passion for nineteenth century physics blind us to even the possibility of physical explanations.
A quale is where events in time and space are brought together at a small patch of a net, out there in our view. No material actually moves into this patch because, in the same way as nothing moves into our observation point, the quale is a connection point that marks where objects can be no distance in space and time from each other.
Sit or lie comfortably. What we see is in our brains. It is a model based on the world outside. This model is our Experience. Look at the colours of the things around you. They are in Experience.
If you close your eyes and gently press your eyeball through your eyelid for thirty seconds you can see little coloured dots and patches without the need for external light (these colours are called phosphenes) so the particles of light, the photons, that strike your open eye are just triggering the first step in our colour producing mechanism, photons are not colours in themselves.
In the world outside of Experience a flow of light illuminated the objects but that flow is not happening in Experience. A blue quale is a blue quale, not a frequency of reflected electromagnetic radiation out there in the world. In our Experience the “light” is the quale that is the colour and is not something reflected from an object. The blue is the quale. The apparent light is the blue that is the quale.
Look at this page through one eye. The distance between this line and ten lines above is an angular separation at your eye. The distance between this line and five lines above is half of that angular separation. Both of these angles are actually in your Experience, in the model in your brain.
Listen to a sound. The sound is in Experience, at its place in Experience, not emitted from that place. Listen to inner speech. Our thoughts are arranged in Experience. We only have our thoughts when they appear in Experience. Our Experience is like a space and time with qualia arranged within it. All our current experience is in Experience.
The observation point is just a point, there is nothing that we can experience within it. All that we can currently experience is in Experience.
Touch your head briefly. Before you moved your hand the touching of your head was in your future. After you touched your head the touch was in the past. All of the events that will affect you are in your future and almost all of the events that are affecting you now were in your future. This is obvious but we like to think that when a bat hits a ball the past has determined what happens but it is the future strike of the ball on our body that determines the bruise. The past does not create today, the future becomes today, the past is always gone.
However, as will be seen in the following sections the past might be gone but it probably still exists.