Towards a scientific account of experience

I outline and develop a particular physicalist perspective on qualia, and suggest that it may be the basis of a correct account of the relationship of mental states to the physical world. Assume that a quale is a perspective on a physical state in the organism – the reality as known as distinct from the reality as such – but that the perspective, though it entails irreducible experiential knowledge, has no physical substance over that encompassed in the physical state itself. Assume this physical state is also a brain state. The position is a useful one. First, reductionist physicalism is true, but experiential qualities are irreducible physical knowledge, and a required part of our physical world view. Second, experiences are not additional problems over those addressed externally, but only how these problems seem when known internally – an experience just is the physical state that underlies its external counterpart, and the same standard scientific account suffices to explain both, permitting a science of consciousness to develop by applying the same standard external–observer–based methods adopted in older scientific disciplines. Finally, challenges to physicalism associated with the ‘unbridgeable gap’, Leibniz's Law, Jackson's knowledge argument, and Chalmers' hard problem of consciousness are successfully countered.
Keywords physicalism  qualia  conscious experience  reductionist
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PhilPapers Archive Dennis Nicholson, Towards a scientific account of experience
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