The work week was busy and interesting in some ways, but the interesting things wouldn't mean much to anybody else. The next couple of weeks are going to be fairly insane, too. Some of that is just a function of the time of year (e.g. prepping our leadership for budget hearings), but that doesn't make it any less stressful. All I can do is remind myself that none of it is all that important in the grand scheme of things.
Qualia is a cognitive science term which refers to the quality of a sensory experience, such as the smell of coffee or the feel of silk or the like. The fundamental question is whether there's any universality in these experiences. That is, when I hear, say, an E flat played on the piano, the vibrations that enter my ear are the same as enter your ear, but we don't know if the neuronal experiences are.
We're starting to learn a bit more, but just fragments. We know, for example, that the receptors in the eye for red pigment are maximally responsive to several different wavelengths of light. (I think the number of possibilities they're up to now is six, but I'm too lazy to look it up.) That may explain a sex difference, by the way. Since the gene for red pigment is on the X chromosome, women can have two different receptors, while men are limited to one shade of red. (This is, obviously, a gross simplification, but it's interesting anyway.) What that suggests is that none of us can ever get the full experience of red.
I was thinking about this mostly in response to musings about why I react the way I do to certain music. I didn't bother watching the Grammy awards last week, but I glanced at the web site listing winners and was struck (not for the first time) by the sheer number of categories. Does this fragmentation really mean anything when most of the people I know listen to things from several categories? Is there any scientific way to predict what somebody will like?
It also occurs to me that a real interesting cognitive question would have to do with the qualia of sex. We can measure all sorts of physiological responses, but I'm not convinced you can ever know what your partner really experiences. That would have to be one of the more popular uses of any technology that let us into somebody else's mind.
Copyright 2005 Miriam H. Nadel