Who lacks the qualia of consciousness?

by Richard_Kennaway1 min read5th Oct 201955 comments



Over on Facebook (I don't know if it's possible to link to a Facebook post, but h/t Alexander Kruel) and Twitter, the subject of missing qualia has come up. Some people are color-blind. This deficiency can be objectively demonstrated by tasks such as the Ishihara patterns. Some people cannot smell, and sometimes do not discover this until well into adulthood. Some people cannot form mental imagery, which was undiscovered until Galton wrote of it, but is now well-known enough to have a Wikipedia article. Until they discover that others really do see with the mind's eye, aphantasics take the expression to be some sort of metaphor. But it is not. Some people, I think most, do see things in their mind's eye.

More recently of note is that some people lack the qualia of long-term memory (see section 1.4): they can know that things involving them happened, but not re-experience them as a participant.

I want to put the following question: Does anyone here lack the qualia of consciousness?

If you do lack this then you won't know what I'm talking about. So I shall try to describe the experience. I have a vivid sensation of my own presence, my own self. This is the thing I am pointing at when I say that I am conscious. Whether I sit in meditation or in the midst of life, there I am. Indeed, more vividly in meditation, because then, that is where I direct my attention. But only in dreamless sleep is it absent.

Some people claim by meditation to have seen through what they claim is the illusion of consciousness. I am uncertain whether they have self-modified to ablate the faculty of having this experience, or merely philosophised themselves into believing there can't be any such thing, and insisting that they are not experiencing what they are experiencing.

But there may be some people out there who have never had any experience of themselves such as I have described. In effect, almost p-zombies. The original p-zombies are by definition indistinguishable in behaviour from everyone else, including talk about consciousness. But people without this experience of self, quasi-p-zombies, or q-zombies for short, may imitate the discourse as aphantasics or anosmics may, but without real understanding. I invite anyone who recognises themselves to be a q-zombie to put their hand up. Note that this is a question about whether you actually have this experience, not what you think about its possibility or nature.