No One Knows You Better Than You Do.
Does this knowledge prove that you are conscious?
Taking stock of yourself is not something that one frequently does. Why bother, one might say. But, recently, it came to my mind concerning why I may be so out of breath all the time. I am the only one who knows how I feel. Describing the feeling to a doctor is not the same as feeling it.
To my great surprise, some research on the subject revealed gobs and gobs of philosophical writings on knowing yourself. For example, have you ever heard of qualia? What are qualia? They are impression about how things are.
Definitions of qualia have had different meanings over time. Daniel Dennett, the philosopher, identifies in the Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2020–05–, four properties of qualia, even though he denies their existence:
- Ineffable — they cannot be communicated or apprehended by any means other than direct experience.
- Intrinsic — non-relational properties that do not change depending on contact with other things.
- Private— all interpersonal comparisons of qualia are systematically impossible.
- Direct or immediately apprehensible by consciousness — to experience a quale is to know when one encounters it and know all there is to know about it.
Neuroscientists Gerald Edelman, Antonio Damasio, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Gilio Tononi, and Rudolfo Llinas disputed Dennett's view that Quales don't exist.
Look at the quale of viewing red and how the description of the color might sound to a blind person. The describer would not be able to relate his red perception so that a non-seeing listener might know everything there is to know about red, such as we who have instantaneous recognition. One might say red looks hot, or the experience occurs when you encounter a light of 700-nm (nanometer)wavelength. You and I recognize red without any further description.
There are many examples of qualia. Take the perceived pain of a headache, the taste of wine, or the redness of an evening sky. Compare these experiences after they occur to focus on what they feel like as they happen. Our five senses, taste, touch, hearing, seeing, and smelling, are all quales, personal, individual, and knowing everything about each at once.
This whole explanation about quale was sitting there on Wikipedia, waiting for me to find it. Amazing!
Semantic memory refers to the general world knowledge that humans accumulate from birth onward and is different from Episodic Memory. These non-distinct facts, ideas, meanings, concepts, feelings, and exposures, can demonstrate what it means to be conscious when one adds language. Semantic memory is distinct from episodic memory, which is our memory of specific actual events during our lives. For instance, semantic memory might contain identifying information about a cat, so once we find the word, all cats are immediately recognized. Contrasting episodic memory, we might remember a specific memory, petting a particular cat. We can add new concepts by applying our new knowledge to things learned in the past.
Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, describes schema. He conceptualizes, for example, a pre-natal Schema that might include rudimentary concepts like sucking when something touches a baby's lips. Or a scheme referring to every man as DADA before the child has developed the idea that one particular man is DADA to exclude all other men. Schemas grow as our intellect widens and we can apply new learning to existing schema. If we have no place to attach new memories, they will quickly disappear. Try reading Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity without any training in physics. You may understand it while reading it, but it feels as if you never read it a half-hour later.
When a person probes how they feel, all information like quales and Semantic Memories become meaningful. One can tell accurately when something doesn't feel right or when they feel fine.
Doctors may administer x-rays, blood tests, years of study, and actual practice, telling you that you are fine, only you drop dead the following week. Friends can listen to your complaints but have no idea how you feel. You are a private lagoon, as impossible to describe as the color red. The old saw of needing to walk a mile in another's shoes is inaccurate. Each individual is unique.
Our private and intrinsic quales combined with our semantic memory limit our doctor's effectiveness. They do their best to eliminate our source of discomfort, but they don't feel what we feel and know everything that we know about ourselves. Our survival job is to analyze and interpret every deeply buried aspect of our being to share with doctors trying to keep us alive and well.
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, living with other people's thinking outcomes. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, dare to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
Steve Jobs (1955–2011), Stanford Commencement Adress, 2005