Chapter 10. Notes on Other Qualia
The discussion thus far has focused on visual qualia because they are easy to recognize. I have presented examples of random objects and, after some practice at introspection, demonstrated that some control is possible. I don’t imagine that one can go from experiencing a few random visual qualia to creating scenes of tropical beaches in a few introspection sessions, however; instead it will probably take years of reconfiguring the virtual network that connects my visual cortex to my conscious mind. Therefore, this is the end of the discussion of visual qualia for now. I will report on notable improvements in consciously creating and controlling them as my skill improves.
This is only the beginning of understanding and controlling other qualia, however. I will briefly introduce several kinds of random qualia I have experienced and suggest ways to apply the TOSCA model to them as well.
First we can go through the other senses:
Many of us suffer from a periodic phenomenon known as “ear worms,” also known as Involuntary Musical Imagery. I propose that these are qualia produced by the same process as visual qualia; i.e., the auditory cortex is randomly generating packets of sounds (usually music) that sometimes reach the conscious mind coherently and are transformed into auditory qualia. We don’t have to be thinking about the song, although some research suggests that they can be triggered by memories related to the song (e.g., emotional response or an activity associated with it) as well as repeated exposure in the past. Most methods for dealing with them are anecdotal, like humming a different song or focusing on a cognitively challenging task.
Since I don’t hear Earworms constantly, it’s difficult to apply the introspection method regularly. However, they have sometimes occurred while I was focusing on visual qualia. One approach would involve focusing on the music and trying to expand the auditory qualia into a full song, remembering the lyrics. This might work to develop a mechanism like controlling the random visual qualia.
Not having a lot (none that I can remember) of random tactile sensations, I think this should include pain. I’m referring to what was called “growing pains” when I was a child. The cause is unknown. They are probably just like the random pains adults get, but for older people random pain is accepted as “getting older.” This category should include any pain with no observable cause, like most headaches, backaches, etc. I don’t get headaches very often, but meditation (i.e. introspection) has been shown to be a useful treatment for migraines. I imagine it should be similarly useful for random aches. Later posts will address the issue of improving unconscious communication between the physical body and our mind (conscious and unconscious).
SMELL and TASTE are inconsequential for me and won’t be discussed.
Emotional qualia are the sudden onset of emotional feelings, like disgust, anger, sadness, etc. These are complicated because there is a strong hormonal basis for true emotions. For my purposes, I am neglecting emotions that are reasonable responses to external stimuli such as danger, or learning about a tragedy occurring to someone we know. We are interested in transient emotions like a flash of anger, a sudden surge of excitement or happiness for no apparent reason. Maybe an image could initiate such an emotional qualia because there is no real stimulus in the environment, only an image or another quale – a thought quale. We’ll discuss those next.
Such emotional qualia can become a problem for some people, and many methods have been developed to address them, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, etc. Our interest here isn’t to to treat them as a problem whose symptoms need to be controlled but instead as a form of subconscious communications that we want to understand and control.
During introspection sessions, I am often distracted by auditory and thought qualia, but not usually by emotional perceptions; however, they may be disguised by more powerful qualia and go unnoticed. I will focus on them in future sessions. They probably would be discernible if an introspection session were to be completed during a time of emotional stress. More on that later.
We all have random thoughts. Sometimes they are about a subject we’ve been working on and are intuition, which is critical to creativity. Other times we have random thoughts, which have no bearing on anything. This second kind of thought quale contributes to our short attention span, but we have to be careful how we define this. Selective sustained attention, when we intentionally focus on something, is on the order of 20 minutes, whereas transient attention is a short-term response to a stimulus that temporarily attracts/distracts attention. This study is interested in the latter. Although there is no agreement by researchers in the field, we can all collect our own subjective data on the subject.
Some writers have reported a number on the order of 10 seconds for focusing without intent, like a quick thought that isn’t acted on, and is then forgotten. Certainly, our eyes move around very rapidly. In fact, the transient component (not under conscious control) of our visual attention span doesn’t appear to be much more than 100 milliseconds. This is consistent with the alpha wave brain frequency discussed in Chapter 3 for passive attention (8 – 12 Hz). In other words, if we aren’t intentionally focusing, our visual attention and probably cognitive attention span is short; one possible reason for this proposed by Nakayama is that sudden stimuli shouldn’t distract a person from something important that they’re focused on.
With respect to my own observations, this is a rather short interval for cognitive qualia to persist, but it is consistent with how easily my attention drifts during introspection sessions. During these sessions, I’m not focusing my thoughts on anything but simply trying to retain or control a visual qualia. Not much thinking is involved in that procedure. In fact, I try to keep my mind clear. That’s where cognitive qualia come in as distractions, which interrupt whatever attention I’m trying to focus on visual qualia.
Ken Nakayama and Manfred Mackeben, Sustained and Transient Components of Focal Visual Attention, Vision Research, v.29, 1631-1647, 1989.