For years Dr. Dennett has argued that qualia, in the airy way they have been defined in philosophy, are illusory. In his book “Consciousness Explained,” he posed a thought experiment involving a wine-tasting machine. Pour a sample into the funnel and an array of electronic sensors would analyze the chemical content, refer to a database and finally type out its conclusion: “a flamboyant and velvety Pinot, though lacking in stamina.”Aaron then goes on the say
If the hardware and software could be made sophisticated enough, there would be no functional difference, Dr. Dennett suggested, between a human oenophile and the machine. So where inside the circuitry are the ineffable qualia?
I think [Searle's Chinese Room] argument actually shows that the whole notion of "intelligence" is highly problematic. In other words, one could argue that the wine-tasting machine as a whole (just like a human being as a whole) is "intelligent", but the distinction between intelligence and non-intelligences becomes less and less clear as one considers poorer and poorer versions of the machine, e.g., if we start mucking around with its internal program, so that it makes mistakes with some regularity.The problem is that subjective experience and intelligence are two completely different things. It's certainly possible to have subjective experience without much intelligence. I'm perfectly happy to grant that animals have subjective experience. Yet they're not especially intelligent. Similarly, a brilliant chess playing computer or a master computer oenophile may be intelligent in some reasonable sense, but neither (at least given the current state of our technology) has subjective experience.
Unfortunately, we don't have a test for subjective experience. It's something we all have, but we don't know how to verify that something else has it. Of course that was the root of behaviorism, which was not the right way to do psychology. For now, subjective experience has to be taken as a brute fact — although people who work on brain injuries are beginning to figure out how to talk about it as more just a black box.
My discussion with Matt drifted toward quantum phenomena. I have no idea whether quantum phenomena have anything to do with subjective experience. I don't see any reason why they should, but they might. (In a previous discussion I argued that quantum phenomena are important to intelligence because they supply a source of randomness, which seems to be essential for intelligence — using an argument based on Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea.)
Subjective experience seems so far beyond our scientific grasp that we just don't know how to proceed. But that doesn't mean that we should dismiss it. The term qualia refers to subjective experience. It has a perfectly good meaning. We all experience qualia. It's just that we don't know how to explain them.