I like to think of the world is composed of nothing but qualities - colors, sounds, temperatures, shapes, textures, movements, images, feelings, and so on, all of them simply there, ready for someone to perceive.
Unlike materialists, I would not reduce these qualities to atoms or energies or anything “physical”. To me, these atoms and such are just explanatory devices, good for helping us to predict and control, especially when we can’t see what’s going on. But they are nothing without the qualities they refer to.
However, when a tree falls in the forest, I'm certain that the
sound happens, whether there is someone there to hear it or
not. Unlike philosophers like Bishop Berkeley, I don’t think
that all of these qualities require the presence of a mind (even
God's) to exist; some do, but others don’t. Further, I
believe there are plenty of qualities - an infinity of them,
perhaps - that we do not and cannot perceive at all. Some
animals, for example, can hear sounds and see colors we
cannot. These sounds and colors are every bit as real and
rich as a high C or blue-green. Neither does it require that there
be representations of things "in" our minds or brains: There
are no "blue" neural firings or "C major" neurotransmitters. Nor
are there any mysterious entities such as "qualia" in our
Nevertheless, we call some of these qualities “matter” and some we call "mind." "Matter" includes the ones that emphasize form, resistance, and especially separateness from mind. The ones we call “mind” include those qualities that are more elusive, more personal, harder to share. Both are real, neither is superior in some way. There are as well qualities of time, space, number, causality, value, and so on, that are hard to place in either category.
I do think that mental qualities came into existence later in the course of the universe’s history than material qualities. I believe they emerged from the special organizations of matter we call "life" - and especially "brain". But saying that doesn’t dismiss the reality of mental qualities, anymore than water is less watery for being made of hydrogen and oxygen.
Feeling (and seeing) shapes is the most “primary” (in Galileo's sense) of experiences. Curvature, angularity, circularity, rectilinearly.... Why do we have fewer epistemological problems with these than with other qualities? Because they can be measured, recorded, and reconstructed... and then experienced by someone else. The Gestalt or form is maintained, even if the form has to be “deconstructed” and “reconstructed.” Forms are communicable. I would like to suggest that "secondary" qualities, even flavors and colors, can be understood in the same fashion - they are just less communicable.
Look at taste and smell: These primitive senses allow us to experience the shapes of certain molecules. Could we say that sweet is round? Bitter jagged? Are pungent odors hairy? Florals soft? These are just similes, but they suggest a very useful way of conceiving of flavors and scents.
Or hearing: Hair cells “touch” the physical vibrations conducted through air, bone, membranes, and fluids, vibrations which maintain their forms through all these changes. Rhythm is very "primary" - a form over time. Is a high C really that different from a rhythm? Is a C major chord? I recall as a kid making rulers vibrate on the edge of my school desk: I liked hearing the rhythmical tapping of wood on wood and the "overtones" at various pitches! We only need to remember that forms can be temporal as well as spatial to admit hearing into the class of primary senses.
And colors: The cones in our retinas “touch” the light waves. Try some "synesthetic" analogies on for size: The sound of blue as electromagnetic vibrations; The taste of blue, the light waves experienced like the shapes of molecules are experienced in taste and smell; Or the shape of blue in analogy to the shapes of things we touch -- blue's "roundness" or "angularity"....
Again, it is the communicability of shapes that leads us to view them as somehow more "primary" than tastes, scents, sounds, and colors. And, although some of these qualities remain difficult to communicate, we can indeed communicate a high C or a C major chord (deconstructing and reconstructing the Gestalts) quite easily, with our voices or our instruments. The difficulty is a practical one, not a philosophical one.Desire
As long as we are alive, we have needs. It is a part of our
nature as human beings that we desire to survive, even when some
of us sometimes choose not to. We don't just want to survive in a
physical sense, either: We want to survive in terms of our
identity, our self. This desire makes our experiences of
the world meaningful. Without it, the qualities of the world
merely pass through us, like information through a computer.
So, consciousness requires that we be needy, and being needy
requires that we have a sense of self. One aspect of self is the
simple awareness of our body. When I look out at the world, I also
see my body stretching out under my nose. I can look at my feet
and my hands and, with a mirror, my entire physical being. But
another aspect of self - perhaps even more important - is the
accumulated layers of past experiences that I have piled up inside
my mind - my memories, my habits, my upbringing, my culture, my
unique experiences. These things color my experience as much as
the color of my glasses.
As a desiring being, I cannot be indifferent to the world. I relate to it passionately. Interactions which prevent my actualization I experience negatively, as pain and distress. Those which promote my actualization I experience positively, as pleasure and delight. The intensity of the feeling is the measure of how relevant or meaningful the interaction is for me.
My understanding of the world and myself is continually tested through my anticipations and actions. When my understanding is inadequate, I feel distress, and I attempt to repair the inadequacy through further anticipation and action. As these responses return me to adequate understanding, I feel delight.
Physical pain and pleasure are cyclical breakdowns and restorations of integrity that mimic distress and delight. They do not in themselves improve understanding, but they can and do reinforce the impact of otherwise distressful or delightful events. Pain and pleasure are forms of distress and delight developed through evolution rather than through learning.
Ironically, pain and distress are what we feel when our neediness is most evident and our awareness brightest. Pleasure and delight are what we feel as we move towards unconsciousness! When there are no problems or problems-being-solved, there is no emotion. Only in unconsciousness is the differentiation of self and world obliterated and we are, for a while, truly at peace. But then, we aren’t able to enjoy it! When there is no emotion, there is no consciousness.
Our capacity for anticipation permits certain emotions that are somewhat detached from the immediate situation. Anxiety, for example, is the distressful anticipation of distress. We also experience the delightful anticipation of delight, which we could call hope or eagerness, depending on the details. Anger is distress combined with the expectation that the distress may be relieved by action. Sadness is distress that acknowledges the need for continued efforts at improving myself. And so on.
A conscious entity can only be conscious of some small portion of total reality. It is limited by its position in space, by the variety of its sense organs, by the sensitivity of those organs, by its access to its own processes, and more besides. In other words, each person has his or her own perspective on and understanding of the world.
One consequence of this perspectivity is that the contrast between objectivity and subjectivity is no longer terribly meaningful: All you can ever have is a perspective, and although some perspectives are no doubt better than others - I prefer to be knowledgeable rather than ignorant, and sane rather than insane, for example - none qualifies as the "ultimate" perspective.
If you want to understand the entirety of reality, you will need to add all possible perspectives together. This is, of course, impossible, so we can only do our best to understand reality. And in order to move towards understanding, we must have a great respect for the variety of perspectives we come across, because each can contribute to our understanding of the whole.What is meaningful for you may not be meaningful for me. Yet both of our perspectives refer to the same reality. We are therefore ultimately capable of understanding each other.