I believe 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 do 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, the sound
whether there is someone there to hear it or not. Unlike
philosophers like Bishop Berkeley, I don’t think that
of these qualities require the presence of a mind (even God's) to
exist; some do,
but others don’t. Further, I
there are plenty of qualities - an infinity of them, perhaps - that
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
be representations of things "in" our minds or brains: There are
no "blue" neural firings or "C major" neurotransmitters. Nor
there any mysterious entities such as "qualia" in our heads.
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.
Jackson's famous color scientist
Mary, if she knew everything
there is to know about blue, could indeed recreate blue from the
she has, assuming that she is "open" to blue (capable of seeing it) at
all. But that means she will have actually experienced blue prior
to anyone finally showing it to her! The thought experiment is
a pretty poor one.
Consciousness happens when an organism is "interested" in
environment (where there is Sorge, as Martin Heidegger put
"interest" is based on an organism’s neediness (desire, libido).
We open ourselves to qualities in that we have evolved (and learned) to
find certain qualities relevant (meaningful) to us as organisms which
constantly adapt in order to continue in existence.
To be conscious, I must be separate from the world, yet open to it; I must be capable of changing the world and being changed by it, while maintaining a degree of integrity and continuity. And I must desire my integrity and continuity. Without desire, the qualities of the world merely pass through me, like information through a computer. It is desire that makes that information relevant, meaningful.
What do I desire? First, I desire to maintain myself. This means more than physical survival; It means maintaining the integrity and continuity of my differentiation from the world and other consciousnesses. That is, I desire to maintain my self.
Consciousness beyond simple sentience is a matter of perceiving both the world and the self simultaneously. One could say that an organism looks out at the world "through" itself (analogously to how the rods and cones receive light that has passed through layers of capillaries, bipolar neurons, supporting cells....) from the perspective of its needs. But there is no absolute "ego" behind consciousness: There is only need and the layers of sedimented life experience.
The self is not a simple thing. It includes the ego, which is the point from which we experience the world, the limiting perspective, the "I." It also includes my body, the object "out there" in the world which "carries" the ego, and through which the ego relates to the world. And finally, it includes my mind, my skills and memories, the accumulated "residue" of my experiences, with which the ego relates to the world. We desire to maintain all three of these things -- ego, body, and mind -- even though doing so may conflict.
At least in higher animals, we can also speak of a self-consciousness, not just in the sense that an animal is aware of, say, its paw, but in the sense that we place ourselves in our perception of the world. It is as if we had to look at reality “through” the totality of who we are, mind and body.
Finally, I am capable of reflection. I can take as the object of my attention not only what is "out there," but the processes of my own mind. This double-mindedness - having both "immediate consciousness" and "reflective consciousness" - may be unique to human beings.
Concern for integrity and continuity requires that I be "in time," that is, that I perceive and affect the direction of events. This in turn requires that I be able to make use of past experience to anticipate possible futures. The ability to anticipate requires the ability to perceive something in its absence - i.e. to imagine. This "second sight" is also the root of remembering and thinking, and it gives us a degree of freedom from the stream of events around us.
Being able to anticipate means anticipating threats to the maintenance of integrity and continuity, and effecting responses to those threats. I thereby come to desire not only maintenance but enhancement of my self. The desire to maintain and enhance the integrity and continuity of self is commonly called actualization.
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 the degree of relevance or meaning the interaction has 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 my experiences of maintenance and enhancement developed evolutionarily rather than through refinement of understanding.
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.
My capacity for anticipation permits certain emotions that are at a remove from the immediate situation. Anxiety, for example, is the distressful anticipation of distress. I also experience the delightful anticipation of delight, which we could call hope or eagerness, depending on the details. Anger is distress tempered by the expectation that the distress may be lifted through action upon the world. Sadness is distress that acknowledges the need for continued efforts at changing myself. And so on.
Some inadequacies are actually included in understanding, and therefore cause no distress or effort at refinement. Others are dealt with through avoidance and other defensive maneuvers. However, actualization ultimately requires that I not avoid facing my inadequacies. In fact, I should actively seek them out. This requires a capacity for getting through pain, distress, and anxiety commonly called will.
The world offers the mind an endless selection of potential distinctions. Desire leads us to discover distinctions and make differentiations. Understanding is improved through the increasingly fine differentiations we are required to make.
While differentiations are being laid down, I am conscious of them. Once they are in place, they become unconscious. When they fail, however, I am once again conscious of them. When I sit on a chair, I do so without conscious attention to the process; When I expect a chair but it is not there, I become aware of my understanding regarding chairs and sitting, though the chair is absent and I remain standing. I am likewise conscious of differentiations when I use them in the absence of or with disregard for the world. I then experience them as memories, thoughts, images, 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 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, 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 comprehend the infinite. And in order to move towards comprehension, we must have a great respect for the variety of perspectives we come across, because each can and will contribute to our understanding of the whole.The differentiations that are meaningful for you may not be meaningful for me. Yet they both refer to the same reality. We are therefore ultimately capable of understanding each other.