We have a peculiar property/ phenomenon called having 'sense' or qualia, also sometimes called as consciousness.

Such as, if we see a red flower; we perceive a particular colour, "red". That is an example of sense.

Now scientists could tell, what was the wavelength of red light, which group of cone-cells responded, what group of nerve-fibres were sent message to which part of brain; and how the informations are being computed in brain, what gene-expression-pathways are working. They can describe the chemical reactions and other molecular interactions, even molecular-orbitals taking part.

But could science yet tell; what was that "red"? and why it was not perceived-as blue but was perceived-as red? Similarly, hot, cold, pain, tickle, joy, fear, hunger... whatever we "sense" in our mind; what are they made up of? Are they simply flow of information? doesn't seem. Could chemical-reactions make-up sense? or what else they could be?

To avoid the answer from being too-broad; I can simplify it in following alternatives:

  1. qualia does not exist. It is just a myth.

  2. qualia exists, but it is nothing more than information and computation.

  3. qualia exists, but we do not know its nature.

  4. qualia exists, we know its nature, and that is more than information and computation.

Which one is true on present scenario?

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    $\begingroup$ I'd post this as a comment rather than a question as I do not know categorically. I'm pretty sure the answer is 'No'. That said, the real argument I think is similar to that of free will. Few people are seriously arguing that we AREN'T conscious, but rather whether we have 'consciousness' or rather something that is an illusion of consciousness - we know what it feels like, but thats all we can really say. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Healey
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeHealey Don't know how you could think it... do you NOT feel any 'pain' when a nail get pricked in your feet? $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ Sure, but you cannot know whether your perceived sense of consciousness or an actual 'consciousness' is responsible for you detecting that stimulus. That's pretty much my point, you can't disentangle those 2 concepts. Really the only counter argument I think you could make is that those 2 distinctions are pretty semantic, and functionally it doesn't matter. If you consider lower organisms, 'pain' is a pretty conserved feature, but at what point do you decide an organism is not 'aware' of the pain? i.e. where does the line between what we consider consciousness and not begin to blur? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Healey
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah it's tricky in the character limit of comments. Give me a few minutes and I'll try to distill my ideas in to an actual answer - but it will still just be my opinion. I have a feeling this question might be a bit subjective, but maybe someone has more reliable sources. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Healey
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a CogSci question. Migration is not advised though as the site is already crammed with like minded questions. I advise OP to go to that site, refine the question and see what can be made of it. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 22:36

2 Answers 2


I'll try my best to give you my answer. But I maintain that this is still somewhat subjective.

Firstly, I think the short answer to your question as stated:

Do we know the physical-nature of “consciousness”?

Is no.

I would personally say that our notion of 'sense' - that is, our ability to perceive stimuli, is not the same as consciousness (whatever "consciousness" means at this point). To me, and I think many others, the concept of 'consciousness' is simply being self-aware.

Science understands most if not all sensory pathways very well in terms of the electro-chemical and/or mechanical pathways involved.

To pick from your 4 options:

  • Consciousness does not exist. It is just a myth.
  • Consciousness exists, but it is nothing more than information and computation.
  • Consciousness exists, but we do not know its nature.
  • Consciousness exists, we know its nature, and that is more than information and computation.

I think we can rule out 1 - we know we have something that we call consciousness - else we wouldn't be having this conversation!

We can certainly rule out 4 as well because we also wouldn't be having this discussion if it's nature was understood by now! :)

My own opinion steers me toward 3. Though I think understanding it might actually be impossible.

To run with your example of perceiving the colour red, I concur that we understand the physical processes that have occurred to enable us to see, and understand that we saw, red.

However...this puts me in mind of a kind of brain-teaser people sometimes mention: how do I know that what I consider to be red, is the same thing you consider to be red. Now, I don't personally think there's much to this, as colour is a physical property, but it does raise the possibility that the 'concept of red' is not immutable between individuals.

Some more food for thought is whether we actually possess a consciousness. By which I mean, it is an extant, natural phenomenon, like energy for instance, and you either have it or you don't. The alternative is similar to the debate about free will vs. the illusion of free will (I personally fall on the side of thinking the latter). That is to say, do we merely have the illusion of consciousness?

Taking the discussion from the comments about pain and expanding further; just because I feel pain, I do not believe equates to consciousness. How far down the evolutionary tree do you have to travel before you would decide a creature has no 'consciousness'. Sure, we probably agree dogs are conscious, but are they self-aware? Do they exist any further than to satisfy their biological needs? Even if we say yes... how much further do you need to go? Are sharks self-aware? Are hag-fish or nematodes self aware? And yet, we know that all these organisms are capable of sensing pain. So it's clear that simple sensing pain is not enough.

The last thing I recall reading about the basis of consciousness (and the closest thing I think we have to an answer as to what the physical basis of consciousness is) is that it is an emergent property of a complex system like our brain. The degree of 'inter-connectedness' in our brains is what makes us intelligent (not just size), and current thinking is that it's the density and number of networks inside the brain that is key.

  • $\begingroup$ "Sure, we probably agree dogs are conscious, but are they self-aware?" I did not meant self-awareness or existential intellegence. So, should on OP I use only the term "Sense" instead of "Consciousness"? As well, term "sense" too have 2 meanings. When we tell about "red", "green", "sweet", "salty" etc as sense; it indicates certain entities/ features in our "mind", which we can not deal "from outside". Whereas when we tell "electronic sensor" or even ligand sensing; we simply indicate information detection. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm.. perhaps I'm misinterpreting your meaning. Is what you describe as 'sense' (e.g. "To have a sense of.."), what is more properly known as "quale" (pl. "Qualia")? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia $\endgroup$
    – Joe Healey
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your effort. It is NOT a terminology question, but seeking nature of a phenomenon which is existent yet at a grey zone in science and under high debate. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ Sure, I know you aren't asking what the term is. I was trying to estabilsh wether qualia is what you were referring to when you say 'sense'. I'm just trying to establish what we both mean :) $\endgroup$
    – Joe Healey
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ I did not knew the term quale. However doesn't seem to me "the density and number of networks inside the brain that is key". If complexity is the cause of sense, I have to say a supercomputer with artificial intelligence posses sense. It seems to me, the phenomenon of sense is exclusively found in living things. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 16:16

Based on logic, I would go with 3. The qualia (or 'senses' at its most colloquial meaning), exists. But we do not know its nature.

But the problem with dealing it experimentally, because qualia are

private; that is, all interpersonal comparisons of qualia are systematically impossible.

, as mentioned by wikipedia in a description by Daniel Dennett , though it is not clear to me any difference in his terms ineffable and private in the 4-point description cited on wikipedia.

It is not possible for us to conclude about whether a dog or bacteria or robot or stone or even another person do have any qualia or not.

However to me it does not seem it could be interpreted as only an emergent property. If we keep up the complication of an AI network, why the codes will once start to feel some "red" or "green" or "hot" or "cold" or something like that.

It doesn't seem at present we could do anything with it (but if we tell it does not exist, then it would be a denial to a truth. In fact even if it is accepted as an "illusion", then we have to accept, "that-illusion" exists.) . However, may be in far future we would be able to decipher it; as Dalton shown us the first atom, or Bequerel the first radioactivity, or Mendel for the first time that we have 'something to do' with the phenotypic expressions of living creatures !