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The term qualia (singular 'quale') is used in many different ways to date. This page aims to distinguish the various uses.

Types of definitions

Definition in terms of examples

Many publications refer to qualia as defined in terms of examples. E.g.:

Qualia as aspects of conscious experience

Some publications define qualia in reference to aspects of mental lives. This is the case, e.g. in Michael Tye's SEP entry,[1] where he states that "philosophers often use the term ‘qualia’ to refer to the introspectively accessible, phenomenal aspects of our mental lives," where the term aspect arguably may refer to "any specific feature, part, or element of something"[2].

A similar route is followed in[3], where qualia are defined as aspects of conscious experience which are non-collatable.

Qualia as properties

Qualia are often defined as properties of phenomenal consciousness, mental states or conscious experience.

In particular, qualia are often considered to be properties of experiences the subject undergoing the experience is aware of.[4] This conception contrasts with experiential properties that are properties of the experiencing subject.

Qualia as qualitative properties

In particular, qualia are often defined to be qualitative properties of experiences, where a qualitative property is related to the qualitative character of an experience. (Nida-Rümelin, 2016)[4] argues that this is untenable if one assumes that subjects are aware of qualia.

Qualia as properties or features of mental states

Some define qualia as "particular features of mental states" (arguably Varela[5])

Qualia as simple constituents

Some publications define qualia as simple constituents of phenomenal consciousness or conscious experience. In a few cases they are conceived of as atoms of the latter.

In some cases, they are claimed to constitute the phenomenal character. According to thos use of the term, qualia "together make up the phenomenal character of the experience".[1]

Qualia as first order approximations

In the recorded lecture underlying[6], Thomas Metzinger discusses that qualia as approximations of phenomenal consciousness or consciousness.

Qualia as constituting experience

Many claim that "the qualia of an experience constitute what it is like for the experiencing subject to undergo that experience".[7] Qualia in this sense are usually conceived of as properties of experience.

This notion of qualia is much more involved ("stronger") than the previous two. Whereas in the previous two cases, one can think of conscious experience as primitive and then conceptualize qualia in terms of it, qualia as defined here seems to be intended as more primitive than conscious experience.

Content qualia

Colours, sounds, tastes or odours are examples of what (Nida-Rümelin, 2016)[4] calls content qualia, or c-qualia for short. They belong to the content of an experience, i.e. to what is present to the subject who undergoes an experience.

Qualia as states

Some authors define qualia simply as states of phenomenal consciousness.

With respect to experiential properties, "for a state to have qualia is (...) for the state to be such that the subject has experiential properties by being in that sate".[4]

Properties of features ascribed to qualia

Qualia are variously claimed to have many different properties, features or key characteristics. E.g., they are claimed to be:

  • intrinsic
  • subjective
  • private
  • ineffable
  • inaccessible on a cognitive, linguistic or verbal account
  • homogeneous
  • transparent
  • qualitative in character

Qualia determine how it is to have an experience

Qualia are sometimes claimed to determine how it is for the experiencing subject to have an experience.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Tye, Michael, "Qualia", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Link
  2. Wiktionary
  3. Kleiner, Johannes. "Mathematical Models of Consciousness." Entropy 22.6 (2020): 609.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Martine Nida-Rümelin, The experience property frame work, 2016
  5. "In the best of cases, the problem of consciousness is assimilated with that of 'qualia' for some particular features of mental states." Varela, Neurophenomenology, 1996
  6. Metzinger, Thomas, ed. Grundkurs Philosophie des Geistes. Mentis., 2007.
  7. Martine Nida-Rümelin, The experience property framework, 2016