[ExI] Mental Phenomena

Ben Zaiboc ben at zaiboc.net
Sun Jan 26 11:22:53 UTC 2020

On 25/01/2020 15:46, Brent Allsop <brent.allsop at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi Ben
> I guess I didn't fully understand your availability argument, as I 
> thought your thinking was at least compatible with representational 
> qualia theory, and just disagreeing with molecular materialism.
> Would you mind sumerizing it again?

All right, I'll summarise it.

If you remember, I asked "Is your position that specific types of 
molecule in the brain (e.g. the infamous glutamate) are what produce 
specific qualia (e.g. the infamous 'red'), and that this mapping is 
one-to-one (eg. glutamate and only glutamate produces the 'red' quale 
and only that)?", and your answer was "Yes".

My argument addresses that specific claim by simply comparing the 
numbers. The (estimated) number of types of molecules available in the 
brian to potentially have a 'quale property' (M), vs. the number of 
qualia that may be possible (Q). If M >= Q, your claim is feasible, If 
not, it is not.

If we assume an exaggerated upper bound for M (which would likely be 
around 1000 for neurotransmitters, but let's not make it so easy, and 
assume it's not just neurotransmitters that are relevant, and say 10 000 
000 for any old type of molecule that could conceivably be involved.

Let's then derive a ridiculously low lower bound for the number of 
different qualia that human beings can experience (I'm going to say 10 
000 000 for colours alone, and then there's all the sounds (~330 000 
distinct frequencies, times all the many different types of sound - 
hearing a violin at 440Hz is a different experience to hearing a trumpet 
at the same pitch - and we get a another high number, I'm not sure what, 
but I'll say about 1 000 000, to be safely on the very low side. And 
then think of all the many, many other things that come in through our 
other senses, and the range of experiences they can bring (temperature 
and pressure from the skin, taste and smell, proprioceptive signals from 
our limbs and vestibular system, feedback from our speech machinery, 
sensations from our digestive system, and other internal organs, pain 
sensations of different types from all over our bodies, plus a huge 
variety of emotional states resulting from social interactions and many 
other things. I think 1 000 000 000 is not an unreasonable number for Q, 
and is almost certainly on the low, if not extremely low side).

M= ~10 000 000
Q= ~1 000 000 000

In my extremely conservative estimate of Q, and extremely exaggerated 
estimate of M, Q still exceeds M by a factor of 100.
And if it's neurotransmitters that are supposed to be the relevant 
molecules, even a wildly exaggerated estimate of their number (we think 
there may actually be up to about 200, not 1000), then the ratio of Q:M 
is a million to one!

The inevitable conclusion: There are not nearly enough different types 
of molecule available to go round! The number of possible qualia (or 
even the number of qualia that the normal person experiences in their 
lifetime) far exceeds the number of types of molecule that could 
possibly be available in our brains for the job of producing these qualia.

It's a physical impossibility for qualia to be produced in the way you 

On the other hand, if we assume that qualia are produced as complex 
patterns of information, by means of neural networks, then, well, my 
maths is not really up to calculating how many possible patterns a human 
brain can produce, but I'm confident it will exceed the quadrillions. 
I've heard it said that the number would exceed the number of particles 
of matter in the universe, in which case my estimate of Q is laughably low.

Ben Zaiboc

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