Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Evolution of qualia

In this earlier post I had alluded that evolution confers advantages to beings that perceive qualia. But how does evolution go about the process in the first place? It is rather striking that we perceive unique qualia, not only for the "standard" senses like sight, hearing, and so on, but also for functions which depend on morphology and biology, such as thirst, hunger, vomiting, defecating, and also such ones like water entering the nostrils, etc.

In every case, the qualia seem to be a "perfect match" to the stimulus or condition that we cannot think of an alternative. For example, while it may seem plausible that for the purpose of warning about water entering the nostrils, another unpleasant sensation like pain might be equally effective, it wouldn't have just "seemed right" as compared to what we all experience. So how did evolution settle on the various qualia which seem so fitting to the intended stimuli? Was it by trial and error? Were creatures which experienced pain instead of what we feel when water enters the nostrils (geez, is there a word for that?) at a disadvantage?

Also how did evolution pick out new qualia before it even let them play out the evolutionary game? Was it out of thin air? How many different qualia spaces does the bucket of platonic qualia spaces hold? If in the course of biological evolution, a new mutant needs a new sensory input/response mechanism, then will the appropriate qualia space automatically get tried as a normal part of evolution? If that's the case, we can think of an evolutionary battle between qualia spaces in serving a particular sense/response need.

I assume this is probably what happened when bats came up with echolocation. If we assume that before that, they relied on sight alone (and assuming that their sight corresponded to the same qualia space as ours), then echolocation would have initially groped for a new qualia space. It is also possible that after several tries, or in some species, the qualia which corresponded to their earlier vision hijacked echolocation, with a new, less efficient one for the original eyes.

But again, going back to the more fundamental question, how many different qualia spaces does the fundamental platonic qualia space hold? Did there exist abstract qualia spaces for biological mechanisms like hunger, or sex, even before the needs for them arose, like when the earth had only unicellular organisms like the amoeba? And in the future, if a creature needs a new biological mechanism, can it expect to garner appropriate qualia for that? If the number of qualia spaces is finite, do existing spaces need to be recycled?

Also what are the "hooks" that creatures use to access these abstract qualia spaces? Are they QM processes? Hmm.. that would be rather interesting to have a QM wavefunction for sexual desire! I guess we are headed in the direction of the hard problem already..