There are no such things as qualia. They're needless
, clogging up description
s, and corresponding to nothing
in real life.
When I look at and smell a crimson rose and feel its velvety petals touched with dew, I don't detect, or have, any qualia. I don't see qualia, or smell them, or touch them. I see the rose; I see its petals; I see the dew. I do not see crimson qualia, or rose-shaped qualia, or abstract crimson-ness, or a mental act of seeing, or a mental image, or any other such philosopher's entity supposed to be 'mental'. The only things I see are real-world objects several centimetres in front of my face. None of them are in my brain.
They aren't in my 'mind' either, for there are no such things as minds for mental things to take refuge in. Let's not pursue that point here: see Ryle's The Concept of Mind for it.
Similarly when I imagine a rose, or remember a rose, what I imagine or remember is a flower, a physical object. I don't (usually) imagine images, or remember memories. When I smell something, I don't smell my smelling of it, and when I remember something, I don't remember my remembering of it. The thing pointed to by the mental act is a thing in the world. (Not necessarily a real thing, if I'm imagining it, but if I am, I'm imagining a real rose: I don't usually try to imagine imaginary roses, though I could if I was trying to summon up one of impossible size or colour).
We don't see sights, we don’t smell smells, we don’t hear sounds, except in a trivial sense where we see or hear or smell things (clocks, roses, sandalwood) but don’t want to list which exact things. A smell isn’t a kind of thing the way the smell of sandalwood is. It's just a linguistic shorthand. There's no such thing as a 'smell' out there, only specific smells.
We don't see by creating interior mental copies to see. The things we see are objects, not images, abstractions, or even colours. (Locutions like 'seeing red' either are idiomatic, or describe rare physical circumstances where it's not clear what we're seeing.)
The process of seeing doesn't involve mental images. (A mental image is something we can summon up in the absence of an object: we normally don't have them while it's visible.) Seeing isn't a private act, an interior process deep inside of the brain, remote from the rest of the physical chain. None of the following details are individually important to the argument, but, briefly: when you see something, light excites its surface, it emits photons, these travel through the air and reach the eye, this electrochemically stimulates the optic nerve, which forms an image on visual cortex V1, which is then analysed into different aspects as it's fed further into visual cortices, these get mixed with other sensory and motor associations, and these may cause behaviour. This is complex and of course far from fully understood, as yet. Whatever happens, nowhere in this chain are the physical events in the brain converted into qualia or mental copies.
I assert this baldly because there is no purpose that introducing them could serve: the process is described fully without them.
Furthermore, nowhere in this chain is there a single point at which seeing occurs. The whole chain is seeing, including the resultant behaviour. There is no point where seeing enters the mental realm. Possible 'mental' acts resulting from seeing something, such as remembering having seen it, or being surprised at seeing it, are physical processes in the brain like any other, and don't require any additional 'mental' component to prime them. They're caused by neurone firings, not by qualia.
When I feel angry, I don't have a feeling of anger. A 'feeling of anger' is not a kind of thing. It's not something I can have, and it's not something that can populate some kind of mental realm. The situation is fully described by saying that I'm angry, or feel angry. Saying I have it, or that it exists somewhere, is like saying I own it, or that I bought it and took it home and unwrapped it and kept the receipt. None of these are appropriate. A feeling isn't a kind of thing you can have. 'Having a feeling' is just an English idiom, not an iconic representation of a real relationship. You feel certain ways, but you don't feel the feeling (or do anything else to or with the feeling). Feeling angry is some combination of being flushed, speaking loudly, your heart beating faster, being unjust to others, curling your hands into fists, snapping at other people, dwelling on what other people have done to you, and so on. Given these physical signs (inside the brain and outside), there is no additional mental thing, a 'feeling', needed to form part of it.
You can't have an experience. A fortiori, you can't have a mental experience. There are no mental experiences going on in our heads. What people do are learn secrets, go white-water rafting, solve anagrams, get angry, acquire a taste for armagnac, puzzle over problems, and so on. In the world, things happen, but that doesn't license you to conclude that there's ultimately only one kind of thing, a 'thing', and only one kind of thing it can do, viz 'happen'. Grouping white-water rafting with drinking armagnac and opening letters doesn't usefully classify them. Grouping mental experiences together as 'mental experiences' doesn't either. There's nothing 'mental' in common among so-called mental experiences. There's nothing they have that just corresponds to the 'mental' part: no qualia.
You can solve anagrams silently or by muttering to yourself, writing the letters on paper or revolving a visual image of them, trying every combination in order or waiting for the answer to pop into your head as you walk: other people can watch you doing it, can tell you're doing it by the way your lips are moving, or perhaps can't tell at all if you carefully keep it all in your head. If I steal your wallet I'll try to carefully keep the whole action away from the attention of you, onlookers, and security cameras. Nothing in this is specifically or cardinally 'mental', just more or less overt.
Other people can see me seeing things. My face changes, I become alert, or embarrassed, or relieved, I might even say something. There are some 'mental' acts, typically the most general of them, like seeing, thinking, believing, wondering, that are quite often conducted without much external behaviour. But, no more than counting or solving anagrams, they're not essentially private. There is no essential interior thing required. The brain, blood, heart, nerves, all work in various characteristic ways as we do these things, but none of them requires any inaccessible and unverifiable thing deep inside the brain.
A lot of philosophers like to multiply entities beyond necessity, and a very common production of their reveries is these miniature duplicates of real things, to use instead of the real things: according to fashion they go by various names, ideas, sense impressions, sense data, and today's fashionable word is qualia, but none of them are real, or descriptively useful. They're all just a category mistake.
Written in haste and in brief as a private e-mail reply to Tem42, not intended for noding. Later modestly revised before posting here. I really don’t want to discuss this.