Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mistaking milk for coca cola

One day I was watching a film, sitting on a sofa in my room. The film was quite exciting, and I was deeply absorbed in it.

Occasionally, almost unconsciously, I sipped coca cola from the glass on the table. All my attention was directed towards the movie, so I was not aware of the qualia that accompany the act of drinking coca cola, namely the bubbling on the tongue and the tickling on the throat, the smooth black color, and the sweet aftertaste on the palate. I was not paying attention to these qualia of coca cola. All the same, I unconsciously recognized that the drink I occasionally sipped was nothing other than coca cola.

I was drinking the liquid like that, when I suddenly felt a strange, unknown taste in my mouth. I could not tell what it was, and I almost panicked. The human brain is configured in such away that when one has something unfathomable in the mouth, a rejecting reaction is incurred. As it would be possibly disastrous to take in a alien material unnoticed, this is a natural reaction. I felt a strong urge to spit out the unrecognizable liquid in my mouth.

Within the time course of a few seconds, I slowly became aware that the strange taste and flavor that I was feeling in my mouth was actually that of milk. The panic subdued, as I became confident that I had actually drank the familiar milk, and nothing else. It was just that I incidentally reached for the milk glass which happened to be beside the coca cola glass.

(Discussion on the distinction between sensory and intentional qualia follows)

(Excerpt from Ken Mogi's "Introduction to Qualia", Chikuma Gakugei Bunko (2006). Originally published as "When the mind feels the brain" from Kodansha (1999). Translation from Japanese by the author)

The cover of "Introduction to Qualia"


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