The latest issue of The Journal of Mind and Behavior is now available. Though there is much to commend in this issue, one paper caught my eye: “Qualia from the Point of View of Language” by Luca Berta.
What is the difference between the discriminations made by a home appliance able to distinguish salt from sugar, and my sensations of salty and sweet? It is never taken into consideration that, in contrast to the appliance, I can have offline sensations, i.e., phenomenal experiences in the absence of direct environmental stimuli, mainly evoked by words occurring into thought, conversation, reading, etc. If we put this detachment stimuli/sensations in relation with the correlative detachment signs/referents inaugurated by the cognitive revolution of symbolic language (the fact that we use signs in the absence of their referents), we might rethink the role played by language in our phenomenal experience as a whole. Qualia can be defined as forms of relationship between organisms and environment, given that human environment is extended to the linguistic dimension, and that the latter has ignited a coevolutionary process with human cognition. The very same properties we attribute to qualia, even when conceiving of them as pre-linguistic phenomenal traits, rely on the cognitive resources that language has made available. The substantialist notion of qualia, I argue, is formed by an online sensation on which the focus shifts from the perceived object to the sensory quality by virtue of linguistic modes of thinking, which are systematically neglected.