Synesthesia has been instrumental in allowing us to ask questions about the nature of perception, but it also raises questions about the nature of our experience.

When I ask myself what experience is, despite all my efforts to not atomize the word "experience" into its constituent sensations, I invariably come to the conclusion that experience is the sum of our psychophysical perceptions.

I then ask myself what perception is. It's easy to be caught up in the nuances of that question, but, in essence, I believe the answer to be that perception is the conveyance of spatial disturbances. For example, when I drag my finger across a block of wood, the interaction of the electromagnetic waves in my finger and those in the block of wood result in force applied to my skin, the firing of neurons, etc. When I attempt to balance, I am utilizing the somatosensory data in the form of pressure, vestibular data, etc.

If experience is composed of these sensations, then why does experience seem so basic? Why do we not tell stories as a recount of all our physical sensations? I'm tempted to say that we perform some sort of analysis on the sensations, picking up a narrative from our interpretation of our perception; but then I run into synesthesia.

If our experience was our interpretation of data, how can our brain be tricked into thinking that a musical note is a color? Wouldn't the brain recognize that sounds shouldn't be colors and give the resulting experience of a sound sans vision?

Which brings me to my question: is our experience not an interpretation of data, but a superpositioning of our sensations?


If by "superposition" you mean that experience supervenes directly on quantum states, I've been told explicitly by David Albert and others with no small amount of knowledge on the subject that this cannot be the case. Superpositions of quanta cannot be sustained over that large a set of eigenvalues - or something like that. The point is that your perceptual apparatus is just too large and too complex.

On the other hand, if you're using "superposition" here in a looser sense to describe a set of potential end states, then you're in new territory. That notion appears to describe the underlying idea behind Integrated Information Theory as put forth by Giulio Tononi. He even goes so far as to use a Hamiltonian in his description of experience, which he builds out of something he calls "q-space" (q for qualia, in the philosophic sense). You can read his paper on the subject, and if you find it all compelling, please email me!

  • The second case is precisely what I mean. In the same sense that waves propagated through space interfere and are transformed, I feel that the irreducibility of an experience to its baser components raises the point that what we experience might not be the components of our perception, but the sum of their parts. Dec 11 '12 at 4:11
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    Also, about your first case... don't be so sold on that. There is no general consensus among physicists about how large or complex a quantum wavestate can become. Albert may be correct, but he's not yet been demonstrated to be so. Dec 11 '12 at 21:08
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    +1 to kbelder's comment. Maintaining superpositions over eigenstates would be a question not only of the breadth of the spectrum, but also of the time over which a superposition of any particular breadth is to be maintained and how isolated the system is. If it interacts strongly with its environment, something like the time-energy uncertainty relation will indicate how fragile the superposition is. In principle, if the system is well-isolated or very weakly interacting, the phases in that superposition could spin their wheels for a very long time. But this doesn't seem to describe the brain. Dec 12 '12 at 13:57

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