In the SEP article on Qualia - 1.(2) qualia are defined as

intrinsic, consciously accessible, non-representational features of sense-data and other non-physical phenomenal objects that are responsible for their phenomenal character.

What does "non-representational" mean in this context? How to distinguish representational and non-representational features?

  • Not representing anything else, the way images represent external objects, purely self-expressive.
    – Conifold
    May 21, 2021 at 9:17
  • @Johnny-come-lately As an analogy, think of the difference between the portrait of a man and the word "man". We can use both of them to refer to some man but only the portrait is representational. The word "man" does not represent anything in itself. This is only an analogy since in effect even a portrait does not represent anything in itself but it is certainly created to do just that, whereas most words not only do not represent anything but also are not created to represent anything. May 21, 2021 at 16:21
  • "One day Soshi was walking on the bank of a river with a friend. 'How delightfully the fishes are enjoying themselves in the water!' exclaimed Soshi. His friend spake to him thus: 'You are not a fish; how do you know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?' 'You are not myself', returned Soshi; 'how do you know that I do not know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?' " - from The Book Of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura.
    – CriglCragl
    May 21, 2021 at 18:14
  • Thanks all, all comments were very useful, comment of @Conifold was particularly helpful for me to understand the paragraph (and the article). May 22, 2021 at 21:28

1 Answer 1


In philosophy of perceptions, representationalism (indirect realism) is the traditional view supported by Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, Husserl, Russell, etc. But this view becomes minority in modern times in favor of direct realism. According to reference here:

Representationalists are often motivated by their belief that experience is transparent, that is to say their belief that when we introspect we find that we are only paying attention to the seemingly mind-independent objects and properties that we are perceiving, rather than attending to other distinctive mental features of experience or any apparent non-representational properties of experience. If such a view were true, then perhaps what it is like to have an experience is exhausted by the experience’s contents.

... there are a battery of examples in the recent literature in which, it is claimed, there are experiences that have differing phenomenal character yet the same representational content and vice versa. Examples of this kind would provide counter-examples to the representationalist’s identity or supervenience claim.

So in summary, representational features of sense-data are those mind-independent objects and properties perceived in our mind which can be further abstracted, symbolized and referenced for further simulation or AI applications. The remaining non-representational features are those resist such formalization. For example the blueness quale we all seem to experience when watching the clear sky or sea, for a representational p-zombie it can only manipulate and apply the word blue or some symbol like BL in relation with other representational symbols exactly like our mind if technology is good enough, but it cannot feel the same blueness we humans all can perceive and seem to be able to share without much difficulty, otherwise the traffic lights would never work in any society...

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