For a satisfactory explanation of consciousness as such, a general psychophysical theory of consciousness would have to be woven into the evolutionary story, one which makes intelligible both (1) why specific organisms have the conscious life they have, and (2) why conscious organisms arose in the history of life on earth — Thomas Nagel (1937 – present)
Anything which we can sense is qualia: the colors we see with our eyes, the sounds we hear with our ears, the smells we smell, the textures we feel. There are inner sensations, too – proprioceptions – our sense of balance and motion and the relative position of different parts of our body. All animals share these sort of qualia because all animals have evolved along similar pathways in similar landscapes.
Human beings, however, moved into a brand new landscape. At some point we began to notice the qualia inside our minds. We began to ritual with a different inner landscape, the landscape of thoughts and ideas. This is why our brains grew large, why we developed languages and cultures. All this is qualia, too – a new, profound qualia that we sense with our minds, with our imaginations, and with our reason.
The controversy over qualia is that it exists out there, like the green in the grass, but it really only exists for us because we perceive it. Our eyes evolved only because our distant ancestors ritualed with light; we see color because other ancestors ritualed with colorful landmarks in the environment. Our brains have evolved because our recent ancestors began to ritual with thoughts, ideas, symbols and language. These qualiadelic relationships helped us survive, and we evolved in the process.
Even the natural laws of the universe are qualia. They exist whether or not we are paying attention to them; they exist because the matter of the universe is paying attention to them – the matter of the universe is ritualing with them. But we humans, since we began paying attention to ideas, have begun to notice the laws of the universe also. As we ritual with them our ability to know them – to perceive and to sense them – is evolving. And the laws are evolving, too! Instead of the Sun revolving around the Earth, the Earth revolves around the Sun. Gravity has become curved space. Atoms have become quantum ephemera.
To notice qualia is to be conscious; to ritual with it is to evolve.