Towards a computational theory of experience

Tomer Fekete, Shimon Edelman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


A standing challenge for the science of mind is to account for the datum that every mind faces in the most immediate - that is, unmediated - fashion: its phenomenal experience. The complementary tasks of explaining what it means for a system to give rise to experience and what constitutes the content of experience (qualia) in computational terms are particularly challenging, given the multiple realizability of computation. In this paper, we identify a set of conditions that a computational theory must satisfy for it to constitute not just a sufficient but a necessary, and therefore naturalistic and intrinsic, explanation of qualia. We show that a common assumption behind many neurocomputational theories of the mind, according to which mind states can be formalized solely in terms of instantaneous vectors of activities of representational units such as neurons, does not meet the requisite conditions, in part because it relies on inactive units to shape presently experienced qualia and implies a homogeneous representation space, which is devoid of intrinsic structure. We then sketch a naturalistic computational theory of qualia, which posits that experience is realized by dynamical activity-space trajectories (rather than points) and that its richness is measured by the representational capacity of the trajectory space in which it unfolds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)807-827
Number of pages21
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain activation
  • Clustering
  • Computation
  • Concept
  • Dynamics
  • Experience
  • Qualia
  • Representation
  • State space
  • Trajectory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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