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fMRI machine Joe Roberts (AKA 1WineDude) has an insightful discussion of the issue of objectivity of wine ratings. And to make his point he drags the word “qualia” into the picture.

But it’s the subjective stuff that really throws the money wrench into the works here. How we perceive those – and measure our enjoyment of them – will likely not be fully explainable in our lifetimes by science. That is because they are what is known as qualia: like happiness, depression, pain, and pleasure, those sensations can be described but cannot effectively be measured across individuals in any meaningful way scientifically.

He goes on to argue that there is no way to compare my qualia with yours, since these are thoroughly private, subjective states with no precise scale to measure them. Thus, there is no way to be sure that when a wine critic claims a wine is jammy or lacks acidity, her experience is similar to what another critic means by those terms, and assigning numerical value to such experiences is of limited value.

As far as I know, this is the first time the word “qualia” (a technical term used by philosophers and cognitive scientists to refer to subjective states) has been mentioned on a popular wine blog.

Perhaps that is a sign of progress (if in fact the use of philosophical terminology counts as progress, a debatable proposition).

At any rate, I commented on the post pointing out that most people who work in the field of cognitive science think qualia are reducible to brain states which can be measured.

I imagine wine tastings of the future in which critics are perched on the dais helmeted by portable fMRI machines to make sure their qualia match.

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