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Definition: Literally means “what sort” or “what kind”. This term is used to represent the subjective quality of the individual conscious experience.

Pronunciation: kwal-LEE-ya



Why this word?

When I learned of this word and the philosophic importance of what it represented, I was so happy I almost cried. (“Wait– There’s an explanation for what I struggle to convey to others each and every day? …Are the planets in alignment? Is it still winter outside? Could this mean god exists, too?”)

It was earth shaking, for me, to learn of this term.

Qualia is defined as “an unfamiliar term to describe the things that could not be more familiar to each of us.” Qualia is the perception of our world– what pain feels like to us, what colors look like, how things smell. More specifically, it is how the very nature of experiencing our world might not ever, due to the limits of our language and the effects of said linguistic limitation in the understanding happening in our brains; ever truly be explained or understood by people third party to what’s happening in our own intimate minds.

How you see the color red might not be how I see the color red. We’ll never know. We could both agree on a word for what is known to be “red”, understand each other’s language, and go about our days in mutual logical understanding– But the fact that there is no possible way for us to determine just exactly how a red apple is perceived in my head means that you will never know if the color that you think is “red” is what my brain thinks is “red”.

We could learn everything there is to know about understanding the biology and the anatomy related to pain and the five senses, but if your brain registers a smell or a sound or a sight in a different way than that of mine, you simply will not experience the world in the same way as I will. It’s just how we’re wired.

The things that seem so mindlessly basic to us as human beings– emotion, pain, pleasure, sight, smell, touch –are actually individual interpretations of how we interact with our world.

We are individuals in action and in character, yes, but not only– We are individuals in body and mind, and there is nothing we can do about it. Language makes us feel close and provides a sense of community as result of understanding one another, but even for all of our words and varied ways of phrasing an idea, we cannot make a blind person know how to see the color “red”.

It goes even deeper, though to bring this up will be upsetting for some:

Just because you are sure you “love” someone who mutually cares for you doesn’t mean that they “love” you back– Or, even, that what you recognize and perceive as “love” is the same sensation and emotion that said other person recognizes and knows to be “love”.

How do you use qualia in a sentence?

Example: “It’s so important for human beings to feel united in togetherness, similarity. It’s so subconsciously agreed upon in importance that there are many who cannot and will not believe how they individually experience the qualia of their world is not the very same experience happening in another person.

“This is what causes the ‘disbelief’ of natural disorders like autism. Not to say that autistics are ‘wrong’, or even truly ‘disordered’– they are merely built differently, and their reception of qualia in their worlds is different. But the general unease of the layman to allow himself to be taught the truth that not all human beings’ brains react to their environment in the same way as his is what bolsters the conclusion that anything not matching up with the accepted ‘norm’ of how to react to the world is ‘wrong’, or just cannot exist.”


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Written by Veronica Jacobs

Veronica Jacobs is a fiction writer, blogger, academic editor, and sci-fi enthusiast. Currently working freelance (with a background in English Literature), she spends most of her time writing.


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