Prompts for the Promptless: Qualia (single form, quale) is a term that refers to the individual, conscious, subjective elements of experiences. Examples of qualia are the pain of a headache, the taste of wine, or the perceived redness of an evening sky. In other words, qualia refers to “the way things seem to us”.
I’ve been procrastinating and avoiding this subject because I like to think I’m perfectly normal. Who isn’t reluctant to admit the possibility of some sort of inner weirdness. But I suppose if I never admit it, I’ll never know if there are other people out there who experience the same thing. I have made vague references to it in conversations, or given out random hints, but the reaction is always confusion and skepticism, and then we just talk about the weather.
I’ve already admitted elsewhere that I think of spider webs when I spritz my perfume. My honey yogurt soap to me smells exactly like the beach, although when I’m at the beach I never think of that particular soap. Large bodies of water make me want to stop breathing. I have to remind myself to inhale and exhale and stay calm and think about something else. My moods are associated with colors. When I’m happy I’m yellow. Green is super charged. Pink is perfectly lazy.
All of that is curious enough I suppose, but there’s something else I’ve felt several times in my life. I will tell you about one of my quale experiences, and then you can look all confused and skeptical and go check out the weather channel.
At some kind of Christmas party or dance (I don’t remember exactly what it was) many years ago, W and I were saying goodnight to my brother-in-law and his wife when I was suddenly hit by a thunder-clap of doom. There was no noise, but it was deafening. I was knocked off my feet, but I didn’t fall over. The feeling was black and overpowering, like a severe electric shock with no physical pain. It lasted only seconds and then it was gone. I hugged my brother-in-law a little too hard, and held on to him a little too long, knowing that something really bad was going to happen to him, although I couldn’t have said what that might be. I remember telling him I’d see him again because those felt like magic words to ward off some terrible disaster. He laughed and said of course we’d see each other again, we were all going to be at his parents house the next day.
I felt like crying, and sat in stunned silence on the drive home, thinking they might be involved in a car crash, or their house would burn to the ground, or they’d be abducted by aliens. I also thought that quite possibly I’d had way too much to drink and was being completely ridiculous. But I did tell W about my bad feeling, almost like a premonition, that something awful was going to happen to his brother. Then I reminded him of that a few months later when his brothers headaches had become unbearable, and he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Now here’s the strangest part, if that’s not strange enough for you. When we got the phone call with this sad news, I felt almost euphoric. That was the bad thing that was going to happen, but it wasn’t that bad after all. The surgery would go well, and he would be fine. I knew this. I kept saying, amidst all the worry and the sadness, he’s going to be okay. And he was, for a lot of years after that.
This was not the first or last time for me, having this bizarre experience, but I don’t think it can be called an ability when I really have no control over it. The feelings are always extreme. I don’t know where the crazy joy or the devastating sadness comes from, but when it happens I think those few seconds will kill me, but I don’t die. Or haven’t yet anyway. It has made me try to put up a sort of invisible shield around myself when I’m with people so that if they are sending out bad vibes I won’t get them. It has made me stay away from places I should have been where I might have given comfort because to me, ignorance of the bad things is equivalent to bliss. It has made me try hard not to feel anything too deeply, or get too involved, or be too empathetic. But inevitably this avoidance seems to build up to my quale, my personal internal sonic boom, the explosion that shatters me and no one sees me break.
This was all so hard to admit, because, like I said, I prefer to have people think I’m normal with normal quirks and eccentricities, with qualia that might be considered a little out to lunch but not psychotic or insane. I don’t tell anyone any more when I have the gloom and doom experience because I don’t understand where it comes from or what it might portend. It could be nothing. I always hope it’s nothing.
So what’s the weather like where you are? May your whole day be nothing but shades of pink and yellow.