Qualia – Subjectivity of Observation

June 18, 2019

When I failed elementary art class, I found out I was colorblind…it came out of the purple. Most never have the opportunity to see or understand the ways in which their thinking makes them blind, but I was lucky enough to be made explicitly aware of it…happens once in a green moon.

Fortunately, my colorblindness is not a serious impediment to life — hardly a minor inconvenience. What being colorblind does guarantee though, is the recurrence of a particular question:

“What color is this to you?”

I get asked this question so frequently that I increasingly struggled to answer it; how do I relay to someone asking it what I’m truly seeing and how it may differ from what they are seeing?

…how could we both look at a “red” object that we individually perceive as the same colloquially understood red, but have such indemonstrably different images in our minds. We both may effectively communicate and agree that the object is red, but we’ll walk away from each other never realizing how different our respective internal experiences were. Color — and many other “feelings” — is an illusory construct that does not really exist outside of our minds.

Turns out these ineffable unvarnished feelings are qualia and our physical inability to empathize with other’s qualia is what has taught me the importance of open mindedness given how close minded we are in our own perception of the world.

Historically, society had no name for the color ‘blue.’ Blue was an apophatic concept. Apophatic means focusing on what cannot be said in words (it stems from apophysis - greek for mentioning without mentioning). So many things are difficult to relay linguistically - things that society can act on but not describe. Society - culturally colorblind - had managed well without “blue.” Society managed well because we could exhibit empathy; understanding requires an empathy.

By acknowledging your own blinders, that those around you may see the world better (differently) than you can — that there exists an untraversable explanatory gap between your understandings — and by heeding their observations, you can increase your likelihood of making good considerate decisions. This approach is not one of self doubt, but rather one of the expectation that you always have something to learn from those around you by keeping an open mind and challenging your perception of the world.

“Radical open mindedness…requires you to replace your attachment to always being right with the joy of learning what’s true.” — Ray Dalio