What Are Qualia and Why Are They Important in Your Life?


As you probably know by now, MONQ stands for “Modifying One’s Natural Qualia” or “Modified Observation of Natural Qualia.”  You can take your pick.  Note that we place a lot of emphasis on the Q of this acronym because Qualia are so integral to the beneficial effects of our personal essential oil diffusers. If you weren’t familiar with this acronym, you can learn reading the beginnings of MONQ.

So what does this word actually mean? Qualia (singular: quale) are not the easiest concept to wrap your head around. Put as simply as possible, a quale is “what it is like” to be in a mental state caused by some sort of external stimulus.

The word “qualia” was first used in its modern sense by Clarence Irving Lewis in 1929. It is inherently difficult to define, and there is much disagreement when it comes to explaining how, when, and why qualia affect our daily experiences of the world around us.

Phenomenal Character

Michael Tye credits qualia for the differences in “phenomenal character,” essentially, the characteristics of a phenomenon when experienced by a certain individual. He uses the example of visual experience to explain – imagine looking at a bright blue paint swatch and what it “is like” to experience that color. Now imagine looking at a dull, brown paint swatch—this experience is different, but why? And then think one step further. Not only do you experience the two colors differently, but the person standing next to you may be experiencing a completely different sensation from the two than you are.

According to Daniel Dennett, one of the more prolific investigators of qualia, there are four characteristics that qualia possess. He proposes that qualia are:

  • Ineffable – They cannot be communicated, or [understood] by any other means than direct experience.
  • Intrinsic – They are non-relational properties, which do not change depending on the experience’s relation to other things.
  • Private – All interpersonal comparisons of qualia are systematically impossible.
  • Directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness-  To experience a quale is to know one is experiencing it.

The Explanatory Gap

Tye states that “qualia are at the very heart of the mind-body problem,” and uses Joseph Levine’s idea of the “explanatory gap” to illustrate why they are so difficult to define. Basically, we can approach the idea of an experience from two sides. First, we know (to an extent) what it feels like because we go through the experience ourselves. Secondly, we know (again, to an extent) what physical processes are going on in the body because we have various scientific and medical ways of measurement. But what connects these two in the middle? How do objective physiological processes lead to often very subjective responses to experience? This is where qualia are proposed to come in.

Here is another example from Tye’s writings that may help clarify the explanatory gap: computers are designed so that, in the most basic sense, inputs lead to outputs. Different kinds of computers are “functionally identical” because they all produce the same result when given some input. However, the programming inside two computers could be vastly different. In a similar way, though humans undergo the same biological processes in terms of sensation, the processes that translate sensation into perception might vary greatly. These variations are qualia.

There are a variety of mental states that have been proposed to possess qualia. Below are the most common:

  • Perceptual experiences – These are the five senses—seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or touching something.
  • Bodily sensations – Examples of these are pain, itching, hunger, feelings of temperature, and our orientation in space.
  • Felt reactions, passions, or emotions – We all know these sudden pangs of delight, lust, fear, grief, jealousy, regret, and many more.
  • Felt moods – These are more long-term versions of the above emotions, like happiness, melancholy, calm, boredom, and sometimes stress.

Qualia and MONQ

According to our Founder and CEO, Dr. Eric Fishman, “It is this last aspect of qualia, mood, which we believe MONQ® personal aromatherapy diffusers can particularly enhance. Hence we say, ‘Improve your Qualia of Life®.’” The original seven blends in our Feel the Way You Want® line were designed specifically to evoke certain moods, with combinations of essential oils that are specially crafted to reinforce each other’s effects for maximum health benefits.

Our Feel Nature® blends, Forest, Mountain, and Ocean aim to explore the “I can’t explain it” aspect of qualia. Imagine being in the forest, in the mountains, or at the seaside. You take a deep breath of the fresh air. You quickly feel the positive energy throughout your whole body, but you probably can’t put your finger on why. This is the sort of sensation you can thank qualia for.

Even though qualia are difficult to fully understand, there is no denying that they play a key role in our lives. The positive effects of MONQ Therapeutic Air® can help to enhance your qualia, and in turn, the way you undergo experiences on a daily basis.


By Jesse Waddell

Jesse is a writer and editor who enjoys being surrounded by the scents and relief that essential oils can provide. When he is not busy writing he can be found practicing the guitar and playing with his Yorkie named Little Terpene.

Favorite MONQ blend: Mountain

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The above information relates to studies of specific individual essential oil ingredients, some of which are used in the essential oil blends for various MONQ diffusers. Please note, however, that while individual ingredients may have been shown to exhibit certain independent effects when used alone, the specific blends of ingredients contained in MONQ diffusers have not been tested. No specific claims are being made that use of any MONQ diffusers will lead to any of the effects discussed above.  Additionally, please note that MONQ diffusers have not been reviewed or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. MONQ diffusers are not intended to be used in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, prevention, or treatment of any disease or medical condition. If you have a health condition or concern, please consult a physician or your alternative health care provider prior to using MONQ diffusers. MONQ blends should not be inhaled into the lungs.

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