On Qualia

Looking for some info online, I stumbled upon the following piece. Not being sure whether or not Mr. Mogi is associated with Sony, but knowing about Sony's high-end Qualia line, I felt compelled to read it. It makes for an interesting read, especially for those earning their existence at the intersection between aesthetics and technology. This reminds me of the ad page model, put together by Mr. Ogilvy, and some more.

Ken Mogi
A Familiar Yet Mysterious Concept

Many facts about the workings of the brain have been uncovered with the advance of neuroscience. We now know what part of the brain becomes active with which activity, and what ability becomes lost when a certain part of the brain is damaged. But one significant problem remains: we still cannot explain the nature of consciousness.

Since the late 1990s, the enigma of consciousness has been the focus of much research in neuroscience. Though it is clear that our consciousness results from activity in neurons, not much more is known about it. It cannot, for example, be understood just by looking at the discrete functions of the brain. It was in this predicament that the concept of “qualia” emerged as the key to the missing links.

The word “qualia” is a Latin plural meaning “qualities.” It is an ancient word and appears as early as the fifth century, in Augustinus’s De Civitate Dei. It was first used in the discourse of consciousness in the 1980s by an Australian philosopher, who proposed that the various elements that make up our subjective experiences – qualia – cannot be explained by existing science. This work had a significant impact on the neuroscientific world, and “qualia” has since become a central issue in cognitive science.

The concept of qualia should be familiar to all of us, since the world offers us a multitude of sensory qualities (like colors and textures) to perceive. However, in cognitive research, it remains an elusive subject.

In scientific research, “qualia” poses a perplexing problem, because qualia generally cannot be represented with numbers. Science thus far has targeted concepts that can be counted or measured. How much there is of a certain substance, how long it is, how fast it is – most things can be described using numerical representations.

But qualia –like the sting of cold water, like the sweet strains of a violin, like the perfume of a rose – are experiences that cannot be replaced by numbers. For this reason, the usual tools of science we use to solve a problem, like expressing a characteristic in numbers and using values in a formula, do not help us here.

Of course, though qualia cannot be quantified, they are still phenomena that accompany physical processes in the human brain. Yet the natural laws governing the intricate processing of qualia are still to be discovered and may pose one of humanity’s greatest intellectual challenges yet. It would probably be difficult to solve the puzzle of qualia completely. My guess is that if qualia were to be explained in a theory, it would be far more difficult than Einstein’s complicated theory of relativity. But everyone can understand the idea when it is explained. One’s view of the world changes just by being aware of it. “Qualia” has this interesting twosided quality.

Humans Seek Qualia

Often in Japan, you see groups of women taking a trip together. What do you suppose they are expecting from this trip? Some will climb a mountain, and others will explore a tourist area. Some will soak in a hot spring, and some will enjoy the local cuisine. Destinations and activities may vary, but in the end, all of them are looking for the same thing.

Human desires differ from those of other animals because of their bigger, developed brain. Desires are not limited to nourishment, longevity, or ease, for example. People additionally seek new, undiscovered qualia. Wanting to eat a manju (a sweet) particular to an area, for example, is a manifestation of this human desire. The traveler is not seeking nourishment or notable healthfulness from the manju. No, she hopes to experience qualia heretofore unknown to her.

Qualia have the quality of being unknown until experienced. The qualia of food, for example, cannot be understood until eaten, no matter how much someone tries to describe its delicious flavor. The fact that qualia cannot be ours unless experienced makes untried qualia all the more appealing. We travel, watch movies, and go to the theater to satisfy our desire for and to consume qualia.

This idea, that humans are driven by a desire for qualia, applies as well to romantic relationships. Remember how you felt when you were a teenager? You wondered what it would be like to date a boy. You wondered what it would be like to date a girl. Such feelings akin to curiosity stirred something deep inside you.

This idea also applies to our appetite for culture. We want to delight in good literature. We want to enjoy beautiful music. We want to experience new things in movies.

These desires are particular to humans. The drive for qualia does not appear to result from biological necessity and cannot be found in any other animals. Humans seek qualia.

The Qualia of the Grand Canyon

Sometimes you need to go to a particular place to experience certain qualia. That is why people travel.

The time I visited the Grand Canyon, for example, I experienced qualia that could not and cannot be experienced elsewhere. I knew of course about the Grand Canyon before going there. I had seen numerous photographs of it, and I even knew how far down it was to the river. But the experience of the Grand Canyon exceeded the sum of these bits of acquired knowledge. The qualia were indeed particular to the site.

When I actually stood there and gazed at the distance to the opposite cliff (twelve kilometers) I suddenly felt faint and had to sit down – and it was not a fear of heights. I was hit by the realization that I could not possibly throw a rock to the other side, no matter how hard I tried. The canyon was that vast. This new qualia experience, of unconquerable distance, overwhelmed me and made my head reel.

If you think about it, there are very few situations in everyday life when you can experience distances between yourself and a certain visible place that deny all possibility of your approaching it. The moon and the stars are examples of vast distances that cannot be overcome, but you are quite aware that they are celestial, not terrestrial. Thus you can make excuses for their inapproachability. The top of a city skyscraper is also unapproachable, but you can easily give up the idea because it is so high up. In contrast, the opposite side of the Grand Canyon is at eye-level, yet it cannot be walked to, and it is too far to throw a rock to. The great abyss between me and the opposite side awed me, and I felt qualia that were somewhat similar to dizziness.

It does not matter how intimate you are with the facts. The qualia of the Grand Canyon cannot be experienced unless you actually go there. It cannot be felt otherwise. People travel in pursuit of such qualia.

The Qualia of Chateau Latour

Wine, too, has qualia that cannot be perceived unless they are actually experienced. I was once at a French restaurant in Tokyo, celebrating a special occasion with two friends. On this occasion we ordered a bottle of Chateau Latour. This much-acclaimed red wine is really quite expensive, but we decided to treat ourselves this one time. The bottle was brought to the table in a reverential manner and poured. The glasses glowed a dark ruby red.

The first glass, however, did not make an impression upon me. In all honesty, I could not tell whether it was any good. Although my friends were clearly already excited with it, I did not know what to say about it, and still uncertain, I took a sip of my second glass.

Then, all of a sudden, the qualia of Chateau Latour made sense to me. It was like a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with a truly attractive, magical person. The emotion is not simply one of happiness or pleasure; your heart is in fact racing at an alarming rate. You have no idea what to do with yourself because everything is terribly exciting. It is the long-awaited arrival of spring with all the flowers bursting into bloom. That was my stunning qualia experience with Chateau Latour.

Until that moment, I had never tasted an expensive wine with any seriousness. That was the first time I realized that the qualia evoked by a really good wine cannot be described just in terms of tannin, bouquet, or acidity, as with an ordinary wine. The experience exceeds the sphere of this limited vocabulary.

Ideas that can be expressed in numbers can often be imagined to a certain extent without actually being experienced. Four meters is two meters doubled and so is probably this long. 200 km/hr is twice 100 km/hr and so is probably this fast. The comparative method works. But the qualia of good wine are not two or three times better than the qualia of ordinary wine. The analogy fails here. The qualia are of a different nature altogether.

I remember the first time that I tasted konowata, I felt that the qualia could not be compared to the qualia of any other delicacy I had ever tasted. Konowata is a Japanese delicacy on a par with caviar, and is made by pickling the entrails of sea cucumber. The taste is a little similar to pickled squid, but as those of you who have had konowata know, it has a strange and mystifying citrus fragrance.

Qualia, when new or very good, cannot be compared to that of past experiences. This characteristic is true of all qualia, not just of food.

But sometimes, even familiar qualia can suddenly become unfamiliar. For example, when we eat or drink something, we are usually prepared for what we will experience when we put it into our mouths. If completely different from expectation, qualia of even the most ordinary sort can jar.

Once, while watching a movie at home, I reached for a glass of milk thinking it was soda. With my eyes still glued to the screen, I took a gulp. The shock was great. For several moments, I could not tell at all what it was. I could only think that I had put something unrecognizable into my mouth. Then, after some time, I realized that the qualia were of milk. Perhaps this experience is similar to a baby’s experience when he first tastes milk.

My initial incomprehension upon tasting Chateau atour was perhaps due to the fact that the qualia were completely new to me. The qualia of Chateau Latour were utterly unlike my expectations of a wine.

How Do We Know New Experiences to Be Completely New?

The world is filled with an infinite number of qualia, and there are many that a person may never experience in a lifetime. Had I not had the experience of Chateau Latour, I would probably have continued to believe that wine can be described calmly, in precise parameters of tannin, bouquet, and other commonly known factors. I would never have believed that the qualia of the wine can only be described as that of meeting a dream, a wonderfully mesmerizing person.

Qualia cannot be understood unless experienced. We are driven by curiosity and are constantly on a quest for new qualia.

The ability of the human brain to recognize the newness of new qualia – that the qualia are unlike any experienced before – has yet to be explained. You may not be able to describe the uniqueness or the subtlety of the new qualia at the moment of contact, but your brain recognizes immediately that the qualia are new. This wonderful feature of the human brain has not yet been explained by neuroscience.

There are many qualia in the world that I have not yet experienced. This thought is exciting. The yearning for new qualia, for fresh, unknown qualia, is in everybody’s hearts. This is the universal desire for qualia shared by all human beings.

Qualia must be experienced firsthand to be understood. Before coming into contact with certain qualia, there is no way of knowing what the experience will be like. But still we long to come into contact with them. Qualia have this mysteriously enticing quality.

Looking at photographs and reading descriptive text of the Katsura Palace in Kyoto will not tell you what kind of qualia you will experience once you step inside the gardens. But people are drawn to the yet unknown qualia that they anticipate, and travel to the Katsura Palace to experience them firsthand. I want to see things that I have never seen. I want to go places that I have never been. I want to eat things that I have never eaten. These wants exist inside everyone. This universal desire, in other words, is a desire for unknown qualia.

The Allure of Qualia

Sometimes we are unknowingly taken by something that we cannot quite explain in words. This is true of qualia.

People are naturally drawn to qualia that are not yet fully understood. That is why we are drawn to other people, for example; other people are wonderfully mysterious to us.

The impression of a person changes slightly with every meeting – ten years ago, five years ago, two years ago, today. It is the same person, yet he is somehow different. Sometimes he is an admirable character, and sometimes he seems a bit mean. Sometimes he is interesting, and sometimes he is dull. What results from all these experiences is the qualia of this person. This person’s qualia are not borne of just one meeting, but are formed from numerous meetings, and with every encounter, the sense of this person evolves.

The same can be said of wine (though of course, its complexity does not compare to that of human beings). The qualia of Chateau Latour will probably change with every encounter. Yet there will probably be something in the qualia that will help affirm that the encounter is undoubtedly yet another aspect of the Chateau Latour experience.

Every bottle is of course different. The vintage may be different; even two wines of the same vintage will be different depending on when they are opened. A wine is also dependent upon storage conditions and the manner in which it is served. And even if two wines were exactly the same, the qualia of one would differ from the qualia of the other depending on whom you share the bottle with. In this way, the personality of a certain brand of wine emerges from the many encounters with it. After a time, you begin to understand and recognize the qualia of this wine.

The discrete qualia are different every time, but a new form of qualia appears from experiencing all of the individual qualia. This total form of qualia is perhaps the qualia that we are most attracted to, and hence, continue to pursue.

Though we receive a different impression every time, when we process these many encounters, a new kind of qualia emerges. This mechanism may be analogous to the power of brands. For example, all animated films by Pixar have a certain “Pixar-esque” feel to them, even though each film is different. Each is different; yet they share a certain quality.

Something attracts us to people and objects and scenery, but a large part of the allure disappears as soon as we think we know what that something is. People are attracted most to those things that appeal to a subconscious place. Therefore, when a person feels that she has completely understood a brand, a wine, or a relationship, the wonder is gone.

One tries to get close to it, and sometimes it seems within reach – but it can never be fully grasped. This is the kind of qualia that is most alluring to us.

I would like to live in a world where nothing less should come as expected from the intersection of (personal) technology and aesthetics...

link to Sony QUALIA

Product management / marketing functions

A representation of the product management / marketing functions.

Credit is due to Pragmatic Marketing


The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court decision Blizzard vs. BnetD which ruled that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits the reverse engineering needed to create an open-source program that extended a video game for people who lawfully purchased the original. The court also affirmed that clickwrap licenses are enforceable to prevent reverse engineering.

If you are in the business of creating add-ons for, or extending, copyrighted software (for profit, open source, or both), check out this decision at:

As well, this ruling is of interest to those who wish to protect their code from reverse engineering via a clickwrap license.