Everything else

Literally the Best Thing Ever: The Qualia Problem

The trippy philosophical riddle that BLEW MY MIND in psych class. Words by Estelle, pictures and lettering by Cynthia.


  • emilyaw July 28th, 2014 11:18 PM

    this has blown my mind ever since I remember and I think it’s a hella cool aspect of being human, each of us having a unique experience, yet still being tied together as one

  • Ariella95 July 28th, 2014 11:22 PM

    I’m so excited that you mentioned Nagel’s article. It was one of my favorite things I read in high school. It can be so helpful to remember when we talk about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

  • Erin2300 July 28th, 2014 11:31 PM

    I actually think about this all the time. Especially with color blind people. Like how do they know they’re color blind and not just seeing what everyone else is seeing.

  • RatioRae July 28th, 2014 11:32 PM

    YES! I’ve been wondering about the whole “does everyone see colour the exact same way” thing for EVER, and I’m so glad to know that it’s an actual thing and I’m not just thinking too much.


  • FlaG July 29th, 2014 12:01 AM

    Talking about perceptions of colours, it reminds me of this story I had heard of a dad who thought he was being funny when he taught his child the wrong names for colours (like, blue is orange, brown is red, etc). The poor thing came back from school one day so disheartened and upset that they couldn’t get the names right like the rest of their classmates, and eventually the mum found out what the dad had been doing.

    But then it made me think, what is it that makes red ‘red’. You can’t quantify what it is that makes a colour correspond to its name. Reading about the Qualia Problem was really shed some light on a question I hadn’t thought about in a few years now!

  • FatedToPretend July 29th, 2014 1:13 AM

    I’ve been fascinated with this for as long as I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m so glad that Rookie chose to include this. I think it’s awesome to think about; we are all so individual and so different in everything we see or do, but we’re not alone in being different.

  • queen_of_disaster July 29th, 2014 1:30 AM

    I love this I love this I love this!! One day of my freshman year of high school, my journalism class all had a debate on this subject, however we had no idea that it was an actual thing. We had know idea that the qualia problem was an actual scientific idea, the thought just popped into our brains that none of us actually knew what eachother considered to be blue or purple or orange. It is a miraculous yet frightening thought; we are so alone in this world.

  • rahima July 29th, 2014 1:34 AM

    i remember thinking the same thing about colors and telling it to my cousin. she said i was being ridiculous. now i know i wasn’t

  • flo jo July 29th, 2014 8:45 AM

    i’ve actually thought about this kind of thing a bit before, in a different context- had no idea there was a name for it!!
    have a lovely day

  • alienbabe July 29th, 2014 8:47 AM


  • María Romero July 29th, 2014 11:47 AM

    it’s pretty cool the way you relate your experience *-*

  • Vlada July 29th, 2014 2:09 PM

    I’m starting an undergraduate course in Psychology this October and I’m really excited about it. So this article is actually wonderful.
    Who would’ve thought that I wasn’t the only one thinking this way hahaha

    PS: this is my blog btw http://speakingofvlada.blogspot.com.es/

  • goldfinch July 29th, 2014 3:10 PM

    Yes! I thought about this all the time when I was a kid, and it scared me immensely. Yet I think it’s great that we can communicate in so many ways, and you shared your insightful and more optimistic view on this. The fact that we can share our thoughts like this shows that in the ways that matter most we do all share a world!

  • soretudaaa July 29th, 2014 3:43 PM

    This was super interesting!! I don’t know the first thing about phsychology, but I think about this a lot. I didn’t know other people did too, and actually worked around this. What puzzles me the most, to be honest, is the feelings part. You know, if I say I’m sad, how do I know if my “sad” is like anyone else’s “sad” or an entirely different emotion they have a different name for?

  • Michelle July 29th, 2014 4:01 PM

    This is a cool video on the topic!

    • herdinthehalls July 29th, 2014 7:51 PM


      Also, this whole article reminds me of solipsism, meaning we can only be certain of our own mind’s existence. I don’t really believe it, but it’s fun to tell people about it and say their reaction was just my subconscious anticipating what “you” were going to say.


  • HollyMargaret July 30th, 2014 6:22 AM

    I have thought about this so many times and am so glad to find out it actually has a proper philosophical name!! It’s not quite so scary any more!

  • gior July 30th, 2014 8:28 AM

    The illustrations here by Cynthia are so, so beautiful. Absolutely love them. And really interesting thoughts aswell, I know the Qualia problem well, but the new aesthetics with it work so well. Xx

  • Anya N. July 30th, 2014 10:59 AM

    my brother always talked about this ever since he was little, i didn’t know it had a name! it’s really mind blowing to think about. these illustrations are beautiful, too. i see them as blue and black mostly, but that’s just me. :)))

  • alisatimi July 30th, 2014 2:24 PM

    The qualia problem is definitely real but it’s not as crazy as you might think – there are ways of showing that we see colors similarly, because we can objectively tell which ones are light and dark and we know which ones mix to form others. Beyond colors though it becomes a lot less certain, it’s kind of cool but scary.

  • Johann7 July 31st, 2014 10:38 AM

    What is especially cool is that researchers have come up with some ways to try to test if we e.g. see the same colors (and it turns out that we don’t necessarily see the same things – the language we use to group colors has a strong influence on how we perceive them). Here’s an article about a somewhat recent study featured in a Horizon special: http://boingboing.net/2011/08/12/how-language-affects-color-perception.html

    The video linked in the article has been taken down, but you can find other copies of it by Googling the episode title.

  • Me_Magalloway July 31st, 2014 11:55 AM

    I think about this a lot. I like to imagine that everyone is living with their own, completely unique worlds floating around in their minds.
    One thing that completely blows my mind is that Mantis Shrimp have up to 16 different photoreceptors, while we humans have only 3. This means that they are seeing things that are entirely incomprehensible to humans. We can never see what they see. It’s maddening if you dwell on the thought for too long.

  • laura-laura August 3rd, 2014 2:26 PM

    Hermoso. Beautiful.
    Thanks !

  • pizzaface August 3rd, 2014 5:17 PM

    omg i thought of that when i was pretty young and i still thought about it later because i never knew. i didn’t know there was an actual name for it and that other people were thinking about it too!!

  • ghostelic August 5th, 2014 11:51 AM

    wow this is just wow