Real-Time Anomalous Qualia

If thinking clearly is possible then it must also be likely that thinking irrationally occurs as well and is just as normal, even if we wish it didn’t occur. This is addressed in DDJ 2:

“All the world knows beauty…thus not being beautiful exists. All know good…so not being good exists. Being and not being arise together. Hard and easy complete each other. Long and short shape each other…Before and after form a sequence. This is why people of Wisdom dwell on matters of non-designing action…

The myriad beings [qualia] are active but do not undertake [to act], produce but do not take possession, function but do not depend [on design and control]. Gains are accomplished…Because there is no laying claim, [gains] are not lost.”

This verse has been interpreted many ways, which is always the case with ancient texts, but I think it has a down-to-earth meaning hidden in the paradoxical words. Rather than the more traditional interpretation, applied to the personal and societal action spheres, this can also be interpreted to mean that our perceptions and thoughts (i.e. qualia) occur both as positive and negative manifestations of neural activity.

We can and should work to reduce these anomalous qualia (i.e., non-designing myriad beings from DDJ 2) while accepting that they occur; although often leading to negative consequences, such as hasty decisions and real problems, sometimes they can lead to neutral or even positive outcomes. That is, they introduce an element of randomness into our perceptions of and interaction with the world; these erroneous qualia can help us think outside the box.

I don’t mean to imply that they are good, only that they are to some extent unavoidable. Rather than berating ourselves when they occur, we should try to integrate them into our cognitive processes. This is a part of being human and as such should be accepted without complaint.

It’s important to understand that our body and subconscious take no part in our conscious reaction to these anomalous qualia, as stated in DDJ 5:

“Heaven and Earth [body and subconscious] are impartial. To them the myriad beings [qualia] are straw dogs…Between Heaven and Earth is it not like a bellows, empty but not caving in, moving and supplying still more…”

In other words, never expect your body or subconscious to think for you. All they do is generate and/or react to qualia in a completely automatic way. This includes both real perceptions and useful thoughts as well as anomalous ones.

A final word from DDJ 21:

“The visible aspect of great attainment is just going along with the Way. How the Way becomes things is vague and elusive…within it are forms…within it are physical things. Hidden and obscure within it are seeds…Within them there is promise…”

The Way is how we find a balance between the three aspects of our Being (body, subconscious mind and consciousness). This is difficult but has real consequences in our lives and is worth the effort.


The Original Wisdom or the Dao De Jing, P. J. Laska, ECCS Books, 2012.

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