The Tenor of Experience

I’ve had a kind of crazy idea for a while now that involves the nature of experience. I’m now quite convinced that experiences come in different varieties and flavours.

Everyone has taken mind (or mood) altering drugs of some kind – caffeine is in just about everything, after all – so we’re reasonably familiar with the concept of being ‘under the influence’. And when things start feeling out of the ordinary, most rational people generally think that something about us has changed, either in our perceptions, our brain chemistry, we’ve gone a bit lunatic or whathaveyou.

But what if the change is not in ourselves but in the actual compositions of the things that make up the experiences we have? I am calling this the ‘tenor’ of experience, and every so often I find myself in circumstances that are so far beyond the expected or the imagined that they have an entirely foreign tenor to them.

The tenor of experience is like a strange new taste in your mouth. It’s like a melody you’ve never heard before that is at once shocking in its familiarity and in its newness. The tenor of experience is the inability to trust your own eyes. The tenor of experience is dream-logic in the real world. The tenor of experience is moonlight flashing off bare skin. The tenor of experience is a touch; it’s a place, and a smell – it’s all of these and more, all at once.

My choice of the word ‘tenor’ here is deliberate, and I think appropriate for the musical connotations it brings. The ‘tenor of experience’ comes with suggestions of shifting into a higher register – if not heightened awareness, then some kind of higher aspect. Music often plays a part in altering the tenor of experience (I find it does) and while brain neuroscience might be able to account for these effects, the science speaks little beyond the conglomeration of effects.

Nothing in my theory of the tenor of experience is to discount the very real effects of mind altered states, but more and more often I’m finding it insufficient to blame these ‘effects’ for the whole range of experience that an altered tenor of experience presents with. As I’m becoming more familiar with Latourian metaphysics and Actor Network Theory the less appealing I am finding the reductive, effect-based answers like ‘it’s just the alcohol talking’ etcetera.

Nothing endures. Everything becomes translated. Beer in the glass becomes translated when it cools, and is translated when it later becomes beer-in-the-stomach. The translation process means nothing is kept in-tact. Nothing endures. Therefore, looking at the end result and pointing to it as the be-all-and-end-all is a bit like looking at a calculus equation before and after integration. You can integrate the equation back to a pre-translated state but you have no access to that intangible ‘constant’ that was lost in the translation process. So I want to step back outside and look at the whole tenor of experience.

If this all comes across a little confused it’s because I’m still feeling the effects of a terrifically altered tenor of experience (involving no illegal drugs, fyi) and writing down this idea is a strategy I am employing in response. If you’ve found anything here at all persuasive, I encourage you to keep the idea of the tenor of experience in mind, see if it’s at all useful in future and let me know. It’s certainly has been useful for me.

Post-script: I just performed a quick google search for the phrase and I’ve clearly not coined an entirely unique one, but I hope my meaning and use of the phrase is ultimately an outstanding one.