In this video I discuss in depth the following topics:
1. MDMA is cardiotoxic and likely neurotoxic, with real and significant side-effects when taken often. Don’t do that. Respect and honor this beautiful state and save it for when you really need it.
2. The phenomenology is often described as “removing layers of conditioning and finding your essential, loving, and pure *core*”. It seems to significantly reduce greed, hate, and delusion, for at least a solid 90 minutes.
3. I argue that a good frame would be to think of the effects as drastically reducing both reactance and fear. Then you can assess a situation without the distortions of these two mental factors, which tend to generate rather self-serving thought-forms.
4. The concept of “authenticity” and its operationalization as a good lens with which to see the effects of MDMA. Big up to Matt Baggott, Co-founder and CEO of Tactogen, who is aiming to perfect MDMA and developed and applied the construct of authenticity in the scientific study of MDMA. Also thanks to Thomas S. Ray, who is on a similar path. Well done! Let’s get more people involved!
5. Another frame is to think of the state as clarifying what the “substance of thought” is like. We usually live under the illusion that emotional reactions follow Newtonian physics. They don’t. A better analogy would be corn starch and water, where applying force quickly can solidify (and even tear) the medium. Thus, we get in our own way and cause a lot of sense of solidity without even realizing it, which will take time and effort to soften and return to normal.
6. Discussion about QRI’s Psychedelic Thermodynamics model applied to MDMA.
7. Self-organizing principles, such as “repulsion-based algorithms” to undo knots, might explain what is happening to the field on MDMA.
8. A possible personality factor might be how “hard” someone is. I discuss personality disorders from a “hardness realism” point of view.
9. Emotional processing as a “skill tree” rather than “levels”.
10. High Entropy Alloys (HEA) are materials made of many metals that, in some cases, lead to really surprising effects, such as a new symmetry space group for their molecular organization (where none of the “ingredients” tend to crystalize that way, but as a whole they do). MDMA might be a bit of a unique HEA that balances serotonin (social anxiety reduction), dopamine (motivation and mental clarity), oxytocin (sense of closeness), and endorphins (bodily pleasure). It is more than the sum of the parts.
11. This leads to a speculation where the key high-level effects of MDMA, in addition to reducing fear and reactance, is the presence of courage, love and equanimity. I try to explain these features in terms of MDMA’s “vibratory signature”.
12. Deep discussion about self-honesty and why it develops in the state. I speculate it has to do with the de-modularization of our vascular clusters (or something else, if blood turns out to be a special case).
13. This blending of modules with each other results in an uncomfortable but helpful overlap between contradictory faces that we put in social settings. It is ideal to experience this with equanimity and patience, however difficult it is to acknowledge it to ourselves. The other side of this wall is light and beautiful, I promise.
14. It seems to me that MDMA creates a highly redundant and highly overdetermined Euclidean geometric phenomenal space, where each point “knows” really clearly how far it is from every other point. Psychedelics can sometimes do this for short periods of time, but they usually create complex fractaline phenomenal spaces. MDMA is different – highly “clear and normal” yet unblocked and euphoric.
15. The concept of Gnarliness as it relates to the “field knots” that MDMA can help unwind.
In this video I explain why substrate neutrality is so appealing to the modern educated mind. I zoom in on the Dancing Qualia argument presented by Chalmers which seems to show that if consciousness/qualia requires a specific substrate, then you can build a system where such qualia is epiphenomenal.
In this video I deconstruct this whole line of reasoning from several complementary points of view. In particular, I explain:
1) How substrate-specific hardware accelerators would generate something akin to a mysterious “consciousness discourse” in organisms that have hybrid computational substrates, with the meta-problem of consciousness (partly) explained via the interaction of two very different computational paradigms that struggle to make sense of each other.
2) How the Slicing Problem gives rise to epiphenomenalism for functionalist / computationalist theories of consciousness. This is as big of a problem, from the complete other side, as Dancing Qualia, yet somehow it doesn’t seem to receive much attention. To avoid epiphenomenalism here you require physical substrate properties to correspond to (at least in magnitude) degrees/amounts of qualia.
3) The idea that you can preserve “organizational invariance” by importing the “causal graph” of the system is question-begging. In particular, it assumes that reality breaks down into bit-sized point-like fundamental interactions between zero-dimensional entities. But this is an interpretation of physical facts, which is put into question by precisely things like field theories of physics (e.g. electromagnetism) and at a much deeper level, things like String Theory, where the substrate of reality is topologically non-trivial.
4) I show that beneath a computationalist frame for consciousness there is an implicit conception of frames of reference that are real from specific “points of view”. But as I explain, it is not possible to bootstrap integrated states out of frames of reference or points of view. Ultimately, any non-trivial integration of information that is happening in these ontologies is a projection of your own mind (you’re borrowing the unity of your consciousness to put together pieces of information that define a frame of reference or point of view!).
5) How the mind uses phenomenal binding for information processing can be explained with the lens of self-organizing principles set up in such a way that “following the valence gradient will take you closer to a state that satisfies the constraints of the problem”. Meaning that the very style of problem solving our experience utilizes has an entirely different logic than classical digital algorithms. No wonder it’s so difficult to square our experience with a computationalist frame of reference!
To end, I encourage the listener to enrich his or her conception of computation to include irreducible integrated states as valid inputs, outputs, and intermediate states. This way we put on the same “computational class” things like quantum computers, non-linear optics, soap bubbles, and yes, DMT entity computing systems 🙂 They all use non-trivially integrated bound states as part of their information processing pipeline.
In aggregate, these points explain why the substrate matters for computation in a way that satisfactorily addresses one of the biggest concerns that there is with this view. Namely, Dancing Qualia leading to epiphenomenalism – which gets turned on its head with the Slicing Problem (turns out computational theories were the epiphenomenalist views all along), self-organizing principles for computation, hybrid computing systems, hardware accelerators, field topology, and the insight that “reality as a causal graph is question-begging”. Reality, is, instead, a network of bound states that can interact in topologically non-trivial ways.
[Epistemic Status: informal and conversational, this piece provides an off-the-cuff discussion around the topological solution to the boundary problem. Please note that this isn’t intended to serve as a bulletproof argument; rather, it’s a guide through an intuitive explanation. While there might be errors, possibly even in reasoning, I believe they won’t fundamentally alter the overarching conceptual solution.]
The short explanation for why this is promising is that topological boundaries are objective and frame-invariant features of “basement reality” that have causal effects and thus can be recruited by natural selection for information-processing tasks. If the fields of physics are fields of qualia, topological boundaries of the fields corresponding to phenomenal boundaries between subjects would be an elegant way for a theory of consciousness to “carve nature at its joints”. This solution is very significant if true, because it entails, among other things, that classical digital computers are incapable of creating causally significant experiences: the experiences that emerge out of them are by default something akin to mind dust, and at best, if significant binding happens, they are epiphenomenal from the “point of view” of the computation being realized.
The route to develop an intuition about this topic that this post takes is to deconstruct the idea of a “point of view” as a “natural kind” and instead advocate for topological pockets being the place where information can non-trivially aggregate. This idea, once seen, is hard to unsee; it reframes how we think about what systems are, and even the nature of information itself.
One of the beautiful things about life is that you sometimes have the opportunity to experience a reality plot twist. We might believe one narrative has always been unfolding, only to realize that the true story was different all along. As they say, the rug can be pulled from under your feet.
The QRI memeplex is full of these reality plot twists. You thought that the “plot” of the universe was a battle between good and evil? Well, it turns out it is the struggle between consciousness and replicators instead. Or that what you want is particular states of the environment? Well, it turns out you’ve been pursuing particular configurations of your world simulation all along. You thought that pleasure and pain follow a linear scale? Well, it turns out the scales are closer to logarithmic in nature, with the ends of the distribution being orders of magnitude more intense than the lower ends. I think that along these lines, grasping how “points of view” and “moments of experience” are connected requires a significant reframe of how you conceptualize reality. Let’s dig in!
One of the motivations for this post is that I recently had a wonderful chat with Nir Lahav, who last year published an article that steelmans the view that consciousness is relativistic (see one of his presentations). I will likely discuss his work in more detail in the future. Importantly, talking to him reminded me that ever since the foundation of QRI, we have taken for granted the view that consciousness is frame-invariant, and worked from there. It felt self-evident to us that if something depends on the frame of reference from which you see it, it doesn’t have inherent existence. Our experiences (in particular, each discrete moment of experience), have inherent existence, and thus cannot be frame-dependent. Every experience is self-intimating, self-disclosing, and absolute. So how could it depend on a frame of reference? Alas, I know this is a rather loaded way of putting it and risks confusing a lot of people (for one, Buddhists might retort that experience is inherently “interdependent” and has no inherent existence, to which I would replay “we are talking about different things here”). So I am motivated to present a more fleshed out, yet intuitive, explanation for why we should expect consciousness to be frame-invariant and how, in our view, our solution to the boundary problem is in fact up to this challenge.
The main idea here is to show how frames of reference cannot boostrap phenomenal binding. Indeed, “a point of view” that provides a frame of reference is more of a convenient abstraction that relies on us to bind, interpret, and coalesce pieces of information, than something with a solid ontological status that exists out there in the world. Rather, I will try to show how we are borrowing from our very own capacity for having unified information in order to put together the data that creates the construct of a “point of view”; importantly, this unity is not bootstrapped from other “points of view”, but draws from the texture of the fabric of reality itself. Namely, the field topology.
A scientific theory of consciousness must be able to explain the existence of consciousness, the nature and cause for the diverse array of qualia values and varieties (the palette problem), how consciousness is causally efficacious (avoid epiphenomenalism), and explain how the information content of each moment of experience is presented “all at once” (namely, the binding problem). I’ve talked extensively about these constraints in writings, videos, and interviews, but what I want to emphasize here is that these problems need to be addressed head on for a theory of consciousness to work at all. Keep these constraints in mind as we deconstruct the apparent solidity of frames of reference and the difficulty that arises in order to bootstrap causal and computational effects in connection to phenomenal binding out of a relativistic frame.
At a very high level, a fuzzy (but perhaps sufficient) intuition for what’s problematic when a theory of consciousness doesn’t seek frame-invariance is that you are trying to create something concrete with real and non-trivial causal effects and information content, out of fundamentally “fuzzy” parts.
In brief, ask yourself, can something fuzzy “observe” something fuzzy? How can fuzzyness be used to boostrap something non-fuzzy?
In a world of atoms and forces, “systems” or “things” or “objects” or “algorithms” or “experiences” or “computations” don’t exist intrinsically because there are no objective, frame-invariant, and causally significant ways to draw boundaries around them!
I hope to convince you that any sense of unity or coherence that you get from this picture of reality (a relativistic system with atoms and forces) is in fact a projection from your mind, that inhabits your mind, and is not out there in the world. You are looking at the system, and you are making connections between the parts, and indeed you are creating a hierarchy of interlocking gestalts to represent this entire conception of reality. But that is all in your mind! It’s a sort of map and territory confusion to believe that two fuzzy “systems” interacting with each other can somehow bootstrap a non-fuzzy ontological object (aka. a requirement for a moment of experience).
I reckon that these vague explanations are in fact sufficient for some people to understand where I’m going. But some of you are probably clueless about what the problem is, and for good reason. This is never discussed in detail, and this is largely, I think, because people who think a lot about the problem don’t usually end up with a convincing solution. And in some cases, the result is that thinkers bite the bullet that there are only fuzzy patterns in reality.
How Many Fuzzy Computations Are There in a System?
Indeed, thinking of the universe as being made of particles and forces implies that computational processes are fuzzy (leaky, porous, open to interpretation, etc.). Now imagine thinking that *you* are one of such fuzzy computations. Having this as an unexamined background assumption gives rise to countless intractable paradoxes. The notion of a point of view, or a frame of reference, does not have real meaning here as the way to aggregate information doesn’t ultimately allow you to identify objective boundaries around packets of information (at least not boundaries that are more than merely-conventional in nature).
From this point of view (about points of view!), you realize that indeed there is no principled and objective way to find real individuals. You end up in the fuzzy world of fuzzy individuals of Brian Tomasik, as helpfully illustrated by this diagram:
Brian Tomasik indeed identifies the problem of finding real boundaries between individuals as crucial for utilitarian calculations. And then, incredibly, also admits that his ontological frameworks gives him no principled way of doing so (cf. Michael E. Johnson’s Against Functionalism for a detailed response). Indeed, according to Brian (from the same essay):
Eric Schwitzgebel argues that “If Materialism Is True, the United States Is Probably Conscious“. But if the USA as a whole is conscious, how about each state? Each city? Each street? Each household? Each family? When a new government department is formed, does this create a new conscious entity? Do corporate mergers reduce the number of conscious entities? These seem like silly questions—and indeed, they are! But they arise when we try to individuate the world into separate, discrete minds. Ultimately, “we are all connected”, as they say. Individuation boundaries are artificial and don’t track anything ontologically or phenomenally fundamental (except maybe at the level of fundamental physical particles and structures). The distinction between an agent and its environment is just an edge that we draw around a clump of physics when it’s convenient to do so for certain purposes.
My own view is that every subsystem of the universe can be seen as conscious to some degree and in some way (functionalist panpsychism). In this case, the question of which systems count as individuals for aggregation becomes maximally problematic, since it seems we might need to count all the subsystems in the universe.”
Are you confused now? I hope so. Otherwise I’d worry about you.
Banana For Scale
A frame of reference is like a “banana for scale” but for both time and space. If you assume that the banana isn’t morphing, you can use how long it takes for waves emitted from different points in the banana to bounce back and return in order to infer the distance and location of physical objects around it. Your technologically equipped banana can play the role of a frame of reference in all but the most extreme of conditions (it probably won’t work as you approach a black hole, for very non-trivial reasons involving severe tidal forces, but it’ll work fine otherwise).
Now the question that I want to ask is: how does the banana “know itself”? Seriously, if you are using points in the banana as your frame of reference, you are, in fact, the one who is capable of interpreting the data coming from the banana to paint a picture of your environment. But the banana isn’t doing that. It is you! The banana is merely an instrument that takes measurements. Its unity is assumed rather than demonstrated.
In fact, for the upper half of the banana to “comprehend” the shape of the other half (as well as its own), it must also rely on a presumed fixed frame of reference. However, it’s important to note that such information truly becomes meaningful only when interpreted by a human mind. In the realm of an atom-and-force-based ontology, the banana doesn’t precisely exist as a tangible entity. Your perception of it as a solid unit, providing direction and scale, is a practical assumption rather than an ontological certainty.
In fact, the moment we try to get a “frame of reference to know itself” you end up in an infinite regress, where smaller and smaller regions of the object are used as frames of reference to measure the rest. And yet, at no point does the information of these frames of reference “come together all at once”, except… of course… in your mind.
Are there ways to boostrap a *something* that aggregates and simultaneously expresses the information gathered across the banana (used as a frame of reference)? If you build a camera to take a snapshot of the, say, information displayed at each coordinate of the banana, the picture you take will have spatial extension and suffer from the same problem. If you think that the point at the aperture can itself capture all of the information at once, you will encounter two problems. If you are thinking of an idealized point-sized aperture, then we run into the problem that points don’t have parts, and therefore can’t contain multiple pieces of information at once. And if you are talking about a real, physical type of aperture, you will find that it cannot be smaller than the diffraction limit. So now you have the problem of how to integrate all of the information *across the whole area of the aperture* when it cannot shrink further without losing critical information. In either case, you still don’t have anything, anywhere, that is capable of simultaneously expressing all of the information of the frame of reference you chose. Namely, the coordinates you measure using a banana.
Let’s dig deeper. We are talking of a banana as a frame of reference. But what if we try to internalize the frame of reference. A lot of people like to think of themselves as the frame of reference that matters. But I ask you: what are your boundaries and how do the parts within those boundaries agree on what is happening?
Let’s say your brain is the frame of reference. Intuitively, one might feel like “this object is real to itself”. But here is where the magic comes. Make the effort to carefully trace how signals or measurements propagate in an object such as the brain. Is it fundamentally different than what happens with a banana? There might be more shortcuts (e.g. long axons) and the wiring could have complex geometry, but neither of these properties can ultimately express information “all at once”. The principle of uniformity says that every part of the universe follows the same universal physical laws. The brain is not an exception. In a way, the brain is itself a possible *expression* of the laws of physics. And in this way, it is no different than a banana.
Sorry, your brain is not going to be a better “ground” for your frame of reference than a banana. And that is because the same infinite recursion that happened with the banana when we tried to use it to ground our frame of reference into something concrete happens with your brain. And also, the same problem happens when we try to “take a snapshot of the state of the brain”, i.e. that the information also doesn’t aggregate in a natural way even in a high-resolution picture of the brain. It still has spatial extension and lacks objective boundaries of any causal significance.
Every single point in your brain has a different view. The universe won’t say “There is a brain here! A self-intimating self-defining object! It is a natural boundary to use to ground a frame of reference!” There is nobody to do that! Are you starting to feel the groundlessness? The bizarre feeling that, hey, there is no rational way to actually set a frame of reference without it falling apart into a gazillion different pieces, all of which have the exact same problem? I’ve been there. For years. But there is a way out. Sort of. Keep reading.
The question that should be bubbling up to the surface right now is: who, or what, is in charge of aggregating points of view? And the answer is: this does not exist and is impossible for it to exist if you start out in an ontology that has as the core building blocks relativistic particles and forces. There is no principled way to aggregate information across space and time that would result in the richness of simultaneous presentation of information that a typical human experience displays. If there is integration of information, and a sort of “all at once” presentation, the only kind of (principled) entity that this ontology would accept is the entire spacetime continuum as a gigantic object! But that’s not what we are. We are definite experiences with specific qualia and binding structures. We are not, as far as I can tell, the entire spacetime continuum all at once. (Or are we?).
If instead we focus on the fine structure of the field, we can look at mathematical features in it that would perhaps draw boundaries that are frame-invariant. Here is where a key insight becomes significant: the topology of a vector field is Lorentz invariant! Meaning, a Lorentz transformation will merely squeeze and sheer, but never change topology on its own. Ok, I admit I am not 100% sure that this holds for all of the topological features of the electromagnetic field (Creon Levit recently raised some interesting technical points that might make some EM topological features frame-dependent; I’ve yet to fully understand his argument but look forward to engaging with it). But what we are really pointing at is the explanation space. A moment ago we were desperate to find a way to ground, say, the reality of a banana in order to use it as a frame of reference. We saw that the banana conceptualized as a collection of atoms and forces does not have this capacity. But we didn’t inquire into other possible physical (though perhaps not *atomistic*) features of the banana. Perhaps, and this is sheer speculation, the potassium ions in the banana peel form a tight electromagnetic mesh that creates a protective Faraday cage for this delicious fruit. In that case, well, the boundaries of that protecting sheet would, interestingly, be frame invariant. A ground!
The 4th Dimension
There is a bit of a sleight of hand here, because I am not taking into account temporal depth, and so it is not entirely clear how large the banana, as a topological structure defined by the potassium ions protective sheer really is (again, this is totally made up! for illustration purposes only). The trick here is to realize that, at least in so far as experiences go, we also have a temporal boundary. Relativistically, there shouldn’t be a hard distinction between temporal and spatial boundaries of a topological pocket of the field. In practice, of course one will typically overwhelm the other, unless you approach the brain you are studying at close to the speed of light (not ideal laboratory conditions, I should add). In our paper, and for many years at QRI (iirc an insight by Michael Johnson in 2016 or so), we’ve talked about experiences having “temporal depth”. David Pearce posits that each fleeting macroscopic state of quantum coherence spanning the entire brain (the physical correlate of consciousness in his model) can last as little as a couple of femtoseconds. This does not seem to worry him: there is no reason why the contents of our experience would give us any explicit hint about our real temporal depth. I intuit that each moment of experience lasts much, much longer. I highly doubt that it can last longer than a hundred milliseconds, but I’m willing to entertain “pocket durations” of, say, a few dozens of milliseconds. Just long enough for 40hz gamma oscillations to bring disparate cortical micropockets into coherence, and importantly, topological union, and have this new new emergent object resonate (where waves bounce back and forth) and thus do wave computing worthwhile enough to pay the energetic cost of carefully modulating this binding operation. Now, this is the sort of “physical correlate of consciousness” I tend to entertain the most. Experiences are fleeting (but not vanishingly so) pockets of the field that come together for computational and causal purposes worthwhile enough to pay the price of making them.
An important clarification here is that now that we have this way of seeing frames of reference we can reconceptualize our previous confusion. We realize that simply labeling parts of reality with coordinates does not magically bring together the information content that can be obtained by integrating the signals read at each of those coordinates. But we suddenly have something that might be way better and more conceptually satisfying. Namely, literal topological objects with boundaries embedded in the spacetime continuum that contribute to the causal unfolding of the reality and are absolute in their existence. These are the objective and real frames of reference we’ve been looking for!
What’s So Special About Field Topology?
Two key points:
Topology is frame-invariant
Topology is causally significant
As already mentioned, the Lorentz Transform can squish and distort, but it doesn’t change topology. The topology of the field is absolute, not relativistic.
And field topology is also causally significant. There are _many_ examples of this, but let me just mention a very startling one: magnetic reconnection. This happens when the magnetic field lines change how they are connected. I mention this example because when one hears about “topological changes to the fields of physics” one may get the impression that such a thing happens only in extremely carefully controlled situations and at minuscule scales. Similar to the concerns for why quantum coherence is unlikely to play a significant role in the brain, one can get the impression that “the scales are simply off”. Significant quantum coherence typically happens in extremely small distances, for very short periods of time, and involving very few particles at a time, and thus, the argument goes, quantum coherence must be largely inconsequential at scales that could plausibly matter for the brain. But the case of field topology isn’t so delicate. Magnetic reconnection, in particular, takes place at extremely large scales, involving enormous amount of matter and energy, with extremely consequential effects.
You know about solar flairs? Solar flairs are the strange phenomenon in the sun in which plasma is heated up to millions of degrees Kelvin and charged particles are accelerated to near the speed of light, leading to the emission of gigantic amounts of electromagnetic radiation, which in turn can ionize the lower levels of the Earth’s ionosphere, and thus disrupt radio communication (cf. radio blackouts). These extraordinary events are the result of the release of magnetic energy stored in the Sun’s corona via a topological change to the magnetic field! Namely, magnetic reconnection.
So here we have a real and tangible effect happening at a planetary (and stellar!) scale over the course of minutes to hours, involving enormous amounts of matter and energy, coming about from a non-trivial change to the topology of the fields of physics.
Relatedly, coronal mass ejections (CMEs) also dependent on changes to the topology of the EM field. My layman understanding of CMEs is that they are caused by the build-up of magnetic stress in the sun’s atmosphere, which can be triggered by a variety of factors, including uneven spinning and plasma convection currents. When this stress becomes too great, it can cause the magnetic field to twist and trap plasma in solar filaments, which can then be released into interplanetary space through magnetic reconnection. These events are truly enormous in scope (trillions of kilograms of mass ejected) and speed (traveling at thousands of kilometers per second).
It’s worth noting that this process is quite complex/not fully understood, and new research findings continue to illuminate the details of this process. But the fact that topological effects are involved is well established. Here’s a video which I thought was… stellar. Personally, I think a program where people get familiar with the electromagnetic changes that happen in the sun by seeing them in simulations and with the sun visualized in many ways, might help us both predict better solar storms, and then also help people empathize with the sun (or the topological pockets that it harbors!).
“The model showed differential rotation causes the sun’s magnetic fields to stretch and spread at different rates. The researchers demonstrated this constant process generates enough energy to form stealth coronal mass ejections over the course of roughly two weeks. The sun’s rotation increasingly stresses magnetic field lines over time, eventually warping them into a strained coil of energy. When enough tension builds, the coil expands and pinches off into a massive bubble of twisted magnetic fields — and without warning — the stealth coronal mass ejection quietly leaves the sun.” (source)
In brief, topological structures in the fields of physics can pave the way for us to identify the natural units that correspond to “moments of experience”. They are frame-invariant and casually significant, and as such they “carve nature at its joints” while being useful from the point of view of natural selection.
Can a Topological Pocket “Know Itself”?
Now the most interesting question arises. How does a topological pocket “know itself”? How can it act as a frame of reference for itself? How can it represent information about its environment if it does not have direct access to it? Well, this is in fact a very interesting area of research. Namely, how do you get the inside of a system with a clear and definite boundary to model its environment despite having only information accessible at its boundary and the resources contained within its boundary? This is a problem that evolution has dealt with for over a billion years (last time I checked). And fascinatingly, is also the subject of study of Active Inference and the Free Energy Principle, whose math, I believe, can be imported to the domain of *topological* boundaries in fields (cf. Markov Boundary).
Here is where qualia computing, attention and awareness, non-linear waves, self-organizing principles, and even optics become extremely relevant. Namely, we are talking about how the *interior shape* of a field could be used in the context of life. Of course the cell walls of even primitive cells are functionally (albeit perhaps not ontologically) a kind of objective and causally significant boundary where this applies. It is enormously adaptive for the cell to use its interior, somehow, to represent its environment (or at least relevant features thereof) in order to navigate, find food, avoid danger, and reproduce.
The situation becomes significantly more intricate when considering highly complex and “evolved” animals such as humans, which encompass numerous additional layers. A single moment of experience cannot be directly equated to a cell, as it does not function as a persistent topological boundary tasked with overseeing the replication of the entire organism. Instead, a moment of experience assumes a considerably more specific role. It acts as an exceptionally specialized topological niche within a vast network of transient, interconnected topological niches—often intricately nested and interwoven. Together, they form an immense structure equipped with the capability to replicate itself. Consequently, the Darwinian evolutionary dynamics of experiences operate on multiple levels. At the most fundamental level, experiences must be selected for their ability to competitively thrive in their immediate micro-environment. Simultaneously, at the broadest level, they must contribute valuable information processing functions that ultimately enhance the inclusive fitness of the entire organism. All the while, our experiences must seamlessly align and “fit well” across all the intermediary levels.
Visual metaphor for how myriad topological pockets in the brain could briefly fuse and become a single one, and then dissolve back into a multitude.
The way this is accomplished is by, in a way, “convincing the experience that it is the organism”. I know this sounds crazy. But ask yourself. Are you a person or an experience? Or neither? Think deeply about Empty Individualism and come back to this question. I reckon that you will find that when you identify with a moment of experience, it turns out that you are an experience *shaped* in the form of the necessary survival needs and reproductive opportunities that a very long-lived organism requires. The organism is fleetingly creating *you* for computational purposes. It’s weird, isn’t it?
The situation is complicated by the fact that it seems that the computational properties of topological pockets of qualia involve topological operations, such as fusion, fission, and the use of all kinds of internal boundaries. More so, the content of a particular experience leaves an imprint in the organism which can be picked up by the next experience. So what happens here is that when you pay really close attention, and you whisper to your mind, “who am I?”, the direct experiential answer will in fact be a slightly distorted version of the truth. And that is because you (a) are always changing and (b) can only use the shape of the previous experience(s) to fill the intentional content of your current experience. Hence, you cannot, at least not under normal circumstances, *really* turn awareness to itself and *be* a topological pocket that “knows itself”. For once, there is a finite speed of information propagation across the many topological pockets that ultimately feed to the central one. So, at any given point in time, there are regions of your experience of which you are *aware* but which you are not attending to.
This brings us to the special case. Can an experience be shaped in such a way that it attends to itself fully, rather than attend to parts of itself which contain information about the state of predecessor topological pockets? I don’t know, but I have a strong hunch that the answer is yes and that this is what a meditative cessation does. Namely, it is a particular configuration of the field where attention is perfectly, homogeneously, distributed throughout in such a way that absolutely nothing breaks the symmetry and the experience “knows itself fully” but lacks any room left to pass it on to the successor pockets. It is a bittersweet situation, really. But I also think that cessations, and indeed moments of very homogeneously distributed attention, are healing for the organism, and even, shall we say, for the soul. And that is because they are moments of complete relief from the discomfort of symmetry breaking of any sort. They teach you about how our world simulation is put together. And intellectually, they are especially fascinating because they may be the one special case in which the referent of an experience is exactly, directly, itself.
To be continued…
I am deeply grateful and extend my thanks to Chris Percy for his remarkable contributions and steadfast dedication to this field. His exceptional work has been instrumental in advancing QRI’s ideas within the academic realm. I also want to express my sincere appreciation to Michael Johnson and David Pearce for our enriching philosophical journey together. Our countless discussions on the causal properties of phenomenal binding and the temporal depth of experience have been truly illuminating. A special shout-out to Cube Flipper, Atai Barkai, Dan Girshovic, Nir Lahav, Creon Levit, and Bijan Fakhri for their recent insightful discussions and collaborative efforts in this area. Hunter, Maggie, Anders (RIP), and Marcin, for your exceptional help. Huge gratitude to our donors. And, of course, a big thank you to the vibrant “qualia community” for your unwavering support, kindness, and encouragement in pursuing this and other crucial research endeavors. Your love and care have been a constant source of motivation. Thank you so much!!!
1) Explore the state-space of consciousness because you want to know it for yourself
2) Study it from many points of view because you want to understand it intellectually at a deep level
3) Intend to apply it for the benefit of all beings
In June of this year, we were proud to launch QRI’s first guided meditation series titled “Qualia Mastery.” Central to this series is the cultivation of a direct experiential understanding of how the mind works, coupled with an epistemological framework that values intellectual clarity. In essence, these guided meditations strive to provide both direct access to and intellectual insight into scientifically and personally significant states of consciousness. Furthermore, we embark on this journey with a sincere desire to serve and uplift others. The initial release features 9 foundational guided meditations. In this next installment, we’re collaborating with QRI associates Wystan Bryant-Scott and Roger Thisdell to go even deeper with another 9 meditations.
We genuinely hope you derive value from this series! We invite any feedback or phenomenological observations. Your perspective is invaluable to us.
Metta – Fabric Softener of Experience
Metta is a Pali word that can be translated as benevolence, friendliness, or good will. It is a key state of mind for meditative practice; it has the capacity to heal, invigorate, and center the mind.
The majority of guided Metta meditations emphasize the ways in which you can trigger this state of mind with semantic content and imagery. For example imagining a loved one, a pet, or even a beautiful scene, and tuning into the feeling of friendliness that such an image sparks.
In this meditation we instead emphasize the phenomenal character of Metta as a way to develop it, establish it, and understand it deeply. For example, we discuss how one can use different varieties of attention in order to kindle this feeling. We also tune into one’s intentions and background mood in order to nudge the mind towards Metta. More so, we carefully study how technical phenomenological features such as rhythm, wave envelope, and energy affect the quality and intensity of Metta.
May this meditation be of benefit to sentient beings!
It is often said that one of the most important meditative skills that one can cultivate is the practice of *letting go*. This means letting go of attachments, of cravings, of a sense of identity, and the need for things to be anything other than what they are. However, in practice doing this is more difficult than it sounds; we have a habit of holding tight to much more than we require for optimal wellbeing.
This guided meditation emphasizes two key aspects of letting go. Namely, (1) tactical methods for letting go, such as the judicious use of unusual varieties of attention, higher order equanimity, imaginal practices, and precise technique (such as rhythm and timing). And (2) the fact that letting go can be practiced in much deeper ways and with a much wider scope than is usually realized. In particular, letting go can take place in the visual, tactile, auditory domains, in addition to the spacious, cognitive, spiritual, and intuitive levels of the mind.
We conclude this meditation by listening to meditative music with the goal of experiencing it with complete equanimity and acceptance and putting our letting go techniques to practice.
Goldilocks Zone of Oneness
In this guided meditation, we delve into the phenomenology of various conceptions of personal identity. Specifically, we observe the experiential nuances of believing that we are individual souls (Closed Individualism), that we are a single universal consciousness (Open Individualism), that we represent ephemeral moments of experience (Empty Individualism), and that we encompass all these identities concurrently (Goldilocks Zone of Oneness).
As with the “The Phenomenology of Ontology” meditation, our objective here is to discern the qualities of experience that shape a specific worldview. In essence, the phenomenology of personal identity is a pivotal subject for any holistic consciousness research initiative, regardless of the metaphysical veracity of these perspectives. The capacity of these conceptions to modify experiential attributes—such as refining internal boundaries or amplifying the choppiness of sensations—underscores the importance of this topic for both phenomenological and scientific exploration.
More so, many exotic states of consciousness involve implicit alterations to our conceptions of personal identity. Therefore knowing how to detect the experiential features that make these beliefs feel more or less plausible is essential to successfully navigate exotic states of consciousness without compromising one’s epistemology.
In this meditation, Roger Thisdell guides us in a meditation of somatic scanning up and down the body using concurrent waves of awareness that pass through one another. We are trying to balance both the sense of grounding, stability with the sense of wakeful, levity.
By the end of the meditation, the goal is to isolate and metacognize the sense of ‘becoming’ within experience, and notice that this signal is always presenting itself. We may question, if everything seems like it’s always ‘becoming’ (but never fully become), then what significance does this have with the goal of trying to have ‘arrived’ somewhere?
For more guided meditations by Roger, check out his Patreon page where he releases a new guided meditation, on a variety of techniques, every week: https://www.patreon.com/rogerthis
Don’t Pay Attention
Normally in meditation we are focused on what IS in experience, but to be able to notice the absence of phenomena is key as well! Where there once were qualia, now there aren’t – what does that reveal to us about their nature?
Roger Thisdell guides a meditation starting with a taste session on the major ingredients which make up our experience. Then after paying attention to these components, we deliberately try to not pay attention to them. What we find is the move to let go of paying attention to anything is a universal move – no matter the object of attention – how convenient!
The ability to take attention off of more and more aspects of experience is an essential skill which eventually culminates in the ability to not pay attention to time, space and consciousness, resulting in cessation.
For more guided meditations by Roger, check out his Patreon page where he releases a new guided meditation, on a variety of techniques, every week: https://www.patreon.com/rogerthis
Co-Arising Expansion and Contraction
Expansion and contraction are the subtlest distinguishing features of experience. This meditation on expansion and contraction, given by Roger Thisdell, is a guide for finding and synchronizing to the oscillatory nature of experience at different levels, and then realising the co-dependence on one another in order to exist. Where there is expansion there is contraction and vice versa. By having sufficient energy in the mind and being able to widen the ‘aperture’ of our present moment perception it is possible to notice contraction within attention, and expansion within awareness (and vice versa) at the same time!
For more guided meditations by Roger, check out his Patreon page where he releases a new guided meditation, on a variety of techniques, every week: https://www.patreon.com/rogerthis
A Clap of Thunder
In this guided meditation, our invited facilitator, Wystan, leads participants through meticulous body scanning techniques designed to cultivate an acute consciousness of the immediate present. Transitioning seamlessly from body scanning to methods of introspection, and further incorporating the nuanced technique of finger-following to “spread out the vision”, Wystan imparts a spectrum of methodologies that promise to augment the meditative practice of individuals across all levels of expertise.
This meditation explores the phenomenology of absorption into Platonic objects. We delve into what it feels like to imagine, embody, and generate the sense of knowing of classic geometric and mathematical constructs.
One of the main takeaways from this meditation is that we can attune to the difference between (1) how we render a particular instance of a Platonic object and (2) the sense of knowing and existence of that object that arises as we do so.
That is, (1) emphasizes the specific point of view from which a Platonic object (say, a cube) can be apprehended. Each point of view gives rise to, in a way, a completely different experience (cf. Borges’ Funes the Memorious). Namely, the experience of rendering such an object from that particular point of view, with all of the sensory and qualitative features that come along with it. In contrast (2) points to that which remains the same across all of these points of view. Namely, the ways in which holding these objects in one’s attention keeps aspects of our experience invariant (such as the intuitions and resonances that come with each particular Platonic object).
In addition, we also explore how the geometry of attention affects one’s valence and sense of ease, with the goal of naturalizing “Sacred Geometry” for the cultivation of Qualia Mastery.
There are many spiritual and yogic practices that utilize “elemental” objects of meditation. For example, the guided meditation by Michael Taft called “Five Elements Meditation” (link below) centers the mind around mental formations evocative of earth, water, fire, air, and space.
Alas, it is natural to be skeptical of the value of these practices on the basis that science has shown that the universe is made up of particles, forces, and fields, and not the traditional elements of ancient ontologies.
Nevertheless, within the paradigm of Qualia Mastery in meditation, we affirm the significance of specific states of consciousness, irrespective of the techniques used to induce them. Adhering rigidly to a modern scientific worldview might, in fact, impede one’s engagement with such meditative practices. Engaging fully with a meditation that posits, for instance, fire as a fundamental entity, can often yield richer results when one genuinely subscribes to the idea. Continual internal rebuttals, such as “fire isn’t foundational; electrons are!” can inhibit deep immersion into these states.
So how can we rescue what is valuable from this style of meditation without having to buy into an implicit “elemental ontology”? Here is where the relevance of “self-organizing principles” comes into play. Namely, where we realize that the nervous system is capable of instantiating a cornucopia of diverse self-organizing principles that are used to render one’s inner world-simulation. Thus, when you imagine and embody “the element of fire” you are, in a way, instantiating a collection of self-organizing principles that roughly emulate the behavior of fire.
Therefore, we can use a more generalized conception of “elemental meditation” as a window into these self-organizing principles. This is what this meditation does.
PLUS FOUR, n. (++++) A rare and precious transcendental state, which has been called a “peak experience,” a “religious experience,” “divine transformation,” a “state of Samadhi” and many other names in other cultures. It is not connected to the +1, +2, and +3 of the measuring of a drug’s intensity. It is a state of bliss, a participation mystique, a connectedness with both the interior and exterior universes, which has come about after the ingestion of a psychedelic drug, but which is not necessarily repeatable with a subsequent ingestion of that same drug. If a drug (or technique or process) were ever to be discovered which would consistently produce a plus four experience in all human beings, it is conceivable that it would signal the ultimate evolution, and perhaps the end, of the human experiment.
— Alexander Shulgin, PIHKAL, pages 963–965
In this post and accompanying video we provide a general “theory of candy flipping” that aims to explain why LSD + MDMA is so synergistic. What makes, say 200 micrograms of LSD and 150mg of MDMA so prone to be spiritual, psychologically healing, and loving? To get there, we address the following three/four questions:
How do we improve research on candy flipping?
How do we optimize candy flipping proper? And how do we generalize candy flipping for even better results?
What would a general recipe for Shulgin’s ++++ be?
1- We go over current methodologies used to study candy flipping and why their results are limited (Straumann et al., 2023). Then we explain how a “think tank” approach (e.g. phenomenology club) allows us to create more phenomenologically grounded research paradigms (Gómez-Emilsson, 2021). By weighting in the personal experience of highly precise psychonauts with skills in areas like physics, math, visual art, and signal processing, we can arrive at mechanistic models such as those proposed by Steven Lehar in The Grand Illusion (Lehar, 2010) where MDMA causes your world simulation to vibrate in pleasant ways, which in turn “smooths out the rough edges” of the LSD state, or models involving algorithmic-level annealing dynamics (Gomez-Emilsson, 2016; Johnson, 2019; Gómez-Emilsson 2021, 2023). This kind of approach would add phase diagrams, wave mechanics, and nonlinear effects into the picture.
2- Optimizing candy flipping can be done by looking to generate the kind of synergy MDMA + LSD achieve in the best of conditions. Of note, trip reports involving low doses of each together with 2C-B and cannabis are discussed and analyzed. One needs to be mindful of annealing dynamics, drug effect arcs including how to handle the MDMA comedown, and pattern-focused readings of wave effects that for lack of a better metaphor could be catalogued as “qualia lensing“.
3- We hypothesize that the key ingredients to catalyze the blissful nondual awareness that comes from high-end candy flipping are (a) a full-spectrum energizer, (b) something that increases interconnectivity, and (c) a deeply relaxing agent. The combination of these three elements gives rise to a highly-nonlinear effect I call “FU§ION (Field Unification Search/Simplify in Invariant Optical Networks; to be fully unpacked at a later date), where all of the “resonant cavities” are fully relaxed, have a high degree of impedance matching between them, and are energized, so that they kick-start a “field harmonization” process that culminates in profound blissful nondual awareness. The energizer shouldn’t be narrow spectrum (like cocaine) and the relaxing agent shouldn’t be too blunting or non-Newtonian (like opioids). Examples of each:
Combine one of each, carefully dosed, and according to this theory, you might get a ++++. (Please exercise caution when mixing substances – the rule of thumb is to not do it).
Note: 5-MeO-DMT might, in this model, be actually doing all three at once. It happens to be hitting receptors in the right combination for such a deep mystical “relaxed stimulation” to take hold. That said, it is possible that 5-MeO-DMT also has some rough edges, and that it can be further optimized (e.g. such as by combining it with nitrous). More research is needed 🙂
Example Formula: 15mg 2C-B, then an hour later 2g of GHB, and then an hour later DMT (100mg over the course of 2 hours) was reported as a ++++ by a trusted psychonaut recently (comparable in “depth” to 5-MeO-DMT). Please be careful – I am not encouraging anyone to try this. But if you do, or have done something similar, I’d be grateful if you let me know what happened. 🙂
Gómez-Emilsson, A. (2023), Neural Field Annealing and Psychedelic Thermodynamics presentation at PhilaDelic 2023. Retreieved from https://youtu.be/pM9k1I3VPOg
Straumann, I., Ley, L., Holze, F. et al. Acute effects of MDMA and LSD co-administration in a double-blind placebo-controlled study in healthy participants. Neuropsychopharmacol. (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-023-01609-0
In this video we discuss possible meaningful, novel, and non-trivial parallels between something like the Manhattan Project and what we need to do to catalyze a positive breakthrough in our understanding of consciousness.
We cover how explosive lenses have a parallel in the “brain as a non-linear optical computer” paradigm developed at QRI. The short explanation is that the “index of refraction” for local field potentials (LFPs) can be modulated with drugs/interventions, and so in principle one can use varying concentrations of things like nitrous oxide, ketamine, and MDMA in order to focus waves of energy to catalyze precisely crafted phase transitions of consciousness.
There are also much more subtle parallels. Another one is how the development of the von Neumann computer architecture was a world-transforming significant outcome of the Manhattan Project. In the context of consciousness research, one could envision figuring out the “principles of qualia computing” that allows DMT entities to sample from a wide range of possible “mind designs” as an achievement of comparable significance. Arguably most DMT entities are “psychotic”, but some of them aren’t; the way they copy, mutate, differentiate, and analyze “qualia bundles” hints at a very general set of qualia computing building blocks for alternative qualia-based information processing pipelines. The successful Manhattan Project of Consciousness could in principle lead to a revolution on computing paradigms that generalize to qualia computing systems.
In contrast to the atomic bomb, the kind of “phase transition implosion” developed at the Manhattan Project of Consciousness would be deeply relaxing, rejuvenating, and capable of undoing years of trauma in seconds. Using as research leads “candy flipping done right” (usually with some 2C-B/2C-D/2C-C), 5-MeO-DMT, and LSD + nitrous oxide, one has in fact a lot of hints for how to produce instantly relaxing, deeply healing “waves of enlightened qualia”.
Importantly, the combination of Open Individualism and Valence Realism might catalyze a paradigm shift on how we approach the game theory of human collectives.
If it takes a bunch of geniuses in the desert to figure out how to optimize this effect, so be it. It would be a really worthwhile investment!
~Qualia of the Day: The Burning Man Collective Intelligence~
Robin Hanson explores whatever he finds intellectually stimulating with a chance of being neglected, significant, and tractable (he is a real EA at heart according to this characterization, which I think is true). One of the topics that he explores is that of aliens and UFOs. In this video we bring together three of his models about aliens along with DMT phenomenology and QRI insights about how the mind works.
QRI sees DMT entities as “subagents gone wild” (cf. Aligning DMT Entities: Shards, Shoggoths, and Waluigis). The mind wants to predict sensory stimuli, and to do this effectively it needs to model other agents around itself. It’s not unlike how GPT-4 spins up agents in order to make predictions. This model allows you to “align” them in various ways, so it is practical. But what if at least some of these “entity contacts” are actually real, not just hallucinations?
The relevant Hanson models here are: 1) Grabby Aliens, where it is predicted that aliens that decide to expand will reach us in approximately a billion years. 2) UFOs are trying to domesticate us by making credible displays of high status. And 3) world politics converge on a mega-coalition that needs to spend a lot of resources reducing internal friction. More so, we can infer that these aliens decided not to expand, possibly due to risks (Dark Forest, Scary Singularities, and Rebellion Potential).
Well, the most compelling aspect of DMT entities is the *quality* of their experience. Their “vibe” can melt your heart. That’s so difficult to fake that it is, in many ways, way more impressive to a human than any kind of fancy clothes, gadgets, or physics displays. It is also unlikely that DMT entities and UFOs would be unrelated if they are both “real”. They would paint together a picture of the wider (multi)verse.
Based on credible phenomenological reports the kind of entity that you encounter depends on the “level” you go to. But any contact above Waiting Room tends to be really compelling for vibe reasons. It is then hypothesized that these experiences are akin to UFO encounters: the entities are trying to impress us so that we eventually, voluntarily, go along with their agenda.
Further reports indicate that if you want to “join as a citizen of the inter dimensional medium” you need to go through some kind of “sensitivity training”. We can infer from first principles, thus, that the largest coalition in the galaxy actually spends a lot of resources in reducing internal friction. They have a culture of diversity and inclusivity because that’s necessary to maintain enough cohesion across the coalition to stably rule over large distances. In other words, Hanson’s models 1), 2) and 3) have direct relevance in the context of making sense of the vast ecosystem of DMT entities (to the extent that one takes their independent existence seriously).
I then go ahead and proclaim that, really, we shouldn’t be pro-aliens or anti-aliens, but merely commit to “Team Consciousness”. In other words, we *still* have no idea if the UFOs and DMT entities out there (assuming they are not just internal hallucinations) are tending towards Pure Replicators or if they tilt towards benefiting consciousness. Without more information, it would be highly foolish to commit one way or the other. So rather than aligning with or against aliens/DMT beings, I simply say that we should continue to cultivate Team Consciousness first and foremost and let the rest sit until we have more information.
It is important to note that this model would also predict that there are “rebels” out there. It would be conceivable, thus, that the “malignant” entities some people encounter (either on DMT or UFOs) are members of a rebel coalition that is trying to avoid assimilation into the “Galactic Federation”. Hence there really is a good reason to be cautious about “who you talk to” in these spaces.
~Qualia of the Day: Royal Copenhagen~ A high-entropy alloy of scent that combines facets of powdery, aldehydic, aromatic, sweet/floral, citrus, honey, wood, musk, and lavender. It is a bizarre art-house non-fragrance fragrance. It signals you’re in Team Alien.
It will take place on Friday the 23rd, from noon to 2PM, in front of “The Dancers”.
This is right outside the conference venue, on the side of Champa street.
Please feel free to come whether you’re attending Psychedelic Science or not, whether you identify as someone who is QRI-adjacent or not, and whether you agree with QRI ideas or not.
If you’re reading this, you and your friends are invited.
Address: 1185-1245 Champa St, Denver, CO 80204
See you there!
Ps. There is a good chance (*crossing fingers*) that we will get a space at the conference venue to project Psychedelic Cryptography videos. If this happens, it will probably take place sometime Thursday or Friday afternoon.
1) Explore the state-space of consciousness because you want to know it for yourself
2) Study it from many points of view because you want to understand it intellectually at a deep level
3) Intend to apply it for the benefit of all beings
I really like meditation, but I have never been a fan of not understanding how it works rationally. It seems to me that doing powerful things to your state of consciousness without having a good sense of what is going on can open you up to unfounded beliefs.
As I’ve gone deeper into meditation and energetic practices, though, I’ve come to realize that one can in fact make rational sense of what is happening. This guided meditation series condenses this knowledge into 9 sets of practices that have transparent and interpretable effects.
I go over the basics of how the mind works, with principles like what you pay attention to gets energized, energizing an internal representation highlights its resonant modes, sufficiently energized representations become plastic and malleable, and certain vibratory qualities feel better than others because they spread out stress more uniformly.
And then, with the basics covered, we go on to play and construct interesting states of mind, including heavenly realms of experience and computationally non-trivial mind acrobatics.
No magic needed; just curiosity and openness of being.
I hope you enjoy and learn from it! And also please feel encouraged to share feedback or reports of how it went for you.
The Varieties of Attention
This is a guided meditation provided by Andrés in order to enrich one’s conception of the nature of “attention”.
Attention is typically thought of as a fuzzy “spotlight” that redirects cognitive resources to a region of one’s experience. But this is just one of many varieties of attention. In fact, many changes to one’s state of consciousness have very little to do with changes to perceptual features like color, brightness, auditory pitch, tactile sensations, or the texture of thought. At times, one can tell that one’s state of consciousness has changed dramatically and yet it is very hard to pin-point exactly what that change consists of. In many of those cases, that’s because the change is primarily attentional. Thus, learning about alternative modes of attention is an important tool to enable higher quality phenomenological reports and replications. It has the added bonus that knowing a broad range of attentional modes can radically enhance one’s meditation practice.
Join us in this guided meditation to get acquainted with a much broader set of attentional modes.
In this guided meditation Andrés walks you through a variety of methods to modulate the “energy parameter” of experience. This is a building block for the framework of Neural Annealing in the nervous system, which explores how (suitably defined) energy impacts internal representations, facilitates solving constraint satisfaction problems, and has the potential to lead to sustainable high valence states of consciousness by reducing internal stress.
We explore energy sources such as (a) sensory input, (b) pleasure and pain, (c) attention, (d) and surprise. Additionally a wide range of techniques for how to build, manage, and skillfully deploy the energy are discussed and practiced.
In this guided meditation Andrés helps you explore the way in which attention constructs local binding connections between phenomenal features and how the flow of attention and awareness can be modeled with the graph algorithm called PageRank.
Review of the nature of attention: what you pay attention gets stronger, gets locally bound, and gets connected to what you were paying attention right before
Noticing local binding in See, Hear, Feel (inner & outer)
Cross-modal coupling: divide and conquer technique for preventing negative valence and a coherence technique to enhance positive valence
Oscillatory complementarity between awareness and attention
How objects of perception can play the role of witnesses and witnessed elements of a scene
Hybrid attentional modes
Chains of witnessing and Nth-order intentionality
PageRank of attention
Space witnessing space
These are all very helpful techniques and insights to practice and add to your Qualia Mastery Toolkit.
The Thermodynamics of Consciousness and the Ecosystem of Agents
In this guided meditation Andrés walks you through QRI’s recent work on:
The Thermodynamics of Consciousness: how energy flows from energy sources (sensory stimulation, valence, attention, surprise, and the background noise signature) towards the bound field of consciousness, which is then shaped via the energy sink landscape of symmetry and recognition, and then exit via motor action or “outer field radiation”.
The Ecosystem of Agents: our minds work somewhat similar to a next-token prediction engine like GPT-4, where the existing constraints help resolve the ambiguity of the regions of experience which remain amorphous. In order to make accurate predictions of the world, we need to actually simulate agentive behavior (because the world of full of agents). To do this we create “subagents” that play the role of agentive forces so that we can predict them (and ultimately remain safe).
The meditation also walks through a series of strategies for dealing with subagents in order to harmonize them and experience a healthy and wholesome ecosystem of friendly subagents that help each other in beautiful ways:
Improve the training data
Practice the meditation where you guide lost subagents to a pool of love that re-absorbs them
Good vibes as base: your mood provides the evolutionary selection pressures for agentive forces, so cultivating beautiful mindsets will enable more friendly agents to arise
More Dakka on equanimity and metta
Reward clean intentions before flattery (there’s a vibe to transparent intentions)
Explore different network structures for agents that are more easily manageable
High-Valence Calisthenics – Exploring the Heaven Worlds
In this guided meditation Andrés walks you through a wide range of possible high-valence states of consciousness, aka. phenomenal “heaven worlds”.
Calisthenics are exercises that you can perform with minimal equipment and that are intended to exercise every muscle group in the body. Now what would it mean to do “meditation calisthenics”? Well, that you exercise every kind of meditative approach in order to keep all of your “meditation muscles” fit. More specifically, “high-valence calisthenics” would be the practice of engaging with every kind of positive valence state of consciousness achievable without the aid of external aids (whether chemical, sensorial, or situational).
In this guided meditation we go through the high-valence configurations of “see, hear, feel” (inner & outer), artistic states of consciousness, social mindsets, metta, “cosmic party mode”, the worlds of insight, intellectual understanding, realization, and the modes of being of refined and purified high-valence (Jhanas).
We conclude by dedicating these beautiful qualities of the mind for the benefit of all beings.
“Calisthenics (American English) or callisthenics (British English) (/ˌkælɪsˈθɛnɪks/) is a form of strength training consisting of a variety of movements that exercise large muscle groups (gross motor movements), such as standing, grasping, pushing, etc. These exercises are often performed rhythmically and with minimal equipment, as bodyweight exercises. They are intended to increase strength, fitness, and flexibility, through movements such as pulling, pushing, bending, jumping, or swinging, using one’s body weight for resistance in pull-ups, push-ups, squats, etc. Calisthenics can provide the benefits of muscular and aerobic conditioning, in addition to improving psychomotor skills such as balance, agility, and coordination.” (source)
Divine Qualia – Open Sourcing God
Without making any ontological, philosophical, or metaphysical assertions or assumptions, we point out that the phenomenology of the divine and in particular the concept of “God” has an important resonance for the human soul. Therefore exploring this phenomenology is essential for a complete direct understanding of consciousness.
In this guided meditation Andrés walks you through an exploration of the phenomenology of different conceptions of the divine. The key guiding question for this exploration is: what does it feel like to inhabit the phenomenal world in which God is conceived in this or that way? Rather than pursuing a specific conception, we instead engage in an open ended exploration of the divine for the sake of developing Qualia Mastery. We call this approach “Open Sourcing God”, where one is not dependent on other’s interpretations or rules to access the God of one’s own understanding.
Conceptions of the divine explored include Chaos, Ingroup, Hierarchy, Creator, The Law, Archetype, Replication, Dynamics, Life, Energy, Coincidence and Synchronicity, Love, Compassion, Witness, Consciousness, Awareness, Oneness, Axis of Annealing, and Valence.
In this guided meditation Andrés walks you through a series of exercises that illustrates harmonic resonance in the energy body and then channels excess energy into high-valence tactile sensations (cf. Piti), which can be a possible foundation practice for the 1st Jhana.
The meditation focuses on the inner and outer “feel” channels for (see, hear feel) X (inner, outer) as formulated by the “factorization of experience” introduced by Shinzen Young in his Unified Mindfulness framework. When necessary feel free to use the inner and outer “see” channel for support, but try to keep “feel” primary. We explore the following kinds of oscillations:
Toroidal flow (up, down, both at once)
Homogenous attention in space
Space qualities: solid, liquid, magnetic, viscosity, gaseous, plasma
Pleasure, joy, peace
Laminal flow and energy management techniques
It is recommended that one first listens to the guided meditations about Energy, Attention, and Valence of this Qualia Mastery series before doing this one.
In this guided meditation Andrés guides you through what believing in different ontologies feels like.
Without making any claim (implicit or otherwise) about the nature of reality, one can still explore the phenomenology of ontology. Namely, explore what it is like to inhabit a phenomenal word in which the building blocks of reality are rendered as being this or that.
At a very high level, one key insight is that one can notice how different facets of one’s experience reify, solidity, and rigidify an ontology. For example, this shows up in “dualism”. In this ontology, one posits that the universe has both matter and mind. This has the tendency to trigger the feeling of being encased or trapped in your body. But pay attention! If you notice carefully, you will realize that this is implemented with somatic feelings that rigidify the sense of being caged inside your body. This sense is, ultimately, a fabrication, rather than a realization. It’s just how the mind chooses to render that particular sense of reality.
Following this insight, we notice how there is a transmutation from the ontology one believes in, into a characteristic phenomenology of existence (and back). In fact, “the pain of dualism” is a feedback loop that involves somatic sensations, and not something intrinsic to a belief system. Similarly, every other ontology tends to trigger phenomenological feedback loops for its rendering. Pay attention! 🙂
The ontologies we explore in this meditation include:
(1) Dualism: Mind and matter. (2) Trinitarianism of matter, consciousness, and space. (3) Atomism – we know that science confirmed the ancient view of atomism, but notice how without some kind of holism/binding, only “mind dust” can exist. (4) Jain ontology (in which there are ~9 fundamental kinds of ontological building blocks of reality) – space, time, dynamism (movement and rest), atoms that can combine, the soul, and all kinds of “karma particles”. (5) Monism – It’s all qualia. It’s all awareness. It’s all information. It’s all algorithms or computation. It’s all belief. It’s all a social construction (cf. Strong Tlon Hypothesis) (6) Ontologies of infinities. (7) Ontologies of Zero. In particular, we zoom in on David Pearce’s Zero Ontology, in which the reason why there is something rather than nothing is that “zero information” is the case (and this implies the existence of all mutually-consistent universes of bound qualia).
This last ontology is particularly powerful: when explored deeply, it can trigger the “Rainbow God” phenomenology, where all of the flavors of qualia come together and “cancel each other out”. This is highly related to the phenomenology of 5-MeO-DMT as well as that of the formless Jhanas.
I am delighted to say that I will be delivering a workshop at Vibe Camp on Saturday the 17th of June:
Time: 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Location: Fire Circle
Title: Explore the State-Space of Consciousness with QRI – GET YOUR VIBE CAMP RECORDER (scent)
Description: Come to learn useful techniques to navigate the state-space of consciousness and pick up your VCR (Vibe Camp Recorder), a scent created in honor of this event, which will “record” this day forever in your memory. It is both pleasant and very distinctive, so that every time you smell it again you will vividly remember this day.
Talk Abstract: The paradigm of Neural Annealing developed at the Qualia Research Institute (QRI) by Andrés Gómez Emilsson and Michael E. Johnson has a lot of explanatory power in the context of meditation and exotic states of consciousness such as those induced by psychedelic agents. The theory posits that there is a sense in which each state of consciousness has an associated level of energy, that there are specific energy sinks and sources in the nervous system, and that internal representations can be modified (and indeed “internal stress” released) with an appropriate heating and cooling schedule (aka. neural annealing). More recently, the theory has been enriched with “non-linear wave computing“, which might be capable of formalizing the concept of a (phenomenal) “vibe” for internal representations. Of special interest for the scientific community studying psychedelics and meditation is the recent QRI model of Neural Field Annealing, which combines Hebbian learning with Neural Annealing in order to explain why “highly annealed brains” can instantiate harmonic field behavior (such as the Jhanas). In this talk Andrés will provide an overview of the theory, share empirical findings, and discuss its testability based on its unique predictions.
The boundary problem is related to the binding problem, part of a family of puzzles and phenomenal experiences that theories of consciousness (ToC) must either explain or eliminate. By comparison with the phenomenal binding problem, the boundary problem has received very little scholarly attention since first framed in detail by Rosengard in 1998, despite discussion by Chalmers in his widely cited 2016 work on the combination problem. However, any ToC that addresses the binding problem must also address the boundary problem. The binding problem asks how a unified first person perspective (1PP) can bind experiences across multiple physically distinct activities, whether billions of individual neurons firing or some other underlying phenomenon. To a first approximation, the boundary problem asks why we experience hard boundaries around those unified 1PPs and why the boundaries operate at their apparent spatiotemporal scale. We review recent discussion of the boundary problem, identifying several promising avenues but none that yet address all aspects of the problem. We set out five specific boundary problems to aid precision in future efforts. We also examine electromagnetic (EM) field theories in detail, given their previous success with the binding problem, and introduce a feature with the necessary characteristics to address the boundary problem at a conceptual level. Topological segmentation can, in principle, create exactly the hard boundaries desired, enclosing holistic, frame-invariant units capable of effecting downward causality. The conclusion outlines a programme for testing this concept, describing how it might also differentiate between competing EM ToCs.
QRI’s Consciousness Art Contests: Immerse, Innovate, and Inspire
Congratulations to the winners of QRI’s Art Contests! (contest announcement). Many thanks to all of the participants! You guys did really great! We will share all of the submissions for which the artists gave us permission to post in the near future; and in my opinion, there were simply too many amazing submissions that didn’t get a prize. We asked the community for awesome content, and they delivered!
Psychedelic Epistemology: The Think Tank Approach
I want to express gratitude to the panel of judges who diligently worked to evaluate each of the submissions along key dimensions in agreement with the contest specifications. To provide a little background about the panel, I should mention that since early 2020 QRI has been periodically hosting a “Phenomenology Club” by invitation only which gathers top scientists, philosophers, artists, meditators, and psychonauts. We usually choose a particular topic to discuss (e.g. comparing specific kinds of pains or pleasures), or otherwise interview someone with extensive experience with a particular facet of consciousness. For example, we once interviewed three people all of whom have tried taking 5-MeO-DMT in high doses every day for at least a month (i.e. Leo Gura isn’t the only one who has done this!). Really, we are able to do this because QRI has functioned as a beacon to attract highly experienced rational psychonauts and people seriously interested about the nature of consciousness since ~2017. It is out of this pool of world-class phenomenologists from which the panel of judges was formed. The panel includes people who have had over 1,000 high-dose experiences with LSD, psilocybin, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, dissociatives, and a vast experience with meditative practices like the Jhanas and the process of insight. More so, in order to evaluate the PsyCrypto submission, some of the judges took psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca in a place where it is legal to do so. They all gathered to look at and discuss the submissions sober, then while on mushrooms, then sober again, then while on ayahuasca, and then sober again, and only then they were told about the “encryption key” the contestants submitted, and then they had yet another chance to look at them on either mushrooms or ayahuasca while knowing what it is that they were supposed to see. Most of the judges reported that the winning submissions did in fact work. So I am fairly confident that they do.
Similarly, for the Replications contest, the judges looked at the submissions before, during, and after mushrooms and ayahuasca so that they would have a very fresh impression of what these states are like in order to make accurate and technically precise judgements. Hence the detailed and object-level feedback for the top 10 submissions we were able to provide.
Importantly, at QRI we believe that this is the kind of “facing up to the empirical facts” of psychedelic states of consciousness that will actually advance the science of consciousness (aka. the “think tank approach“). This approach stands in stark contrast with, just to give an example: giving surveys to drug-naïve individuals (exclusion criteria incl. “lifetime prevalence of hallucinogens or MDMA use >20 times”) and having them blindly try either LSD or “candy flipping” [MDMA + LSD], a methodology that apparently allows you to conclude that MDMA doesn’t add anything noteworthy to the experience:
As a simple metaphor, imagine what would it take to make genuine progress in the science of electromagnetism. Would you approach the problem of figuring out how magnets work by putting people who have never seen magnets in a room to play with them for a few minutes and then asking them to fill out a questionnaire about their experience? Or… would it perhaps be more fruitful to gather a team of top mathematicians and visual artists who are very experienced magnet-users and allow them to play with them in any way they want, talk extensively with one another, and generate models, predictions, and visualizations of the phenomenon at hand? Which approach do you think would have better chances of arriving at a derivation of Maxwell’s Equations?
Well, you probably know my answer to that question, as QRI is “Psychedelic Think Tank Approach Central”, and we are damn proud of it 🙂
It’s amazing to me how people feel, at times, in a hurry to try to explain away anything interesting involving psychedelics with catch-all ideas like “it’s just slower processing” or “it’s just the result of messing with feedback, nothing to see here” (cf. Need For Closure Scale).
The winners of the PsyCrypto contest used the lowest hanging fruit idea for how to do PsyCrypto. It’s amazing that it works, and it does show a computational advantage that isn’t present in normal states of consciousness. And this isn’t trivial! In fact tracers in general affect how you think at a deep level, allowing for thoughts and feelings that never overlap in everyday life to actually show up together in your experiential field at once. This lingering effect increases the internal cross-pollination of information categories in one’s mind. This allows you to make completely new connections in your mind; hooking tracers with field computing is computationally non-trivial. More on this later.
But… also there is a plethora of more sophisticated approaches. I won’t say much more right now, but essentially PsyCrypto can be done in entirely different ways than using tracers. This includes things like pareidolia, color gradients, and detection of movement. And it is these novel approaches that will show the even more interesting computational advantages to the state.
We ain’t seen nothing yet. We’re at the dawn of a new era 🙂
Now, in the wake of our announcement of the PsyCrypto winners, as I very much anticipated, I got an email from Vice:
I’m a science reporter for VICE. Great to be in touch.I’m reaching out about the results of the Qualia Research Institute’s Psychedelic Cryptography Contest, which is a story we’d love to share with our readers.
I was hoping you could answer a few questions about the contest. I wrote them out here in case it’s more convenient to respond over email, but I’m also available for a phone or Zoom call anytime before 3:30pm Eastern Daylight Time today if that works better. Thanks so much and hope to connect.
1. First, I’d love to know what inspired this contest. What are you and your colleagues at QRI hoping to learn and achieve with the Psychedelic Cryptography Contest?
2. On the page announcing the results, you note that “only three submissions seemed to have any promising psychedelic cryptography effects” and that “to decode these pieces you do require a substantial level of tracers.” Why were these three submissions so much more effective than the rest of entries to this contest? Were they the only ones to use the “first classic PsyCrypto encoding method” that is described in your recent blog post, or was there another reason they stood out from the rest?
3. You note that these PsyCrypto experiments can open up new avenues of research in the fields of neuroscience and consciousness. What are some of the open questions in these fields that you think PsyCrypto encoding could help to constrain or resolve?
4. Last, do you and your colleagues QRI have any plans to build on these findings about PsyCrypto with other future studies, contests, or related projects?
Much appreciated! Best, XXXX
Sent June 6 at 9:05 AM
And my response:
Awesome! Science reporter? It sounds like we’re getting an upgrade 🙂 QRI, that is. Mom, I’m on Vice!
Ok, forgive that. I’m just very stoked about the warm reception that PsyCrypto has been getting in the last couple of days. We made it into the front page of Hacker News and I’ve been receiving emails from neuroscientists and artists. […]. So I’m in a good mood 🙂
I’m more than happy to answer your questions here.
1. I first came up with the idea of PsyCrypto over 10 years ago, while in grad school. I was throwing into the air some spinning glow sticks in the darkness and noticing the patterns that would arise from their trajectory in space. I realized that the lighting conditions were ideal for me to actually make sense of their movement, and wondered if it would be in fact easier to see that path while on psychedelics, given their well-known tracer effects. I immediately coded up some experiments to hide letters using that idea and gave the code to some friends, who then reported some mild but noticeable improved ability to read them while on LSD. After that, I brainstormed a number of alternative encoding methods, coined the term Psychedelic Cryptography, and a couple of years later wrote the Qualia Computing article you saw.
Now, this didn’t happen in a vacuum. Already in 2011 I was a fan of David Pearce and his philosophy of mind (see physicalism.com). In essence, his view is that consciousness evolved because it has information processing advantages. In particular, phenomenal binding, he believes, is not a classical phenomenon. It is in fact enormously computationally beneficial, as we can learn from disorders of consciousness where binding partially breaks down.
So even then I was actively in the lookout for ways to demonstrate how consciousness actually confers an information processing advantage. And psychedelics, to me, felt like very fertile territory to explore this idea. In essence, people have reported all sorts of information processing benefits from psychedelics (e.g. the classic study of Harman and Fadiman of psychedelics for problem solving). But this is still controversial, so to me PsyCrypto is a way to show the undeniable benefits (and tradeoffs!) in terms of information processing that different states of consciousness confer.
The more PsyCrypto encoding schemes are identified and developed, the more this research direction is advanced. It is the emerging field of “Qualia Computing”. Namely, the study of the ways in which consciousness is computationally non-trivial. 🙂
We believe that the contest furthers this mission, and that opening up the project to a broader audience, with prizes and recognition for winning, can drastically accelerate this research direction.
2. The top three submissions were the only ones that worked at all according to our team of expect phenomenologists. They tried really, really hard to find messages in every submission while on mushrooms and ayahuasca (at places where these substances are perfectly legal) and none of the other submissions had anything worth commenting on (sorry!). I think many people misunderstood the task, tried something random without checking if it works first, or simply crossed their fingers and hoped.that their images would look different enough on psychedelics to contain new and meaningful information. But alas, no. Only the three winners had anything resembling PsyCrypto in them. And to top it off, they were also very aesthetically pleasing. So they are, in my mind, real rockstars 🙂
I do expect a dramatic improvement in the quality of submissions next time we run this contest, though.
Very importantly, based on recent work at QRI, I am convinced that there are at least 3-4 completely new and mind-blowing ways to achieve PsyCrypto that do not use tracers at all. The tracers are, in a way, the trivial case. The new PsyCrypto encoding schemes are… Far more surprising and non-trivial. We will publish more information about them in the near future.
3. Yes, absolutely. In essence, I believe that novel PsyCrypto encoding schemes are a window into the actual information processing algorithms of the visual system. At the risk of sounding fringe, I am not impressed with the current mainstream neuroscience models of how psychedelics work or how they alter visual perception. Yes, one can see tunnels and 2D symmetrical tessellations while on psychedelics. But actually… One can *also* experience hyperbolic honeycombs, 4D projective transformations, and fast spatiotemporal Fourier transforms of non-linear resonance. I am sorry, but no current neuroscientific theory *predicts* this. So we are currently in what David Pearce calls the pre-Galilean era for theories of consciousness. Like the (apocryphal) story of the priests not wanting to look through the telescope of Galileo because “the Bible already tells you the truth about the heavens”, similarly right now most theories of how the visual system work are not taking into account the facts of what happens on, say, DMT. Don’t ever let the theory dictate the facts! Instead, let the facts dictate the theory (see: my presentation about psychedelic epistemology).
Therefore we think that by developing encryption schemes that use *phenomenological facts* such as hyperbolic geometry on DMT (https://youtu.be/loCBvaj4eSg) we will radically transform the conversation about how consciousness works and what its information processing properties are. Once you show that those geometries can be used for information processing, and that humans in the right state of consciousness display such advantages, then it becomes undeniable that they are in fact using such exotic geometry for computation. I believe this will set the trajectory of the history of consciousness in very unexpected ways. Indeed, superintelligence won’t be achieved with AI, but with consciousness engineering.
4. Yes. Now, please note that PsyCrypto and in fact psychedelic phenomenology research is only a part of what the Qualia Research Institute does. We have serious work in philosophy of mind, ethics, valence, neurotechnology, and neuroscience, to name a few. We are extremely prolific given our shoestring budget, tiny number of members, and relatively low profile in academia. But I am confident that as we keep producing world class outputs in all of these fields, QRI will become far more influential and mainstream 🙂
Ultimately, my mission is to prevent all future suffering (see my TEDx talk) and figure out how to enable all sentient beings to experience long-term sustainable blissful states at will. This mission is enormously ambitious, but hey, that’s what I want to do with this one life I have. And so is the mission of the other members of QRI. Let’s get to work! 🙂
Thank you! And please let me know if I can clarify anything.
Sent via email June 6 at 4:30PM
And given this, I really thought that the resulting Vice post was actually really stellar. Thank you! 🙂
We titled the series Qualia Mastery – Building Your Toolkit for Navigating the State-Space of Consciousness.
Qualia Mastery, a concept I introduced in a review of a Jhana meditation retreat, is, in a nutshell, the self-organizing vector that cultivates the tools and practices needed to achieve the following three goals:
1) Explore the state-space of consciousness because you want to know it for yourself
2) Study it from many points of view because you want to understand it intellectually at a deep level
3) Intend to apply it for the benefit of all beings
May this be of benefit to you and all sentient beings! And also, have fun!