I am keeping busy this summer. Proximally, I will be attending:
- Vibe Camp 2023 near Philadelphia and Baltimore, June 15-18
- Psychedelic Science 2023 (see my writeup about the 2017 edition) in Denver, Colorado, June 19-25
- PhilaDelic 2023 in Philadelphia, July 12-16
In other QRI news:
- Chris Percy and I just submitted our paper about the topological solution to the phenomenal binding/boundary problem. Here is the pre-print: Don’t forget the boundary problem! How EM field topology can address the overlooked cousin to the binding problem for consciousness. Please send us feedback! Especially looking for feedback from friendly physicists who “get” the phenomenal binding problem and want to get involved. (See also: The Slicing Problem, and The Heavy-Tailed Valence Hypothesis)
- The QRI’s Consciousness Art Contest was a huge success. Check out the winning submissions:
- We recently recorded a guided meditation series to help people investigate the nature of their minds and consciousness from the comfort of their own homes: Qualia Mastery – Building Your Toolkit for Navigating the State-Space of Consciousness (thank you Maggie for editing the audio!)
Let’s dig in!
Vibe Camp 2023
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.
Thank you Hunter for designing this sticker. cf. Scents by QRI.
Psychedelic Science 2023
I had an absolute blast at the 2017 edition of this conference, and I can’t agree with RCH any more: this year will be incredible.
I will be arriving on the 19th of June and staying until the 26th. If you see me, don’t be shy! Please say hi.
I will be delivering the following talk. Please come say hi!
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.
Relevant links: Overview of the Theory presented at The Stoa, Neural Annealing (Johnson, 2019), Application of the Theory for Healing Trauma (Gomez-Emilsson, 2021), and a fun video by Anders (RIP) and Maggie with a conceptual demonstration based on the harmonic modes of a cold-worked metal before and after undergoing annealing.
Also recent in this space:
- Carhart-Harris RL, Chandaria S, Erritzoe DE, Gazzaley A, Girn M, Kettner H, Mediano PAM, Nutt DJ, Rosas FE, Roseman L, Timmermann C, Weiss B, Zeifman RJ, Friston KJ. Canalization and plasticity in psychopathology. Neuropharmacology. 2023 Mar 15;226:109398. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2022.109398. Epub 2022 Dec 27. PMID: 36584883.
- Juliani, A., Safron, A., & Kanai, R. (2023, May 18). Deep CANALs: A Deep Learning Approach to Refining the Canalization Theory of Psychopathology. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/uxmz6
Solution to the Boundary Problem
The first time I discussed this approach to the boundary problem was for a presentation I was going to give at The Science of Consciousness 2020 (see: Qualia Computing at: TSC 2020, IPS 2020, unSCruz 2020, and Ephemerisle 2020). Alas, COVID happened. Now, thanks to the amazing Chris Percy, who joined QRI as a visiting scholar in 2022 and has been killing it as a collaborator, we have a thoroughly researched paper we can point to for this solution. Please send us feedback, cite it, and join the conversation. I believe this is one of the most significant contributions of QRI to philosophy of mind to date, and I hope high-quality engagement with it by physicists will only make it better. Thank you!
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:
Source: Acute effects of MDMA and LSD co-administration in a double-blind placebo-controlled study in healthy participants (2023, just published in Nature)
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 🙂
QRI in the Front Page of HackerNews
On HN’s top comments:
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 🙂
QRI in the Front Page of Vice.com
Some of you might have seen the recent coverage of the Qualia Research Institute by Vice (Silicon Valley’s Latest Fascination is Exploring ‘DMT Hyperspace’). I was contacted by the journalist, who saw my lecture on the Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences and wanted to learn more. We had really fruitful conversations and a couple of email exchanges. And content-wise, the article turned out pretty good. But I was a bit surprised that, at least on the surface, the article went for the “Silicon Valley people are funding this thing, I wonder why?” sort of angle – which of course, if you ask me, has close to zero chances of actually making sense of the QRI phenomenon. Instead, the sort of explanatory framework you will need to understand how QRI is even possible requires a more radical openness about the nature of reality, including the realization that consciousness having mathematical underpinnings has ethical implications, that good actors would be motivated to learn about such properties to reduce suffering, a conception of Open Individualism as a rationally defensible viewpoint smart people can hold in reflective equilibrium, and the existence of exotic states of consciousness of extreme computational and valence significance such as the phenomenology of “Rainbow God“. Ultimately, I am very grateful for the coverage (and of Vice’s coverage of psychedelics more broadly), and simply chalk up the angle the story took to the following:
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,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.
Infinite bliss!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! 🙂
Qualia Mastery Series
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!