Making Amazing Recreational Drug Cocktails

Californidine

Imagine that you were tasked with creating a molecule to represent the spirit of California. I think that I would just glue together two MDMA molecules and call it a day.

1200px-Californidine.svg

Californidine

It turns out Californidine is indeed a real molecule, named after the California Poppy. I am still wrapping my head around the fact that Californidine can be described as two MDMA molecules sharing the nitrogen atom and with the end of the carbon chain of each MDMA molecule bonded at the 2-position of the benzene ring of the other one (minus a hydrogen atom). Interestingly, this compound has no psychedelic or empathogenic action. At best, it can be described as a very mild and unreliable relaxing agent of “herbal strength” akin to the active ingredients of chamomile, valerian, or ashwagandha. So, joining two powerful heart-openers gives rise to a mild sleep-inducer? Perhaps this is a metaphor for something.

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Californidine and MDMA

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. While gluing together psychoactive molecules may not have a (cartoonishly) desirable additive effect, doing so does express the spirit of what I want to propose today. And that is the impulse to use a creative and fun approach to drug design, letting your imagination run wild to avoid prematurely discarding one’s crazy ideas.

Notable Leads for Great Drug Combos

Over the last 10 years I’ve read many (many!) trip reports and have talked to hundreds of experienced psychonauts (see also: r/replications). It is largely thanks to a subset of these psychonauts, which for lack of a better term could be described as the subset of rational psychonauts, that I’ve been able to assemble empirically testable models for psychedelic phenomenology (some examples: Algorithmic Reduction of Psychedelic States, Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences, Quantifying Bliss, How to Secretly Communicate with People on LSD, etc.). Although my focus has largely been on the effects of individual drugs, I’ve become very cognizant of the fact that drug combinations can produce effects not accessible with individual substances. In other words, when it comes to mixing psychoactive substances, the sum is more often than not different from the sum of its parts. Some of these effects seem extremely significant both from a scientific and a philosophical point of view.

But first, an important disclaimer: mixing drugs is dangerous and you should never do it unless you really know what you are doing. The pile of celebrity deaths caused by multiple drug intoxication is only scratching the surface. Indeed, there are many combinations of drugs that are deadly even when the individual drugs taken on their own are relatively safe. For example, while 5-MeO-DMT is relatively safe when vaporized (save for egregiously negligent uses of the drug and the occasional drowning in one’s own vomit), taking 5-MeO-DMT orally in combination with an MAOI leads to extremely toxic reactions, such as severe hypertensive symptoms, overheating, and serotonin syndrome. Don’t do it. As a very rough guide for how mixtures of psychoactives behave, study the chart below.

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Welcome to the practice of combining drugs. You may die. (source)

That said, just as drug combinations have a dangerous side, they also likely harbor hidden gems that are very safe, enjoyable, and mind-expanding in ways inaccessible via single drugs. As a general overview, some examples of the possible benefits of drug combinations include: (1) Enhanced euphoria, e.g. see speedball which is massively euphoric but also very dangerous, (2) reduced psychological discomfort (e.g. anxiolytics with psychedelics), (3) uniquely interesting effects, e.g. LSD + MDMA (see below), and (4) reduced physical side-effects and medical risks, e.g. calcium blockers to reduce MDMA neurotoxicity, 5HT2B antagonists to reduce cardiotoxicity of psychedelics, etc. as we’ll discuss. In addition, it is worth mentioning that from a therapeutic point of view, we also have the “more dakka effect“, where some conditions only respond to combining enough drugs (e.g. oncology). It’s possible chronic pain or severe depression may legitimately require multiple drugs to be adequately dealt with. Now let us examine in more detail some particularly interesting categories of drug combinations:

Psychedelics + Anxiolytics: According to many reports, phenibut in small doses seems to significantly reduce the anxiety that comes up on psychedelics. I am ambivalent about sharing this information given the fact that phenibut can become a huge problem for some people, but I think that on the whole it is wise for people to know that an over-the-counter “nootropic” can actually help avoid fear, discomfort, and panic attacks during a psychedelic experience.

Cannabis + Psychedelics: I generally find two kinds of psychedelic drug users. Those who cannot think of having a psychedelic trip without at some point smoking a joint, vaping, or eating a cannabis edible. And then those who would never dare to combine the two because they once had a terrifying experience with the combo. Interestingly, some of the people I’ve met over the years who seem to be able to easily handle massive doses of psychedelics (e.g. 500 micrograms of acid) respond terribly to weed, and especially badly if they are already tripping. Cannabis both modifies and potentiates psychedelic states of mind. It has a tendency to make the experience more conceptual rather than sensory or mystical. The combination also greatly increases the probability of getting stuck in time loops.

Empathogens + Psychedelics: One of the best descriptions of MDMA + LSD (also called candy-flipping) that I’ve found comes from Steven Lehar (emphasis added):

Under LSD and ecstasy I could see the flickering blur of visual generation most clearly. And I saw peculiar ornamental artifacts on all perceived objects, like a Fourier representation with the higher harmonics chopped off. LSD by itself creates sharply detailed ornamental artifactslike a transparent overlay of an ornamental lattice or filigree pattern superimposed on the visual scene, especially in darkness. Ecstasy smooths out those sharp edges and blurs them into a creamy smooth rolling experience. I would sometimes feel some part of my world suddenly bulging out to greater magnification, like a fish-eye lens distortion appearing randomly in space, stretching everything in that portion of space like a reflection in a funhouse mirror.

– Steven Lehar (The Phenomenal Character of LSD + MDMA)

Not everyone responds well to this combination, and given the nature of these substances, it seems likely that the dosages and the relative timing have a large influence on how the experience develops. I’ve heard three relatively “established” ways in which people use this combination. First, you have the school that says that you should take the MDMA at or slightly after the peak of the effects of LSD, that is 4-4:30h after taking it. The reasoning here is that you don’t want to be caught coming down from the MDMA while still having a long time to go on LSD since the acid could enhance the feelings of the comedown. The delayed gratification also pays-off by giving you several hours to face the problems you want to solve unaided and see how far you can get before the mood boost of MDMA gives you the determination to be contented with it.

The second school of thought about candy-flipping says that the biggest factor in how psychedelic experiences turn out is how they start. So what you want to do is take the MDMA 1 to 1:30 hours before the acid. This way, you only embark upon the inner journey when you are already in a really, really good chill state of mind. Some people report that the acid picks up the empathogenic quality of the state, amplifies it, and carries it on for much longer than if you had only taken MDMA alone.

There are many proponents and detractors to both of these schools. What I’ve seen more or less everyone agree on is to avoid taking substantial doses of LSD and MDMA (e.g. 200micrograms LSD + 120mg MDMA) at the same time. Apparently this is simply just too overwhelming and synergistic to be enjoyable, often causing a lot of nausea and palpitations.

The third school, however, is to take only a small dose of both at the same time. Say, 35micrograms LSD and 35mg MDMA. This apparently is an extremely positive combination. The experience is not mild due to the synergy, and it seems to provide an open, creative, level-headed mindset for many hours without much of a comedown or hangover. As with everything here, your mileage may vary.

Psychedelics + Dissociatives: Psychedelics and dissociatives have profound non-linear mixing effects. According to multiple sources, the right combination of LSD, Ketamine, and THC can give rise to a “free-wheeling hallucination“. This is a state of consciousness in which you gain a great degree of conscious control over the contents of the hallucinated world, so that you can project your will by saying “let there be a chair in front of me” and you will see it manifest in exquisite detail. You can rotate, translate, invert, fibrate, and project the chair in any way you want, as if you were now able to use your brain as a very general game engine of consciousness. That said, even when this doesn’t happen, the combination of psychedelics and dissociatives is ridiculously synergistic. People report getting stuck in extremely energetic time-loops akin to those caused by psychedelics and cannabis, but more powerful (cf. trip report of DMT + nitrous oxide). Steven Lehar calls the effect where the presence of a psychedelic changes the quality of a dissociative as “dissociative coloring”. I’ve been amazed at the fact that there is no mistaking when someone has previously experienced LSD and nitrous together. You don’t get reactions like “it didn’t do much for me”. This combo usually has a special place in the memory of a person who has experienced it. Eyes brighten, curiosity sparks. I’ve been asked on multiple occasions “what do you think is going on with the strange synergy between LSD and nitrous?” Now, 5-MeO-DMT and DMT are very different, and the LSD + nitrous state seems to have some resemblance with the 5-MeO-DMT state. They share that strange feeling of becoming a kind of saturated resonance box. The feeling is one of becoming a vessel full of coordinated and coherent vibrations that unearth and dissolve internal boundaries and blockages. The process inherently blocks your ability to conceptualize in a dualistic way. The cognitive content of the state is better captured by a huge blinking sign that reads “THIS, THIS, THIS” on repeat rather than the more usual “that thing over there connected to this over here, modulated by what happens there” kind of cognitive state we are more familiar with. DMT on its own is very different than this, in that the mental formations and patterns of binding that emerge are extremely specific, detailed, and irreducibly complex. Not so on the upper ranges of the dissociative and psychedelic cocktail, where the resonance is profound and the asymmetries needed to store complex information are constantly smoothed out by the ongoing full-body bath of reverb. (cf. Neural Annealing).

Dissociatives + Empathogens: According to several trip reports and credible personal communications, taking ketamine while on MDMA can bring back “the magic” that one only ever experienced with MDMA the first few times using it. Also MDMA and nitrous have profound research-worthy synergy.

Potentiation: Shulgin reported that substances that don’t feel psychedelically active on their own may nonetheless potentiate the effects of other psychedelics. For instance:

(with 160 mg of MDPR followed at 2h by 100μg LSD) This proved to be almost too intoxicating, and a problem arose that had to have a solution. The entire research group was here, and all were following this same regimen. Two hours into the second half of the experiment a telephone call came that reminded me of a promise I had made to perform in a social afternoon with the viola in a string quartet. Why did I answer the phone? My entire experience was, over the course of about 20 minutes, pushed down to a fragile threshold, and I drove about 10 minutes to attend a swank afternoon event and played an early Beethoven and a middle Mozart with an untouched glass of expensive Merlot in front of me. I could always blame the booze. I declined the magnificent food spread, split, and returned to my own party. Safely home, and given 20 more minutes, I was back into a rolling +++ and I now know that the mind has a remarkable ability to control the particular place the psyche is in. 

(Entry on MDPR, from PIHKAL)

More common than the above, ayahuasca is intrinsically a drug combo primarily of the potentiation kind. As mentioned before, cannabis not only alters but also potentiates the effects of psychedelics. It is worth mentioning there is a community of people who believe that noopept (a cholinergic nootropic, see below) can potentiate MDMA. While there is some evidence that MDMA is itself mildly cholinergic– and thus provides a sense of mental clarity in addition to the loved-up feeling- too much cholinergic action tends to make people feel rigid, robotic, and hyper-cerebral. I am therefore personally skeptical of the benefits of combining something like noopept with MDMA, as the potentiation of some of its qualities may come at the cost of reduced emotional sensitivity. Why trade a feeling of renewed innocence and receptivity with calculating prowess? I doubt this is the best use of a roll.

Anti-tolerance Drugs: This is a category of combinations with tremendous potential to relieve suffering, to the extent that I think of it as a humanitarian tragedy that there are no concerted research efforts currently in this direction. Sufferers of chronic pain and treatment-resistance depression could make use of drugs that help them keep the tolerance to the drugs they depend upon for having a livable life under control. I know this has a lot of the ring of turtles all the way down (“when are you going to get the anti-tolerance drugs for anti-tolerance drugs? And then the anti-tolerance for anti-tolerance for…”) but I am sincere when I say that looking here may pay off in spades. Already we see ibogaine doing other-worldly magnificent things to cure addiction and reverse tolerance. Who knows what a large targeted research program with this focus may discover. Some examples of anti-tolerance drugs include proglumide, ibogaine, and black seed oil for opioids, and flumazenil for benzodiazepines.

Prevent Physical Side Effects: Epidemiological data suggests that chronic or heavy use of 5HT2B agonists may lead to heart valve disease (cf. Fen-Phen), which does not bode well for the long-term (as opposed to acute) safety of many psychedelic compounds. Now, neuroscientist Thomas Ray believes that 5HT2B may be necessary for some of the characteristic psychedelic action of entheogens, so blocking it altogether may come at the cost of eliminating the reason why the drug is interesting. That said, we do know that 5-MeO-DMT is profoundly psychedelic and yet has negligible 5HT2B activity. It would be very useful to know what happens when one combines psychedelics with heavy 5HT2B affinity, like 2C-B and DOB, with 5HT2B antagonists (usually prescription medicines). Would blocking 5HT2B agonism avoid cardiotoxicity? And what would the drug feel like then? Another interesting lead is the affinity of compounds like 2C-E and 2C-T-2 to the 5HT3 receptor, which is predominantly in the gut and modulates feelings like nausea. Additionally, since 5HT3 antagonists are antiemetic it really stands to reason that taking one before e.g. tripping on shrooms may give you a much less, ahem, visceral experience. Finally, I would like to explore the implications of the fact that of all of the compounds in Ray’s study the only one with significant affinity for calcium channels is MDMA. Would this be related to its neurotoxicity? And would taking a calcium channel blocker prevent it? It might still be wise regardless simply as a way to lessen the cardiac load of the compound.

Nootropic Stacks (cf. the Qualia Pill):  Many people who explore nootropics make “stacks”. That is, rather than taking only piracetam, they might take a combination of piracetam, aniracetam, pramiracetam, coluracetam, and l-tyrosine. I suspect that this is popular because most nootropics are pretty mild and often hard to notice, and people want to be able to feel the effects. I generally do not think this is sensible, though, as we don’t understand these substances well enough. More so, branded “nootropic stacks” can have upwards of 30 different psychoactive substances crammed together in half a dozen pills you are supposed to take daily. While I do think there are likely gems to be found in the vast combinatorial space of cognition-boosting chemicals, I simply do not see any way in which the current major brands of nootropic stacks could have done the type of research needed to find them. I therefore do not personally recommend you go out and try such combos, at least not until we know a lot more about how to do combinations properly. If you want to try nootropic stacks, I’d recommend you start with small doses of two or three well-researched nootropics at most and do your own research thoroughly before settling on a particular combination.

NO-MISMATCH-PATTERN

LSD + DMT Visual Replication

Psychedelics and Psychedelics: A classic psychedelic combo that I’ve heard a lot about is LSD + DMT. The state that emerges from this combination is apparently unique, though if you take enough DMT the LSD fades into the background. Apparently psychedelics tend to have a characteristic spectral effect on your brain’s harmonics (see: Connectome-Specific Harmonic Waves on LSD), which manifests in the form of experiencing “vibes of different frequencies” specific to the drug you are taking. The case of LSD and DMT is very interesting, since their characteristic frequencies are sufficiently far apart (to put a number on it, LSD may be in the vicinity of 18Hz while DMT may be close to 30Hz) that they can be separated easily. You thus get a spectral effect of two peaks interfering with one another, oftentimes creating a powerful 3D grid of Moiré patterns, like a super-charged version of the “regular” DMT Chrysanthemum. As a method for spectral analysis, studying the beat patterns of psychedelic drug combos could go a long way in formulating a systematic characterization of their phenomenology. Speculatively, this may even allow us to come up with specific psychedelic drug cocktails that produce maximally consonant harmonious effects.

Idiosyncratic Responses

A final thought to add to this section concerns the fact that people respond differently to drugs. One can reason that if drug A affects 20% of people in a different way while drug B affects 10% of people in a different way, that A + B would lead to 4 different kinds of responses. More so, the more drugs you pile on top of each other, the more specific and individualized the response would be. I think that this is likely true in the general case, but I would argue that it is not universally true. A useful analogy here is with the way people respond to the scent of different molecules: you may lack the gene that encodes the receptor for a particular molecule, but perfumes usually have 30 or more scent-contributing molecules, so the experience of a perfume may be more similar between people than their experience of individual molecules. At the extreme, we have the phenomenon of “white noise scent” where once you mix 40+ molecules in equal (intensity-adjusted) proportions that span scent-space, it all starts smelling the same. The notion of “scent entropy” can be imported to drugs as well: I would expect a kind of inverted U-curve for “how idiosyncratic” the responses to drug combinations are as a function of the total entropy of the combo.

Drug Cocktails From First Principles

The way we aim to understand psychoactive substances at the Qualia Research Institute is in terms of the way they modify the neuroacoustic profile of the brain. And while this is what I see as the most promising approach moving forward, I believe that there is nonetheless a lot of low-hanging fruit at the receptor level of analysis.

The first time I’d thought of trying to emulate the effects of a drug using a cocktail of other drugs came up years ago when I found out that MDMA is likely neurotoxic. At the time I thought perhaps it was just a matter of getting the right dopaminergic, serotonergic, and oxytocinergic activity going for you to replicate the MDMA high. It’s a good thought, and some people have taken it to heart, such as the creators of “Poly”, an MDMA-like cocktail (cf. Kisspeptine). But as we’ll see, MDMA is more complex than that, and we may need to consider far more variables to make a “credible MDMA substitute”.

Looking beyond drug combos of only two or three drugs, and with a nod to concepts from the field of high-entropy alloys (HEAs), we could start thinking about the secret gems to be found in the vast combinatorial space of “high-entropy drug combos”. But what kind of principles could we use to safely combine 5+ drugs? The full story will probably be much, much more complicated than the following approach, but it is still nonetheless worth exploring as a first pass. Namely, to break down each drug in terms of their receptor affinity profile and then use those affinities additively to create arbitrary “synthetic” receptor affinity profiles. There are many reasons why this might not work: receptor affinity may not work linearly or have a clear rule-based behavior. For instance, it is still unclear if a single drug that has affinity for key serotonin receptors (say 5HT2A, 5HT2B, and 5HT7) in addition to working as an NMDR antagonist would produce the same feeling of “synergistic action” as there is between psychedelics and dissociatives. More so, there could be additional intra-cellular signaling specific to each molecule, so that two molecules that work as agonists with the exact same 5HT2B affinity may have different downstream effects inside the neuron, and then those intracellular effects might have phenomenological properties of their own. But leaving all of those caveats and unknowns aside for a moment, what would it look like to create drug cocktails with this method?

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True for both people and drugs!

After giving it some thought I realized that the problem can be reduced to a non-negative least squares (NNLS) optimization (non-negative because, as they say: “you can always take more drugs, but you cannot take less drugs”). It turns out there are already open source implementations of algorithms that solve this optimization problem (for both R and Python)*. So I downloaded the data from the famous Thomas Ray study of psychedelic receptor affinity and played with the data and the non-negative least squares method in a Jupyter notebook for a bit. The first thing I tried was to create a compound like 2C-B but better. Under dubious- but not entirely random- assumptions, I set the desired receptor affinity to be that of 2C-B but with the following modifications: to have the 5HT2B affinity be as low as possible in order to minimize cardiotoxicity concerns, and borrow from MDMA’s unique profile the hypothesis that the Imidazoline receptor is related to heart-opening effects. Additionally, I modified the receptor profile so that the drug would give you more focus than 2C-B by having a higher affinity for the dopamine receptors. To top it off, I racked up the desired receptor affinity for 5HT7, as it has been implicated in providing the more utterly mind-blowing power of psychedelics. I entered these modifications into the NNLS optimizer and the output I got was**:

0.48*2C-B + 0.337*5-MeO-DMT + 0.116*MDMA + 0.043*cis-2a + 0.016*6-F-DMT + 0.005*Mescaline

I see, so since 2C-B is still the backbone of the desired affinity pattern, it appears in high proportion in the mixture as a kind of “base” on top of which the modifications are made. It makes sense that 5-MeO-DMT would come next as it is pretty selective for 5HT7 (remember, the most literally mind-blowing chemical), and MDMA would follow due to the desire for Imidazoline affinity. That by the way, is also probably partly why the formula contains a pinch of Mescaline, to round up that Imidazoline for good measure. I then decided to relax the 5HT7 requirement and instead increase the 5HT6 and 5HT5A, and got the following formula:

0.038*Lisuride + 0.273*2C-B + 0.056*DMT +0.079*Mescaline + 0.15*MDMA + 0.377*RR-2b + 0.018*Ibogaine

And this now looks pretty different. After playing like this for a while, it occurred to me to use this technique to basically try to reconstruct a drug using a non-negative linear combination of the remaining drugs available. Imagine for example that you are stuck in quarantine at your house and you don’t have any 2C-B to kill time (I know! Very relatable isn’t it?), but you do somehow happen to have an assortment of hundreds of other unscheduled random research chemicals. Could you combine them in such a way that you approximate the effects of 2C-B? Well, let’s see.

Here are the “drug reconstructions” the method derives (again, please, don’t try this at home):

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I am pleasantly surprised to see the formulas actually do seem pretty intuitive to me. Take for example the DIPT reconstruction. The top two ingredients are 5-MeO-DIPT and DPT, which are the two closest structural analogues of DIPT in the dataset. Or take the one for DOB: this is the amphetamine version of 2C-B, so it makes sense that both an amphetamine psychedelic (Aleph-2) and 2C-B would make up the top two ingredients. Or consider 5-MeO-DMT, with its most prominent ingredient being 5-MeO-TMT, which is one carbon atom away in terms of structure. Or see how Mescaline’s heart-opening effects are well represented by its reconstruction with MDMA and MDA, while TMA contributes the receptor affinity characteristic of the trimethoxy class of functional groups, along with another Mescaline-like phenethylamine, 4C-T-2. Alas, here is where an imperfect understanding of drug interactions could come and bite us in the ass: if 4C-T-2 is anything like 2C-T-2, it might have some MAOI action, which could be potentially very dangerous to combine with compounds like MDMA. Needless to say, before you go out and try these crazy drug cocktails, we first need a thorough understanding of each drug well beyond just its affinity to “only” 30 or so receptors.

Now, not every reconstruction makes sense to me, and really only a few substances have what I would call a descent mean squared error. See the receptor affinity tables below for examples of both successful and unsuccessful reconstructions (only non-zero entries shown):

DOB and 2C-T-2 have some of the lowest errors in the sample, meaning that their reconstructions are pretty good, while Ibogaine and MDMA have two of the worst error rates, and their reconstructions are still obviously pretty far from the goal. Naturally, if we were ever to test this method in the lab (with e.g. a drug discrimination paradigm) we would probably start with the most accurate reconstructions first. For instance, train rats to distinguish between 2C-B and DOB, and see if administering the (2C-B-containing) “DOB reconstruction” makes the rats think they got DOB rather than 2C-B.

Master Druggist (Synapse? Dendrite?)

I would like to conclude this essay with an interesting speculation: what if we developed drug combos like we develop perfumes? It is my appreciation that it takes a very high level of intelligence, domain expertise, and psychological robustness to be able to contribute usefully to the field of psychonautics. Sasha Shulgin spent over 30 years taking hundreds of completely new drugs, and I would very much trust his judgement about what makes a great psychedelic drug combo than I would trust a random BlueLight or Erowid user. (As an aside: Shulgin was extremely cautious in his approach, but he certainly wasn’t doing some of the low-hanging fruit on safety, such as wearing a heart monitor or measuring his blood pressure when taking a new drug, for starters. Future systematic psychonautic work should also record as much biometric data as is feasible). You wouldn’t put on a perfume made by someone who has only ever worn Axe, would you? Training a “Nose” takes up to 7 years, and it involves becoming deeply familiar with the scent of a long list of molecules, accords, and perfumes. Likewise, I’d expect that in order to be qualified to find extremely good drug combinations, one would first need to become familiar with the effect of many different individual drugs, “natural drug accords” (e.g. peyote), and designed drug cocktails. Only once you have an intuitive sense of how e.g. the sigma receptor interacts with the 5HT1A receptor would I trust your judgement about adding a pinch of agmatine to your already convoluted mixture of 20 psychoactive substances. A Super-Shulgin Academy could train people to be professional drug cocktail makers (if perfumers are called “Noses” would we call Super-Shulgin certified cocktail makers “Dendrites”?). As discussed above, this assumes that we can do this safely, which I suspect will be possible once we map out the space of dangerous combinations and receptors we shouldn’t mess with to avoid side effects like cardiotoxicity (e.g. 5HT2B, 5HT3A, calcium channels, etc.).

You come to the master cocktail designer with a general concept for a new recreational drug, and they would come up with activity profiles that best evoke those feelings. The Dendrite would select from hundreds or thousands*** of pure chemicals and accords to create your unique cocktail. As is the case with Noses in the perfume industry, a Dendrite would tend to have a set of about one to two hundred “frequently used” compounds, and a dozen or so “signature” ones they’re deeply familiar with and that usually reveal who the Druggist is, if found in large proportions in the end product. Of course there would be “house favorites” (e.g. the classic “ambroxan bomb” of Dior fragrances for men) and chemical fads (e.g. the wide adoption of Iso E Super in 90s perfumes). Every year would come with a new season of amazing, safe, and uniquely interesting recreational drug cocktails.

In perfumery you find both natural and synthetic “accords”: “Violet reconstructions” attempt to emulate the smell of violet but in a much more long-lasting, storable, and versatile way. Good Dendrites would not only use “natural accords” such as “peyote” or “marijuana plant” but would also make their own, aided with computer models and datasets of trip reports along with their own first person experiences. In both perfumery and professional drug cocktail making we would study accords packed with combos of qualia-triggering chemicals, and a Dendrite could be known not only for making good final products, but for making excellent accords with predictable and desirable effects.

To finalize the analogy (and this article) we could also discuss the way in which perfumes feel “broad spectrum” thanks to being constructed by combining “top, heart, and base notes”. Roughly speaking, top notes tend to “feel higher frequency” (such as citric scents) while base notes tend to “feel low frequency” (such as woody scents), not unlike how a symphony will tend to combine sounds across the spectrum. The most interesting, voluptuous, and commercially viable combos would also probably have a broad spectrum of activity. They would be anxiolytic, exciting, relaxing, trippy, and empathogenic to various degrees all at once. They would combine fast, slow, and spiritual euphoria in a single power punch of qualia cornucopia. As such, each drug cocktail made this way would entail an entire worldview – a whole realm currently hidden in the vast state-space of consciousness.



* For an intuition: recall from linear algebra that a basis of n linearly independent vectors span an n-dimensional vector space. When the vector that you are trying to reconstruct is not in the span of your basis, the best you can do is to project your vector to the nearest hyperplane of the spanning space. Adding the constraint that you can only make non-negative linear combinations with your basis vectors, you find that the span will look like an ‘inverted pyramid’, and the least-squares solution will be the point of that inverted pyramid that is closest to your desired vector. This is why most of the reconstructions only use a subset of the available drugs in the dataset. In most cases, the desired vector (i.e. affinity profile in this case) will be outside of the inverted pyramid of the non-negative span, and the closest hyperplane will be a linear combination of only a subset of the building blocks- those which span that particular hyperplane. I.e. the solution is the projection to the nearest hyperplane segment covering the non-negative span. This is what the NNLS method is doing under the hood.

** Note: It’s important to point out that these are not dosages. The coefficients provided by the non-negative least squares method apply to the normalized affinity “npKi“, which is the receptor affinity normalized by the highest affinity among the receptors. The coefficients will be correlated with “proportion of a standard active dose” but there will be an error caused by the pretty tricky confounder that molecules vary in their “breadth of affinity”. Additionally: the psychoactivity of each receptor is not the same, we are not considering saturation effects, the difference between partial and full agonists is not taken into account, downstream effects are ignored, etc. etc. Needless to say, there is still quite some work to be done to transform these coefficients into meaningful dosages.

*** List of Psychoactive Drugs a professional Dendrite would be expected to be familiar with:

L-Tyrosine, L-DOPA, Apomorphine, Flumazenil, CPZ, BPAP, PPAP, Cabergoline, DAR-0100, Lisuride, Pergolide, Pramipexole, Rotigotine, Biopterin, PLP, Aminepetine, PCP, Marijuana, Dextromethorphan, Isoflavones, Citicoline, Metadoxine, Arecoline, Niacinamide, Paraxanthine, a-GPC, Acetylcarnitine, AR-R17779, GTS-21, Ispronidine, PHA-543,613, SSR-180,711, WAY-317,538, Hopantenic Acid, IDRA-21, Propentofylline, PRL-8-53, Trytophan, Picamilon, Betahistine, A-349,821, Cipoxifan, Creatine, Mildronate, Pregnenolone, Nisoxetine, Orexin, CP-39,332, Esreboxetine, Daledalin, AM-1248, Phenoxybenzamine, Symbescaline, Phentolamine, Isomescaline, Tolazoline, a-Methylfentanyl, Ketamine, Dichlorpane, 3-meo-pcp, Hex-en, Paraflourofentanyl, 3-Methylfentanyl, Metofoline, Buscaline, O-DT, Nortilidine, Thiobuscaline, Dizocilpine, Rolicyclidine, Phenescaline, Tenocyclidine, Methoxyketamine, pFPP, 5-me-MDA, 4-MAR, 1,4-Butanediol, 2-Methyl-2-Butynol, GHV, GVL, Mebroqualone, Benzylbutylbarbituates, Phenmetrazine, 3-Fluorophenmetrazine, Crack, Cocaine, Coca, Kava, Phenylacetylindoles, Benzoylindoles, Napthoylindoles, Adamantoyindoles, Pineapple Sage, Kokum, Brahmi, Artic Weed, Skullcap, Salvia Splendens, Coriander, Rhodiola Rosea, Velvet Bean, Bitter Orange, St. John’s Worth, Grape Seed Extract, Tulsi, Blessed Thistle, 3-Desoxy-MDA, Skatole, Isoindole, Indole, Benztropine, Diphenhydramine, Niaprazin, Doxylamine, Alaproclate, Zopiclone, Ifoxetine, Methylmethaqualone, Panuramine, Meta-Tyramine, Para-Tyramine, 2M2B, Pirandamine, SB-649,915, Epinephrine, Mepyramine, Octopamin, Delucemine, Oxidopamine, β-Methylphenethylamine, Mesembrine, Psuedoephedrine, Etolorex, Cathine, Cathinone, Ethcathinone, Norfenfluramine, Fenfluramine, Phentermine, Metaescaline, n-Ethylbuphedrone, Naphyrone, Pyrovalerone, Isopropylamphertamine, Clobenzorex, Pholedrine, Chlorphentermine, Xylopropamine, DON, DOPR, TMA, Methyl-BOB, Tetramethoxyamphetamine, 4-MTA, Bromatane, Hydroxyzine, BNC-210, CL-218,872, L-838,417, SL-651,498, S32212, 6-CAT, TAP, ETAI, IMP, Lorxaserin, Cisapride, Tegaserod, AS-19, E-55888, LP-12, LP-44, LP-211, Etoperidone, Lorpiprazole, Lubazodone, Mepiperazole, 5-TASB, TB, 3-TE, 4-TE, 2-TIM, 3-TIM, 4-TIM, 3-TM, 4-TM, TMA, TMA-2, TMA-3, TMA-4, TMA-5, TMA-6, 3-TME, 4-TME, 5-TME, 2T-MMDA-3a, 4T-MMDA-2, TMPEA, 2-TOET, 5-TOET, 2-TOM, 5-TOM, TOMSO, TP, TRIS, 3-TSB, 4-TSB, 3-T-TRIS, 4-T-TRIS, 44-BMAR, 3-MOMC, Prolintane, SDB-001, AB-FUBINACA, Dichloromethylphenidate, AB-PINACA, MN-24, 5F-MN25, A-836,339, ADBICA, 5F-NNEI, RCS-4, RCS-8, MPHP, 6-APDB, 4-HMP, EDMA, a-PBP, Methylhexamine, a-PPP, 4-FMD, EIDA, Phenylphrine, UWA-101, MPBP, RH-34, F-2, F-22, MR-2096, Adrenochrome, AET, Carbogen, DOB, DOM, Desmorphine, Ethylcathinone, Ehylene, GHV, Hypocretin, mCPP, MDPR, Methaqualone, TFMPP, CPP, MeoPP, A2, Salvinorin A, Scoplamine, TMA-2, BDO, 2c-B-FLY, 4-Flouromethcathinone, 4-HO-MPT, U4EA, 4-MTA, Phenylpiracetam, Aniracetam, Coluracetam, Pramiracetam, Melatonin, NRG-3, Theobromine, A834-735, Oxytocin, NZT-48, Heroine, 3-HO-PCP, MAOIs, 4-MeO-PCP, 3c-P, 5-IAI, Atropine, 5-IT, Bufotenin, 5-MAPB, 4-Aco-MiPT, 6-MAPB, ALD-52, AMMI, MET, D2PM, DET, CBD, CBN, LY-2183240, SF-SDB-005, AM-404, EG-018, DXM, FDU-PB22, AL-LAD, 3-MeOMC, 2-MeO-Diphenidine, 4-MPD, bk-MDMA, 4-MeO-a-PVP, GHB, 4-MeO-PBP, MBDB, 4-MeO-PV9, Fentanyl, 4F-PV8, a-PBT, BDB, a-PVT, 2-FMA, Dibutylone, 5-Meo-DiPT, Diclofensine, Methcathinone, DL-4662, MDEA, MDPPP, Methylone, Butylone, NEB, Phenibut, PV-8, GABA, 25B-NBF, Etaqualone, 5-API, Ethylone, Pentadrone, 4F-PVP, 25C-NBF, BZ-6378, C30-NBOMe, RH-34, MDAT, MDMA, MDMAI, Dimethocaine, Synthacaine, 3β-FBT, 5-MeO-BFE, 3,4-DMMC, AM-1248, MTTA, AM-2233, URB-597, AM-694, AM-087, BAY-38-7271, AB-005, A-796260, URB-754, 2-DPMP, a-PVP, 25N-NBOMe, 5-MeO-NiPT, Dexmethylphenidate, Buphedrone, RTI-111, Pentylone, 25I-NBF, Flourotropacocaine, Flourococaine, Cocaethylene, 25D-NBOMe, 25E-NBOMe, DMT, 5-Meo-DMT, 2C-I, 2C-E, 25I-NBOMe, 25I-NBOH, 25C-NBOMe, MXE, MDA, MDE, Mescaline, Ibogaine, Bromo-DragonFLY, Salvinorum, RU-28306, 2NE1, Psilocybin, HOT-7, JWH-018, JWH-250, 5-Meo-EiPT, AM-2201, 5-APDI, BZP, BZ, 4-MEC, MDPV, Bakers Ammonia, THC, THCv, Chloral, Chlorabutynol, MT-45, 5-Methyl-Ethylone, Methylphenidate, Ethylphenidate, 6-APB, 5-APB, Muscimol, 5-MeO-MALT, AKB48, 3,4-CTMP, PB-22, Diphenidine, UR-144, Flubromazepam, HU-210, MPA, XLR-11, MN-18, Naltrexone, STS-135, Gabapentin, 5-MAPB, Nitrous, Etizolam, Mephedrone, Pyrazolam, Methedrone, AH-7921, Phenazepam, AMT, OxyNEO, DPT, 5-MeO-AET, 4-Aco-DMT, EAM-2201, 5-MeO-DALT, 5-MeO-AMT, Acefentanyl, Ehylphenidate, 4-HO-MiPT, THJ-2201, 5-APDB, 5-EAPB, 4-HO-DPT, DOC, bk-2c-B, Escaline, THJ-018, 4-HO-MET, 2-AI, 2-MeO-Ketamine, Methoxphenidine, Ketamine, 2c-EF, Methamphetamine, Dextroamphetamine, Nitracaine, DALT, IAP, 4-fa, 2-Me-DMT, 4-fcocaine, Isopropyl Nitrate, 5-MeO-TMT, Piracetam, Amatadine, Choline, Memantine, 5-HTP, Camfetamine, Methallyescaline, LSZ, LSA, NBOMe-Mescaline, Loperamide, LSB, 25P-NBOMe, 25G-NBOMe, 3-MeO-PCE, MAM-2201, PCP, MPTP, MDAI, DOI, BB-22, EA-3167, BDF, L-Theanine, Dimethylone, Hydrocodone, Codeine, Morphine, Dilaudid, Oxycontin, Alpralozam, Diazepam, Fentanyl, Soma, Suboxone, Marinol, Seroquell, Trazodone, Lithium Bicarbonate, Abilify, Methadone, Amitriptyline, Strattera, Chloral Hydrate, Bromazepam, Buperonorphrine, Bupropion, Chlordiazepoxide, Clonidine,Clonazepam, Cyclobenzaprine, Dramamine, Benadryl, Ethchlorvynol, Fluoxetine, Tianeptine, Amineptine, Flurazepam, Metaxalone, Mirtazapine, Nalaxone, Nimetazepam, Oxymorphone, Paroxetine, Zopidone, Pregabalin, Promethazine, Risperadone, Selegiline, Sertraline, Sumatripan, Tiagabine, Propofol, Propanolol, Tiletamine, Zolpidem, Lotus, Aloe, Datura, Calendula, Chacruna, Galangal, Chaliponga, Chamomile, Damiana, Fever Few, Nightshade, Ginseng, Foxglove, Lavender, Henbane, Mugwort, Hemlock, Monkshood, Dream Herb, Capsaicin, Amanita, Hawaiian Baby Woodrose, Ergot, Hops, Imphepho, Indian Warrior, Kanna, Dagga, Kratom, Mandrake, Valerian, Nicotiana Tobacum, Nicotiana Rustica, Mimosa Hostilis, Morning Glory, Nutmeg, Opium Lettuce, Poppy, Sinicuichi, Syrian Rue, Tree Tobacco, Wormwood, Yohimbe, Yopo, Khat, Peyote, Cannabis, Catnip, Phalaris, San Pedro, Soma (ancient), Chacruna, Acacia, Ephedra, Mulungu, Mullet Fish, Siganus Spinus, Fugu, Sting-ray Venom, Bufo Alvarius, Epipedobates Tricolor, Waxy Monkey Frog, Salamandra Salamandra, Cobra & Scorpion Venom, Reindeer Urine, Glomeris Marginata, Sergeant Major, Grouper, Bluefish, Brass Beam, Flathead Mullet, Golden Goatfish, Rabbit Fish, Goat Fish, Adrafinil, DHEA, Dilantin, DMAE, Fipexide, Gerovital, Ginko, Black seed oil, HGH, Hydeigine, Meclofenoxate, Modafinil, Oxiracetam, Phenyton, Vasopressin, Vinopocetine, Bee Venom, Monkey Frog, UCM-707, AM-1172, VDM-11, VDM-13, OMDM1, OMDM2, LY-2318912, O-2093, OL-135, URB-597, URB-532, AEM, AL, ALEPH, ALEPH-2, ALEPH-4, ALEPH-6, ALEPH-7, ARIANDE, ASB, B, BEATRICE, BIS-TOM, BOB, BOH, BOHD, BOM, 4-Br-3,5-DMA, 3-Br-4,5-MDA, 2C-B, 3C-BZ, 2C-C, 2C-D, 3C-E, 2C-F, 2C-G, 2C-G-3, 2C-G-4, 2C-G-5, 2C-G-N, 2C-H, 2C-N, 2C-O-4, 2C-P, CPM, 2C-SE, 2C-T, 2C-T-4, 2C-T-2, 2C-T-7, Ψ-2C-T-4, 2C-T-8, 2C-T-9, 2C-T-13, 2C-T-15, 2C-T-17, 2C-T-21, 4-D, β-D, DESOXY, 2,4-DMA, 2,5-DMA, 3,4-DMA, DMCPA, DMMDA, DMMDA-2, DMPEA, DOAM, DOBU, DOEF, DOET, Ψ-DOM, DON, DOPR, E, EEE, EEM, EME, EMM, ETHYL-J, ETHYL-K, FLEA, G-3, G-4, G-5, GANESHA, G-N, HOT-2, HOT-17, IDNNA, IM, IP, IRIS, J, LOPHOPHINE, M, 4-MA, MADAM-6, MAL, MDAL, MDBU, MDBZ, MDCPM, MDDM, MDHOET, MDIP, MDMC, MDMEO, MDMEOET, MDMP, MDOH, MDPEA, MDPH, MDPL, MDPR, ME, MEDA, MEE, MEM, MEPEA, META-DOB, META-DOT, METHYL-DMA, METHYL-DOB, METHYL-J, METHYL-K, METHYL-MA, METHYL-MMDA-2, MMDA, MMDA-2, MMDA-3a, MMDA-3b, MP, MME, MPM, ORTHO-DOT, P, PE, PEA, PROPYNYL, SB, TA, 3-TASB, 4-TASB, Tropane, Vomeronasal Organ, Tropine, Hyosyamin, Dihydrokavain, Hyoscine, Myrcene, Ecgonine, 7-OH-DPAT, Benzoylecgonine, Sunifiram, Hydroxytropacocaine, Estrogen, Methylegonine Cinnamate, Estradiol, Catuabines, Estratetraenol, Phenyltropane, Androstenone, Civetone, Adrostenol, 5F-PB-22, Androstadienone, CBG, THCa, CBC, CBDa, Anandamide, 2-AG, CBL, CBDv, CBCv, CBGv, CBGm, Ibogaine, Noribogaine, Tabernanthine, Coronaridine, Ibogamine, Vaocangine, 18-MC, 5-MeO-Alkyltryptamine, β-Carboline, Tryptoline, Pinoline, Harmane, Harmaline, Harmine, Harmalol, Harmalan, Harmanamide, Acetylnorhormine, Bufotenin Oxide, DMT-N-Oxide, 5-MeO-Tryptamine, 5-OH-DMT, 5-MeO-DMT-Oxide, 3,4-Dimethoxyphenylamine, 6-MeO-Harman, Anethole, Safrole, Estragole, Monolignol, Pukateine, Glaucine, THP, Nantenine, Thujone, Lagochilin, Nicotine, Carbachol, Methacholine, ME-18-MC, 18-MAC, Tryptamine, β-Methyl-Phenethylamine, NMT, Voacanga Africana, Vachellia Farnesiana, Duboisia Hopwood, Acacia Victoriae, Anadenanthera Penegrina, Phalaris Aquatica, Echinopsis Lageniformus, Cylindropuntia Echinocarpa, Leptactina Densiflora, Fennel, Justica Pectoralis, Lactucarium, Glacium Flavum, Zornia Latifolia, Argemone Mexicana, Silene Undulata, Catharanthus Roseus, Desfontainia, Heimia Salicifolia, Lophophora, Sea Urchin Eggs, Bethanechol, Muscarine, Pilocarpine, Oxotremorine, Aporphine, Leonurine, Bungacotoxin, Tetrodotoxin, Taurine, Opiod Peptide, Streamlined Spinefoot, Blue-Spotted Spinefoot, Dusky Spinefoot, Marbled Spinefoot, Little Spinefoot, Salema, Phyllomedusa, Blue Sea Chub, Brow Chub, Conuict Surgeonfish, Yellowstipe Goatfish, Finstripe Goatfish, Acute Jawed Mullet, Coral Grouper, Platypus Venom, Slow Ioris Venom, Pygmy Slow Ioris Venom, Giant Leaf Frog, Gluten Exorphin, Soymorphin-5, Dermophin, 7-PET, Dimethyliambutene, Proopiomelanocortin, β-Endorphine, Dynorphin, Adrenorphin, Salvinorin B Methoxymethyl ether, Amindophin, Enkephalins, Salvinorin B ethoxymethyl ether, Opiorphin, Herkinorin, RB-101, DPI-221, Spinorphin, Kelatorphan, Delta-Pheylalanine, Thiorphan, Tynorphin, Hemorphon-4, Valorphin, Casomorphin, Gliadorphin, Rubiscolin, Deltorphin, MG6, MT-45, Myrophine, Acetorphine, Acetylmorphone, Actiq, Benzethidine, BU-48, BRL-52537, Pethidine, Naloxol, Betacetylmethadol, Methorphan, Bezitramide, RAM-378, Bromadol, Eriadoline, BW373U86, Thebaine, C-8813, Menthol, 8-CAC, Capperidine, Matrine, Chloromorphide, a-Chlorocodide, HZ-2, Codeinone, LPK-26, Codoxime, AD-1211, Conorfone, DADLE, Butorphanol, DAMGO, Semorphone, Dextromoramide, Sutentanil, Diampromide, Zenazocine, Difenoxin, Thebacon, Dihydroetorphine, Tilidene, Dimenoxadol, Xorphanol, Dipipanone, Dipropanoylmorphine, Doxpicomine, DPI-3290, Drotebanol, Endomorphin, Eseroline, Ethoheptacine, 14-Ethoxymetopon, Ethylmorphine, Etorphine, Etoxerdine, Furethidine, Heterocodeine, RAM-320, IBNtxA, IC-26, 1-Iodomorphine, Isomethadone, Ketobemidone, Ketorfanol, Lefetamine, Levorphanol, Loperamide, Meprodine, Metofoline, Metopon, Morpheridine, Morphine-N-Oxide, Morphinone, MR-2096, Nicocodeine, Nicomorphine, Normethadone, Ocefentanyl, Ohmefentanyl, Oxpheneridine, Oxymorphazone, Oxymorphol, Oxymorphone, Pentamorphone, PEPAP, Pericine, Phenadoxone, Phenempromide, Phenazocine, Pheneridrine, Phenomorphan, Picenadol, Piminodine, Piritramide, Proclilidine, Prodine, Proheptazine, Properidine, Prosidol, R-30490, R-4066, Ro4-1539, RWJ-394674, Sameridine, SC-17599, Methyldesorphine, Hydroxypethidine, 4-Fluouropethidine, Cannabis Indica, Cannabis Sativa, Cubensis, Hash, BHO, Delta-9-THC, 25TFM-NBOMe, 2C-B-BZP, 2CBFLY-NBOMe, 2CD-5Et0, 5-I-R91150, A-372,159, 2-Bromo-LSD, a-5IA, PWZ-029, L-655,708, TB-21007, 5-Ethoxy-DMT, 5-Ethyl-DMT, 7,N,N-TMT, VER-3323, YM-348, Alnespirone, 8-OH-DPAT, Aminorex, Batoprazine, 5-BT, BIMU-8, BMY-14802, BRL-54443, BW-723C86, 5-CT, CGS-12066A, Cinitapride, CJ-033,466, CP-135,807, CP-809,101, CP-93,129, CP-94,253, N,a,-DEPEA, Dimemebfe, RA-7, E-6801, E-6837, Eltoprazine, Methylsulfonylmethane, EMD-386,088, EMDT, ST-1936, Fluprazine, Indorenate, Jimscaline, L-694,247, Lasmiditan, APD-356, MMDPEA, LY-293,284, LY-310,762, LSD-pip, LPD-824, LSM-775, 5-MT, MBZP, Methyl-MMDA-2, a-MS, MK-212, Mosapride, Org 12,962, Org 37,684, Quipazine, 6-Nitroquipazine, NBUMP, 1-NP, 5-(Nonyloxy)Tryptamine, PHA-57378, PNU-181731, PNU-22394, Propylhexedrine, Prucalopride, PRX-03140, Psilocin, RDS-127, RH-34, Ro60-0175, Ro60-0213, RS-56812, RS-67,333, RU-24,969, RU-28306, SKF-97,541, SR-57227, Tandospirone, Tegaserod, TFMFly, pTMFPP, U-92,016A, SCA-136, TD-5108, Vortionetine, WAY-161503, WAY-208,466, WAY-629, Xaliproden, YM-31636, Zacopride, A-423,579, A-84,543, Abercarnil, 5-Br-DMT, Sugar, Acetildenafil AMMI 4C-D, AS-8112, Astemizole, Asymbescaline, Azapride, BAY-38-7271, BAY-59-3074, BAY-60-6583, Benproperine, Benzylmorphine, Berberine, 2-Pyrrolidone, JBIR-03(1), 1′-O-Acetylpaxilline, Penijanthine A, Emindole DA (1), Petromindole, Emindole SA (2), JWH-133, Napthylmethylindoles, Napthyolpyrroles, Napthylideneindenes, Cyclohexylphenols, Indole-2-Carboxamides, C3 Amino-Indoles, Cymserine, Hodgkinsine, Physostigmine, Psychotridine, Psychotria Colrata, Yuremamine, Gevotroline, Latrepirdine, BMY-7,378, Boldine, BP-897, Brexpiprazole, 4-Bromo-3,5-Dimethoxyamphetamine, Bromopride, Caroverine, CGS-20625, Cinchocaine, DAA-1097, DAA-1106, DOTFM, DMPEA, DMCM, Dyclonine, Ethylvanilin, Evoxine, Furoquinoline Alkaloids, Gabazine, GBLD-345, Rapacuronium, Mivacurium Chloride, Cisatracurium Besilate, DTC, Cloroqualone, Diproqualone, Mecloqualone, Methylmethaqualone, Eszopiclone, TP-003, TP-13, TPA-023, Y-23684, Pagoclone, Pazinaclone, Suproclone, Suriclone, Zapiclone, CGS-9896, NS-2664, NS-2710, Pipequaline, RWJ-51204, SB-205,384, ELB-139, Acamprosate, GABOB, N4-Chloroacetylcytosine Arabinoside, (+)-CAMP, CACA, AZD-3355, 1,4-Butanediol, XP19986, Rosarin, Rosavarin, Atagabalin, Gabapentin Enacarbit, Hopantenic Acid, Imagabalin, 4-Methylpregabalin, PD-217,014, Afloqualone, Rocuronium Bromide, Vecuronium Bromide, Pipecuronium Bromide, Pancuronium Bromide, Amyl Nitrate, Atracurium Besilate, BWA444, Benzylisoqualone, Papaverine, Protopine, HS-342, HS-347, HS-310, Emylcamate, Eperisone, Febarbamate, Flavoxate, Inaperisone, Acamprosate, Progabide, Tiagabine, Lanperisone, Mephenesin, HS-692, HS-693, HS-704, HS-705, HS-626, Chlorzoxazone, Cisatracurium Besilate, Curare, Cyclobenzapine, Dantrolene, Decamethonium, Difebarbamate, Dihydrochanclonium, Doxacurium Chloride, Gallamine Triethiodide, Gantacurium Chloride, Hexafluronium Bromide, Meprobamate, Metaxalone, Methocarbamol, Norgesic, Orphenadrine, Pancuronium Bromide, Phenprobamate, Pipecuronium Bromide, Premazepam, Promoxolane, Quazepam, Rocuronium Bromide, Silperisone, Sulazepam, Suxamethonium Chloride, Suxethonium Chloride, Tetrabamate, Tizanidine, Tolperisone, Gigantine, BAY-73-6691, Indiplon, Nitrosoprodenafill, Zaleplon, Udenafil, Sulfoaildenafill, Sildenafil, Ocinaplon, Alpidem, Bamaluzole, DS-1, Fadrozole, Fazadinium Bromide, Imidazopyridine, Minodronic Acid, Bisphosphonate, Miroprofen, Necopidem, AL-LAD, DBT, a.O-DMS, 2,a-DMT, a,N-DMT, ETH-LAD, a-ET, 4-HO-DBT, 4-HO-pyr-T, MBT, 4,5-MDO-DIPT, 5,6-MDO-DIPT, 4,5-MDO-DMT, 5,6-MDO-DMT, 5,6-MDO-MIPT, 5,6-MeO-MIPT, 5-MeO-pyr-T, 5-MeO-NMT, 6-MeO-THH, 5-MeS-DMT, PRO-LAD, pyr-T, a,N,O-TMS, Olprinone, Telcagepant, Febrifugine, Halofuginone, MK-0249, LY-156,735, Ramelteon, Tasimelteon, SL-164, Quinazoline, Albaconazole, Altaserin, ATC-0175, Canertinib, Cediranib, Doxazosin, Fluproquazone, Gefitinib, Katanserin, Lapatinib, Agmatine, Amantadine, AP-7, AP5, Aptiganel, CGP-37849, 7-CTKA, DCKA, DXO, MK-801, SL-82.0715, Esketamine, Ethanol, NEFA, Besonprodil, Gacyclidine, Gavestinel, Huperzine A, Ifenprodil, Indantadol, Metaphit, Memantine, LY-235,959, Lubeluzole, Levomethadone, Kynuretic Acid, Midafotel, Neramexane, Nitromemantine, PEAQX, Perzinfotel, 8A-PHDQ, Remacemide, Rhynchophylline, Sabeluzole, Tiletamine, Tramadol, Xenon, Hydroxchloroquine, Antrafenine, Bedaquiline, GSK-299423, JTC-801, JTE-907, LGD-2226, PBT-2, PF-2545920, SB-215,505, SB-277,011-A, SB-742,457, BHF-177, BHFF, BSPP, Cartazolate, CGP-7930, Clomethiazole, Etazolate, Etomidate, Felbamate, Fospropofol, Gaboxadol, Glutethimide, GS-39783, Ibotenic Acid, ICI-190,622, Isoguracine, Isonipecotic Acid, Loreclezole, Methyprylone, Allopregnanolone, 5a-Dihydroprogesterone, Progesterone, THDOC, Alfadolone, Alfaxalone, Ganaxolone, Hydroxydione, Minaxolone, Org-20599, Pregnane, Piperadone, Propanidid, Propofol, Pyrithyldione, ROD-188, Stiripentol, Thiomuscimol, Thymol, Tybamate, QNB (BZ), Scopolamine, Midazolam, Sodium Pentathol, Amobarbital, Blue 88, Adinazolam, Alphenal, Bentazepam, Bromisoval, Camazepam, Carbromal, Centalun, Chloralodol, Chronobiotic, Cinolazepam, Clorazepate, Cloxazolam, Cyclopyrrolones, Delorazepam, Dichloralphenazone, DPH, Doxefazepam, Doxylamine, Embutramide, Eplivaserin, Ethinamate, Ethyl Ioflazepate, Fludiazipam, Heptabarb, Oleamide, Org 21465, Org 25435, Paraldehyde, Phenobarbital, Propiomazine, Promethazine, Propylbarbital, QH-II-66, Glycine, Quetiapine, SH-053-R-CH3-2’F, Sulfonmethane, Tetrabarbital, Tetronal, Trional, Trytophol, Acaprazine, Acebrochal, Acetylglycinamide Chloral, Almorexant, Detomidine, Bromouriede, Benzoctamine, Barakol, Bekhterev’s Mixture, Fasiplon, Fenadiazole, Fluperlapine, JM-1232, Inebriating Mint, Ro41-3696, Methapyrilene, Minitran, Nisobamate, Oxanamide, Oxomemazine, Panadiplon, Pazinaclone, Pentabamate, Petrichloral, Potassium Bromide, Procymate, Saripidem, Vinybital, Vinbarbital, Valofane, Validolum, Valeric Acid, Unisom, U-90042, U-89843A, Triclofos, 2,2,2-Trichloroethanol, TCS-OX2-29, SX-3228, Suvorexant, Sigmodal, SB-649,868, 6-APA, 77-LH-28-1, Adimolol, Alfentanil, Amedanil, Amedalin, BMS-564,929, Binospirone, Carburazepam, Clazolam, Clobazam, Clobenzepam, Clotiazepam, Thienodiazepine, Brotizolam, CP-14145, Cyclazodone, CSP-2503, Cycloserine, Cytisine, Demoxepam, Chlordizepoxide, Dibenzepin, Dihydroergocorine, Dihydroergocristine, DHEC, Dihydroergotamine, 17-DMAG, Dimiracetam, Doliracetam, Droperidol, Dihydrotestosterone, Dutasteride, Edaravone, EGIS-12,233, Elfazepam, Elzasonan, Enilospirone, Ergoloid, Ergotamine, Ergocrytine, Ergocristine, Ergovaline, Etazepine, Evodiamine, Fenmetramide, Fenozolone, Flunitrazepam, Flutazolam, Flutemazepam, Flutoprazepam, Fosazepam, GW-803,430, Halazepam, Haloxazolam, Herbimycin, Horsfiline, HT-0712, Icilin, Clazepam, Indoprofen, Ipsapirone, Isatin, Ketazolam, KF-26777, Lofendazepam, Lopirazepam, Loprazolam, Lorazepam, Lormetazepam, Menitrazepam, Meclonazepam, Menitrazepam, NMSP, Mexazolam, THCI, THCII, THCIII, THCIV, THCV, Mosapramine, Motrazepam, NBQX, Nevirapine, Nimetazepam, Nitrazepam, Nitrazepate, Nitroxazepine, Nordazepam, Nortetrazepam, Oxazepam, Oxatomide, Paliperidone, Prazepam, Pivoxazepam, Pirquinozol, Pirenzepine, Pinazepam, Pemoline, Paraxazone, Palonosterone, Proflazepam, Propizepine, Razobazam, Revospirone, Ripazepam, Ro15-4513, Ro48-6791, Ro48-8684, Ro5-2904, Ro5-4864, Ro64-6198, Ropinirole, RPL-554, RS-102,221, SL65.0155, Spiroxatrine, Temazepam, Tetrazepam, Thozalinone, Tolufazepam, Triflubazam, Vardenafil, Ziprasidone, Zolazepam, Zomebazam, Zometapine, Pyrazolodiazipines, Triazolodiazipines, Estazolam, Flubromazolam, Triazolam, Nitrobenzodiazepines, Pentazocine, 8-HO-PBZI, A-366,833, ABT-202, Sympathomimethies, ABT-239, ABT-418, Almotriptan, BD-1008, LR-132, BD-1031, Singma Agonists, BD-1018, 4-PPBP, Alazocine, BD-1052, Butinoline, Clemizole, CPHPC, Desoxy-D2PM, Citalopram, Ditolyguanidine, Escitalopram, Fluoxetine, Fluvoxamine, Tgmesine, L-697,384, PRE-084, S33005, SA-4503. Siramesine, Venlafaxine, Clonidine, VUT-8430, UR-AK49, Moroxydine, Altinicline, Anabasine, 3-Bromocytine, Bradanicline, Cotinine, Desformylflustrabromine, Dianicline, DMPP, Epibatidine, Epiboxidine, Lobeline, Myosmine, PNU-120,596, PNU-282,987, ABT-089,Rivanicline, RJR-2429, Phantasmidine, Sazetidine A, SIB-1553A, TC-1698, TC-1827, TC-2216, Tebanicline, 2,3,4,5-Tetrahydro-1,5-Methano-1H-3-Benzazepine, UB-165, Varenicline, FE-β-CPPIT, FB-β-CPPIT, RTI-336, NVP-AUY922, Pleconaril, RTI-177, RTI-371, Calea Ternifolia, African Dream Herb, Ambutonium Bromide, Hyoscamine, Ilex Guayusa, Abediterol, Aclidinium Bromide, Benzilycholine Mustard, Bevonium, Bornaprine, Cyanodothiepin, Darifenacin, Dexetimide, Dicycloverine, Etybenzatropine, Fenpiverinium, Fesoterodine, Homatropine, Hydroxyzine, Imidafenacin, Ipratropium Bromide, Methylatropine, Methylhomatropine, Octatropine Methylbromide, PD-0298029, PD-102,807, Pipenzolate, Piperidolate, Tiotropium Bromide, Anisodine, Benacytazine, Butylscopolamine, CAR-226,086, CAR-301,060, CAR-301,196, Caramiphen, Clidinium Bromide, Ditran, EA-3167, EA-3443, EA-3580, EA-3834, JB-318, JB-336, Methylscoplamin Bromide, Oxapium Iodide, Oxitropium Bromide, Polyfothine, Propiverine, Pyrrobutamine, Timepidium Bromide, Tridihexethyl, Tropatepine, WIN-2299, Amrutanjan, Abstral, Acetylmethadol, Acetyldihydrocodeine, Alletorphine, Anilopam, Axomadol, BC Powder, Befiradol, Benorilate, Betamethadol, Bicifadine, Butinazocine, Carbazocine, Celadrin, Chlorodyne, Cinchophen, Co-dydramol, Co-codamal, Cogazocine, Conolidine, Deltorphin I, Dezocine, Dimepheptanol, Dipyrocetyl, TRPV1 Receptor, Capsazepine, Dosulepin, Electroanalgesia, Epideral Steroid Injection, Eptazocine, Equianalgesic, Efazocine, Fedotozine, Filenadol, Fioricet, Fiorinal, Frakefamide, Hemprenorphine, 3-HM, Ibazocine, Levallorphan, Levomepromazine, Lufuradom, Magnesium Salicylate, Blue Prickly Poppy, Menabitan, A-40174, Dimethylhepylpyran, Metamizole, Metkefamide, Moramide, Morphiceptin, Moxazocine, Nafoxadol, Malmexone, Naproxen, Nefopam, Nimesulide, Naracymethadol, Norlevorphanol, Norpipanone, NS-11394, Panadol, Penthox Inhaler, Phenacetin, Phenazone, Phenazopyridine, Propyphenazone, Proxorphan, Resiniferatoxin, Rimazolium, Romifidine, RUB-A535, Salecylamide, Salonpas, Tectin, Tolfenamic Acid, Tenazocine, Ufenamate, Volazocine, Xylazine, Yangonin, Zinda Tilismath, Ziconotide, Anazocine, Bremazocine, Cyclazocine, EKC, Fluorophen, Gemazocine, Ketazocine, Metazocine, Quadazocine, Azocine, Benzazocine, 0-2545, DOU-216,303, Phenylethylpyrrolidine, GR-89696, HA-966, ICI-199,441, ICI-204,448, NNN, Nornicotine, Clemastine, PF-03654746, RTI-229, SB-269,970, U-50488, U-69,593, Bombesin, Bivaracetam, Cebaracetam, DEABL, Cromakalim, Doxapram, Dupracetam, Etiracetam, Fasoracetam, Imuracetam, Levetiracetam, Lidanserin, Nebracetam, Nefiracetam, Nicoracetam, Oxiracetam, Piperacetam, Seletracetam, MOPPP, MPBP, MPHP, MDPDP, MDPPP, Pyrovalone, a-PBP, a-PPP, Neuropeptides, Galanin, Neuropeptide Y, Enkephalin, Somatoslatin, CCK, Substance P, Neurotensin, TRH, Acepramazine, Aceprometazine, Acetanisol, Acetohexamide, Acetophenazine, Acetophenone, Acetosyringoine, 2-Acetylpyridine, Adrenalone, Anthrone, Apocynin, Avobenzone, Benzbromarone, Benziodarone, Benzoin, Butaperazine, CB-13, AM-6545, AZ-11713908, WIN-54,461, JWH-200, WIN-56,098,S-796,260, AM-1220, AM-1221, AM-1241, AM-2233, AM-630, AAI’s, CPE, GW-405,833, JWH-193, JWH-198, JWH-007, 3-Acetyl-6-Methoxybenzaldehyde, Aflobazole, AR-A000002, Azasestron, Bazinaprine, 3-Benzhydrylmorpholine, BML-190, Cobicistat, CYT387, Desmethylmoramide, Dioxaphetyl Butyrate, Edivoxetine, Epelsiban, Demoxytocin, Carbetocine, WAY-267,464, Atosiban, Eprobemide, L-371,257, L-368,899, Quinagolide, Terbutaline, 2CB-ind, 5-APDI, APICA, Donepezil, ICI-118,551, Indatraline, Indinavir, Ladostigil, Mutisianthol, PNU-99,194, S-15535, TAI, Zicronapine, Aleglitazar, Thromboxame Receptor Agonist, Verruculogen, Brevianamide, 2,5-DKP, Fellutanine, Phenylahistine, Plinabulin, Rugulosuvine, Fedrilate, Fenbutrazate, L-733,060, G-130, HC3, Indeloxazine, Levomoramide, Metostilenol, Molindone, Molracetam, Nimorazole, O-1057, O-1812, AM-2232, O-774, AM-2389, HHC, HU-243, Canbisol, Nabilone, 11-OH-THC, 2-AGE, Paxahexyl, THC-C4, AMG-36, AMG-41, AM-1235, AM-906, AM-365, O-2694, O-2372, O-2113, O-2050, VCHSR, TM-38837, PiplSB, PF-514273, MK-9470, LY-320,135, O-2545, PD-128,907, PF-219,061, ABT-670, ABT-742, UK-414,495, OSU-6162, Melanotan II, Oxaflozane, PF-592,379, 2-Phenyl-3,6-Dimethylmorpholine, Pramocaine, SCH-50911, 4-HTMPIPO, A-41988, AB-001, AB-005, ADBICA, AM-087, AM-411, KM-233, AM-679, AM-694, AM-855, AM-905, AM-919, AM-4030, AM-938, AM-251, AMG-1, AR-231,453, PSN-375,963, PSN-632,408, (C6)-CP-47,497, CCH, O-1871, CP-55,940, CP-47,497, CP-50,556’1, CP-55,244, Otenabant, (C9)-CP-47,497, CBS-0550, AVE-1625, GW-842,166x, HU-308, HU-336, HU-331, HU-320, Ajulemic Acid, JTE-7-31, A-834,735, MDA-19, S-444,823, JTE-907, JWH-015, JWH-019, JWH-030, JWH-047, JWH-048, JWH-051, JWH-057, JWH-081, SLV319, 2-Isopropyl-5-Methyl-1-(2,6-dihydroxy-4-nonphenyl)cyclohex-1-ene, HU-345, JWH-098, JWH-116, JWH-120, JWH-122, JWH-147, JWH-148, JWH-149, JWH-161, JWH-164, JWH-167, JWH-175, JWH-176, JWH-184, JWH-185, JWH-196, JWH-203, JWH-249, JWH-302, JWH-307, JWH-359, JWH-398, JWH-424, L-759,633, L-759,656, GW-405,833, Leelamine, NESS-0327, NESS-040C5, NMP-7, Nonabine, O-1125, O-1238, O-1269, O-806, O0823, Org-27569, Org-28312, LBP-1, Org-28611, Otenabant, Perrottetinene, PF-03550096, RCS-4, RCS-8, Rosonbrant, SDB-001, SDB-006, SER-601, Serinolamide A, THC-O-Phosphate, Tinabinol, VDM-11, Virohamine, A77636, Adafenoxate, Adapromine, Adatanserin, Bolmantalate, Bromantane, SR-142,948, 25B-NBOMe, 25I-NBMB, 25TFM-NBOMe, 5-MeO-NBpBiT, 2CBCB-NBOMe, 25CN-NBOH, Juncosamine, TCB-2, 6-Br-APB, Agelferin, Cridazepam, Meta-DOB, NGD-4715, Nicergoline, P7C3, SB-357,134, Sclerotia Truffle, 5-Flouro-aMT, 6-Flouro-aMT, Telepathine, AMDA, Amperozide, Cinaserin, Deramciclane, Fenanserin, Flibanserin, Glemanserin, Iferanserin, KML-010, LY-367,265, Pruvanserin, Rauwolscine, Setoperone, Spiperone, Volinanserin, Xlamidine, Altropane, ATI-2042, PIA, RTI-121, RTI-353, Tramethinib, SB-258,585, Lu-AE58054, MS-245, Ro04-6790, SB-271,046, SB-399,885, RTI-55, AC-262,356, 2′-Acetoxycocaine, Bemestron, Benzoylthiomethylecogine, Brasofesine, 2-CMT, Clobenztropine, Cocaethylene, Deptropine, Dichloropane, Diflouropine, Granisetron, 3-(p-Flourobenzoyloxy)tropane, p-ISOCOC, Methylvanillylecogonine, Norcocaine, NS-2359, RTI-126, WF-23, WF-33, WF-31, WF-11, BRL-46470, RTI-112, RTI-113, RTI-120, RTI-150, RTI-171, RTI-274, RTI-31, RTI-32, RTI-51, RTI-83, Thiophenyltropanes, MAT Inhibitor, Salicylmethylecgonine, Tesofesine, Troparil, WIN-35428, Amfonelic Acid, Oxolinc Acid, Tropisetron, Zatosetron, Dichloropane, RTI-336, RTI-126, Tropoxane, Poyo (Palm Wine), Tropicamide, Caffetin, Formic acid, Monocled Cobra, Sisa, Tramadol, Dazopride, Dolasetron, Amylocaine, Articaine, Bupivacaine, Butacaine, Chloroprocaine, Cyclomethycaine, Etidocaine, Hexylcaine, Levobupivacaine, Mepivacaine, Meprylcaine, Prilocaine, Proxymetacaine, Risocaine, Ropivacaine, Tetracaine, Trimecaine, Piperocaine, Metabutoxycaine, Adipiplon, Almitrine, ARRY-520, AZD5423, Cisapride, CP-226,269, CRL-40,941, DBL-583, Dexamethasone, DFMD, Methyldopa, Carbidopa, d-DOPA, L-DOPS, Octaflourocyclobutane, DFB, Didesmethylcitalopram, Elopiprazole, Phenylpiprazine, F-15,599, FGIN-127, Fletazepam, Flucindole, GR-159,897, LY-503,430, MPPF, PEPA, RS-127,445, S-23, SHA-68, SNAP-7941, SNAP-94847, TP-003, TPA-023, UH-301, Calycosin, Flavinoids, Psi-Tectorigenin, Blochanin A, Formononetin, Glyciten, Irigenin, Methoxyisoflavone, 5-O-Methylgenistein, 7-O-Methylluteone, Ononin, Pratensein, Prunetin, Retusin, Tectoridin, Tectorigenin, Barbigerone, Daidzein, Derrubone, Genistein, Ipriflavone, Irilone, Luteone, Orobol, Psuedobaotigenin, Wighteone, AMG-3, Nabazenil, Naboctate, a-Napthoflavone, 11-Nor-9-Carboxy-THC, Pirnabine, Apiol, Dillapiol, 1,3-Benzodioxole, Piperonal, beta-Asarone, Eleicin, Homovanyllyl Alcohol, Myristicin, 2-Bromo-4,5-Methylenedioxyamphetamine, Californidine, Chavicine, Cinoxacin, Dibutylone, Fenoverine, Befuraline, MDIP, MDMAI, MDPR, MDAL, ORTHO-MDA, MDP1P, MDP2P, Omiloxetine, Osemozotan, Piclozotan, Robalzotan, Ebalzotan, Sarlzotan, Piperine, Protokylol, Isoprenaline, Rhoeadine, MDMPEA, MMDPEA, MMDMPEA, MDIP, MDHOET, MDPL, GYKI-52895, Ungiminorine, NADA, Methylene blue, ECG, EGCG, EGC, Levonantradol, Cone Snail Venom, A-836,339, Abacavir, CYP-LAD, 2-Bromo-LSD, BU-LAD, DAM-57, DAL, Epicriptine, Ergometrine, Ergometrinine, Ergostine, ETH-LAD, LEA-32, Methylergometrine, MLD-41, LSP, LSH, MIPLA, PARGY-LAD, PRO-LAD, DCG-IV, DOV-102,677, MDCPM, MNTX, Amfonelic acid, J-113,397, SB-612,111, VUF-6002, DBM, Piberatine, Ilercimide, Dithranol, Divaplon, Ebastine, Flopropione, Iloperidone, Ketorolac, Melperone, NNC-38-1044, Tetralone, Cuscohydrine, Hygrine, 4-NEMD, Aceburic Acid, Amfecloral, Aprobarbital, Arfendazam, Benzobarbital, Benzylbutylbarbituate, Brallobarbital, Brophebarbital, Buthalitol, Carbubarb, Climazolam, Cyclobarbital, Cyclopentobarbital, and Acid (i.e. regular LSD).

(source)

Perfumery as an Art Form

About 3% of the population is anosmic, meaning that they cannot perceive scents. An additional 10% have some kind of smell or taste disorder. Sadly, scent perception thins out with age due to many causes*; about 23% of people over the age of 40 report some degree of impairment, with nearly 40% of people over the age of 80 reporting either absent or severely reduced capacity to perceive smells.

If you can experience scents in a normal way, count yourself lucky, for you have access to a qualia variety with an incredible aesthetic potential. If not, I’m sorry; let’s hope that stem cell therapy used to restore smell in mice can be generalized to humans. Regardless, hopefully the following thoughts on the artistic potential of scents won’t fall on deaf ears (or should we say, anosmic noses?).

Imagine that all humans were congenitally anosmic. Akin to David Pearce’s allegory of the blind rationalists, let’s picture a world in which the only way to experience scent qualia was through the use of some arcane technology, like weird drugs, occult magic, or carefully aimed transcranial ultrasound stimulation. Since the qualia would not be triggered by a conventional sense, people would not be under the illusion that it maps to external objects. It would be understood as a strictly internal phenomenon, like imagination or sense of humor. With such an interpretive blank slate, how would people make sense of scent qualia?

Keep that thought in your mind. Having a fresh look (or sniff) at scent qualia- devoid of its common associations and cultural imports- can give us a way to think in new ways about the artistic potential of this aspect of experience.

Perfumery as an Art Form

Last year we presented QRI‘s take on art: Harmonic Society is an essay published in a Berlin-based art magazine that exposes 8 models for what art can be about (see parts 2, 3, 4; video presentation). These models can also be used as generators of creative applications of qualia varieties. Here we’ll discuss how perfumes could be seen through the lens of each of these models.

1. Semantic Deflation

The semantic deflation model of art claims that the first step you need to take to understand art is to recognize that it lacks an essence. There are no strict necessary and sufficient conditions that something needs to meet in order to be art. The meaning of the term is ultimately conventional: it has more of a family resemblance pattern of usage than a precise logic-bound set of criteria. Applying this model to perfumery, we would have that:

  1. There is no such thing as a “perfume” in and of itself.
  2. There are no necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be called a perfume.
  3. The resulting aesthetic from this model is one that sees the art of perfumery as the eternal search for trying to push the boundary for what a “perfume can be”.

Some examples of this aesthetic seemingly playing out in the open include perfumes that smell like: popcorn, lobster, linen and Air Aroma‘s new fragrance that recreates “the scent of an Apple product being opened for the first time.”

2. Weapons of Sexual Conquest

Weapons of sexual conquest refers to the use of instruments to signal genetic fitness in one form or another: conspicuous consumption/taste-signaling, and aphrodisiac response.

Conspicuous Consumption

You see, smells are at times used in a slightly evil way. In the case of commercial perfumes, part of the optimization function includes generating envy in others. Conspicuous consumption and brand worship are some of the ways in which our mating mind has recruited scents. In a sense, I would love to explore ways in which scent-based art can deliver high-valence results without at the same time reinforcing consumerism and zero-sum fashion arms races. In brief:

  1. There is unfortunately an in-built zero-sum mindset to status-focused scent design.
  2. The “game” is easy to rationalize when you are a “winner”, but it is depressive for people who perceive themselves as the “losers”.
  3. One of the core weapons of this game is the creation of envy with perceived exclusivity and inflated sense of quality (e.g massively overpriced fragrances).
  4. “Cool Kids” are people who translate new ideas into massively consumable products.
  5. Cool Kids in perfumery will always want to claim that they have the exclusive “secret sauce” to explain the price.
  6. The existence of such “secret sauce” is often justified based on appeals to tradition, taste, status, experience, brand, and/or science.
  7. Cool Kids make sure that the product is “novel enough” – not too out there that only weird people would love it, but also not too bland and unoriginal that the general public will be bored by it.

Expensive perfumes have to be at least somewhat distinctive – even if that makes them suboptimal. You’ll see that Fragrantica is full of reviews that complain that such and such perfume is in fact “too generic”. The reason is that if you are paying large sums of money for a smell, the only way it will pay off in terms of social signaling is if people can in fact notice what you are wearing.

Some examples of relatively expensive fragrances of ultra-mass appeal that are exactly in the right Cool Kid window for novelty and distinctiveness include Sauvage by Dior, Boss by Hugo Boss, Mr. Burberry Indigo by Burberry, The One by Dolce & Gabbana, and Bleu de Chanel:

best-male-fragrances-1555598709-1

A particularly noteworthy example of this dynamic might be the case of Aventus Creed. It is by no means a weird fragrance (it’s certainly not a “toast” or “popcorn” perfume), but people who are very into perfumes do agree that when it first came out “it smelled like nothing that had ever existed before.” If you read the Fragrantica reviews you’ll see what I’m talking about. It also happens to be an insanely expensive fragrance for no apparent reason. It’s therefore a great tool for conspicuous consumption, masterfully crafted by a Cool Kid aiming for mass appeal.

I personally own an “Aventus Creed clone“, meaning that it is a perfume that smells very similar to the original but can cost a fraction of the price. Aventus costs $400 while the one I own is under $20. I like it, but if it is anything like the original, I can’t imagine it being that good to justify the price tag on its qualia merits alone. In terms of phenomenology, as far as I can tell, Aventus innovated by mixing pineapple scent with the scent of birch bark. This does make it characteristic, true, but is it really $400 worth of characteristic? No, I’m pretty sure it isn’t. So this one might be a clear case of a mating mind perfume over-rating in action (P.S. I’m on the lookout for more perfumes with inflated scores that have cheap clones in order to study this phenomenon more closely).

Aphrodisiac Response

Taken to the extreme, attempts at creating maximally erotic scents draw inspiration from literal human sexual organs. Secretions Magnifiques by Etas Libre d’Orange, for example, recreates the smell of semen with seaweed, milk, iris, coconut, opoponax, and sandalwood. It has a score of 1.88 out of 5 based on 890 votes, perhaps because it smells kind of bad. It sports reviews like:

“Smell of sweat, sewage and semen. Each sniff is an offense and an ordeal, a probation of resistance. Impossible to do a complete test – full wear, I only got 3 sprays on my wrist and 5 min. after doing this review I rubbed my wrist with soap like there was no tomorrow.” – marcel2782, at Fragrantica.com

Needless to say, playing out the erotic in scent form is a delicate matter that requires a fine balance between numerous forces. For example, the smell of Classic Blue by David Beckham can smell a bit like a male crotch, but it also smells like pineapple, grapefruit, and clary sage. This allows for plausible deniability and erotic versatility. Even if you are attracted to men, as long as you are not sexually aroused you will probably just notice its fruity notes. But if you are in the heat of passion, it will probably smell very sexy. The same with numerous women’s perfumes, such as Eros by Versace and Guilty by Gucci.

A final thought on the aphrodisiac power of fragrances: you may notice that the vast majority of fragrances that are advertised with campaigns with erotic undertones are primarily geared towards a heterosexual audience. With rare exceptions, even perfume ads that are suggestively homoerotic still seem to work around a heterosexual premise.f1cd039cd4edb2cf19a538415531d71a

I suspect that indeed there are statistical-level differences in what turns people on, not only between genders, but between the shades of sexual orientation. After all, some academic theories of sexual orientation do suggest that pheromone-based arousal differences contribute to which gender a person is attracted to. I posit that from a scientific point of view, if the matter were to be studied rigorously, we would indeed find differences at a statistical aggregate level on what fragrances turn people on depending on their gender and sexual orientation. Although this remains a contentious topic, I think that it is a shame that it has not been explored in any rigorous way. Aphrodisiac scents can be life-enriching; gay people might be underserved in the eroticism-of-aroma department. Pragmatically, it would be good for gay people to know which fragrance will load the dice in their favor when going out clubbing. A concrete example is that if indeed gay men do not like the scent of straight men (and instead prefer the scent of other gay men) then it may not be a good idea to wear typical male pheromone perfumes for a night out. Take note: at least according to a Fragrantica forum entry from someone in Indonesia, the main “gay fragrances” there are:  Thierry Mugler by A*Men, Le Male by Jean Paul Gaultier, Power by Kenzo, 1 Million by Paco Rabanne, and Magnetism by Escada.

3. Creation of New Social Contexts

The core idea of this model is that art can be understood as a tool to create new social contexts. Beyond the sex appeal of expensive perfumes due to their status implications, perfumes can also be used to invent new interpersonal gestalts. As Kevin Simler argues in Ads Don’t Work That Way, advertisement modifies the landscape of cultural meaning, which in part is responsible for the ways products allow you to communicate information about yourself to others.

NAUTICA Voyage

For example: Nautica Voyage is, of course, as much selling you the felt-sense of a social context as it is selling you scent qualia. Care to join the crew on a trip across the Atlantic, make our own rules, and live a journey of camaraderie and bonding? Each sniff of Voyage takes you on a trip with imaginary friends. Alas, as an Amazon top-seller it fails to appeal to Hipster sensibilities. What do I mean by “Hipster” here?

Unlike Cool Kids, Hipsters tend to obsess over a highly-specific aspect they deeply care about. Nerds are to Geeks what Hipsters are to Cool Kids. Meaning, much akin to how a Nerd is driven by a burning curiosity about the world while a Geek is usually concerned about the social applications of niche knowledge, Hipster aesthetic exploration is done out of a fundamental desire to know the limits of an art form while Cool Kids are thinking more about how to use art to raise their own status. Thus, while not widely consumable by a mainstream audience, Hipster aesthetics lend themselves to fundamental artistic innovation. In brief:

  1. Hipsters are people who like to explore particular niches, who carve out regions and tiny sectors of the market without compromising their own taste.
  2. They rebel against the commercial and mainstream construction of meaning and instead use their creativity to create parallel social worlds.
  3. Artistic explorations can indeed be used for this “social context” creation.
  4. By finding smells that are characteristic, but rare and hard to place, one can create context-specific memories for events to be later triggered at will.

Questioning the mainstream construction of meaning is at the core of the Hipster aesthetic (cf. Adbusters). Here are some examples of Hipster art to put you in the right mindset (source):

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So what would be some hipster fragrances that attempt to sidestep or subvert the mainstream construction of meaning? I highly recommend visiting a niche perfumes boutique to get an idea of the combinatorial explosion of counter-cultural branding that is possible. In places like that, “local” perfumers have pride of place. There is also a premium based on the conceptual loading, narrative prowess, and historicity of each product. The value of the fragrance is in no small part derived from its ability to help you reinvent yourself outside of the confines of mainstream narratives.

More so, the construction of meaning can be turned into a science. You can even do it deliberately without anyone’s assistance. For a special occasion you want to remember in a personal and characteristic way, I advise you to pick two or three essential oils (e.g. violet, peony, and guava) and mix them for the first time that very day. Example: this past New Year’s Eve I wore a combination of pear and violet, which has now become a sensory symbol of the occasion for me.

All of these can be useful tools to help you undo the psychological hacking that big-brand fashion houses and mass media have inflicted upon you. The ability to create new Schelling points and social contexts brings with it the power to transform zero-sum games into positive-sum games. This is quite refreshing, indeed, as we can see in transformational festivals and conscious culture which are at the forefront of these cultural developments.

Alas, if you live long enough in a place like San Francisco or Portland you eventually come to realize that the negative feelings one associates with mainstream status hierarchies are not the result of consumerism per se. They are deeply rooted in our genetic source code, and the only true way out is to subvert the hedonic treadmill. So no amount of anti-consumerism rhetoric is actually likely to make a dent in the world’s vast swamps of suffering. But that’s a story for another time.

4. Attempts at the Sacred

There is no universal consensus on what constitutes a sacred experience. But we should not be quick to dismiss their significance. It only takes reading William Jame’s The Varieties of Religious Experience (or Erowid‘s Experience Vault) to recognize both the incredible diversity and personal significance of sacred revelations. Scents, of course, have a long history of synergistic use in ritual conceptions of the sacred. They can indeed be used:

  1. In rituals such as baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.
  2. As aids for meditation
  3. For prayer
  4. As grounding agents for psychedelic experiences
  5. To recall the quality of previously experienced mystical states

Of course we can also think of things that are associated with sacred experiences as powerful reminders of the divine. For example, I can guarantee you that people who have vaporized N,N-DMT or 5-MeO-DMT and have had profound experiences will certainly remember the scent of these agents and it will remind them- if only for a moment- of the ‘mystical’ headspace the agents disclosed.

5. Exploring the State-Space of Consciousness (aka. Rainbow God ϡ🏳️‍🌈)

This aesthetic is based on the premise that there is intrinsic value in knowing qualia. The Rainbow God is a personification of the desire to know first hand the entire state-space of consciousness. In this way, we are not constrained by the social forces that usually shape where we invest our exploratory energy. In brief, this aesthetic values:

  1. Explicitly merging the best models for the state-space of scent qualia and perfumery.
  2. Love of knowledge above and beyond merely seeking a social effect.
  3. Qualia-focused descriptions such as what will be presented in this section.

When you are in the Rainbow God state of mind, you get excited by the idea of having a large collection of all possible scented molecules. The Rainbow God even covets dangerous smells, such as those of powerful toxins like dimethylcadmium. Apparently dimethylcadmium indeed has a uniquely characteristic scent, though the price of knowing it first hand is a serious toll on your health. Perhaps Rainbow God would put all of the dangerous smells in a sealed box to be opened -along with a Brompton Cocktail– when one is enduring the late stages of a terminal illness. Upon the prospect of an imminent death, I too would love to know what dimethylcadmium smells like.

This aesthetic does manifest in mainstream explorations, albeit it is rarely the main concept driving the design decisions. Subtle examples here might include Noble Fig by Ferrari which glorifies the unusual qualia variety disclosed by fig leaves and 23 by Michael Jordan which plays with a cute and unusual watermelon scent. That said, it is interesting to explore the possibility of explicitly developing this aesthetic in perfumery. What would that look like?

If I were to develop a brand of perfume under the Rainbow God mindset, I might call it “The State-Space of Scents” and really play this concept out to its conclusion with both creative satisfaction and scientific precision. It would have three core lines:

Line 1 – State-Space Master Palette: 8 fragrances that span the largest possible region of the state-space of scents such that linear combinations of them give you a huge number of possible scents, and mixing them all in equal proportions gets you “Laurax”, i.e. white noise scent.

Line 2 –  Special Effects: 16 of the most ultra-X scents possible (the most ultra-bitter scent possible, the most ultra-vanilla scent possible, the most ultra-powdery scent possible, etc.). Basically this encompasses every category-neutral “special effect”, which would be factorized and exalted into its maximum possible expression.

Line 3 – Entropy Gradient: 8 chemical concoctions that have as wide of a range of phenomenal entropies as possible. Again this plays out with, at the one extreme, featuring super simple scents triggered by one or just a couple of molecules, while at the other extreme, featuring scents that approach the Laurax entropic asymptote.

My appreciation is that this has enormous potential. In its full expression, the Rainbow God aesthetic applied to perfumes encompasses both the state-space of scents and their effects in other experiential modalities. If a scent puts you in a certain mood, that’s important to highlight. What is the range of possible moods? That, too, concerns the Rainbow God (of course the perfume industry alludes to this kind of exploration, with e.g. D&G 21 Le Fou described as “a fragrance designed for careless and spontaneous individuals, so called ‘jesters'”, though again, an explicit exploration would be infinitely better).

As a teaser to future works, I can briefly describe how I have been thinking about the state-space of scents.

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While current descriptions of perfumes mention: (1) olfactive family, (2) the categorical contributions, and (3) detectable notes, we would instead have a much more fine-grained and informative description. Namely:

  1. The global entropy (e.g. 40% of the way to white noise scent).
  2. The within-category entropy (e.g. 70% of the way into ‘generic flowery’).
  3. The individual notes that can be detected within each category (e.g. non-generic jasmine note being 30% of the flowery category).
  4. Lines connecting notes that have non-linear interactions (e.g. pear & violet, rose & orange, pomegranate & honeydew make unique blends that have phenomenal properties unlike those of the individual ingredients).
  5. Lines connecting notes that form separate “phases” across categories (e.g. with a mixture of mango, sandalwood, rose, lemon, and cinnamon, you get three phases rather than a global consistent smell – mango + cinnamon, and lemon + sandalwood, with rose staying its own distinct scent).
  6. Lines connecting “valence inversion” effects (some notes simply don’t seem to go together even though they are pleasant individually).
  7. Special effects (e.g. “powdery”, “ethereal”, “acrid”, “creamy”, etc.).

We will go into much more detail about this in a future article specifically about the state-space of scents. And I don’t mean just breaking down a scent in terms of its chemical profile: Octyl butyrate, isoamyl propionate, and aldehyde C9, etc. I’m talking about a radical re-frame for what scents even are and the space in which they live. Stay tuned!

6. Energy Parameter Modulation

Scents have effects on one’s energy level. Lavender has clinically significant relaxing effects while lemon oil can be energizing. But these direct effects are only one of several ways scents can modulate the “energy parameter” of your experience. Namely, as we covered in the original article, in order to modulate energy levels upwards one can either impair energy sinks or enhance energy sources. Since labeling and recognizing sensory inputs (top-down interpretations) play the role of energy sinks, it stands to reason that playing with abstract, complex and unrecognizable scents would have the effect of increasing one’s global energy parameter. This, I think, is true. Based on experience, easily recognizable scents can certainly be engrossing, but complex scents with no real-world referents seem much more effective for energizing one’s mind and altering one’s consciousness (cf. the neuroscience of meditation).

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I suspect that rigorous scientific research on the way scent entropy interfaces with energy modulation will be very fruitful and have many applications. In brief:

  1. Relaxing scents can be obtained either with inherently narcotic qualia (e.g. lavender) or via boring, mundane, easily-recognizable sources (e.g. paper).
  2. Exciting scents can be obtained with inherently exciting qualia (e.g. lemon) but also by using the appropriate amount of novelty, abstractness, and complexity to disable energy sinks.
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Energy by Qualia Research (EDT)

Finally, it is my impression that scents can interface, not only with raw energy levels, but also their moments. Meaning, some scents are perhaps suited for a high first or second derivative in the energy parameter of experience. It’s as if the feeling of being “accelerated” into a high-energy regime is part and parcel of many scents. Personally, I experience bitter smells such as grapefruit, bergamot, and geranium to be arresting in that they drive one’s attention to a stop. Sweet spicy scents like vanilla and chocolate, on the other hand, seem to modulate energy rather than increase it or decrease it specifically (think “the Prozac of scents”). Alas, the state of this phenomenological research is still too early to give it any credence. I would love to hear the thoughts of others who also feel they can pin-point the first, second, and even third derivatives of the energy parameter modulation effects of scents.

7. Puzzling Valence Effects

This conception of art focuses on the way exotic sensory stimuli can lead to puzzling feelings of wellbeing. I say puzzling because they defy common-sense. It certainly makes sense that watching porn or eating food rich in salt, fat, and sugar would feel good. That’s perfectly accounted for by working within an evolutionary framework. But why would Picasso, Bach, and Socrates make some people feel good? Or in a more extreme set of examples: Dadaism, Merzbow, and Nietzsche? Puzzling valence effects refers to these phenomenal oddities; the fact that stimuli never encountered in our evolutionary past can nonetheless lead to deeply rewarding sensations. The neuroscientific frameworks used to explain these curious effects were discussed in depth in the original article so I won’t repeat them here. But I will briefly cover some of the ways scents can indeed have both expectedly and unexpectedly pleasant actions. Namely, scents can feel good for any of the following reasons:

  1. Associations: Scents can be pleasant by reminding you of contexts, times, experiences, and people you have previously enjoyed.
  2. Food: Scents that evoke high-calorie foods such as sweet, fried, salted, etc. come with an intrinsic positive valence for most people (and nonhuman animals!).
  3. Safety: The smell of diseased bodies are repugnant while the scent of fresh cotton and a cozy fireplace can bring a pleasant sense of safety.
  4. Eroticism: Scents that spark sexual feelings (already covered this in model 2) are certainly a highlight for the hedonic effects of the sense of smell.
  5. Relative status: Scents that feel expensive, rare, or can be used to demonstrate one’s fitness would naturally feel good (already covered in 2 & 3).
  6. Self-actualization: The very concept of a “signature scent” points at this category of pleasant sensations.
  7. In terms of Puzzling Valence Effects:
    1. Intrinsic “patternceutical” valence:
      1. Some scents have particular phenomenal frequencies; in most cases the phenomenal spectral analysis is very complex.
      2. Speculatively: Could it be that the valence of a scent can be anticipated from its consonance-dissonance-noise signature (CDNS)? This is a promising and fascinating area of research with no prior art at all.
  8. Neural annealing:
    1. In principle one could use scents that modulate the brain’s energy parameter (see model 6) to heat it above its neural recrystallization temperature.
    2. This might lead to the same kinds of effects one sees on meditation, on psychedelics, and with art. Namely, a three-step process of:
      1. Entropic disintegration
      2. Neural search
      3. Annealing
    3. If properly understood, scents that modulate the energy parameter of the brain could be used synergistically with other inputs such as sound, light, and vibration to drive neural annealing for therapeutic benefits (this is an active area of research at QRI).

To say a few words about the scents that make you feel safe: fragrances designed to make you feel unsafe are unlikely to ever be top sellers. It might not be financially sound to launch a perfume (let’s call it “Trench Warfare”) recreating the smell of WWI trenches: “gunpowder, wet rocks, and decaying flesh notes” with flanker fragrances like “Mustard Attack” centered around notes of burned almond and blisters, and “Shell Shock” which emphasizes ashy notes sprinkled with oxidizing iron and overcooked steak. Indeed, safety markers might always be subtly present in fragrances of mass appeal. Rose Of No Man’s Land, a perfume actually inspired by the courage of the nurses who attended to the wounded in no man’s land during WWI, may seem like a counter-example. But it really proves the rule. The scent itself is very pleasant and reassuring, and conceptually it also evokes a relative sense of safety, namely, the feeling of being rescued. In other words, while the context it imports feels unsafe, it is specifically pointing at a part of the situation that emphasizes safety. The setting is used as contrast, it is the ground for the sense of safety which remains the figure (in the figure/ground sense of these terms).

I think that framed in the right way, scent qualia can give us a powerful glimpse of the possible fruits of consciousness research. Indeed, as part of a “QRI starter kit”, interns and visiting scholars get (among other things) a small collection of carefully chosen lesser-known essential oils to symbolize the “gems that are yet to be discovered by investigating consciousness in a systematic way”. (I’m actively looking for a suitable substitute for anosmic people, who almost certainly will be encountered at some point.)

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Endless Euphoria – Calvin Klein

Interestingly, the perfume industry could very well be appealing to the agreeable hedonic sensibilities that people are otherwise too prudish to express. The hidden nature of perfumes- their plausible deniability, their elusive character, and their subjective quality- allows people to engage in hedonic fantasy to a greater extent than they would generally openly admit to doing.

Case in point: judging from their marketing materials, it seems that Calvin Klein has already found the key to unending happiness in a bottle. Save yourself the trouble of working towards the Hedonistic Imperative, for endless euphoria has arrived. I should add that their marketing campaign of #EuphoriaForMoms struck a chord with me: “moms, too, deserve euphoria” say both the Hedonistic Imperative and Calvin Klein in unison. According to online reviewers, the ingredients of endless euphoria are:

endless_euphoria_ingredients

Take note – these are the ingredients of endless euphoria!

If only I had known! It must be the violet.

This is not, of course, an isolated incident. Indeed, the names of tons of perfumes are often remarkably evocative of the Hedonistic Imperative:

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That said, I think that systematizing the study of the hedonic response to scents has yet to be done. I’ll be talking a lot more about this in future articles. For the time being I’ll just tease you with the observation that based on personal experiments there seem to be cross-modal resonance effects between scent and auditory stimuli. The fact that loud broad-spectrum sounds, like the noise of an airplane cabin, modify the sense of taste is known in the literature. Based on my experience, music and special sounds can also subtly modify, and in some cases enhance, the quality of certain scents. Stay tuned.

8. Harmonic Society

Finally, we come to the the grand vision of model 8: Harmonic Society. This aesthetic model posits that it is both possible and desirable to synthesize science, philosophy, and art. The end result does not have to be- as many might expect- the disenchantment of aesthetics. Even with the simplistic take that “bliss is just chemicals in the brain” (which isn’t quite true anyway), we must remember that reduction cuts both ways. Perhaps you can instead see it as “chemicals in the brain are bliss qualia”! The feelings of divinity and profound interconnectedness one can experience on LSD, for instance, do not diminish in significance merely because they can be reduced to neurological phenomena; rather, this exalts what neurological phenomena is in the first place!

A profound understanding of qualia-space can enable us to create a prosocial world of experience in which the transition between every state of consciousness to every other is harmonious and beneficial.

QRI - Art and Consciousness copy 36

Applied to the art of scent qualia, the principles of Harmonic Society would point us in the direction of deeply investigating the state-space of scents in order to find clusters of fragrances (or scent qualia, more specifically) that have smooth transitions between them.



* Causes of anosmia – lots of things could harm your precious capacity to experience scent qualia:

(Featured image: source)

Neural Annealing: Toward a Neural Theory of Everything

QRI‘s co-founder Michael E. Johnson just posted a piece on neural annealing. This is one of QRI’s most important pieces of content to date. I’m very proud of Mike and the team for pulling this off. You can find the full piece here.



Mike writes:

This is QRI’s unified theory of music, meditation, psychedelics, depression, trauma, and emotional processing; the most challenging (and I think beautiful) thing I’ve written in the last three years. I would really appreciate careful comments.

A few takeaways:


  • Entering high-energy states (i.e., intense emotional states which take some time to ‘process’) is how the brain releases structural stress and adapts to new developments. This is similar to ‘annealing’ in metals, where heat allows atoms to break their bonds, then they search for more stable configurations as they cool.
  • Brains really do need to anneal regularly to pay down their ‘technical debt’, and if they don’t, they grow brittle and neurotic.
  • Meditation, music, psychedelics, exercise, dance, sex, tantric practices, EMDR, and breath work all share the same mechanism: a build-up of rhythmic neural resonance that can push the brain into these high-energy states which produce annealing.
  • Depression is a self-reinforcing perturbation from the natural annealing cycle.
  • Sometimes the brain needs to rapidly halt information propagation across regions to prevent cascading system failure … we call this ‘trauma’. This is a common and serious disruption of the annealing cycle.
  • The core psychological changes driven by psychedelics are best understood in terms of the amount and ‘statistical flavor’ of the energy (rhythmic firing) they add to the brain. Different psychedelics will ‘anneal’ different things.
  • Young brains (and lifelong learners) might not only be more plastic than average, but actually having experience that is objectively more visceral.
  • A unified theory of emotional updating, depression, trauma, meditation, and psychedelics may give us the tools to build a future that’s substantially better than the present.

(A unification of Robin Carhart-Harris and Karl Friston’s REBUS annealing model, with Selen Atasoy’s Connectome-Specific Harmonic Waves paradigm.)

Essential Therapy

Excerpt from TIHKAL (1997) by Alexander and Ann Shulgin (pgs. 64-67)

Chapter 4: The Brazil Caper

(Alice’s voice)

In the mid 1980s, somewhere around the month of April, Shura received a phone call from a gentleman who introduced himself as Senhor Giorgio Paros, a businessman from Brazil. He said, “I am here in the Bay Area to consult with an American company, and also to see you, Doctor Shura, on a very important matter.”

Shura replied, “Well, Senhor — excuse me, could you repeat your name?”

The man gave his last name again and added, “Please call me Senhor Giorgio, Sir. In Brazil, we do not use surname very much. I would like also to bring with me a very good friend, Doctor Hector, the former Assistant Secretary of Housing and Transportation of Brazil, if that would be acceptable?”

Shura told me later, “He obviously didn’t want to go into details on the phone, so I thought, what the heck, maybe you wouldn’t mind making a few sandwiches for lunch tomorrow, and I invited them over. Is that okay with you?”

I laughed, “Sure. It sounds pretty intriguing, with a former — what was it? — assistant minister of something for Brazil, right?”

“Yeah”, said Shura, “Transportation, I think he said. Sounds as if it might be interesting. And if it turns out to be a total dud, it’ll only have cost us a couple of hours and a bit of lunch.”

Well, it’s hard not to be impressed by a minister of anything of any country, when you get down to it. Of course, this one’s a Former, which isn’t as good as a Presently, and he was only an Assistant, not the Main Man, but so what! Former Assistant Minister of anything coming to lunch is still pretty good, if you’re an ordinary run-of-the-mill social climber. Besides, it should make a good dining-out story, if nothing else.

The next day, shortly after noon, the Boys from Brazil arrived with a bunch of flowers for the hostess, both of them carrying serious briefcases.

The businessman, Giorgio, was a big, burly character who looked like an aging stormtrooper, with thinning hair and pale blue, penetrating eyes.

We sat down on the patio and talked, exchanging the necessary pieces of basic information. Sr. Giorgio, it turned out, had long been a major player in Brazil radio as the owner of several stations, and was now moving into television. Despite the faintly threatening first impression, particularly when he scowled over some remembered annoyance, Giorgio gradually emerged as something of a pussycat, a bit sentimental and rather romantic in a way peculiar to Brazilians (as we were to discover later).

Giorgio’s friend, Dr. Hector, was a small-boned man in his late sixties who seemed, at first, rather quiet for a politician; a bit self-effacing, in fact. But as the afternoon wore on, as we all became increasingly familiar with each other’s faces and voices, Dr. Hector relaxed and smiled more often, and we began to understand his peculiar charm, the mixture of sincerity — sometimes approaching intensity — and humor which must have served him well in his government post.

But that’s getting ahead of my tale. Back to the first few minutes of the meeting.

As I carried out plates of sandwiches to the patio, Giorgio was saying “Even in the banks, they list customers under their first names! Yes, believe it, this is so!”

I didn’t have to look at Shura to know what the expression on his face was: polite skepticism, mixed with frank amusement.

I can’t believe that, either. Must be a bit of exaggeration somewhere. But it does make a great Third World anecdote!

I brought out a large pitcher of iced tea and some bottles of Calistoga water, then sat down and prepared to listen.

As background to their not-yet specified proposition, Giorgio told us a story. It seems that, several years earlier, an American gentleman we will call Borch, who had relocated to Rio de Janeiro, and who could not fully explain to anyone’s satisfaction why he was unable to return to the United States, married a wealthy Brazilian lady, and produced a couple of children. Then he moved his entire family to an island in the Caribbean whose authorities were notoriously friendly and accommodating towards foreigners with money, and within a few months, all his upper class acquaintances in Rio had received invitations to a new health spa. The brochure emphasized a kind of therapy not usually offered by spas: psychological, with emphasis on the resolving of marital discord and problems like alcoholism.

The Brazilians poured into the new spa. Every Wednesday, the owner, Mr. Borch, would bring out two vials from his private refrigerator. The fluid in the first vial was red; that in the second, yellow. Each client was given a carefully measured amount from one or the other of the vials, served in a beautifully designed miniature goblet, a small crystal bowl cradled in a network of pewter. Borch referred to the medicine as The Essence, and refused to further identify it.

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The effect of the Essence medicine was astonishing, Giorgio told us. “You had a feeling that God had entered your soul, and all was peace inside you,” he said, “If you looked at somebody, you felt love for him, compassion, you understand? For married couples, it was miraculous. All the emotions — yes? — the feelings they had in the past for each other; all these returned, just like the day of their marriage.”

Shura and I listened to the account in fascinated silence, but both of us were beginning to feel the pressure of questions needing to be asked, and I actually had my mouth open to say something, when Dr. Hector spoke up for the first time since the story began, and stunned us back into listening.

“Once, when I had expressed myself to Mr. Borch again,” the greysuited little gentleman said, “about wishing to know what was in the Essence, he told me that I could have faith in its value and its purity, because it had been created by one of the world’s most respected scientists, a chemist called Alexander Borodin, and that it was not necessary for me to know anything else.”

“Oh, my God!” I breathed, then laughed.

Shura protested, “I’ve never heard of anyone named Borch, and I certainly never supplied him with any drug!”

Giorgio gestured impatiently, “Yes, yes, Hector and I decided this ourselves — that you had nothing to do with it — when we investigated and found out who you were.”

I wonder if he uses the word, “investigated,” in the same way we would use it. Sort of implies private detectives and all that sort of thing. Maybe better not to know.

One burning question had arisen in my mind, and I decided now was the time to get an answer, before the conversation got any more complicated. I leaned forward in my chair and asked, looking from one to the other, “How much did these clients pay for the miraculous spa treatment, if you don’t mind my curiosity?”

“Most of us paid twenty-five thousand dollars per week,” said Giorgio.

Shura and I looked at each other, eyes wide.

“Oog,” I said, brilliantly.

“Sounds like a pretty good scam,” said Shura, nodding his appreciation.

“In the last week at the spa,” said Hector, “Giorgio and I managed to divert some of our Essence medicine, and we took the sample with us when we left. We had it analyzed in the United States. It was a drug called MDMA.”

“Oh, boy,” I said.

Shura just grunted.



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mdma.net

See also: MDMA.net, Peaceful QualiaLSD + MDMA, and Wireheading Done Right.

Psychotic Depression

Excerpt from Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (pgs. 692-698)

And re Ennet House resident Kate Gompert and this depression issue:

Some psychiatric patients — plus a certain percentage of people who’ve gotten so dependent on chemicals for feelings of well-being that when the chemicals have to be abandoned they undergo a loss-trauma that reaches way down deep into the soul’s core systems — these persons know firsthand that there’s more than one kind of so-called ‘depression’. One kind is low-grade and sometimes gets called anhedonia[280] or simple melancholy. It’s a kind of spiritual torpor in which one loses the ability to feel pleasure or attachment to things formerly important. The avid bowler drops out of his league and stays home at night staring dully at kick-boxing youtube videos cartridges. The gourmand is off his feed. The sensualist finds his beloved Unit all of a sudden to be so much feelingless gristle, just hanging there. The devoted wife and mother finds the thought of her family about as moving, all of a sudden, as a theorem of Euclid. It’s a kind of emotional novocaine, this form of depression, and while it’s not overly painful its deadness is disconcerting and… well, depressing. Kate Gompert’s always thought of this anhedonic state as a kind of radical abstracting of everything, a hollowing out of stuff that used to have affective content. Terms that undepressed toss around and take for granted as full and fleshy — happiness, joie de vivre, preference, love — are stripped to their skeletons and reduced to abstract ideas. They have, as it were, denotation but not connotation. The anhedonic can still speak about happiness and meaning et al., but she has become incapable of feeling anything in them, of understanding anything about them, of hoping anything about them, or of believing them to exist as anything more than concepts. Everything becomes an outline of the thing. Objects become schemata. The world becomes a map of the world. An anhedonic can navigate, but has no location. I.e. the anhedonic becomes, in the lingo of Boston AA, Unable To Identify.

It’s worth nothing that, among younger E.T.A.s, the standard take on Dr. J. O. Incandenza’s suicide attributes his putting his head in the microwave to this kind of anhedonia. This is maybe because anhedonia’s often associated with the crises that afflict extremely goal-oriented people who reach a certain age having achieved all or more than all than they’d hoped for. The what-does-it-all-mean-type crisis of middle-aged Americans. In fact this is in fact not what killed Incandenza at all. In fact the presumption that he’d achieved all his goals and found that the achievement didn’t confer meaning or joy on his existence says more about the students at E.T.A. than it says about Orin’s and Hal’s father: still under the influence of the deLint-like carrot-and-stick philosophies of their hometown coaches rather than the more paradoxical Schtitt/Incandenza/Lyle school, younger athletes who can’t help gauging their whole worth by their place in an ordinal ranking use the idea that achieving their goals and finding the gnawing sense of worthlessness still there in their own gut as a kind of psychic bogey, something that they can use to justify stopping on their way down to dawn drills to smell flowers along the E.T.A. paths. The idea that achievement doesn’t automatically confer interior worth is, to them, still, at this age, an abstraction, rather like the prospect of their own death — ‘Caius Is Mortal’ and so on. Deep down, they all still view the competitive carrot as the grail. They’re mostly going through the motions when they invoke anhedonia. They’re mostly small children, keep in mind. Listen to any sort of sub-16 exchange you hear in the bathroom or food line: ‘Hey, there, how are you?’ ‘Number eight this week, is how I am.’ They all still worship the carrot. With the possible exception of the tormented LaMount Chu, they all still subscribe to the delusive idea that the continent’s second-ranked fourteen-year-old feels exactly twice as worthwhile as the continent’s #4.

Deluded or not, it’s still a lucky way to live. Even though it’s temporary. It may well be that the lower-ranked little kids at E.T.A. are proportionally happier than the higher-ranked kids, since we (who are mostly not small children) know it’s more invigorating to want than to have, it seems. Though maybe this is just the inverse of the same delusion.

Hal Incandenza, though he has no idea yet of why his father really put his head in a specially-dickied microwave in the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar, is pretty sure that it wasn’t because of standard U.S. anhedonia. Hal himself hadn’t had a bona fide intensity-of-interior-life-type emotion since he was tiny; he finds terms like joie and value to be like so many variables in rarified equations, and he can manipulate them well enough to satisfy everyone but himself that he’s in there, inside his own hull, as a human being — but in fact he’s far more robotic than John Wayne. One of his troubles with his Moms is the fact that Avril Incandenza believes she knows him inside and out as a human being, and an internally worthy one at that, when in fact inside Hal there’s pretty much nothing at all, he knows. His Moms Avril hears her own echoes inside him and thinks what she hears is him, and this makes Hal feel the one thing he feels to the limit, lately: he is lonely.

It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip — and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naïvité. Sentiment equals naïvité on this continent (at least since the Reconfiguration). One of the things sophisticated viewers have always liked about the J. O. Incandenza’s The American Century as Seen Through a Brick is its unsubtle thesis that naïvité is the last true terrible sin in the theology of millennial America. And since sin is the sort of thing that can be talked about only figuratively, it’s natural that Himself’s dark little cartridge was mostly about a myth, viz. that queerly persistent U.S. myth that cynicism and naïvité are mutually exclusive. Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pulses and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.[281]

The American Century as Seen Through a Brick‘s main and famous key-image is of a piano-string vibrating — a high D, it looks like — vibrating and making a very sweet unadorned solo sound indeed, and then a little thumb comes into the frame, a blunt moist pale and yet dingy thumb, with disreputable stuff crusted in one of the nail-corners, small and unlined, clearly an infantile thumb, and as it touches the paino string the high sweet sound immediately dies. And the silence that follows is excruciating. Later in the film, after much mordant and didactic panoramic brick-following, we’re back at the piano-string, and the thumb is removed, and the high sweet sound recommences, extremely pure and solo, and yet now somehow, as the volume increases, now with something rotten about it underneath, there’s something sick-sweet and overripe and potentially putrid about the one clear high D as its volume increases and increases, the sound getting purer and louder and more dysphoric until after a surprisingly few seconds we find ourselves right in the middle of the pure undampered sound longing and even maybe praying for the return of the natal thumb, to shut it up.

Hal isn’t old enough yet to know that this is because numb emptiness isn’t the worst kind of depression. That dead-eyed anhedonia is but a remora on the ventral flank of the true predator, the Great White Shark of pain. Authorities term this condition clinical depression or involutional depression or unipolar dysphoria. Instead of just an incapacity for feeling, a deadening of the soul, the predator-grade depression Kate Gompert always feels as she Withdraws from secret marijuana is itself a feeling. It goes by many names — anguish, despair, torment, or q.v. Burton’s melancholia or Yevtuschenko’s more authoritative psychotic depression — but Kate Gompert, down in the trenches with the thing itself, knows it simply as It.

It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence. It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self’s most elementary levels. It is a nausea of the cells and soul. It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also thoroughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself, so that an almost mystical unity is achieved with a world every constituent of which means painful harm to the self. Its emotional character, the feeling Gompert describes It as, is probably mostly indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency — sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying — are not just unpleasant but literally horrible.

It is also lonely on a level that cannot be conveyed. There is no way Kate Gompert could ever even begin to make someone else understand what clinical depression feels like, not even another person who is herself clinically depressed, because a person in such a state is incapable of empathy with any other living thing. This anhedonic Inability To Identify is also an integral part of It. If a person in physical pain has a hard time attending to anything except that pain[282], a clinically depressed person cannot even perceive any other person or thing as independent of the universal pain that is digesting her cell by cell. Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution. It is a hell for one.

The authoritative term psychotic depression makes Kate Gompert feel especially lonely. Specifically the psychotic part. Think of it this way. Two people are screaming in pain. One of them is being tortured with electric current. The other is not. The screamer who’s being tortured with electric current is not psychotic: her screams are circumstantially appropriate. The screaming person who’s not being tortured, however, is psychotic, since the outside parties making the diagnoses can see no electrodes or measurable amperage. One of the least pleasant things about being psychotically depressed on a ward full of psychotically depressed patients is coming to see that none of them is really psychotic, that their screams are entirely appropriate to certain circumstances part of whose special charm is that they are undetectable by any outside party. Thus the loneliness: it’s a closed circuit: the current is both applied and received from within.

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of the two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to personally be trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

But and so the idea of a person in the grip of It being bound by a ‘Suicide Contract’ some well-meaning Substance-abuse halfway house makes her sign is simply absurd. Because such a contract will constrain such a person only until the exact psychic circumstances that made the contract necessary in the first place assert themselves, invisibly and indescribably. That the well-meaning halfway-house Staff does not understand Its overriding terror will only make the depressed resident feel more alone.

One fellow psychotically depressed patient Kate Gompert came to know at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton two years ago was a man in his fifties. He was a civil engineer whose hobby was model trains — like from Lionel Trains Inc., etc. — for which he erected incredibly intricate systems of switching and track that filled his basement recreation room. His wife brought photographs of the trains and network of trellis and track into the locked ward, to help remind him. The man said he had been suffering from psychotic depression for seventeen straight years, and Kate Gompert had had no reason to disbelieve him. He was stocky and swart with thinning hair and hands that he held very still in his lap as he sat. Twenty years ago he had slipped on a patch of 3-In-1-brand oil from his model-train tracks and bonked his head on the cement floor of his basement rec room in Wellesley Hills, and when he woke up in the E.R. he was depressed beyond all human endurance, and stayed that way. He’d never once tried suicide, though he confessed that he yearned for unconsciousness without end. His wife was very devoted and loving. She went to Catholic Mass every day. She was very devout. The psychotically depressed man, too, went to daily Mass when he was not institutionalized. He prayed for relief. He still had his job and his hobby. He went to work regularly, taking medical leaves only when the invisible torment got too bad for him to trust himself, or when there was some radical new treatment the psychiatrists wanted him to try. They’d tried Tricyclics, M.A.O.I.s, insulin-comas, Selective-Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitors[283], the new and side-effect-laden Quadracyclics. They’d scanned his lobes and affective matrices for lesions and scars. Nothing worked. Not even high-amperage E.C.T. relieved It. This happens sometimes. Some cases of depression are beyond human aid. The man’s case gave Kate Gompert the howling fantods. The idea of this man going to work and to Mass and building miniaturized railroad networks day after day after day while feeling anything like what Kate Gompert felt in that ward was simply beyond her ability to imagine. The rationo-spiritual part of her knew this man and his wife must be possessed of a courage way off any sort of known courage-chart. But in her toxified soul Kate Gompert felt only a paralyzing horror at the idea of the squat dead-eyed man laying toy track slowly and carefully in the silence of his wood-panelled rec room, the silence total except for the sounds of the track being oiled and snapped together and laid into place, the man’s head full of poison and worms and every cell in his body screaming for relief from flames no one else could help with or even feel.

The permanently psychotically depressed man was finally transferred to a place on Long Island to be evaluated for a radical new type of psychosurgery where they supposedly went in and yanked out your whole limbic system, which is the part of the brain that causes all sentiment and feeling. The man’s fondest dream was anhedonia, complete psychic numbing. I.e. death in life. The prospect of radical psychosurgery was the dangled carrot that Kate guessed still gave the man’s life enough meaning for him to hang onto the windowsill by his fingernails, which were probably black and gnarled from the flames. That and his wife: he seemed genuinely to love his wife, and she him. He went to bed every night at home holding her, weeping for it to be over, while she prayed or did that devout thing with beads.

The couple had gotten Kate Gompert’s mother’s address and had sent Kate an Xmas card the last two years, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Feaster of Wellesley Hills MA, stating that she was in her prayers and wishing her all available joy. Kate Gompert doesn’t know whether Mr. Ernest’s limbic system got yanked out or not. Whether he achieved anhedonia. The Xmas cards had had excruciating little watercolor pictures of locomotives on them. She could barely stand to think about them, even at the best of times, which the present was not.


[280] Anhedonia was apparently coined by Ribot, a Continental Frenchman, who in his 19th-century Psychologie des Sentiments says he means it to denote the psychoequivalent of analgesia, which is the neurologic supression of pain.

[281] This had been one of Hal’s deepest and most pregnant abstractions, one he’d come up with once while getting secretly high in the Pump Room. That we’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that he goes around feeling like he misses somebody he’s never even met? Without the universalizing abstraction, the feeling would make no sense.

[282] (the big reason why people in pain are so self-absorbed and unpleasant to be around)

[283] S.S.R.I.s, of which Zoloft and the ill-fated Prozac were the ancestors.



See also:

  • Wireheading Done Right – which steel-mans the case for philosophical and practical hedonism by outlining how to change our reward circuitry in such a way that (1) we never need to feel bad, (2) we move between different varieties of bliss depending on their functional properties, and (3) avoid becoming a pure replicator.
  • Tyranny of the Intentional Object – the stories we tell ourselves to explain every sense of pleasure and every sense of pain we feel are all, for the most part, deeply psychotic. That is, in so far as we attribute their valence to external triggers –  in truth, every feeling’s valence is the result of the fine-grained structure of the qualia that implements it. You don’t scream at a bullet ant’s sting. You scream at the deep scintillating patterns of qualia shaped by dissonance, shearing, pinching, tearing, etc. (all symmetry breaking effects) that result from the sting.
  • Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain – I like that David Foster Wallace makes a distinction between run-of-the-mill anhedonia and the Great White Shark of clinical depression. More broadly, we ought to realize that bad experiences of pain and suffering are not just a fraction worse than the rest, but they can indeed be orders of magnitude worse. On the flip-side, this is also true for positive experiences, with illustrative examples such as Buddhist Jhanas, temporal lobe epilepsy, and the lucky 5-MeO-DMT-induced state of supreme bliss.

Also relevant: David Pearce‘s Abolitionist Bioethics, Mike Johnson‘s A Future for Neuroscience, and Romeo Stevens‘ post about Core Transformation.

Finally, see Scott Alexander‘s book review of Infinite Jest.

Two Recent Presentations: (1) Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences, and (2) Harmonic Society

Here are two recent talks I gave. The first one is a talk about the Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences I gave at the Harvard Science of Psychedelics Club in mid-September (2019). And the second talk is about QRI‘s models of art, which took place in June (2019) at a QRI party in the Bay Area.


The Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences (@Harvard Science of Psychedelics Club)


Description

Andrés Gómez Emilsson from the Qualia Research Institute presents about the Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences.

At a high-level, this video presents an algorithmic reduction of DMT phenomenology which imports concepts from hyperbolic geometry and dynamic systems theory in order to explain the “weirder than weird” hallucinations one can have on this drug. Andrés describes what different levels of DMT intoxication feel like in light of a model in which experience has both variable geometric curvature and information content. The benefit of this model cashes out in a novel approach to design DMT experiences in order to maximize specific desired benefits.

See original article: The Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences: Symmetries, Sheets, and Saddled Scenes

And the Explain Like I’m 5 version: ELI5 “The Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences”

Presentation outline:

  • Thermometers of Experience
  • The Leaf Metaphor
  • Introduction to Hyperbolic Geometry
  • DMT Levels
  • Level 1: Threshold (& Symmetry Hotel)
  • Level 2: Chrysanthemum
  • Level 3: Magic Eye (& Crystal Worlds)
  • Level 4: Waiting Room
  • Level 5: Breakthrough
  • Level 6: Amnesia
  • Energy – Complexity Landscape
  • Dynamic Systems
  • Fixed Point
  • Limit Cycles
  • Chaos
  • Noise Driven Structures
  • Turbulence
  • Conclusion
  • Super-Shulgin Academy
  • Atman Retreat
  • Wrap-Up

About the speaker: Andrés studied Symbolic Systems at Stanford (and has a masters in Computational Psychology, also from Stanford). He has professional experience in data science engineering, machine learning, and affective science. His research at the Qualia Research Institute ranges from algorithm design, to psychedelic theory, to neurotechnology development, to mapping and studying the computational properties of consciousness. Andrés blogs at qualiacomputing.com.

The Qualia Research Institute (QRI) is a non-profit based in the Bay Area close to San Francisco which seeks to discover the computational properties of experience. QRI has a “full-stack approach” to the science of consciousness which incorporates philosophy of mind, neuroscience, and neurotechnology. For more information see: qualiaresearchinstitute.org

The Harvard Science of Psychedelics Club hosts events on psychedelic research, meditation, neuroscience, students sharing their own experiences, and much more.


Credits:

– Wallpaper group 632 rotating along each symmetry element – Nick Xu

– Many of the images are by Paul Nylander: http://bugman123.com/

– The Hyperbolic Honeycomb images and 3D prints are by Henry Segerman, who also has an awesome Youtube channel where he shows 3D printed math. We used his design to print the Honeycombs we were passing around during the lecture: https://www.youtube.com/user/henryseg

– Space-Time Dynamics in Video Feedback: Jim Crutchfield, Entropy Productions, Santa Cruz (1984): https://youtu.be/B4Kn3djJMCE

Many thanks to Andrew Zuckerman and Kenneth Shinozuka for helping organize this event. And thanks to David Pearce, Michael Johnson, Romeo Stevens, Quintin Frerichs, the anonymous trippers, and many others for making this work real.


And here are the slides:

 

Dynamic Systems animations:



Harmonic Society: 8 Models of Art for a Scientific Paradigm of Aesthetic Qualia


Description

Andrés Gómez Emilsson from the Qualia Research Institute gives a presentation about how art works according to modern neuroscience and philosophy of mind.

The video discusses eight different models of art: models 1 through 4 have been discussed in academic literature and the current intellectual zeitgeist, while models 5 through 8 are new, original, and the direct result of recent insights about consciousness as uncovered by modern neuroscience, philosophy of mind, and the work of the Qualia Research Institute.

Abstract:

We start by assuming that there are real stakes in art. This motivates the analysis of this subject matter, and it focuses where we place our gaze. We examine a total of eight models for “what art might be about”, divided into two groups. The first group of four are some of the most compelling contemporary models, which derive their strength from fields such as philosophy of language, economics, evolutionary psychology, and anthropology. These models are: (1) art as a word only definable in a family resemblance way with no necessary or sufficient features, (2) art as social signaling of desirable genetic characteristics, (3) art as Schelling point creation, and (4) art as the cultivation of sacred experiences. These four models, however enlightening, nonetheless only account for what David Marr might describe as the computational level of abstraction while leaving the algorithmic and implementation levels of abstraction unexamined. They explain what art is about in terms of why it exists and what its coarse effects are, but not the nature of its internal representations or its implementation. Hence we propose a second group of four models in order to get a “full-stack” view of art. These models are: (5) art as a tool for exploring the state-space of consciousness, (6) art as a method for changing the energy parameter of experience, (7) art as activities that induce neural annealing (which implements novel valence modulation, i.e. surprising pain/pleasure effects), and (8) art as an early prototype of a future affective language that will allow diverse states of consciousness to make sense of each other. These frameworks address how art interfaces with consciousness and how its key valuable features might be implemented neurologically. We conclude with a brief look at how embracing these new paradigms could, in principle, lead to the creation of a society free from suffering and interpersonal misunderstanding. Such a society, aka. Harmonic Society, would be designed with the effect of guaranteeing positive valence interactions using principles from a post-Galilean science of consciousness.

———————–

The 8 models of art are:

1. Art as family resemblance (Semantic Deflation)

2. Art as Signaling (Cool Kid Theory)

3. Art as Schelling-point creation (a few Hipster-theoretical considerations)

4. Art as cultivating sacred experiences (self-transcendence and highest values)

5. Art as exploring the state-space of consciousness (ϡ☀♘🏳️‍🌈♬♠ヅ)

6. Art as something that messes with the energy parameter of your mind (ꙮ)

7. Art as puzzling valence effects (emotional salience and annealing as key ingredients)

8. Art as a system of affective communication: a protolanguage to communicate information about worthwhile qualia (which culminates in Harmonic Society).


The presentation is based on an essay published in the Berlin-based art magazine Art Against Art (see: Issue #6).

Article is posted online here: Models 1 & 2, 3 & 4, 5 & 6, 7 & 8.


See more about the Qualia Research Institute at: https://www.qualiaresearchinstitute.org/

Andrés blogs at Qualia Computing: Top 10 Qualia Computing Articles


Infinite bliss!!!


And here are the slides:

State of the Qualia, Fall 2019

Qualia Research Institute’s inaugural newsletter.


What is QRI trying to do?

Our long-term vision is to end suffering. To destroy hell, and to build tools for exploring all the bright futures which come after. To take the Buddha’s vision of 2600 years ago, update it with advanced theory and technology, and make it real for all creatures.

Our medium-term goal is to build a ‘full-stack’ approach to the mind and brain, centered around emotional valence. Critically, better philosophy should lead to better neuroscience, and better neuroscience should lead to better neurotechnology. We’re skeptical of any philosophical approaches that don’t try to “pay rent” by building empirically useful things.

Our short-term deliverables are to refine our tools for evaluating EEG readings of emotionally-intense states (e.g. 5-MeO-DMT), build a hardware platform for non-invasive precision brain stimulation, and release an updated version of our full-stack theory of brain dynamics (‘neural annealing’).

We think we’re on track for all of these goals. On one level this is a huge claim- but as Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” We think we have that lever, and we’re building a place to stand.


Progress to date

Philosophy: over the course of the last few years, we’ve imported and integrated many key insights from our research lineages – in aggregate we believe these form the world’s best map of how to not get confused in navigating the formalization of consciousness. Our paradigm (laid out in Principia Qualia) builds on top of these lineages, and our core philosophical result is the Symmetry Theory of Valence (STV), an information-theoretic approach towards understanding how pleasant an experience is. (STV is important because it’s such a crisp and theoretically significant hypothesis: if it’s right, and we can prove it, the world will shift overnight.) We’ve also done significant philosophical research on the phenomenological nature of time, DMT states, and the logarithmic nature of pain and pleasure, to pick a few topics. Read more.

Neuroscience: Over the past two years we’ve put together a substantial push into neuroscience, which is showing increasing traction. Scott Alexander recently noticed how we actually beat Robin Carhart-Harris and Karl Friston (the world’s most-influential neuroscientist!) to the punch with an annealing model for psychedelics; this also forms the basis for (we believe) the world’s best neuroscience paradigm for explaining the mechanisms and effects of meditation and was mentioned in Tim Ferriss’s newsletter. We’re also a center of gravity (along with Selen Atasoy, its creator) for phenomenological interpretation of the Connectome-Specific Harmonic Wave (CSHW) paradigm.

Organization: This year saw QRI run a successful summer internship program in San Francisco with 3 superstar interns, Andrew and Kenneth from Harvard and Quintin from Washington University. More recently, we spent a month in Boston on a ‘work sprint’, and ended up giving 3 talks at Harvard and 1 at MIT, with plans to do more at various Ivies this fall. One of the most fun outputs of this summer was Zuck’s QRI explainer video (4.5 minutes).

I’m ridiculously proud of everything we’ve accomplished — a few years ago, QRI was mostly a promissory note that a formalist approach to consciousness could produce something interesting. Today, I can say with a straight face that QRI is one of the premier consciousness research centers in the world, releasing top-tier cross-disciplinary research every few months.


What’s next

Our current push is centered on empirically validating the Symmetry Theory of Valence (STV) and integrating it with our neuroscience stack. This involves releasing an updated version of our ‘neural annealing’ neuroscience paradigm, building a hardware platform for patterned stimulation, and refining our “CDNS” algorithm to work with EEG, with an eye toward using 5-MeO-DMT EEG data to evaluate STV. It looks like 2020 will be a breakout year for us.


What we need

Frankly speaking, we need your support. Building things is hard, and what we’re doing has never been done before. Our core bottlenecks are moneypeople, and executive function.

Money: so far, QRI has been mostly self-funded from the co-founders’ personal savings. I’m proud of everyone’s commitment, but this is unsustainable, especially as we attempt more ambitious projects. At this point, we have enough results to make a firm case that supporting QRI is likely to produce an awesome amount of value for the world, potentially literally the most leveraged philanthropic effort existing today. Frankly speaking the future we’re building won’t get built if we don’t secure funding, and I ask for your help and generosity. You can donate here. (Thank you to our key supporters this year! Your efforts allowed us to onboard three amazing interns and will support building things this Fall.)

People: high-quality organizations are incredibly hungry for high-quality people. QRI is no exception. If you think you have something to offer, please get in touch about collaboration, volunteering, research, and so on. Importantly, we don’t just need researchers: we’re hungry for operations people, and looking for help with getting on podcasts (speaking with Sam Harris and Joe Rogan would both be big wins!), organizing or getting speaking engagements (especially in the Bay), and even small, fun projects like making a series of QRI meme t-shirts.

Executive function: there’s a natural tension between research and organization-building. Paul Graham talks about this in Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule; research needs big uninterrupted chunks of time, whereas management and outreach involves lots of small tasks. Speaking personally, I struggle with keeping up with all our inquiries while also doing ‘deep work’. I would offer three thoughts to potential volunteers:

  1. Please have patience if we don’t get back to you right away. We’re juggling as best we can!
  2. When possible, we absolutely love it when people can figure out their own way to help — I can think of few things more pleasant to see in my inbox than someone sharing a “by the way, I made this” link to e.g. a nice HTML version of Principia Qualia, an explainer video for various QRI concepts, a deep review of our experimental method, etc.
  3. One of the highest leverage ways to help is to build infrastructure for us. E.g., if you’re familiar with the main themes of our work and want to be a volunteer coordinator for us, that would be an amazing force-multiplier.

I am incredibly proud of what we’ve done so far, and incredibly excited about the future. We will need your help to build it.

All the best,

Michael Edward Johnson

Executive Director, Qualia Research Institute

Harmonic Society (4/4): Art as Valence Modulation and Future Affective Language

The following essay* was recently published in the Berlin-based art magazine Art Against Art (buy issue).

The essay offers eight different models of art: models 1 through 4 have been discussed in academic literature and the current intellectual zeitgeist, while models 5 through 8 are new, original, and the direct result of recent insights about consciousness as uncovered by modern neuroscience, philosophy of mind, and the work of the Qualia Research Institute.

Below you will find models 7 and 8, which conclude this series of posts. (See previous models: 1 & 2, 3 & 4, and 5 & 6).


7. Valence Modulation

What is the difference between indifference and interest, boredom and thrill, despair and bliss? Pleasure! A few grains of this magic ingredient are dearer than a king’s treasure, and we have it a plenty here in Utopia. It pervades into everything we do and everything we experience. We sprinkle it in our tea.

The universe is cold. Fun is the fire that melts the blocks of hardship and creates a bubbling celebration of life.

It is the birth right of every creature, a right no less sacred for having been trampled upon since the beginning of time.
Letter From Utopia by Nick Bostrom

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Photo by Andrés Silva (aka. El Capitán). Claudia Silva (in the picture).

We are now approaching the point at which we will finally start cooking with peanut oil, so to speak. We will finally start thinking about how to build extremely good art from first principles. The ‘Art as Valence Modulation’ model builds on top of the previous model where art involves messing with the brain’s energy parameter. To explain this model we need to introduce two additional concepts:

  1. Neural Annealing, and
  2. The Symmetry Theory of Valence (STV)

Neural annealing is a concept we developed at QRI to extend the entropic disintegration framework.[1] Namely, the most beneficial use of ‘energy’ is to direct it towards the brain’s natural harmonics in order to carve out the presence of a naturally blissful state in everyday life. This process works on a progression that goes like this:

  1. Energy application
  2. Entropic disintegration
  3. Search/self-reorganization
  4. Neural annealing

Together with neural annealing, STV provides an answer for why we experience intensely rewarding states of consciousness from art. Here is where some of the theories that we have been working on come into play. In particular, we hypothesize that when highly-energized states of consciousness follow an adequate cooling schedule, they can give rise to highly ordered states that are experienced as very pleasant and which can carve good attractor states into the brain in the long term. Making an analogy with metallurgy, with annealing, you can increase the regularity of the microscopic structure of metal by heating it above the recrystallization temperature and letting it cool. This results in changed material properties (such as reduced hardness and increased ductility). We hypothesize that something along these lines also takes place in brains. Neural annealing facilitates solving complex constraint satisfaction problems at the perceptual, emotional, and conceptual level. The higher energy enables quick search between possible configurations that satisfy as many constraints as possible (over- stepping the local maxima we are usually stuck within normal energy ranges), while the cooling process solidifies the best constraint satisfaction solutions. Critically, here the STV comes into play by proposing that the more regular the resulting neural structures are, the better they feel. Annealing smooths out inconsistencies and irregularities, which according to the STV are key sources of discomfort. Symmetry, in the form of smoothness and harmony, is why the process of annealing leaves you feeling great.

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Very high-valence annealed states of mind feel cosmic and profound in significance. Images by Adrián Regnier Chávez

In this light, art with lasting desirable mood effects does not only need to increase the energy parameter, but it also needs to know how to lower it at the right schedule in order to leave people annealed to a given desirable mindset. A lot of art that successfully raises the energy parameter nonetheless does not succeed in the ecosystem of human attention, because it does not let people cool off in the right way. More so, an excessively competitive memetic landscape that incentivizes maximum surprise tends to train people to experience too much fear of missing out to let them adequately consume art at the pace needed to leave you better off emotionally. There is genuine wisdom in going to museums with one’s smartphone turned off.

Where do we draw the line between healthy recreation and distraction? Some might say that art in the form of pictures is fine, but audiovisual is too much. Some may be fine with movies but not with VR. Others would be ok with videogames but perhaps not with drugs. Others perhaps would be ok with drugs but not with genetic modification of neuronal gene expression. Some would be ok with that but not with neural dust rewiring, and so on. The format, we would argue, is not what matters. But rather, what the annealing pattern is, which is actually what makes the effects of art stick in the long run (or not).

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Image by Joseph Matthias Young. It makes me think of the aesthetic of the meta-aesthetic.

This way of seeing art is highly generative. It gives us a research lead for how to construct new grandiose and highly-effective art. More so, the model can itself be developed as an aesthetic of its own. Perhaps we could call it the aesthetic of the meta-aesthetic. That is, an aesthetic that rewards distilling the essential reason why any aesthetic can feel good and meaningful. In the future, we might expect to see in stores “Hedonium Magazine” – which catalogues all of the peak-valence states that can be achieved with any method whatsoever, and sees the craft of perfecting neural annealing as itself the highest form of art. Here we transcend the post-modern ethos of giving each aesthetic its place in the garden of paradoxes. Yes, give each aesthetic its place, but do not let that prevent you from building a meta- narrative that ties together and clarifies the value-add of each aesthetic. No aesthetic is above being examined in terms of how it achieves neural annealing in those who consume it.

In turn, this model gives us a new understanding of what an “aesthetic” even is. According to it, an aesthetic is a system for long-term neural annealing. A one-off weird art piece might give rise to annealing and solidify random structures in your brain. An aesthetic is more than that. It is a collection of generator seeds for art pieces that give rise to a coherent form of neural annealing that is reinforced with each piece, no matter how different they may seem from one another on the surface.

A further property of neural annealing is that it is what enables you to fully experience a self-consistent worldview as if true. This bridges the gap between meaning and pleasure, and is at the core of the connection between valence and the experience of sacredness we discussed in model 4. According to model 7, sacred experiences are the result of driving the energy parameter of the brain above the recrystallization threshold and then having it cool down as it reorganizes the elements of a given target ontology and worldview. The result is an annealed mental state optimized to represent that worldview. The sense of global consistency makes the worldview feel good and true, almost as if you were able to smell truth with it. This model would say, thus, that the core mechanism behind every kind of sacred experience is the same. Which emotions, ontologies, and worldviews get annealed is what is different depending on set, setting, and aesthetic (i.e. how the energy sources and sinks were modified). But deep down, it is successful annealing that makes sacred experiences feel so compelling and good.

8. Affective Language: Harmonic Society

An idealised full-spectrum superintelligence will indeed be capable of an impartial “view from nowhere” or God’s-eye-view of the multiverse, a mathematically complete Theory Of Everything – as does modern theoretical physics, in aspiration if not achievement. But in virtue of its God’s-eye-view, full-spectrum superintelligence must also be hypersocial and supersentient: able to understand all possible first-person perspectives, the state-space of all possible minds in other Hubble volumes, other branches of the universal wavefunction (UWF) – and in other solar systems and galaxies if such beings exist within our cosmological horizon. Idealized at least, full-spectrum superintelligence will be able to understand and weigh the significance of all possible modes of experience irrespective of whether they have hitherto been recruited for information-signalling purposes.
David Pearce, in The Biointelligence Explosion (2012)

If we succeed at developing a science of art built on top of a modern science of consciousness, what should we do with it? What would the art of a wise post-scarcity and post-suffering society look like? As far I can tell, Utopia consists of both having the system in place to keep the lights on, while being able to use the surplus energy to power blissful experiences beyond the bounds of our current conceptions.

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Harmonic Society by ALGE

The vision of Harmonic Society is that of a particular type of post-suffering utopia that resolves to optimize for good art. Referencing the models of art we’ve built upon so far: Harmonic Society (1) knows there are stakes in art and hence sidesteps the traps of semantic deflation, (2) avoids runaway signaling and Cool Kid gridlock, (3) utilizes Hipsters to explore promising new frontiers, (4) has mastery over a diverse range of conceptions of the sacred, (5) systematically explores the state-space of consciousness, (6) has a scientific and precise understanding of the energy parameter of experience, and (7) has deep knowledge of how to induce arbitrary types of neural annealing. In addition to all of this, Harmonic Society has (8) a map of all high-level aesthetics, knows what they are useful for, and can instantiate them at will.

In Harmonic Society there is always a way to smoothly transition between seemingly irreconcilable aesthetics. It deeply understands the pros and cons of different aesthetics and knows how to apply them optimally both for instrumental purposes and hedonic value.

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Image by Michael Aaron Coleman

Nowadays a lot of people who could benefit from, e.g. going to art festivals, taking acid, subpack cuddle parties, participating in plays (i.e. exposing themselves to high-end aesthetic experiences), find it hard to do so, because it is difficult to get back to work once the weekend is over after experiencing incredible bliss. A rough solution to avoid residual incompatibility between the state you annealed over on the weekend with the mindset you need today for work would be to develop a mood organ[2] that instantly puts you into any mindset you want. But perhaps a more elegant solution is to have such an advanced and detailed map of the state-space of mindsets that smooth, painless, and synergistic transitory states between arbitrary modes of being are discovered.

Thus, one could one minute be on a 5-MeO-DMT-type white light conscious void ultra-blissful state, the next minute be on a perfectly functional MDMA-like state useful for socializing, the minute after moving to a highly-focused nootropic-like systematizing state, and so on. The aesthetic to foster here is a meta-aesthetic of avoiding sharp discontinuities between mindsets, and allowing you to transition between all known awesome aesthetics. In Harmonic Society the entire state-space of consciousness is your oyster.

A further thought about Harmonic Society is that a sufficiently advanced understanding of aesthetic experience might even revolutionize our understanding of identity.
For instance, a non-trivial sense of personal diachronic identity could arise if everyone
starts to identify with e.g. a different person-specific song. If we truly understood how
valence works and we had full access to our neurocircuitry, we could in a way embody a
given work of art and interact with others in a way that is consistent with the artistic
degrees of freedom our identity allows. This way, people’s interactions could perhaps be guaranteed to be positive. The combinatorial space of possible back-and-forth interactions does not need to be small, since high-energy allows for incredibly varied states. But nonetheless we could get to a point of understanding how valence works such that we could provably demonstrate that two persons with the right neural implementations will always have positive-sum interactions no matter what.

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Identity in Harmonic Society: The aesthetic of understanding the valence of every possible state of consciousness and how to translate what matters between them. (Picture: Symbol of Open, Empty, Closed Individualism from Burning Man Theme-Camps of the Year 2029, Continuity Camp)

Conclusion

As the guiding premise of this essay we started out assuming that there are real and substantial stakes in art. It sure is all fun and games to think that anything goes in art until your landscape of cultural meaning is polluted with replicator strategies and attention-zapping exploits that lead to long-term neuropsychological problems and anneal false and neurotic metaphysics. Understanding art matters.

I would make the claim that a new science of valence, i.e. a new science of pleasure, pain, love, hate, and indeed transcendent bliss, can be a new rallying flag for cultural value. Rather than the messy consilience patchwork between different aesthetics we have today, we might in the future indeed find a true and real grounding for the meaning of beauty and bliss. Contrary to the conservative spirit often associated with calls to reinvigorate an objective sense of beauty, here we arrive at a theory of art that would very well appreciate experiences as outlandish as DMT breakthroughs. This theory of art appreciates such states not “just as much” as fine art, but indeed as far more valuable and implicated in what matters than most of everyday life. For art, meditation, psychedelics, and philosophy all share the fact that they are messing with the energy parameter of experience in powerful ways that can be used to achieve much better and globally-consistent brain states. Understanding that the effects of art can be very strong and life-changing is one thing, but knowing the mechanism of action behind those changes comes with entirely new possibilities and responsibilities. We invite you to consider what this entails, and to join us in envisioning a future Harmonic Society constructed with full knowledge of neural annealing.


[1] It is worth mentioning that Steven Lehar used annealing to describe the subjective progression of his ketamine experiences in his book The Grand Illusion: A Psychonautical Odyssey Into the Depths of Human Experience. [October 2019 – Edit: Carhart-Harris and Friston wrote a paper together in which they discussed annealing in the context of psychedelic research (see summary). The paper was published in July, two months after I submitted this essay to Art Against Art in May of 2019. We are delighted to see independent convergence on this concept and its importance.]

[2] The Penfield Mood Organ is a technology described in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick that allows the user to instantly tune into any of hundreds of possible moods via direct cerebral stimulation. Some example moods include “3. The desire to dial other moods”, “481. Awareness of the manifold possibilities open to me in the future”, “594. Pleased acknowledgment of husband’s superior wisdom in all matters”, and “888. The desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it”.



Glossary

Cool Kids: Someone who is well-rounded and uses strategic mediocrity in order to entice people to show their peacock feathers. At its extreme, Cool Kids become the leaders of artistic gangs who corner the marketplace of aesthetic attention.

Hipster: Someone who enjoys art and media that seems too obscure to care about. Typically, the preferred aesthetics of a Hipster are highly detailed and focus on specific favored attributes at the expense of well-roundedness. A Hipster does not only have opinions about what is enjoyable, but also about how to enjoy it and why.

Nerd: Someone who wants to figure out what is true, especially as it applies to technical and formal systems. A philosophy nerd, for instance, compulsively tries to figure out ultimate truth.

Minimax art strategies: A strategy for making art that tries to be the best on a narrow set of attributes while neglecting well-roundedness. This is sometimes adaptive and some- times maladaptive.

L1/L2 normalization: Using mean absolute error (L1) favors minimax strategies vs. using mean squared error (L2) which favors well-rounded strategies.



Special thanks to: Michael Johnson, Romeo Stevens, Liam Brereton, Duncan Wilson, Victor Ochikubo, and David Pearce for their thoughts and feedback.



* The full essay’s title is: Harmonic Society: 8 Models of Art for a Scientific Paradigm of Aesthetic Qualia

References:
Eno, B. (2012). ‘What is Art actually for?’. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/XIVfwDJ-kDk
Stanley, J. (n.d.). Philosophy of Language in the Twentieth Century. Retrieved from http://thatmarcusfamily.org/philosophy/Course_Websites/Readings/Stanley%20 -%20Language%20in%2020th%20Century.pdf
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Zizek, S. (2019). on #MeToo movement. How to Watch the News, episode 02. RT. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ai_UAPaoEW4
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Lilly, J. C. (1975). Simulations of God : the science of belief. Berkeley, Ca: Ronin. Lilly, J. C. (1974). [Programming and metaprogramming in the human biocomputer.] The human biocomputer. Theory and experiments. (2nd ed.). London: Abacus. Wilber, K. (2007). Integral spirituality : a startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world. Boston, Mass.: Integral Books.
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Gómez Emilsson, A. Burning Man Theme-Camps of the Year 2029: From Replicator to Rainbow God (2/2). (2019, April 9). Retrieved May 16, 2019, from Qualia Computing website: https://qualiacomputing.com/2019/04/08/burning-man-theme-camps- of-the-year-2029-from-replicator-to-rainbow-god-2-2/
Johnson, M. (2018). The Neuroscience of Meditation: Four Models | Opentheory.net. Retrieved May 16, 2019, from website: https://opentheory.net/2018/12/the-neuroscience-of-meditation/
Johnson, M., (2016). Principia Qualia: Blueprint for a new science v1. Retrieved from http://opentheory.net/PrincipiaQualia.pdf
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Carhart-Harris, R. L., Leech, R., Hellyer, P. J., Shanahan, M., Feilding, A., Tagliazucchi, E., … Nutt, D. (2014). The entropic brain: a theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00020
Atasoy, S., Roseman, L., Kaelen, M., Kringelbach, M. L., Deco, G., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2017). Connectome-harmonic decomposition of human brain activity reveals dynamical repertoire re-organization under LSD. Scientific Reports, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17546-0
Atasoy, S., Donnelly, I., & Pearson, J. (2016). Human brain networks function in connectome-specific harmonic waves. Nature Communications, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms10340
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Harmonic Society (3/4): Art as State-Space Exploration and Energy Parameter Modulation

The following essay* was recently published in the Berlin-based art magazine Art Against Art (issue). Below you will find models 5 and 6 (out of 8), which are new, original, and the direct result of recent insights about consciousness as uncovered by modern neuroscience, philosophy of mind, and the work of the Qualia Research Institute. (See models 1 & 2, and 3 & 4).

I will wrap up this series next week with something many readers would know to expect – an explanation for how art is connected to valence. Stay tuned!


5. State-Space Exploration

The elucidation of the origin of qualia-rich subjectivity is important not only as an activity in the natural sciences, but also as a foundation and the ultimate justification of the whole world of the liberal arts. Bridging the gap between the two cultures (C. P. Snow) is made possible only through a clear understanding of the origin of qualia and subjectivity.
Qualia symbolize the essential intellectual challenge for humanity in the future. The impact of its elucidation will not be limited to the natural sciences. The liberal arts, religion, and the very concept of what a man is will be reassessed from their very foundations.
– Ken Mogi in The Qualia Manifesto (1998)

Is there anything beyond the sacred? Yes. This model of art posits that one key feature of art is the pursuit of novel experiences that challenge preconceptions of what is possible to experience. The state-space[1] of possible experiences is unfathomably vast, and mundane everyday human experiences are restricted to a tiny corner of this enormous behemoth. As they say, “you won’t know if you like it until you try it”. Applying that logic to the exploration of the state-space of consciousness would encourage us to open our horizons and become receptive to the possibility that there are true gems of experience waiting to be found in exotic regions of this space.

Now, it is easy for some people to fetishize the exotic for novelty’s sake. But contrary to popular belief, novelty is not intrinsically valuable. Taking into account previous discussions (especially models 2 and 3 above), we can interpret artistic explorations that push the boundary of our knowledge about what can be experienced as a sophisticated form of signaling genetic fitness. In particular, mastery over novel modes of experience shows that you have the mental and physical power to devote copious amounts of resources to exploration, for only one in a thousand attempts at discovering something new results in something that other people can appreciate. It is thus the case that a lot of novelty creation is aimed at courtship rather than being driven by a genuine passion for knowledge.

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Left style source: Adrián Regnier Chávez. Right style source: Carpet by ALGE

That said, what is out there hidden in the state-space of consciousness beggars belief. Anyone who is exploring that vast space in an intelligent way will sooner or later find incredible things. But how do we explore this space intelligently? A systematic exploration of possible images, for instance, could involve taking a picture and changing one pixel at a time. But as we all know, the Library of Babel is almost completely devoid of meaningful books. At least relative to its size. A much better way of exploring the space (inspired by Steerable Pyramid and Deep Dream-type algorithms) would be to sample possible images with an intelligent method, such as training generative neural networks on previous works of art, and then asking them to hallucinate possible images while constraining the neural layers you identify with the aesthetic quality of the images. Style transfer techniques and similar methods can result in images sampled from a given aesthetic, rather than from e.g. a particular low-level feature set (e.g. a type of edges) or a set of high-level semantic content (e.g. cars, people, dogs, etc.).

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Left style source: blue balloons in a living room. Right style source: collection of blankets by ALGE

Exploring the space of possible images is an extremely small sub-problem of exploring the state-space of consciousness. But I think the analogy is useful as a general idea. Now, how vast is the state-space of consciousness? Well, it tends to be larger than you think, even when you take that fact into account. I will coin that fact as Gomez-Emilsson’s Law. Every time you think you know how vast the state-space of consciousness is, you will be surprised to find out you are wrong if you choose to dig deeper.

Consider what happens when someone takes LSD. Most people expect that they will simply get to experience new sensations like brighter colors, tracers, or synesthesia. This is true to a point, for light doses. But on medium doses, in addition to exploring the state-space of sensory configurations, one also experiences new aesthetics, which this model would define as ways of organizing a lot of sensations in ways that feel right. More so, an aesthetic is also a way of delivering uninhibited sensations in a way that feels good at the level of the whole experience, from moment to moment. Most people have no clue that there is a vast space of possibilities here.

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Illustrates “state-space of beach rocks” by unknown artist at Sombrio Beach in Vancouver. Photo: Julia Pope

On higher doses, people are surprised to find an even more general way of exploring the state-space of consciousness. Namely, one instantiates alternate games. The DMT “vibe” that people report can be thought of as more than a “context switch”. It is, rather, a more radical change that we could describe as a “game switch”. The “Jester” that people talk about regarding DMT experiences is an archetype that the mind uses to signal the “rule violation” quality of the state. There is so much going on that one’s experience splits into multiple games at once trying to find some common ground, and this feeling of game-incompatibility feels very alien. A sort of anti-virus system in the mind is triggered at that point, and labels the inconsistency with a feeling of weirdness so that you know not to update your actions based on the (currently globally inconsistent) experience of multiple superimposed games. Rule violation through fast changes in implicit games of social status causes you to interpret what is going on as having extreme stakes. Interacting with DMT Aliens, Gods, Elves, etc. feels like the upper limit of potential social status transfer that your world simulation affords (like meeting a president or a king). The state-space of consciousness contains all of these alternate games and metagames, and we have not even begun to catalogue them. This is all to say: seen in this light, the era of art has just begun.

Like the previous models, this one also gives rise to an aesthetic of its own. I call this the aesthetic of “Rainbow God”. This is the meta-belief that we gain value by understanding and experiencing extremely novel states of consciousness. Ultimate bliss, according to this aesthetic, is not a bland monotone state, but rather, is a state that incorporates within it an extraordinary variety of types of qualia. Posthuman aesthetics will not only show up in the form of intense feelings, but also in the form of extremely “rainbow-ey” experiences. The concept of a full-spectrum intelligence (an intelligence capable of instantiating any qualia at will) plays an important role in this aesthetic. Thus, the full-spectrum artists of the future will have access to a qualia pallet in an experience editor[2] that includes human qualia like sight, touch, scent, emotions, thought-episodes, etc. It will also include qualia only found in insects, fish, mollusks, people tripping, people having seizures, novel neurocircuitry, etc. The asymptote of incorporating all possible varieties of qualia into a single experience is the final realization of Rainbow God, the ultimate state of knowledge and beauty according to this aesthetic.

6. Energy Parameter Modulation

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Seifert Surfaces by Paul Nylander

People say they have weird and novel experiences with art, but by a large margin, the novelty itself is not the focus of what matters in people’s reports. Rather, people especially talk about having experiences that are not only novel and unusual, but also characterized by heightened states of consciousness. For example, when people “get art” they report being inspired, amazed, surprised, enthralled, or even shocked. These states seem to have in common a quality of high-energy in one form or another. Although possible, it is rare to talk about art as purposefully sedating, boring, anesthetizing, or numbing. That’s the exception. In general, art as diverse as Japanoise and Jodorowsky have in common the quality of heightening, and not only changing, one’s state.

At the Qualia Research Institute (QRI) we take very seriously the notion that experience has an energy parameter. In psychology-speak, nearby concepts include emotional arousal and activation level, though these tend to have more physiological than phenomenological connotations. In contrast, we hold that you can indeed experience very high levels of conscious energy without at the same time experiencing the physiological responses that are usually associated with high arousal (such as high heart-rate, high breath-rate, high blood pressure, sweating, etc.). Likewise, it is not the case that only traditionally high-arousal emotions (such as being excited, thrilled, fearful, anxious, etc.) come in high-energy forms. Indeed, it is possible to experience states of relaxation, serenity, equanimity, and peacefulness in extremely energetic forms(!), as happens in the concentration-based altered states of consciousness called “Jhanas” in the Buddhist tradition.

Here it is relevant for me to bring up the fact that my colleague Mike Johnson recently wrote about the neuroscience of meditation. He discussed how to make sense of the acute and long-term effects of meditation through the lens of modern neuroscience paradigms, and then found a way to tie them together into an overarching theory. For the sake of brevity I will schematically outline some of the key features of the paradigms he integrated:

  1. Free Energy Principle (Karl Friston, 2010):
    1. The brain is trying to minimize expected future surprise by building high-level models of sensory input
    2. When a model says that the input is very unlikely, our brain propagates an error signal in the form of excess energy
    3. This energy motivates the search for a better model, for which the previously surprising input is now expected
  2. Entropic Disintegration (Robin Carhart Harris, 2014):
    1. Psychedelics elevate the “neural temperature” of the brain, meaning that they increase the entropy/disorder present in neural circuits
    2. One’s everyday mode of consciousness relies on learned neural patterns solidified over years, which at times can be chronically maladaptive
    3. By “raising the temperature” of our neural circuits, maladaptive neural circuits, especially “egoic structures” in the default-mode network (DMN), disintegrate
    4. This enables you to “start from scratch” and form new, more adaptive, neural patterns
  3. Connectome-Specific Harmonic Waves (Selen Atasoy, 2016):
    1. Physical systems with excitation-inhibition wavefronts have harmonic modes
    2. By mapping out the connectome of a brain (white and grey matter tracks) and using empirically-derived excitation-inhibition differential equations of neural activity, one can infer the electromagnetic resonant modes of a given brain
    3. Using this technique, it was found empirically that psychedelics increase the amplitude of connectome-specific harmonic waves across the spectrum, and in particular, the amplitude delta is higher on the upper ranges of the spectrum

Tying together these frameworks we see that (a) the brain responds to surprise in an excitatory way which gives rise to a process of search for better models, (b) there is a sense of neural energy for which increasing it gives rise to the disintegration of pre-existing patterns, and (c) there is a sense of actually physical energy in the brain tied together with its resonant modes, which are variable depending on one’s state of consciousness. To bring all of these frameworks together, we can interpret them in terms of energy sources and energy sinks:

  1. Energy Sources: surprises, sensory stimulation
  2. Energy Sinks: passage of time (decay factor), semantic content (crystallization around explanatory representations), pre-existing attitudes

At a high-level, we could describe the relevance of these frameworks for art as follows: For art to energize you it needs to either reduce the influence of energy sinks and/or increase the amount of energy from energy sources.

The numerous tricks of the craft of different kinds of art can be reinterpreted in this framework. For example, a lot of artistic advice for a broad audience focuses on making sure that there is a twist you are introducing in an otherwise familiar space. Even subtle surprises (colors being out of place, unusual garments, implausible actions, perspective mixups, etc.) will propagate a prediction error and heighten the energy available in one’s state. This will make you experience the rest of the piece in a more energized and impactful form. Now, to sustain the heightened energy parameter, it is important to avoid making it easy for the brain to redirect the energy to a large energy sink. If the perceptual mistake one makes is one you are familiar with and have experienced before, you might end up diverting the newly available energy towards reinforcing an attitude you developed about that perceptual mistake (e.g. word tricks could trigger anxiety about not being a good reader rather than helping you stay in an energized state).

This paradigm also puts in a different light, and makes sense of, the criticisms often raised against pieces perceived as Kitsch, Camp, and Cliché, or other aesthetics centered around the over-use of a given artistic trick. Art can fail to sufficiently energize your state by failing to introduce a large enough surprise. If you can immediately grasp the full scope of the novelty introduced by a given piece (even if you are misapprehending the input!) you can quickly categorize your experience into a pre-existing bucket and skip the intended energized state. This functions as an energy sink, and hence you fail to stay energized.

This is just a piece of the full story here, for energy sinks are not completely reliable. There is a phenomenon called semantic satiation, where a pattern of rapid and regular repetition of words, images, and concepts makes them feel meaningless. So even the most cliché of art can indeed get the job done of energizing your state of consciousness, by presenting many versions of the same thing in flashes at a sufficiently high rate (I’m not saying this is necessarily pleasant, but it might be effective!). On the flip side, if what you are after is the maximization of a particular meaning in e.g. a commercial, you will find there is a Goldilocks Zone for the number of times you should present the core concept/image to the audience; too few and the meaning will be weak, too many and you’ll trigger semantic satiation by overwhelming the energy sinks of the audience.

Schematically, there are three broad ways of inhibiting energy sinks to allow the buildup of what we call “semantically neutral energy”. You can:

  1. Disable,
  2. Overwhelm, or
  3. Avoid them

Let me elaborate. First, you can disable energy sinks by switching to unfamiliar contexts (e.g. it is harder worrying about work while on a screen-free beach, at a museum… or at Burning Man). Also, disabling energy sinks can happen in states of exhaustion, fasting, intoxication, or other states of mind that impair some of the normal functions of the brain. Second, as we saw, semantic satiation would be an example of overwhelming energy sinks, but there are many other ways of doing so, such as increasing the intensity of input above a certain threshold. And third, avoiding energy sinks involves things like setting the intention to focus your attention on a meditation object and refocus on it every time you get distracted. Alternatively, one can load a given energy sink with negative implications and learn to avoid it via negative feedback (e.g. when a standard interpretive framework is frowned upon by a social group).

Most drugs and activities could be described in terms of their characteristic effect on energy sources and sinks.[3] But only some of these drugs and activities are “broadband energy enhancers”, in the sense that the energy they give rise to is transferable to a broad range of mental and physical activities. This is what sets meditation, trance-inducing music/dancing, psychedelics, philosophy, and art apart from other energizing activities. Those methods in particular allow energized states to be sustained for long periods of time, and they give rise to novel sensations exclusive to the high-energy regions of the state-space of consciousness.

A note on psychedelics here is in order. There is indeed something very peculiar that psychedelics do to the energy sources that to my knowledge is not done by the other broad-band energy enhancers. Psychedelics make energy sources echo! They change the neuroacoustics of the brain, which favors temporally repeating patterns in a delayed-echo fashion along with a slower decay function for experience over time.[4] Thus, visual tracers and the amplification of music appreciation during a psychedelic trip are both expressions of the same underlying principle: the brain is more resonant. The fact that this effect is distinct from what art, meditation, philosophy, or strobes have to offer makes psychedelics synergistic and complementary with the other methods. After all, it is hard to ignore the gazillion subjective reports of enhanced aesthetic appreciation experienced on even small doses of psychedelics.

For the above reasons, I think this model has a lot of explanatory power. To recap, this model of art says that increasing the energy parameter of one’s consciousness is the success condition of art. It explains the repeating trance-inducing quality of music, the need for balance between predictability and surprise, common craft advice, and the existence of higher aesthetics. In turn, this model implies that art can be done in a wrong way. Art that is uninspiring, insipid, unexciting, irrelevant, etc. could be understood as art that fails to raise the energy parameter of those who experience it. And indeed, the higher the form of the art, the more it allows for the buildup of semantically-neutral energy.



[1] The term “state-space” refers to a very general concept that identifies the set of all possible configurations of a given system (of equations, machines, experiences, etc.) and the ways in which these configurations can transition from to another.

[2] As a proof of concept: According to cognitive scientist Steven Lehar, combining LSD, Ketamine, and THC can give rise to a “free-wheeling hallucination”, which is a state of mind where one gains the ability to edit the contents of one’s experience at will (“You can say ‘give me a table’ and a table will appear right in front of you as real as a solid table”).

[3] For example, anti-psychotic drugs are broad-band energy sink enhancers, psychedelics are broad-band energy source enhancers, classic stimulants (such as amphetamines) are narrow-band energy source enhancers, classical depressants (such as benzodiazepines) are narrow-band energy sink enhancers.

[4] In one account proposed by “Psychedelic Information Theory” (James Kent), psychedelics achieve the tracing/echo effect by disabling an energy sink. The control interrupt model of psychedelic action says that there are natural inhibitory processes that prevent features of our current experience from building up over time. Psychedelics are thought to chemically interrupt inhibitory control signals from the cortex, which are constantly preventing the build-up of qualia. In this account, what you are paying attention to is in fact the part of the sensory input that is being inhibited the least. Interrupting the inhibitory “control signal” gives rise to echoes of previous states across the board that you intrinsically attend to whether you like it or not.


Featured image credit: Seifert Surfaces by Paul Nylander

* Originally titled: Harmonic Society: 8 Models of Art for a Scientific Paradigm of Aesthetic Qualia

Harmonic Society (2/4): Art as Schelling Point Creation and the Pursuit of Sacred Experiences

The following essay was recently published in the Berlin-based art magazine Art Against Art (issue). Below you will find models 3 and 4 (out of 8). I will be sharing 2 new models each week until I’ve shared all of them (see part 1/4).


3. Schelling Point Creation

[Psychoanalysis teaches us:] When somebody complains, always be careful and try to find, identify, what type of additional pleasure, satisfaction, does the act of complaining itself bring to you. We all, when we complain, almost always, find a perverse satisfaction in the act of complaining itself.
– Slavoj Zizek (2019)

I certainly feel compelled to complain about the tyranny of genetic fitness signaling in art. That said, people who excel at games who are not played by many people will have an incentive to undermine the popular games and frame their favorite game as somehow superior. Why are Hipsters and Nerds allied against Cool Kids? Because the Cool Kids can decide on a whim that the games the Hipsters and Nerds play are uncool and not worthy of public fitness displays. Even if they happen to be of superb quality!

In many cases, the exploration of uncommon games can give rise to major innovations, so there is a utilitarian reason to promote some degree of exploration outside of the aesthetics that most people can enjoy.

This line of reasoning gives rise to a new interpretation for what a Hipster is. To be a Hipster is not, as popularly believed, to merely desire the uncommonly desired. The whole thrust of hipsterism is a promise of superior quality in at least some actually relevant area, even at the cost of severely reduced quality across the board. (Using an analogy from the field of statistics: Cool Kids favor L2 normalization[1] as it signal-boosts people who are well-rounded, whereas Hipsters and Nerds favor L1 normalization which improves the outlook for imbalanced minimax strategies).

Many people believe that all Hipsters are Cool Kids. Many believe something slightly weaker, which is that to be a Cool Kid you also need to be a Hipster. But in fact this is absolutely not the case, and it is a category error to think otherwise. Cool Kids and Hipsters were correlated when being Hipster had mainstream appeal. That is, Hipsters were cool when Cool Kids used to challenge people to show how Hipster they could be. But this should not be in any way an indication that Hipster aesthetics are intrinsically related to Cool Kids, for the same reason that e.g. Country Music, Normcore, or Bolshevik aesthetics are not intrinsically invented by Cool Kids. Hipsters are individual contributors to the frontier of culture. Indeed, it is rare to find a place that produces genuinely innovative content while also being saturated with Cool Kids.

Cool Kids, in large quantities, eventually form cliques that become voting blocs. These frustrate innovation by fully orthogonalizing what is socially cool from what is socially valuable. A Hipster under those circumstances tends to feel stifled. Cool Kids tend to be above-average in openness to experience, but they are rarely in the top 2% of openness to experience – more like one standard deviation above the mean. This is because they need to be open enough to look at new trends but also sufficiently closed to be able to relate to the bulk of the consumers of new trends. Genuine Hipsters are usually above the 98th percentile of openness to experience. In turn, the sexual attraction of some people is focused on this particular trait, and Hipsters compete at signaling it to the highest extent possible. In the process, they discover interesting things. But this does not mean they can sustainably stay cool in the eyes of the average person.

High openness to experience allows you to appreciate minimax players. It allows you to accept artists who are ridiculously good at making a specific point but lack talent in every other respect. Ultimately, the innovations produced by these extreme artistic explorations sometimes radically transform social reality.

In “Ads Don’t Work That Way”, Kevin Simler discusses how advertisement’s power is not through direct persuasion, but through shaping the landscape of cultural meaning. You don’t bring a 6-pack of Coronas to a party because the ads have subconsciously conditioned you to think that this beer in particular is more likely to make you and your friends feel like you are a chill group. Rather, you buy it in order to signal the fact that you see yourself as a chill person, and to bring that mindset to those who see you bring the product. It is by virtue of common knowledge that ads can do this; if every single person received a different custom-made AI-powered neural net ad, ads would stop having the function of shaping the landscape of cultural meaning, and perhaps lose a significant portion of their power.

Art, likewise, can also change the landscape of cultural meaning. In contrast to ads, art might perhaps be described as high-bandwidth low-distribution as opposed to high-distribution low-bandwidth. And to the extent that Hipsters discover new aesthetics, they are a big source of novel cultural Schelling points for subcultures to form around.

4. Creating Sacred Experiences

Art could be the next religion – Alex Grey

Below you will find an example of a piece that aims to create a sacred experience, which I recently encountered at the Santa Cruz Regional Burn. It is called Mementomorium, and it is a mixture of a sensory-deprivation-chamber and a symbolic self-burial experience crafted in order to simulate your own death and to attempt to see your life in its finitude. This art piece plays with one’s experience of time and sense of mortality, and helps you cut through delusion in order to re-interpret one’s time on earth as finite and priceless.

Why is the above art? Cool Kids might find this too morbid, and Hipsters are likely to see
it as too real. So what is the thrust behind artistic visions like the above?

Sacred experiences are an aspect of social and phenomenological reality. Art, it turns out, is deeply entwined with such sacredness. Now, much has been said about the sublime in relation to art. What else is there to say?

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. – George Bernard Shaw

Contrary to the three previous models, here the culminating emotion that is sought is not the vindication of self, but rather, the elicitation of a sense of self-transcendence. This 4th model would say that art creates some of the most valuable experiences there are, because it makes us experience a sense of transcendence. And relative to the previous three models, this model is the first to consider art as involved in the quest of finding the ultimate answer, as opposed to merely providing incremental benefits to humanity.

Cutting to the chase, let us jump right into a list of possible intentional sources for phenomenal sacredness (i.e. the possible targets of art according to this model). From John Lilly’s “Simulations of God”, below you find the most common types of self-transcendence catalogued:

  1. God As the Beginning
  2. I Am God
  3. God Out There
  4. God As Him/Her/It
  5. God As The Group
  6. God As Orgasm and Sex
  7. God As Death
  8. God As Drugs
  9. God As the Body
  10. God As Money
  11. God As Righteous Wrath
  12. God As Compassion
  13. God As War
  14. God As Science
  15. God As Mystery
  16. God As the Belief, the Simulation, the Model
  17. God As the Computer
  18. God Simulating Himself
  19. God As Consciousness-without-an-Object
  20. God As Humor
  21. God As Superspace, the Ultimate Collapse into the Black Hole, the End.
  22. The Ultimate Simulation
  23. God As the Diad

According to John Lilly’s view, each of us lives in a world simulation (whether this is generated by our brains or by a higher power is something Lilly himself went back and forth on for decades). He makes the case that our world simulation is run by a hierarchical chain of programs and meta-programs. One’s locus of control[2] is what he calls the Self Meta-Programmer, which is roughly equivalent to the ego (or at least a healthy one with high levels of self-control). Implicitly, however, the Self Meta-Programmer is subordinated to something higher, something he calls the Supra-Self Meta-Programmer (SSMP for short; see: “Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer”).[3] Our SSMPs are responsible for our notions of a higher power, higher values, and higher purpose. One’s religion is determined by the SSMPs to which one is subordinated. In Lilly’s view, it is one’s SSMPs that give rise to one’s understand- ing of God. And as the list above shows, there are many possible versions of God. That is, there are many possible meta-programmings for what the highest power, value, and purpose might be. In light of this, art as the pursuit of sacred experiences would not be restricted to a particular view of God. Rather, it encapsulates every possible notion of God – where the art that hits hardest is the art that resonates the most with one’s implicit conception of God.

A parallel here could be made with adult developmental models (such as those of Wilber’s Integral Theory, Kegan’s Evolving Self, Common’s and Richard’s Model of Hierarchical Complexity, etc.). At each level of development, one’s conception of the highest value transcends and includes those of the developmental stages below. Let’s take for example Integral Theory’s levels 4, 5, and 6. Level 4, aka. “Amber” (ethno- or nation-centric, values rules, discipline, faith in transcendent God or preordained high- er order, socially conservative, etc.) would derive a sense of sacredness from religious imagery, a nationalist spirit, and art that fosters traditional values. Level 5, aka. “Orange” (values science and rationality, democracy, individualism, materialism, entrepreneurship, etc.) gets off on experiences that bring about a reductionist scientific world picture compatible with self-reliance (“the world is made of atoms, and this, rather than being tragic, is an opportunity to have fine-grained control over the elements”). And Level 6, aka. “Green” (values pluralism and equality, multiple points of view, no true reality, embraces paradox, considers civil rights and environmentalism to be the frontier of culture, etc.) would find art projects that highlight the multiplicity of perspectives to be key to a sense of the sacred.[4] In this framework we can explain people’s negative reaction to art as a misfit between the developmental level of the target audience and the developmental level of the person who gets to experience it. Art targeted to people in a higher level of development than oneself will be perceived as heretical (e.g. postmodern art from the point of view of a traditionalist monotheist), while art targeted to people on a lower level of development than oneself will be perceived as childish or naïve (e.g. traditional religious iconography from the point of view of a scientific rationalist humanist). We could thus predict that if there are even higher developmental levels above ours, we will most likely think of the art targeted to them as deeply troubling.

The core quality of the experience is the feeling and recognition that oneness is truth. – Martin Ball on 5-MeO-DMT

At the upper levels of development, one could argue, we find sacredness based on concepts like pure consciousness, emptiness, and the clear white light of the void, etc. Famously, psychedelics, and in particular 5-MeO-DMT, seem to trigger direct experiences of this type of sacredness, which, according to its proponents, encapsulates all other kinds of transcendence within. If this is so, then we could anticipate that agents like 5-MeO-DMT will play an important role in the future of art as more people climb the ladder of adult psychological development.

On a social level, art as the pursuit of the sacred can be interpreted as an adaptive behavior aimed at taming envy. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is (artistically or other- wise) capable of diverting a group’s energy away from tasks that need to be done for individual and collective survival. When done in excess, wasteful displays of fitness make communities suffer. Runaway signaling has serious drawbacks, and sacred experiences seem to calm people down a bit, especially if the sense of sacredness comes along with social reassurance in the form of being able to hang out together without having to compete all the time, for Christ’s sake! Ahem. To be chill with one another.

As we saw with the previous models, this one, too, has its own aesthetic. The aesthetic of the model would perhaps manifest in the form of a museum that caters to every possible sense of sacredness. From aboriginal shamanism to monotheistic conservativism to punk rock concerts to transhumanism, this aesthetic recognizes the fact that sacredness is catalyzed by many different inputs depending on the psychological traits of the people who consume it.



[1] L1 and L2 normalization are ways of talking about how to describe the distance between points in a given space. L2 takes into account the mean squared difference along each dimension, whereas L1 simply uses the average difference in each dimension. If one is thinking about an ideal art piece within a given aesthetic, then using L2 would penalize very heavily exemplars that deviate from the archetype and generally favor well-roundedness, whereas an L1 normalization would accept large differences from the ideal along several dimensions as long as at least a fraction of the dimensions are very good.

[2] One’s locus of control is the part of our experience that comes with a felt sense of agency. That is, what feels like is in charge of determining the direction of one’s attention, intention, and behavior. Typically, a person’s locus of control is tied to their sense of self – or ego – but this is not true in the general case (as demonstrated by the shattered locus of control present in schizophrenia, and absent locus of control during states of depersonalization and derealization).

[3] According to John Lilly, a Supraself-Metaprogramer is an agent outside our locus of control that runs below our threshold of awareness and which ‘codes’ Supraself-Metaprograms. In turn, Supraself-Metaprograms are the mental “programs” that determine our sense of the highest values, which we typically inherit from our culture, influence from others, implicit historical beliefs, and so on.

[4] The colors of Integral Theory: Ken Wilber’s Integral theory was developed by identifying the commonalities among many different types of adult developmental models, spiritual stage maps, and meditation progression systems. The progression could broadly be described as a generalized expansion of the circle of compassion and increased acceptance of complexity. The color associated with each level is arranged from low-frequency to high-frequency parts of the spectrum. Specifically, infrared – archaic, magenta – tribal, red – warrior, amber – traditional, orange – modern, green – postmodern, teal/turquoise – integral, ultraviolet – post-integral.


Featured image credit: Mementomorium by Oleg Muir Lou Goff

* The full essay’s title is: Harmonic Society: 8 Models of Art for a Scientific Paradigm of Aesthetic Qualia