1) Explore the state-space of consciousness because you want to know it for yourself
2) Study it from many points of view because you want to understand it intellectually at a deep level
3) Intend to apply it for the benefit of all beings
I really like meditation, but I have never been a fan of not understanding how it works rationally. It seems to me that doing powerful things to your state of consciousness without having a good sense of what is going on can open you up to unfounded beliefs.
As I’ve gone deeper into meditation and energetic practices, though, I’ve come to realize that one can in fact make rational sense of what is happening. This guided meditation series condenses this knowledge into 9 sets of practices that have transparent and interpretable effects.
I go over the basics of how the mind works, with principles like what you pay attention to gets energized, energizing an internal representation highlights its resonant modes, sufficiently energized representations become plastic and malleable, and certain vibratory qualities feel better than others because they spread out stress more uniformly.
And then, with the basics covered, we go on to play and construct interesting states of mind, including heavenly realms of experience and computationally non-trivial mind acrobatics.
No magic needed; just curiosity and openness of being.
I hope you enjoy and learn from it! And also please feel encouraged to share feedback or reports of how it went for you.
The Varieties of Attention
This is a guided meditation provided by Andrés in order to enrich one’s conception of the nature of “attention”.
Attention is typically thought of as a fuzzy “spotlight” that redirects cognitive resources to a region of one’s experience. But this is just one of many varieties of attention. In fact, many changes to one’s state of consciousness have very little to do with changes to perceptual features like color, brightness, auditory pitch, tactile sensations, or the texture of thought. At times, one can tell that one’s state of consciousness has changed dramatically and yet it is very hard to pin-point exactly what that change consists of. In many of those cases, that’s because the change is primarily attentional. Thus, learning about alternative modes of attention is an important tool to enable higher quality phenomenological reports and replications. It has the added bonus that knowing a broad range of attentional modes can radically enhance one’s meditation practice.
Join us in this guided meditation to get acquainted with a much broader set of attentional modes.
In this guided meditation Andrés walks you through a variety of methods to modulate the “energy parameter” of experience. This is a building block for the framework of Neural Annealing in the nervous system, which explores how (suitably defined) energy impacts internal representations, facilitates solving constraint satisfaction problems, and has the potential to lead to sustainable high valence states of consciousness by reducing internal stress.
We explore energy sources such as (a) sensory input, (b) pleasure and pain, (c) attention, (d) and surprise. Additionally a wide range of techniques for how to build, manage, and skillfully deploy the energy are discussed and practiced.
In this guided meditation Andrés helps you explore the way in which attention constructs local binding connections between phenomenal features and how the flow of attention and awareness can be modeled with the graph algorithm called PageRank.
Review of the nature of attention: what you pay attention gets stronger, gets locally bound, and gets connected to what you were paying attention right before
Noticing local binding in See, Hear, Feel (inner & outer)
Cross-modal coupling: divide and conquer technique for preventing negative valence and a coherence technique to enhance positive valence
Oscillatory complementarity between awareness and attention
How objects of perception can play the role of witnesses and witnessed elements of a scene
Hybrid attentional modes
Chains of witnessing and Nth-order intentionality
PageRank of attention
Space witnessing space
These are all very helpful techniques and insights to practice and add to your Qualia Mastery Toolkit.
The Thermodynamics of Consciousness and the Ecosystem of Agents
In this guided meditation Andrés walks you through QRI’s recent work on:
The Thermodynamics of Consciousness: how energy flows from energy sources (sensory stimulation, valence, attention, surprise, and the background noise signature) towards the bound field of consciousness, which is then shaped via the energy sink landscape of symmetry and recognition, and then exit via motor action or “outer field radiation”.
The Ecosystem of Agents: our minds work somewhat similar to a next-token prediction engine like GPT-4, where the existing constraints help resolve the ambiguity of the regions of experience which remain amorphous. In order to make accurate predictions of the world, we need to actually simulate agentive behavior (because the world of full of agents). To do this we create “subagents” that play the role of agentive forces so that we can predict them (and ultimately remain safe).
The meditation also walks through a series of strategies for dealing with subagents in order to harmonize them and experience a healthy and wholesome ecosystem of friendly subagents that help each other in beautiful ways:
Improve the training data
Practice the meditation where you guide lost subagents to a pool of love that re-absorbs them
Good vibes as base: your mood provides the evolutionary selection pressures for agentive forces, so cultivating beautiful mindsets will enable more friendly agents to arise
More Dakka on equanimity and metta
Reward clean intentions before flattery (there’s a vibe to transparent intentions)
Explore different network structures for agents that are more easily manageable
High-Valence Calisthenics – Exploring the Heaven Worlds
In this guided meditation Andrés walks you through a wide range of possible high-valence states of consciousness, aka. phenomenal “heaven worlds”.
Calisthenics are exercises that you can perform with minimal equipment and that are intended to exercise every muscle group in the body. Now what would it mean to do “meditation calisthenics”? Well, that you exercise every kind of meditative approach in order to keep all of your “meditation muscles” fit. More specifically, “high-valence calisthenics” would be the practice of engaging with every kind of positive valence state of consciousness achievable without the aid of external aids (whether chemical, sensorial, or situational).
In this guided meditation we go through the high-valence configurations of “see, hear, feel” (inner & outer), artistic states of consciousness, social mindsets, metta, “cosmic party mode”, the worlds of insight, intellectual understanding, realization, and the modes of being of refined and purified high-valence (Jhanas).
We conclude by dedicating these beautiful qualities of the mind for the benefit of all beings.
“Calisthenics (American English) or callisthenics (British English) (/ˌkælɪsˈθɛnɪks/) is a form of strength training consisting of a variety of movements that exercise large muscle groups (gross motor movements), such as standing, grasping, pushing, etc. These exercises are often performed rhythmically and with minimal equipment, as bodyweight exercises. They are intended to increase strength, fitness, and flexibility, through movements such as pulling, pushing, bending, jumping, or swinging, using one’s body weight for resistance in pull-ups, push-ups, squats, etc. Calisthenics can provide the benefits of muscular and aerobic conditioning, in addition to improving psychomotor skills such as balance, agility, and coordination.” (source)
Divine Qualia – Open Sourcing God
Without making any ontological, philosophical, or metaphysical assertions or assumptions, we point out that the phenomenology of the divine and in particular the concept of “God” has an important resonance for the human soul. Therefore exploring this phenomenology is essential for a complete direct understanding of consciousness.
In this guided meditation Andrés walks you through an exploration of the phenomenology of different conceptions of the divine. The key guiding question for this exploration is: what does it feel like to inhabit the phenomenal world in which God is conceived in this or that way? Rather than pursuing a specific conception, we instead engage in an open ended exploration of the divine for the sake of developing Qualia Mastery. We call this approach “Open Sourcing God”, where one is not dependent on other’s interpretations or rules to access the God of one’s own understanding.
Conceptions of the divine explored include Chaos, Ingroup, Hierarchy, Creator, The Law, Archetype, Replication, Dynamics, Life, Energy, Coincidence and Synchronicity, Love, Compassion, Witness, Consciousness, Awareness, Oneness, Axis of Annealing, and Valence.
In this guided meditation Andrés walks you through a series of exercises that illustrates harmonic resonance in the energy body and then channels excess energy into high-valence tactile sensations (cf. Piti), which can be a possible foundation practice for the 1st Jhana.
The meditation focuses on the inner and outer “feel” channels for (see, hear feel) X (inner, outer) as formulated by the “factorization of experience” introduced by Shinzen Young in his Unified Mindfulness framework. When necessary feel free to use the inner and outer “see” channel for support, but try to keep “feel” primary. We explore the following kinds of oscillations:
Toroidal flow (up, down, both at once)
Homogenous attention in space
Space qualities: solid, liquid, magnetic, viscosity, gaseous, plasma
Pleasure, joy, peace
Laminal flow and energy management techniques
It is recommended that one first listens to the guided meditations about Energy, Attention, and Valence of this Qualia Mastery series before doing this one.
In this guided meditation Andrés guides you through what believing in different ontologies feels like.
Without making any claim (implicit or otherwise) about the nature of reality, one can still explore the phenomenology of ontology. Namely, explore what it is like to inhabit a phenomenal word in which the building blocks of reality are rendered as being this or that.
At a very high level, one key insight is that one can notice how different facets of one’s experience reify, solidity, and rigidify an ontology. For example, this shows up in “dualism”. In this ontology, one posits that the universe has both matter and mind. This has the tendency to trigger the feeling of being encased or trapped in your body. But pay attention! If you notice carefully, you will realize that this is implemented with somatic feelings that rigidify the sense of being caged inside your body. This sense is, ultimately, a fabrication, rather than a realization. It’s just how the mind chooses to render that particular sense of reality.
Following this insight, we notice how there is a transmutation from the ontology one believes in, into a characteristic phenomenology of existence (and back). In fact, “the pain of dualism” is a feedback loop that involves somatic sensations, and not something intrinsic to a belief system. Similarly, every other ontology tends to trigger phenomenological feedback loops for its rendering. Pay attention! 🙂
The ontologies we explore in this meditation include:
(1) Dualism: Mind and matter. (2) Trinitarianism of matter, consciousness, and space. (3) Atomism – we know that science confirmed the ancient view of atomism, but notice how without some kind of holism/binding, only “mind dust” can exist. (4) Jain ontology (in which there are ~9 fundamental kinds of ontological building blocks of reality) – space, time, dynamism (movement and rest), atoms that can combine, the soul, and all kinds of “karma particles”. (5) Monism – It’s all qualia. It’s all awareness. It’s all information. It’s all algorithms or computation. It’s all belief. It’s all a social construction (cf. Strong Tlon Hypothesis) (6) Ontologies of infinities. (7) Ontologies of Zero. In particular, we zoom in on David Pearce’s Zero Ontology, in which the reason why there is something rather than nothing is that “zero information” is the case (and this implies the existence of all mutually-consistent universes of bound qualia).
This last ontology is particularly powerful: when explored deeply, it can trigger the “Rainbow God” phenomenology, where all of the flavors of qualia come together and “cancel each other out”. This is highly related to the phenomenology of 5-MeO-DMT as well as that of the formless Jhanas.
I am delighted to say that I will be delivering a workshop at Vibe Camp on Saturday the 17th of June:
Time: 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Location: Fire Circle
Title: Explore the State-Space of Consciousness with QRI – GET YOUR VIBE CAMP RECORDER (scent)
Description: Come to learn useful techniques to navigate the state-space of consciousness and pick up your VCR (Vibe Camp Recorder), a scent created in honor of this event, which will “record” this day forever in your memory. It is both pleasant and very distinctive, so that every time you smell it again you will vividly remember this day.
Talk Abstract: The paradigm of Neural Annealing developed at the Qualia Research Institute (QRI) by Andrés Gómez Emilsson and Michael E. Johnson has a lot of explanatory power in the context of meditation and exotic states of consciousness such as those induced by psychedelic agents. The theory posits that there is a sense in which each state of consciousness has an associated level of energy, that there are specific energy sinks and sources in the nervous system, and that internal representations can be modified (and indeed “internal stress” released) with an appropriate heating and cooling schedule (aka. neural annealing). More recently, the theory has been enriched with “non-linear wave computing“, which might be capable of formalizing the concept of a (phenomenal) “vibe” for internal representations. Of special interest for the scientific community studying psychedelics and meditation is the recent QRI model of Neural Field Annealing, which combines Hebbian learning with Neural Annealing in order to explain why “highly annealed brains” can instantiate harmonic field behavior (such as the Jhanas). In this talk Andrés will provide an overview of the theory, share empirical findings, and discuss its testability based on its unique predictions.
The boundary problem is related to the binding problem, part of a family of puzzles and phenomenal experiences that theories of consciousness (ToC) must either explain or eliminate. By comparison with the phenomenal binding problem, the boundary problem has received very little scholarly attention since first framed in detail by Rosengard in 1998, despite discussion by Chalmers in his widely cited 2016 work on the combination problem. However, any ToC that addresses the binding problem must also address the boundary problem. The binding problem asks how a unified first person perspective (1PP) can bind experiences across multiple physically distinct activities, whether billions of individual neurons firing or some other underlying phenomenon. To a first approximation, the boundary problem asks why we experience hard boundaries around those unified 1PPs and why the boundaries operate at their apparent spatiotemporal scale. We review recent discussion of the boundary problem, identifying several promising avenues but none that yet address all aspects of the problem. We set out five specific boundary problems to aid precision in future efforts. We also examine electromagnetic (EM) field theories in detail, given their previous success with the binding problem, and introduce a feature with the necessary characteristics to address the boundary problem at a conceptual level. Topological segmentation can, in principle, create exactly the hard boundaries desired, enclosing holistic, frame-invariant units capable of effecting downward causality. The conclusion outlines a programme for testing this concept, describing how it might also differentiate between competing EM ToCs.
QRI’s Consciousness Art Contests: Immerse, Innovate, and Inspire
Congratulations to the winners of QRI’s Art Contests! (contest announcement). Many thanks to all of the participants! You guys did really great! We will share all of the submissions for which the artists gave us permission to post in the near future; and in my opinion, there were simply too many amazing submissions that didn’t get a prize. We asked the community for awesome content, and they delivered!
Psychedelic Epistemology: The Think Tank Approach
I want to express gratitude to the panel of judges who diligently worked to evaluate each of the submissions along key dimensions in agreement with the contest specifications. To provide a little background about the panel, I should mention that since early 2020 QRI has been periodically hosting a “Phenomenology Club” by invitation only which gathers top scientists, philosophers, artists, meditators, and psychonauts. We usually choose a particular topic to discuss (e.g. comparing specific kinds of pains or pleasures), or otherwise interview someone with extensive experience with a particular facet of consciousness. For example, we once interviewed three people all of whom have tried taking 5-MeO-DMT in high doses every day for at least a month (i.e. Leo Gura isn’t the only one who has done this!). Really, we are able to do this because QRI has functioned as a beacon to attract highly experienced rational psychonauts and people seriously interested about the nature of consciousness since ~2017. It is out of this pool of world-class phenomenologists from which the panel of judges was formed. The panel includes people who have had over 1,000 high-dose experiences with LSD, psilocybin, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, dissociatives, and a vast experience with meditative practices like the Jhanas and the process of insight. More so, in order to evaluate the PsyCrypto submission, some of the judges took psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca in a place where it is legal to do so. They all gathered to look at and discuss the submissions sober, then while on mushrooms, then sober again, then while on ayahuasca, and then sober again, and only then they were told about the “encryption key” the contestants submitted, and then they had yet another chance to look at them on either mushrooms or ayahuasca while knowing what it is that they were supposed to see. Most of the judges reported that the winning submissions did in fact work. So I am fairly confident that they do.
Similarly, for the Replications contest, the judges looked at the submissions before, during, and after mushrooms and ayahuasca so that they would have a very fresh impression of what these states are like in order to make accurate and technically precise judgements. Hence the detailed and object-level feedback for the top 10 submissions we were able to provide.
Importantly, at QRI we believe that this is the kind of “facing up to the empirical facts” of psychedelic states of consciousness that will actually advance the science of consciousness (aka. the “think tank approach“). This approach stands in stark contrast with, just to give an example: giving surveys to drug-naïve individuals (exclusion criteria incl. “lifetime prevalence of hallucinogens or MDMA use >20 times”) and having them blindly try either LSD or “candy flipping” [MDMA + LSD], a methodology that apparently allows you to conclude that MDMA doesn’t add anything noteworthy to the experience:
As a simple metaphor, imagine what would it take to make genuine progress in the science of electromagnetism. Would you approach the problem of figuring out how magnets work by putting people who have never seen magnets in a room to play with them for a few minutes and then asking them to fill out a questionnaire about their experience? Or… would it perhaps be more fruitful to gather a team of top mathematicians and visual artists who are very experienced magnet-users and allow them to play with them in any way they want, talk extensively with one another, and generate models, predictions, and visualizations of the phenomenon at hand? Which approach do you think would have better chances of arriving at a derivation of Maxwell’s Equations?
Well, you probably know my answer to that question, as QRI is “Psychedelic Think Tank Approach Central”, and we are damn proud of it 🙂
It’s amazing to me how people feel, at times, in a hurry to try to explain away anything interesting involving psychedelics with catch-all ideas like “it’s just slower processing” or “it’s just the result of messing with feedback, nothing to see here” (cf. Need For Closure Scale).
The winners of the PsyCrypto contest used the lowest hanging fruit idea for how to do PsyCrypto. It’s amazing that it works, and it does show a computational advantage that isn’t present in normal states of consciousness. And this isn’t trivial! In fact tracers in general affect how you think at a deep level, allowing for thoughts and feelings that never overlap in everyday life to actually show up together in your experiential field at once. This lingering effect increases the internal cross-pollination of information categories in one’s mind. This allows you to make completely new connections in your mind; hooking tracers with field computing is computationally non-trivial. More on this later.
But… also there is a plethora of more sophisticated approaches. I won’t say much more right now, but essentially PsyCrypto can be done in entirely different ways than using tracers. This includes things like pareidolia, color gradients, and detection of movement. And it is these novel approaches that will show the even more interesting computational advantages to the state.
We ain’t seen nothing yet. We’re at the dawn of a new era 🙂
Now, in the wake of our announcement of the PsyCrypto winners, as I very much anticipated, I got an email from Vice:
I’m a science reporter for VICE. Great to be in touch.I’m reaching out about the results of the Qualia Research Institute’s Psychedelic Cryptography Contest, which is a story we’d love to share with our readers.
I was hoping you could answer a few questions about the contest. I wrote them out here in case it’s more convenient to respond over email, but I’m also available for a phone or Zoom call anytime before 3:30pm Eastern Daylight Time today if that works better. Thanks so much and hope to connect.
1. First, I’d love to know what inspired this contest. What are you and your colleagues at QRI hoping to learn and achieve with the Psychedelic Cryptography Contest?
2. On the page announcing the results, you note that “only three submissions seemed to have any promising psychedelic cryptography effects” and that “to decode these pieces you do require a substantial level of tracers.” Why were these three submissions so much more effective than the rest of entries to this contest? Were they the only ones to use the “first classic PsyCrypto encoding method” that is described in your recent blog post, or was there another reason they stood out from the rest?
3. You note that these PsyCrypto experiments can open up new avenues of research in the fields of neuroscience and consciousness. What are some of the open questions in these fields that you think PsyCrypto encoding could help to constrain or resolve?
4. Last, do you and your colleagues QRI have any plans to build on these findings about PsyCrypto with other future studies, contests, or related projects?
Much appreciated! Best, XXXX
Sent June 6 at 9:05 AM
And my response:
Awesome! Science reporter? It sounds like we’re getting an upgrade 🙂 QRI, that is. Mom, I’m on Vice!
Ok, forgive that. I’m just very stoked about the warm reception that PsyCrypto has been getting in the last couple of days. We made it into the front page of Hacker News and I’ve been receiving emails from neuroscientists and artists. […]. So I’m in a good mood 🙂
I’m more than happy to answer your questions here.
1. I first came up with the idea of PsyCrypto over 10 years ago, while in grad school. I was throwing into the air some spinning glow sticks in the darkness and noticing the patterns that would arise from their trajectory in space. I realized that the lighting conditions were ideal for me to actually make sense of their movement, and wondered if it would be in fact easier to see that path while on psychedelics, given their well-known tracer effects. I immediately coded up some experiments to hide letters using that idea and gave the code to some friends, who then reported some mild but noticeable improved ability to read them while on LSD. After that, I brainstormed a number of alternative encoding methods, coined the term Psychedelic Cryptography, and a couple of years later wrote the Qualia Computing article you saw.
Now, this didn’t happen in a vacuum. Already in 2011 I was a fan of David Pearce and his philosophy of mind (see physicalism.com). In essence, his view is that consciousness evolved because it has information processing advantages. In particular, phenomenal binding, he believes, is not a classical phenomenon. It is in fact enormously computationally beneficial, as we can learn from disorders of consciousness where binding partially breaks down.
So even then I was actively in the lookout for ways to demonstrate how consciousness actually confers an information processing advantage. And psychedelics, to me, felt like very fertile territory to explore this idea. In essence, people have reported all sorts of information processing benefits from psychedelics (e.g. the classic study of Harman and Fadiman of psychedelics for problem solving). But this is still controversial, so to me PsyCrypto is a way to show the undeniable benefits (and tradeoffs!) in terms of information processing that different states of consciousness confer.
The more PsyCrypto encoding schemes are identified and developed, the more this research direction is advanced. It is the emerging field of “Qualia Computing”. Namely, the study of the ways in which consciousness is computationally non-trivial. 🙂
We believe that the contest furthers this mission, and that opening up the project to a broader audience, with prizes and recognition for winning, can drastically accelerate this research direction.
2. The top three submissions were the only ones that worked at all according to our team of expect phenomenologists. They tried really, really hard to find messages in every submission while on mushrooms and ayahuasca (at places where these substances are perfectly legal) and none of the other submissions had anything worth commenting on (sorry!). I think many people misunderstood the task, tried something random without checking if it works first, or simply crossed their fingers and hoped.that their images would look different enough on psychedelics to contain new and meaningful information. But alas, no. Only the three winners had anything resembling PsyCrypto in them. And to top it off, they were also very aesthetically pleasing. So they are, in my mind, real rockstars 🙂
I do expect a dramatic improvement in the quality of submissions next time we run this contest, though.
Very importantly, based on recent work at QRI, I am convinced that there are at least 3-4 completely new and mind-blowing ways to achieve PsyCrypto that do not use tracers at all. The tracers are, in a way, the trivial case. The new PsyCrypto encoding schemes are… Far more surprising and non-trivial. We will publish more information about them in the near future.
3. Yes, absolutely. In essence, I believe that novel PsyCrypto encoding schemes are a window into the actual information processing algorithms of the visual system. At the risk of sounding fringe, I am not impressed with the current mainstream neuroscience models of how psychedelics work or how they alter visual perception. Yes, one can see tunnels and 2D symmetrical tessellations while on psychedelics. But actually… One can *also* experience hyperbolic honeycombs, 4D projective transformations, and fast spatiotemporal Fourier transforms of non-linear resonance. I am sorry, but no current neuroscientific theory *predicts* this. So we are currently in what David Pearce calls the pre-Galilean era for theories of consciousness. Like the (apocryphal) story of the priests not wanting to look through the telescope of Galileo because “the Bible already tells you the truth about the heavens”, similarly right now most theories of how the visual system work are not taking into account the facts of what happens on, say, DMT. Don’t ever let the theory dictate the facts! Instead, let the facts dictate the theory (see: my presentation about psychedelic epistemology).
Therefore we think that by developing encryption schemes that use *phenomenological facts* such as hyperbolic geometry on DMT (https://youtu.be/loCBvaj4eSg) we will radically transform the conversation about how consciousness works and what its information processing properties are. Once you show that those geometries can be used for information processing, and that humans in the right state of consciousness display such advantages, then it becomes undeniable that they are in fact using such exotic geometry for computation. I believe this will set the trajectory of the history of consciousness in very unexpected ways. Indeed, superintelligence won’t be achieved with AI, but with consciousness engineering.
4. Yes. Now, please note that PsyCrypto and in fact psychedelic phenomenology research is only a part of what the Qualia Research Institute does. We have serious work in philosophy of mind, ethics, valence, neurotechnology, and neuroscience, to name a few. We are extremely prolific given our shoestring budget, tiny number of members, and relatively low profile in academia. But I am confident that as we keep producing world class outputs in all of these fields, QRI will become far more influential and mainstream 🙂
Ultimately, my mission is to prevent all future suffering (see my TEDx talk) and figure out how to enable all sentient beings to experience long-term sustainable blissful states at will. This mission is enormously ambitious, but hey, that’s what I want to do with this one life I have. And so is the mission of the other members of QRI. Let’s get to work! 🙂
Thank you! And please let me know if I can clarify anything.
Sent via email June 6 at 4:30PM
And given this, I really thought that the resulting Vice post was actually really stellar. Thank you! 🙂
We titled the series Qualia Mastery – Building Your Toolkit for Navigating the State-Space of Consciousness.
Qualia Mastery, a concept I introduced in a review of a Jhana meditation retreat, is, in a nutshell, the self-organizing vector that cultivates the tools and practices needed to achieve the following three goals:
1) Explore the state-space of consciousness because you want to know it for yourself
2) Study it from many points of view because you want to understand it intellectually at a deep level
3) Intend to apply it for the benefit of all beings
May this be of benefit to you and all sentient beings! And also, have fun!
I was on a retreat in France at the Chateau du Buffalo with some friends this April using the fire kasina as object, this occurring just a few days from the time I retired from emergency medicine.
Emergency medicine makes for great stories and terrible dreams, and I was having multiple dreams per night that were basically the ER equivalent of the classic college dreams in which you are late for an exam and can’t find your pencil and didn’t study and can’t find the room and all of that, except that this is the bloody-people-are-dying-gory-agony-and-carnage version, based on the hundreds of really bad things I saw and dealt with over my medical career.
Me and my ER colleagues would sometimes talk amongst ourselves about “micro-PTSD”, a sort of cumulative pile on of hundreds of bad situations that collectively add up to something significant, written deep into the brain by high doses of adrenalin and cortisol, and pressure to make everything alright, often in situations where everything is not going to be alright. We all have our list of the worst moments, sights, sounds, smells, and experiences. Those experiences were coming up heavily in my dreams, as if retiring somehow let my guard down and this huge backlog of partially processed experiences came flooding in. My dreams have often had qualities that most people would consider pretty nightmarish since I was a child, so I am used to them and handle them well, but still, they are not pleasant.
After about a week of this on retreat happening night after night, I sat down one morning for the first sit of the day, and the moment I sat down this extremely powerful, thick, steady bliss rapidly established itself and just stayed there. Additionally, and here’s some woo woo stuff, I could suddenly see my aura, and it looked like the field you would see around a bar magnet, like a toroid, but this time in primary blue and very stable. Space turned whitish, but the blue aura was still very clear. I sat there a while with not much else going on, maybe for 5 minutes or so, just hanging out.
Then, in that very odd space, one of the standard canon of bad images from my medical career arose, except that it arose like an iphone app icon, flat, about 1 cm wide, with rounded edges, and the image was like a little cute stylized logo rather than the full 3D gory image it typically would be when it would come up, and it just sort of rotated a bit in space and vanished, not disturbing the bliss in the slightest, which was relatively steady and impressively strong (I’d give it an 8/10 on the bliss scale, with 10 being the strongest bliss I have ever experienced), and the thought arose, “Hey, I wonder if it would do that to the rest of the standard list of bad experiences?”
So, I started bringing up the images, one by one, initially all of them from my medical career: horrible images, bad situations, dead kids, legs torn off, maggots crawling out of rotting limbs, skulls smashed in, people screaming as they died in puddles of blood, you know, the usual ER stuff. One by one, they all became cute little icons like the first one did, rotated a bit, and vanished. None touched the bliss at all, which remained heavy and strong. The aura stayed blue and like a perfectly regular toroid. Space stayed whitish. Soon enough, I ran out of troubling ER images, which is saying something, as there were a lot of them, as the time from calling each one up to it iconizing and vanishing only took a few seconds per image, and finally, nothing else came to mind from my medical career and training, and I sat there a few moments. That whole process took only a few minutes.
I started on other traumas, bad situations, car accidents I had been in, traumatic breakups, bad childhood stuff, physical injuries, broken bones, surgeries, illnesses, and other unfortunate incidents that happened along the way, and one by one, they all turned into little flat, stylized icons like the others had and vanished, and the bliss stayed totally unperturbed, and the aura held steady, and space stayed white. After only a few minutes, I had exhausted even the standard canon of images from my life’s major and even some minor traumas, all rapidly turning into little, pretty, flat icons, all vanishing, all not impinging on the bliss in the slightest. It was like the ultimate version of the IOB (Identify, Objectify, and Banish), except much cuter than this is typically described and a lot more pleasant.
With nothing left to bliss-iconize, and wondering how breakfast was coming along, after sitting on the cushion for only about 10 minutes, this process seemed complete, so I got up to go to the kitchen. My body had that loose, slightly weak, a bit shuddery feeling that I have when I have swum a mile or two fast and then get back on land, but felt very light at the same time as if I had had a very hard cry, yet I hadn’t cried at all, it just felt like I had afterwards.
The gory ER dreams ended immediately, and I have felt vastly lighter since that brief meditation period, like it cleared out a massive amount of old stuff in some seemingly definitive way.
I have no idea if this is something that other people could intentionally do, but, if it was, it would be extremely helpful. So, should heavy, seemingly inviolable bliss arise, and if you have your own list of traumatic life events to bliss-iconize, might give this a shot and see how it goes.
Three cheers for the Dharma! Yay! What wonderful things can come from practice! Best wishes,
The Qualia Research Institute (QRI) is excited to announce the launch of three Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness (NSCs) Art Contests: Immerse, Innovate, and Inspire with submissions accepted until 5/17/2023. Examples of non-ordinary states of consciousness are psychedelic experiences, meditative experiences like the jhanas, and near-death experiences.
Our objective is to highlight the reciprocal relationship between art and consciousness research, enabling artists to create lifelike representations of non-ordinary states of consciousness, and contribute to the development of consciousness studies and psychedelic science.
About the Qualia Research Institute
The Qualia Research Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing our understanding of consciousness. Its mission is to:
Develop a precise mathematical language for describing subjective experience
Map out the full range of possible conscious experiences
Build technologies to improve the lives of sentient beings
Replication Contest (Immerse): Entries will be judged based on transparent and interpretable qualities that accurately capture the low-level subjective effects experienced in non-ordinary states of consciousness.
Psychedelic Cryptography Contest (Innovate): Artists are invited to create encodings of sensory information that are only meaningful when experienced on psychedelics in order to show the specific information-processing advantages of those states.
For the sake of transparency and to benefit the community as a whole, QRI reserves the right to publish the winning submissions made by contestants on its website. Artists retain their intellectual property rights, allowing them control over their artwork’s use and distribution. However, QRI would appreciate permission to showcase participants’ art on our website or use it in potential research publications with proper citations and links to the artists’ work.
We understand that the replication contest may not capture the full complexity and nuances of psychedelic experiences, and that there are concerns about the potential harm associated with the use of psychedelics. Participation in these contests does not require the use of psychedelics, and we encourage all participants to prioritize their safety and well-being.
We welcome feedback and suggestions for future contests at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to exploring these topics responsibly and respectfully.
The Replication Contest seeks to celebrate the artistic capabilities of participants in accurately depicting and interpreting the low-level subjective effects experienced in non-ordinary states of consciousness (NSCs), with a particular emphasis on (1) valence effects and (2) geometric transformations.
Valence effects focus on demonstrating how the shape of the experience can reveal whether a person is having a clean and blissful experience or a mixed affect experience. The transition between feeling normal and feeling blissful might involve changes to the shape of the visual experience. Rather than focusing on the semantic content (e.g. seeing an angel) here the point is to visualize the texture, shape, and dynamics that bring about this change (e.g. harmonizing flow by reducing turbulence).
Geometric transformations such as rotations, reflections, glides, affine transformations, and so on often feature in psychedelic experiences. Can this be rendered in a realistic way? We suggest that you consider how symmetry and geometry are two sides of the same coin in order to better appreciate this quality of psychedelic experiences. When the geometry of phenomenal space changes, so do the symmetries within it. Can this be expressed artistically in an accurate way?
To participate, artists should create a piece of art that embodies the subjective effects they have researched or encountered during NSCs, emphasizing the two highlighted areas.
Visualize an annealing process where the video contains blinking lights driven by metronomes that can sync up with each other until the whole scene is shining in a coherent way (cf. Neural Annealing).
Show how bouba vs. kiki imagery highlight different emotional tones during a psychedelic experience (cf. CDNS in Quantifying Bliss), where spiky feelings tend to be harsh and disquieting, whereas bubbly and round features tend to be calming and welcoming (extra points if these features emerge out of some kind of annealing process, or if you find counterexamples to this general pattern).
Visualize how wallpaper symmetry groups transform textures into repeating patterns.
Show waves interacting with each other in order to construct psychedelic interference patterns (cf. non-linear wave computing)
Use hyperbolic minimal surfaces in order to exemplify how sensations aggregate on DMT.
Show how the Reverse-Grassfire Algorithm can create 3D crystals (cf. Harmonic Gestalt).
Show a 2D Euclidean grid becoming hyperbolic by adding additional nodes and edges in order to demonstrate a change of geometry (cf. world-sheet).
Model the the experience of achieving a DMT breakthrough level experience using a physical instability (such as Kelvin-Helmholtz).
These are just some suggestions and there are many other ways of connecting technical descriptions of the phenomenology of NSE and visual replications. It helps if you can ground the effects visualized on paradigms and explanations presented by QRI, but it is not necessary to win the contest. What matters is that you can create realistic yet interpretable visualizations that hint at the underlying processes that are generating these experiences. What we are after is insight. In other words, we want to be able to discover new, meaningful, and non-trivial explanations for why NSEs manifest in the way they do. Hence, being able to describe how the replication effects are achieved is highly beneficial.
Entries will be judged based on the number and precision of replicated subjective effects, with special attention given to valence effects and geometric transformations.
The Psychedelic Cryptography Contest invites artists to create unique encodings of sensory information that are only meaningful when experienced on psychedelics. The goal is to challenge participants to develop innovative methods of encoding sensory information in such a way that an encoded secret is only apparent on a NSC. The contest encourages the exploration of how sensory information can be modulated and presented in a way that reveals hidden patterns or messages when experienced under the influence of psychedelics.
Entries will be judged based on the difficulty of the encryption method used and the clarity of the message or pattern when experienced on psychedelics.
The Inspirational Piece Contest seeks to highlight the powerful connection between art and consciousness research by encouraging artists to create pieces that exemplify this relationship. The focus of this contest is on originality, creativity, inspiration, impact, quality, and execution. Artworks submitted for this contest should evoke a sense of wonder and curiosity about the nature of consciousness and the vast landscape of possible experiences.
Entries will be judged based on originality, creativity, inspiration, impact, quality, and execution, with winners determined by a public poll.
Why it’s helpful: This article presents 8 models of art: 4 common ones, and 4 that connect it to consciousness studies. The overall frameworks of 8 models might help us arrive at methods to create innovative aesthetic qualia from first principles. We think that artists participating in any of the contests might benefit from the vocabulary introduced in these models to create innovative and meaningful pieces that explore the relationship between art and consciousness research. In particular, taking into account the energy parameter, efficient state-space exploration, annealing effects, and the vision of a meta-aesthetic all provide a unique lens for how psychedelics and art are so connected.
Why it’s helpful: This article discusses possible methods of communication that can be understood primarily by individuals under the influence of LSD and other tracer-inducing psychoactives. This may serve as inspiration for artists to think about novel ways to encode information or create unique experiences tailored to specific states of consciousness.
Why it’s helpful: This article provides a detailed analysis of how the visual effects of psychedelics might be understood and replicated using algorithmic processes. It can serve as a foundation for artists attempting to replicate the visual aspects of non-ordinary states of consciousness in their artwork, or as inspiration to propose alternative algorithmic reductions that capture effects that are currently unaccounted for.
Why it’s helpful: This article explores the connection between the subjective effects of DMT experiences and hyperbolic geometry, various possible algorithmic reductions to explain this connection, as well as detailing the progression of an experience through the DMT levels. Artists participating in the Replication Contest may find inspiration and insights into replicating specific visual patterns and structures often encountered in DMT experiences.
Why it’s helpful: The Psychophysics Toolkit and accompanying article are collections of resources and tools designed to help researchers and artists explore the intersection of perception, consciousness, and the physical world. It includes a variety of resources and interface tools that can aid artists in understanding the principles of psychophysics used to measure subjective experience and applying them to their work. This can be particularly useful for participants in all three contests, as it can provide insights into the ways that sensory information is processed during both ordinary and non-ordinary states of consciousness, and how this can be utilized in creating innovative and impactful art pieces.
Why it’s helpful: This video introduces new epistemological frameworks for studying and understanding non-ordinary states of consciousness induced by psychedelic substances. By incorporating these paradigms into their creative process, artists can develop a deeper understanding of the nature of these experiences and their potential implications for human knowledge. This enhanced understanding can help artists create innovative and thought-provoking pieces that capture the essence of exotic states of consciousness.
Why it’s helpful: This article provides a detailed explanation of the concept of phenomenal time and how it relates to the structure of conscious experiences. Understanding this concept could help artists in the contest to better represent the perception of time in non-ordinary states of consciousness and incorporate these insights into their artwork.
Why it’s helpful: This article explores the concept of wireheading and how it could be applied responsibly to maximize pleasure without causing psychological harm. Artists participating in the contest might find this article helpful in inspiring their work, particularly in the Inspirational Piece Contest, by envisioning a future where technology is used to enhance well-being and explore the state-space of consciousness responsibly.
Why it’s helpful: This video explores the concept of state-space neighborhoods, where specific aspects of conscious experiences are clustered together. By understanding the structure and dynamics of these neighborhoods, artists can create pieces that more accurately represent the nuances of different non-ordinary states of consciousness, leading to a more immersive and impactful experience for the audience.
Why it’s helpful: This article provides a comparative analysis of the experiences induced by 5-MeO-DMT and N,N-DMT. By understanding the unique characteristics of each substance’s effects, artists can draw inspiration for their artwork and more accurately replicate specific psychedelic experiences in the Replication Contest.
We would like to express our profound gratitude to the donors of the Qualia Research Institute. Your unwavering support has been invaluable in making our work possible. Your investment in our research has not only inspired a growing number of individuals to take our approach to consciousness research seriously but has also led to an expansion in our collaborations. As a result, we have seen the integration of our insights into the work of others, building upon the foundation we have established thus far.
First and foremost, we would like to extend our appreciation to Loka Vision for inspiring the contest. Their dedication to the Psychedelic/Visionary Art community, as demonstrated through their Psychedelic Replication Masterclass, has shown us the immense potential this community holds in furthering our understanding of consciousness.
Thank you Andrés Gómez Emilsson for offering technical insights that will enable artists to create life-like replications of the low-level subjective effects experienced on NSCs and incepting the idea of psychedelic cryptography as a viable field of research.
A thank you goes to Josie Kins of effectindex.com for their open-source approach to developing psychedelic art through generative AI, as well as their support of and feedback on the Replication contest and insights into the visionary/psychedelic art community.
I recently had the pleasure to talk to Justin Riddle*, who is one of the few people in academia who takes quantum theories of consciousness seriously while also doing formal neuroscience research (see his publications, which include woks on transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) for a number of conditions, EEG analysis for decision making, reward, and cognition, as well as concept work on the connection between fractals and consciousness).
* Thanks to David Field for catalyzing this meeting 🙂
In episode 32 of the quantum consciousness series, Justin Riddle interviews Andres Gomez-Emilsson, the director of research at the Qualia Research Institute. Andres is passionate about understanding qualia, which is the feeling and quality of subjective experience. In this interview, we discuss many of Andres’ theories: mathematical fictionalism, models of valence, neural annealing as it pertains to psychedelic therapy, and antitolerance medications to reduce suffering.
First up, we discuss the nature of qualia and whether or not there can be a universal mathematical description of subjective experience. Andres posits that the experience of having a thought should not be confused with the thought itself. Therefore, any attempt at mathematical description will be wrapped up within the experience of the person suggesting the mathematics. As he states, mathematics is as real as the Lord of the Rings, a great story that we can tell, but not to be confused with reality itself. Next up, we discuss the symmetry theory of valence [proposed by Michael Johnson in Principia Qualia] which postulates that the structure of experience determines how good or bad an experience feels (such as the imagination of certain geometric patterns imbuing a sense of well-being whereas other patterns being anxiogenic). The geometric patterns that lead to positive valence (positive emotional experiences) are those shapes recognized as “sacred geometry”. However, Andres cautions that because these “sacred” geometric shapes generate well-being, people have used this reproducible experience to peddle New Age metaphysics. We should be cautious of the ability to generate positive experience as it can be used to manipulate people into buying into particular belief systems. Third, we discuss recent findings that single dose psilocybin in a therapeutic context can produce a lasting reduction in symptoms of depression. Andres posits that this could be explained as a form of neural annealing (see also, and also). The mind “heats up” and breaks through discordant neural pathways and through neural plasticity during the psychedelic experience will allow for the formation of new neural pathways with higher resonant properties consistent with positive valence. This contributes to Andres’ overall ontological model of reality in which the universe is a unified field of experience that is pinched off into individuals. Here, he starts with an unbroken unity of all things that is topologically segmented into individuals. Finally, Andres is a devout hedonist with the long-term goal of reducing suffering. His group at the Qualia Research Institute is investigating medications that reduce adaptation to molecules over long-term use. Go check out Andres’ YouTube channel and the Qualia Research Institute website!
~~~ Timestamps ~~~
0:00 Introduction to the Qualia Research Institute
We are deeply grateful to have you with us on our expedition through the state-space of consciousness. It’s been an exciting and productive year and we’re thrilled to share all of our updates and accomplishments. None of this would have been possible without support from sentient beings like you.
1+ Million Views
First of all, we are thrilled to announce that our presentation on DMT & Hyperbolic Geometry has reached an amazing milestone of 1+ million views this year. We highly appreciate the support and engagement of the community. This presentation has also helped to catalyze some incredible collaborations.
“I interpret QRI as coming at the problem from the opposite direction as everyone else: normal neuroscience starts with normal brain behavior and tries to build on it until they can one day explain crazy things like jhana; QRI starts with crazy things like jhana and tries to build down until they can explain ordinary behavior. This is naturally going to be shakier and harder to research – but somebody should be trying it.”
Our Slicing Problem paper, which provides a novel critique of computational theories of consciousness, has been accepted to the journal Open Philosophy.
We’ve also recently submitted a paper on our Heavy-Tailed Valence Hypothesis (read the preprint), which is the latest iteration of our Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain – a key foundational piece for the field of valence research.
QRI has been working on building this field since 2015. We are proud to continue pushing the boundaries of knowledge in valence research. We are just getting started!
In addition to our research efforts, we’ve had the opportunity to connect with others in the research community. Our Director of Research, Andrés Gómez Emilsson, presented at the Tyringham Initiative, and we held a meet-and-greet in London with approximately 40 attendees, including some of QRI’s earliest supporters. We are thrilled to see such a strong interest in building a worldwide “qualia research community”, and we look forward to hosting more meetups in the future.
QRI now has an unofficial Discord server which has already gathered over 1000 members and has fostered engaging discussions related to QRI, attracting notable figures in the field like Roger Thisdell and the founders of PsychonautWiki.
One of the highlights of the year for us was getting to host a QRI event in the San Francisco Bay Area, attended by over 200 people. It was a great opportunity for us to showcase some of our latest tangible innovations, such as our scents and a demo of our Light-Sound-Vibration system. We also had a speech about the Future of Consciousness, which generated some thought-provoking conversations.
QRI’s first TEDx Talk got published, which discusses interventions that will have as much, if not more, impact in reducing suffering as anesthesia. The most innovative part of the talk was about anti-tolerance drugs. We believe that we are the only organization in the entire world talking about anti-tolerance drugs as a dedicated field of study with enormous implications rather than as a mere biochemical oddity.
This talk explores modeling the generator of each aesthetic in order to create a network of “compatibility between aesthetics” that minimizes dissonance between them while emphasizing their synergies as well as their unique and valuable contributions.
Discussion on indirect realism, phenomenal time, qualia formalism, exotic phenomenal spacetime in psychedelic and meditative phenomenology, the effects of persistent subject-object nonduality on phenomenal spacetime and hedonic valence, and more!
Is Google’s LaMDA sentient? The phenomenal binding problem asks us to consider, ‘how can a huge set of discrete neurons form a unified mind?’ Is topological binding a requirement for AI to be sentient?
You can now listen to QRI material on the go, while driving, doing exercise, in the sauna, or any other healthy annealing rituals!
Purchase a scent pack from QRI’s new scent line “Magical Creatures”. This line of scents explores the complex and often puzzling interactions that exist in the state-space of olfaction, highlighting the exotic and unique qualities that can emerge in this space.
Please feel free to donate to QRI independent of our Magical Creatures campaign.
We want to thank everyone who has helped QRI in any way, including our current and past collaborators, donors, readers, video watchers, and event attendees. Special thanks to Hunter, Anders & Maggie, Marcin, Chris, Winslow, Olaf, Crystal, Libor, and David who really stepped up this year to help QRI in an incredible way. Our efforts wouldn’t matter or be possible without all of you! May you all be prosperous, energized, and access the full-state of consciousness for the benefit of all beings! Thank you!
¹ Additional QRI references by Scott Alexander on Astral Codex Ten this year:
We are excited to announce the release of our first line of Qualia Research Institute scents, “Magical Creatures”. This line explores the complex and often puzzling interactions that exist in the state-space of olfaction, highlighting the exotic and unique qualities that can emerge in this space.
“Bearing your intentions in the back of your mind has all kinds of effects in navigating your practice, without you even being conscious of it. It’s a powerful thing. Intentions are extremely powerful things. Intentions create our worlds. And that’s not hyperbole.”
– Rob Burbea, in Practicing the Jhanas
Vimalakīrti then asked the bodhisattvas from the Host of Fragrances [world], “How does Accumulation of Fragrances Tathāgata explain the Dharma?”
Those bodhisattvas said, “In our land the Tathāgata* explains [the Dharma] without words. He simply uses the host of fragrances to make the gods and humans enter into the practice of the Vinaya. The bodhisattvas each sit beneath fragrant trees, smelling such wondrous fragrances, from which they attain the ‘samādhi of the repository of all virtues.’ Those who attain this samādhi all become replete in the merits of the bodhisattva.”
– Chapter X – The Buddha Accumulation Of Fragrances
[*Tathāgata is an honorable name for the Buddha of a realm.]
In his 2019 Jhana retreat lectures, Rob Burbea explains that the intention you use as your source of energy, your reserve, your approach, and your guide to meditation has an enormous influence on what unfolds and what arises during a retreat.
If you practice Jhana meditation to be more calm, or to reduce stress, or to tick a box of “having done a Jhana retreat”, or because someone really likes the teacher and recommended it to you, or as an instrumental stepping stone to then use for insight practices, or anything else that is not open to the mystery of the Jhanas and has the flexibility and responsivity to what comes up naturally out of them, then many of the deepest and most worthwhile realms of experience this practice has to offer will simply not unfold.
Similarly, approaching an ayahuasca session with the intention of healing a particular relationship, or experiencing a mystical sense about a specific spiritual tradition, or for the sake of neurogenesis, or anything else with a predetermined target, will entail that some things will not unfold.
The approach, the intentions, and the desires that fuel a particular exploration of consciousness will determine the limits of what will unfold from it. This insight is an important conceptual background to understand the exploration of consciousness we are pursuing at QRI. To truly get the most out of experiencing our scents, we want to think of it in terms of what we call the cultivation of Qualia Mastery.
Qualia Mastery consists of three core intentions that work in the background during any exploration of consciousness:
It’s for the Benefit of Sentient Beings: The exploration intends to benefit all sentient beings. The explorer should not do anything damaging, which may limit future explorations. We should let our efforts be guided by compassion and sympathetic joy in addition to curiosity and creativity. And the goal should be altruistic: we are seeking solutions to the problem of suffering in all its guises, and we believe that understanding consciousness is essential for achieving this.
To Develop an Intellectual Understanding: Unlike many spiritual traditions which advocate for a strictly non-intellectual understanding of consciousness, Qualia Mastery fully embraces the value, importance, and necessity of intellectual understanding. This embrace entails approaching the exploration of consciousness with epistemological optimism. Yes, with enough dedication, cleverness, and knowledge, it is possible to eff the ineffable. Or, at the very least, not trying to do so will surely make it impossible!
To Experience the Mystery of Consciousness Directly: In other words, an essential aspect of Qualia Mastery involves the intention to acquire the capacity to instantiate, navigate, and utilize any and every possible state of consciousness. It is not enough to know that the 6th Jhana exists intellectually; we want to experience it ourselves! Likewise, we want to develop the ability to abide in all shades of wonder, color, taste, and so on.
With Qualia Mastery in mind, you will get much more out of exploring our scents (and any other scent you may encounter on your own!). Don’t let your preconcieved sense of what scents are (and what they are for) limit the way you approach them. They are disclosing hidden properties of consciousness! Drink and delight in experiencing the wonder of the unknown, and join us in developing an intimate and unmediated relationship with this most outstanding mystery.
Importantly, please do not think of these scents as perfumes for two reasons. First, that way of perceiving them will be limiting. It comes with a large set of cultural imports and expectations (cf. functional fixedness). Instead, these scents are qualia research tools: they are molecular compositions meant to disclose varieties of qualia and to allow you to engage in an intimate and unmediated way with the mystery of consciousness. And second, these scents are not intended as skin scents. The makeup of these scents is a mixture of common essential oils and perfume ingredients. Their relative proportions do not adhere to IFRA guidelines, which would enable us to sell them as proper perfumes intended to be used on one’s skin. Some of those regulations restrict the range of qualia accessible. Although clever perfumist tricks can, in principle, be used to deliver the same qualia while adhering closely to the guidelines. However, as a non-profit with a limited budget, this is something we have yet to invest in doing (but we may invest in the future).
What is this line of scents about? And what is the aesthetic generator behind it?
Color is the quintessential example used to illustrate the concept of qualia. The state-space of color qualia is rather simple1 . It consists of three orthogonal dimensions: the red-green axis, the yellow-blue axis, and the white-black axis. Every shade of color can be found as a coordinate in this three-dimensional space.
The QRI logo illustrates two of the three dimensions of color qualia.
Albeit controversial in some circles, fundamental properties of this qualia space can be understood experientially by anyone who pays close attention. For example, orange, purple, yellow-green, and green-blue are all secondary color qualia. Orange is, in some sense, both yellow-like and red-like; it isn’t a “pure” color quale. A fair number of phenomenal puzzles can be formulated with color qualia alone. But at its core, the space is simple: linear, Euclidean, and 3-dimensional.
The state-space of scent qualia, however, isn’t that simple. Depending on who you ask, scent-space might have between 30 and 300 dimensions. It is our measured assessment, however, that seeking a Euclidean space for scents is, at best premature and, at worst, fundamentally misguided. Early research in the geometry of the state-space of scent suggests it is hyperbolic. But we at QRI would suggest it is also irregular, and its topology might be far from trivial.
Here are a couple of examples of what makes us think there may be many puzzling interactions that suggest the presence of irregularities in the state-space of olfaction:
There are many examples where two scents mixed give rise to new emergent “scent gestalts” that genuinely feel like more than the sum of their parts. As elaborated in the description of Eau de Cologne Vide, there are tactile scent effects (such as the coolness of mint and the prickly spiky trigeminal stimulation of aldehydes). Some scents modify other scents called “character impact”: two scents that refuse to “blend” with each other can be merged by adding the right character impact into the mix.
Thus, we may need new interpretative lenses to make sense of the state-space of scents. We encourage, cultivate, and celebrate creative explorations of this (and other) qualia spaces that provide new insights and perspectives. This is what Magical Creatures is all about.
Magical Creatures is a line of scents emphasizing the “special effects” found in the state-space of scents. Rather than thinking of scents as mere points in a Euclidean space, we think of them as exotic creatures inhabiting a complex and irregular space with hidden interstitial gems found in unique places like triple points and unexpected phase transitions.
As an intuition pump, perhaps think of the range of powers that Pokémon have. If you’ve only ever seen water, fire, ground, fighting, and grass Pokémon types, is it possible to derive from first principles that there is also such a thing as an electric type? What about psychic? And ghost? These seem like entirely new categories coming out of the blue rather than linear combinations out of a simple vector basis!
Likewise, the state-space of scents can, at times, seem more like an ecosystem of unique and exotic Magical Creatures than linear combinations of a few simple primitives. For example, if you were a perfume connoisseur but had never encountered minty scents of any sort, could you figure out from first principles that there ought to be such a thing as cooling scents? No way! Where did that come from?
Magical Creatures highlight some of the fascinating “special effects” that exist hidden in the state-space of scents. Think of it as a magical treasure trove of qualia secrets. Each of the scents we present has been carefully crafted to show a “special effect” in a clear and undeniable way:
Fearless: a scent designed for countering and extinguishing fear vibrations.
Dust Devil: a scent that showcases how scents can be mysteriously powdery.
Glacial Gumdrop: a scent that incorporates cooling and “gummy” qualities.
Frisson: A scent that can cause a subtle, strange, and rather remarkable synesthetic ASMR-like sensation.
Eau de Cologne Vide: a scent that explores character impact with no flavor, a celebration of emptiness.
Hedonium Shockwave: a scent that explores positive valence in its purest form – what would a rich scent with no negative features smell like? This is our best attempt.
Note that these are just the first six of this line of scents and that there might very well be more. We’ve come across many other rather unique effects, and in time we aim to share them.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that there are countless other ways to explore scent-space – Magical Creatures is a very generative and fun approach, but ultimately just one of many. Mapping, understanding, and utilizing the full-state space of scents is undoubtedly worthy of a lifetime of exploration. We invite you to join us in this creative pursuit and in cultivating Qualia Mastery in the olfactory domain.
 We are here following the well-known findings that dates back to the psychophysics work underpinning the CIELAB color space with an Euclidean metric for color difference. Admittedly this is hiding vast amounts of complexity, such as what goes on each kind of color blindness, how power spectrum distributions map onto qualia space, tetrachromatism, blue-yellow/red-green hybrids, and hypercolors. One thing at a time!
Originally debuted at QRI’s Future of Consciousness Party on the 24th of June, 2022.
Fearless 3.0 is a scent optimized for expressing the reduction of common varieties of fear. Open Fearless is a slight improvement over Fearless 3.0. The term Open is intended to convey two meanings. First, it is an open-source formulation rather than a proprietary blend, drawing inspiration from the open-source cola movement (e.g. OpenCola). And second, it alludes to the concept of Open Individualism, the philosophical position about personal identity that says that we are all one universal consciousness, a single subject of experience experiencing itself through the universe (cf. The Goldilocks Zone of Oneness). Hence, Open Fearless is an open-source scent optimized for expressing the reduction of fear at the transpersonal level: not only the common animalistic variety, but it also tackles deeper forms of existential fear, such as the fear of being alone or the unpleasant suspicion that the universe is meaningless.
The scent combines the three most friendly and soft facets of scent-space we know of: sweetness, creaminess, and coolness. In Open Fearless, these are balanced using olfactory tricks that soften the phenomenal boundary and division between facets to give rise to a coherent scent gestalt that is intended to express happiness, freshness, and a care-free state of mind.
It is not without some degree of confusion that people react when one says that a scent is “powdery”. It doesn’t help that most people don’t have much experience with the powdery scent that is used as the quintessential example of powdery: violet (unless you grew up with Parma Violets). Alas, even when someone knows what violet smells like, the fact that it also has floral, sweet, and oily facets tends to make the qualia reference somewhat ambiguous. Common powdery scents you may be familiar with are cedarwood, sandalwood, cinnamon, talc, and some kinds of pear. Their phenomenology is a neighbor of the dry facet. Still, it has an additional quality: it creates the sensation of a dusty misty layer of fine particles whose grain size will vary depending on the precise scent. In early experiments, we determined that making a very powdery effect is not as easy as simply mixing a lot of powdery notes together: they have a habit of canceling each other out, perhaps not unlike at times mixing different kinds of powders can lead to caking and viscous consolidation.
Dust Devil combines a carefully mixed set of powdery scents that synergize with one another: violet, cedarwood, turmeric, and iso-e super. We use a dash of tangerine to give it an uplifting yet dry, citrusy spark. The result is a powerfully dusty tornado of drying and refining sensations. It’s great to create an Old West vibe characterized by tumbleweeds, whisky neat, pistol duels, droughts, and dust devils everywhere. Enjoy!
Menthol can increase the threshold temperature of activation for cold receptors. In other words, it can trick neurons into thinking that the current ambient temperature is colder than it is. Now, Glacial Gumdrop does not have a single drop of menthol. It’s menthol-free! In a daring bit of self-aware and honest advertisement, we admit that this is akin to publicizing a carbonated drink sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup as sucrose-free. Yes, but! Glacial Gumdrop does not use menthol for cooling for the simple reason that in our experiments, it didn’t seem to perform as well as a cooling agent as a mixture of menthone, carvone, and wintergreen extract. The synergy we identified between these three “cooling alternatives” has desirable phenomenological properties that menthol alone does not. Since they “hit” different kinds of coolness effects, together, they pack a much bigger and more powerful punch.
Additionally, the shape of the envelope of the combination (cf. ADSR) is compatible with other aspects of the olfactory experience. Menthol tends to monopolize attention and anesthetize one’s sensitivity to other facets of scent; our proprietary blend leaves some gaps open for attention to interweave and incorporate anise, apple, and lotus nuances which for mysterious reasons make the scent “gummy” (akin to the synesthetic equivalent of munching a gummy bear, but with your olfactory bulb). What are example scents that have this “gummy bear” quality? Marigold, auranone, and some bergamots (e.g. H’ana’s) are good examples, but only Glacial Gumdrop blends this bouncy and fun gummy quality with coolness. This scent will surely surprise you and open your mind to qualia-space mysteries.
Frisson is a scent formulation that plays with an unexpected olfactory effect we identified when exploring the space of powdery citruses (such as bergamot). When the scent facets of citrus, powdery, dry, and etheric are combined in the right proportions, the resulting gestalt can cause a subtle psychogenic shiver of a synesthetic nature: a mix of olfactory and tactile qualia with a subdermal quality reminiscent of the sound of rubbing sandpaper on wood. Some people describe it as the olfactory equivalent of ASMR and a cross between a hiss and musical frisson. This effect is achieved by combining large amounts of tangerine and bergamot, the most powdery citruses, and honeysuckle. The emergent gestalt brings about this effect like no other combination we have tried. Now the question arises: what is this good for? The answer is: for contemplating novel qualia varieties, of course!
Eau de Cologne Vide
A psychonaut once asked a DMT elf if they could tell them something they didn’t know about the state-space of scents. They were expecting some incredible download of information in the form of hyperbolic state-space representations and hyperstereoscopic synesthetic displays of qualia dynamics. Alas, nothing of the sort happened. Instead, the elf asked them: “Are you sure that scent is just one qualia variety?”. A riddle! After chewing on it for a while, they concluded that no, scent qualia seems to somehow blend and interweave at least three qualia varieties into one multifaceted experience:
Scents have “flavor” (ex. lemony, rosy, herbaly, woody, etc.).
They often have distinctly “tactile components” (ex. the literally cooling effect of mints, or the “prickly” trigeminal nerve stimulation of aldehydes).
Perhaps the most interesting and mysterious of all, they come with “character impact”. Namely, a distortion of spacetime, boundaries, and valence characteristics that modify whatever flavor and tactile elements one is experiencing.
Analogized to the auditory domain, we could say that “flavor” would correspond to the frequencies and rhythms one hears, such as a piano note, applause, or a child’s laugh. A “tactile component” would be akin to the haptic vibrations one feels in the body when listening to a powerful base or the prickly pinchy feeling in the ear of a screechy sound. And finally, the “character impact” would correspond to signal processing effects like reverb, echoes, spatial audio, and frequency filters. Character impact gives you a lot of control you may not know you had: with clever tricks, you can take the sound of two persons talking and, say, remove annoying high-pitch sounds, harmonize them, create the illusion of movement, or even “blend” them into a single voice with an appropriate amount of reverb. In other words, these signal processing effects allow you to “musicalize” audio which may, on its own, be of little aesthetic merit. Or in the culinary domain, Luca Turin describes “character impact” in the following way. Given tomato soup, the tomato would be the “flavor,” whereas the creaminess would be the character impact. And according to him, in fact, “the money is in making a new cream, not in finding yet another tomato”. Early in our investigations, we discovered that incompatible scents could be “blended into a single gestalt” with the clever use of character impact. Say, a mixture of alpha-pinene, citral, and vanillin tends to “flicker” between kinds of scents in a chaotic fashion (what we call “multiphasic scents”). But if you add linalool or ambroxan, they will mysteriously “blend” into a unified scent gestalt.
Now, ambers and musks are the most common “character impact” scents, with flagship examples like ambroxan, iso e super, galaxolide, and habanolide, all of which are subtle, low in pitch, and “transparent”. The idea of creating a perfume around these isn’t new: Molecule 01 Escentric Molecules (iso e super isomer mix) and Molecule 02 Escentric Molecules (ambroxan) were a big success in the 2000s despite their niche status. By all means, they are more of a work of conceptual art than perfumery in any recognizable form. Beyond the niche, there are also examples of mega-hit mainstream fragrances with enormous amounts of character impact relative to flavors, such as the impossibly cleanCK One (hedione, iso e super, galaxolide) and the masterfully musky Le Male by JPG (galaxolide, tonalide).
Such perfumes would have you believe that character impact is always a base note; they largely play with enveloping and calming low-frequency scents. But our work at QRI has convinced us that character impact effects are also present in the heart and top notes. Hence, Eau de Cologne Vide explores fresh, electric, high-voltage character impact effects fit for a wake-me-up cologne (citruses are typically high in pitch and mostly top notes).
The name follows the age-old tradition of perfumes named after mystical concepts such as Nirvana, Eternity, and Truth (“If we were to discover the biomolecular signature of pleasure, its name would surely find its way into the brand of a toothpaste.” – David Pearce). Eau de Cologne Vide packs a powerful punch of such character-impact elements to decorate… “nothing”. Emptiness beautified. Therefore, the impression is of intense salience, but you are left wondering, “what was that about?”. Eau de Cologne Vide is a way of saying “much ado about nothing!”
How is this achieved? Eau de Cologne Vide combines the ethereal alcoholic reverb-ey effect of lavender (linalool), the incredible anodyne softness of rose (phenylethyl alcohol), the dry astringent effect of bergamot (terpinene), the intensely aromatic, stimulating and borderline citrusy effect of spices like thyme and dill (p-cymene), the warming, sweet and spicy, balsamic, “oriental” and “rindy” note typical of bisabol aka. “opoponax” (bisabolene, also found in oregano and cubeb), and fructone (nigh flavorless sweetness). It brings these notes into coherence with the classic aromatic fougere note of aggressive freshness of scents like Drakkar Noir (dihydromyrcenol), and a nanodose of the sour, soapy, and always reliable agrumen aldehyde light.
What does Eau de Cologne Vide smell like? Transparent, sweet, soft, dank, intense, ethereal, slightly sour, mysterious, and yet… flavorless. Eau de Cologne Vide intensifies, vivifies, enriches, and thickens the experience of other scents. But as with Buddhist Emptiness of the highest grade, it’s best experienced by itself.
Hedonium is matter and energy optimized for pure bliss. It is not a shallow sense of well-being but the most profound sense of holistic well-being possible within the laws of physics. Cosmic awe, deep wellness, and rapturous joys are all human emotions and are merely low-dimensional shadows of the real deal. A Hedonium Shockwave is a hypothetical phase transition traveling near the speed of light which changes the very composition of matter and energy by turning everything it touches into Hedonium. Classical Utilitarianism, in its typical formulation, might hold the latent implication that not only would the instantiation of a Hedonium Shockwave be desirable, but we are morally obliged to bring it into existence. QRI’s ethical theories are agnostic, but Hedonium plays an important role in its memetic landscape. Namely, as a theoretical entity that embodies the essence of pure positive valence, it challenges us to consider the nature of value in and of itself and its possible “physical compilation”.
Hedonium Shockwave is a scent developed in-house to illustrate this anticipated phase transition in consciousness. The primary “olfactory idea” of Hedonium Shockwave is the synergistic combination of violet, mint, and an accord of pear and honeysuckle. This combination expresses a powerful yet anodyne uplifting mood grounded in a qualia landscape devoid of negative elements—pure olfactory pleasure at last.
Review of Hedonium Shockwave: It is, overall, incredibly smooth. My first thought is that it feels like a combination of Metta and Mudita, which are two different Brahmavihara meditations where it’s very soft and expansive for me. It feels very golden and pink. It’s very soft, but it’s a bit sharper, then a really soft sharp. It’s like a combination of metta and cocaine. It hits you, but in a loving way. It doesn’t hold back, but it hits you in a loving way. It’s almost like being woken up. “Wake up the world is great!” “Wake up there’s something important!” but a soft, loving wake-up!
Of potential interest to readers: here’s part of an email exchange I recently had with Scott Alexander about Rhythms of the Brain by György Buzsáki, a book I recommended he read to learn more about the neuroscience of brainwaves. This is an essay he published about it; I had a chance to read a pre-publication draft to check whether he was describing the science and my positions accurately. This is part of my feedback on the draft (lightly edited for clarity and consistent formatting):
Andrés – Oct/13/2022
First of all, thank you again for writing a review of Rhythms Of The Brain. As I mentioned, I think your review is spot-on. It’s already really great as it is. But I think the following pieces of information might help you answer some of the questions you pose and enrich the mental model you have about brainwaves. I should also mention that I’m still learning a lot on the topic from a number of angles and my model still has quite a few moving parts.
Without further ado, here are 5 key points I’d like to share:
(1) I think that Susan Pockett‘s Consciousness Is a Thing, Not a Process (link to PDF) is very relevant here. She argues based on neurophysiological and behavioral evidence that conscious perception only happens when Local Field Potentials (LFPs) are generated. The timing, functional correlates, and location of events of conscious perception of sensory stimuli seem to agree with this (pgs. 4-5):
Here’s how I think about this:
Have you wondered why brainwaves track levels of wakefulness? See, in principle you can have a great deal of neural activity without any brainwaves. Raster plots of spike neural networks could in principle look like white noise… which in turn would generate no brainwaves at all because the oscillations in the electric field would cancel each other out at the macroscopic level. Recall that perfectly compressed information is indistinguishable from noise. So, in principle, an optimal use of the state-space of neural activity would look totally like white noise and lack brainwaves.
Susan Pockett would say that the non-conscious parts of neural activity can be like this… greatly optimized in a certain sense. But they will lack consciousness. The advantage of the coherence (which comes at the cost of greatly reduced information content) is distributed representations. In turn, this may solve the binding problem.
The “LFPs as mediators of consciousness” story has a lot going for it. In particular, it is quite elegant in how it can help us make sense of our phenomenological relation to our brain and nervous system. Brainwaves and LFPs are be highly correlated. Coherent neural activity causes LFPs, which in turn mediate/bias activity in neurons, with a causal structure like this:
If “we are” the patchwork of interlaced LFPs the brain is generating, in some sense we could say that we “have a brain” rather than that we “are the brain” (loosely speaking). Without putting any strong metaphysical import on the concept of free will, the phenomenology of it seems to me at least to make more sense when you identify with the field rather than the neurons per se (see clues 1 and 3 in his paper). In this view, we are like the “ghost in the machine”, capable of biasing neural activity here and there. But at the same time, we need the coherent neural activity to be booted up. So we are sort of “riding the brain” while the brain is giving us our foundation. Perhaps this gives us another angle to think about the “elephant taming” metaphor for the progression of the meditative path:
(3) The work of Stephen Grossberg (Adaptive Resonant Theory, and more recently his book Conscious Mind, Resonant Brain) as well as that of his student Steven Lehar, have macroscopic resonance as a key computational step. Arguably this is something you can simulate with classical neural networks. But using the EM field would potentially produce a significant computational speedup. Talking to Lehar, he used an interesting analogy, where in which he described “neurons spiking as a kind of sand blasting of the electric field” in order to activate internal representations. Recent research seems to confirm that the information content of internal representations is better captured by the structure of the electric field than by the neurons that sustain it (“Neurons are fickle. Electric fields are more reliable for information.“).
NOTE: One of the contributions to the conversation that QRI is aiming to make (essentially by publishing in academia what’s already discussed in our website) is that while these field theories of consciousness do address the binding problem, they now have to contend with the boundary problem. Our solution is “topological segmentation”, which itself comes with empirically testable predictions. Topological pockets allow for holistic field behavior *and* for solving the boundary problem at the same time, finally rendering bound consciousness both causally efficacious and objectively bounded. [In your essay] you could point out that I claim that resonance is necessary but not sufficient to solve the phenomenal binding problem. So even if AIs were using brainwaves, that might not be enough for them to be conscious, though it would go in the right direction. More on this on our website soonish.
(4) I think that we can use the Symmetry Theory of Valence (STV) to explain the hedonic properties of different network topologies. This would be responsible for the “intrinsic valence” of a given brain region. You write:
> Why this combination of tasks? Rhythms sort of suggests that brain areas are less about specific tasks than about specific graph-theoretic arrangements, which are convenient for specific algorithms, which are convenient for specific tasks.
Yes! This is a great way of putting it. I think that having diverse network topologies available is one of the key ingredients of a general intelligence like ours. A learning algorithm that patches together the right sections to produce the right kind of structure for internal representations with holistic properties seems like a natural way to construct a mind. More so, some of these patches will cause dysphoric waves and others euphoric waves. The dysphoric parts of the brain, if STV is in the right direction, would have a network topology that work as a sort of frustration generator. The waves generated by these parts sort of “hate themselves”: activating them causes internal dissonance and stress that is then radiated out as waves with unfriendly ADSR envelopes to the rest of the brain. In contrast, the euphoric parts would produce highly aligned waves with soft ADSR envelopes and the right level of impedance matching to harmonize with other wave generators.
(5) Merging with God as a kind of global coherence:
> Andres suggests all of this is a good match for oscillatory coupling between brain regions.
Perhaps add something akin to “which according to him ‘dissolves internal boundaries'”
> Andres thinks this is part of what’s behind “spiritual” or “mystical” experiences, where you suddenly feel like you’ve lost the boundaries of yourself and are at one with God and Nature and Everything.
My strongest phenomenological evidence here is the difference between DMT and 5-MeO-DMT (video): competing clusters of coherence feel like “a lot of entities in an ecosystem of patterns” whereas global coherence feels like “union with God, Everything, and Everyone”. Hence the terms “spirit molecule” for DMT and “God molecule” for 5-MeO-DMT. The effect size of this difference is extremely large and reliable. I’ve yet to find someone who has experience with both substances who doesn’t immediately agree with this characterization. [This can be empirically tested] by blinding whether one takes DMT or 5-MeO-DMT and then reporting on the valence characteristics, “competing vs. global” coherence characteristics, and on whether one gets a patchwork of entities or one feels like one is merging with the universe.
With classic psychedelics, which stand somewhere between DMT and 5-MeO-DMT in their level of global coherence, you always go through an annealing process before finally “snapping” into global coherence and “becoming one with God”. That coherence is the signature of these mystical experiences becomes rather self-evident once you pay attention to annealing signatures (i.e. noticing how incompatible metronomes slowly start synchronizing and forming larger and larger structures until one megastructure swallows it all and dissolves the self-other boundary in the process of doing so).
You will not find academic publications describing this process (because their psychological scales are not detailed enough, aren’t focused on structure, and aren’t informed by actual practice). Nor will you find psychonauts talking much about this, because they tend to focus on the semantic content of the experience rather than on the phenomenal texture [see our guide]. Naturally, one is typically socially rewarded for providing an entertaining story about one’s trip… not a detailed *technical* report of phenomenal texture. Therefore, right now you’ll only find QRI content explaining all of this. But I’m fairly confident about this after talking to very experienced. So I think this will significantly shape the conversation in a couple of years once we start getting some consensus on it.
I could share much more, but I have to restrain myself (taming the elephant!). Let me know if you need anything else.
Scott – Oct/13/2022
Thanks. […] two questions:
> Susan Pockett would say that the non-conscious parts of neural activity can be like this… greatly optimized in a certain sense. But they will lack consciousness. The advantage of the coherence (which comes at the cost of greatly reduced information content) is distributed representations. In turn, this may solve the binding problem.
Not sure I understand this. Aren’t there clear examples of unconscious brain waves (eg delta waves during sleep)? Can you explain more about what you mean by distributed representations and why they’re linked to consciousness?
> If “we are” the patchwork of interlaced LFPs the brain is generating, in some sense we could say that we “have a brain” rather than that we “are the brain” (loosely speaking). Without putting any strong metaphysical import on the concept of free will, the phenomenology of it seems to me at least to make more sense when you identify with the field rather than the neurons per se (see clues 1 and 3 in his paper). In this view, we are like the “ghost in the machine”, capable of biasing neural activity here and there.
Confused by this too. My model for thinking about brain waves has been cellular automata – in this case, there would be no difference between the pattern and the machinery, and it wouldn’t make sense to say that the pattern is able to bias the activity here or there. Is this a bad model? Can you explain more what you mean by “us” (by which I’m assuming you mean consciousness) “biasing” activity (by which I assume you mean causing brain activity different from what you would expect by lower-level laws)?
> Thanks […] two questions:
(I’ll answer your questions in a different order than how you asked them, on the basis that my answer to the first one is much more weird and less credible… In other words, I’m answering more or less in order of how weird my responses are so that you are not put off by my first answers. This way you can choose when to stop reading without missing anything useful for your essay):
> My model for thinking about brain waves has been cellular automata – in this case, there would be no difference between the pattern and the machinery, and it wouldn’t make sense to say that the pattern is able to bias the activity here or there. Is this a bad model?
I think that “brainwaves can be explained as emergent patterns of a cellular automata” is a very good starting model, and it has a lot of explanatory power. But there are empirical and experiential facts that would go against it as a complete explanation. And perhaps, it misses the most important hint for a theory of consciousness that satisfies all of the necessary criteria I consider such a theory must satisfy. And that is, that binding has non-trivial computational effects. I.e. At some level, patterns of organization exert “weak downward causation” on the substrate that gave rise to them. This does not mean there is “strong emergence” or that we’re going against the laws of physics. On the contrary, a key guiding principle for QRI is to be strict physicalists. The laws of physics are causally closed and complete (or at least as good as it gets; the Standard Model can be taken at face value for the time being, until something better comes along). Without violating physicalism, we nonetheless still see instances of weak downward causation in the physical world.
As an intuition, consider the fact that something like TMS can change neural activity. In fact, TMS, and especially rTMS, can cause seizures. This suggests that at a sufficiently high dose, EM oscillations can exert top-down influence on neuronal firing thresholds and phase coherence, and more so when they come in repetitive waves rather than pulses. In the case of LFPs, which are far more localized and less energetic, the influence isn’t huge. But it is there. As far as I understand the neuroscience literature on LFPs (and ephatic coupling more generally), the fact that LFPs change firing thresholds is uncontroversial. The question is “by how much”. Most studies find small effects (otoh between 1% and 20% of the variance, but I can look up more precise and recent figures – e.g. see: Ephaptic coupling of cortical neurons).
The more interesting and perhaps significant effect that LFPs have is to change the degree of coherence between neurons. In other words, they may not change much their probability of firing, but do change a lot their probability of firing in phase. You can see how this would lead to interesting self-reinforcing effects. Namely, if neural coherence causes LFPs, and LFPs increase neural coherence, there might be attractors of hypercoherent neural firings coupled with strong and very orderly LFPs. I believe this explains the Jhanas.
Now, can’t you just expand your cellular automata to include LFPs and call it a day? Well, yes, in a theoretical but rather impractical sense. Building a cellular automata that simulates a simple neural network is easy. Building one that simulates water is more tricky. By the time you are constructing cellular automata to simulate EM fields you get into trouble. It’s possible, but you need all sorts of tricks, shortcuts, and handling complex edge cases (e.g. topological segmentation!). Can you construct a cellular automata that simulates physics? Quantum mechanics proper? Yes… if you are Wolfram. But recall that his explorations invoke cellular automata with unusual mathematical primitives. We are no longer in the territory of simple grid-like graphs. We are in Ruliad-space, with hypergraphs and exotic rulesets. Quantum coherent states behave in a very holistic fashion (where the “next step” is the result of solving Shrödinger’s equation in configuration space). So while it’s possible to use cellular automata to think of physics at this level, it isn’t a very natural choice. Rather, I posit that thinking of it in terms of universal principles like energy minimization, extremas, and the preservation of zero information is what takes us closer to the phenomenon at hand. These principles are, by their very nature, holistic. An electron, as Feynman would put it, can sort of “smell its surroundings” to decide where to go. It somehow explores all possibilities at once and “chooses” the one that balances the minimization of energy and maximization of entropy. A truly holistic sort of phenomenon.
I think that if at that point one uses a cellular automata to represent this, one has actually reintroduced the very thing the cellular automata conceptual framework was trying to avoid. And that is, the computational power of holism. This is because even though the Ruliad that simulates physics is in some way a cellular automata, the ruleset itself requires a kind of God-like capacity to integrate pieces of information and “see all at once” entire regions of the (hyper)graph and decide what to do next. My claim is that at this point one has “pushed” the undesired holism to the ruleset in order to avoid seeing it directly. It’s a reductionist sleight of hand.
Now, I’m not saying consciousness is quantum mechanical. What I’m pointing out is that EM waves are sort of in the spectrum between simple cellular automatas and QM, where the waves interacting with one another have all kinds of peculiar holistic effects. Binding, if it involves EM waves, turns out to be computationally non-trivial.
In this model, the brain is physically providing a soil that can instantiate EM waves with many different kinds of properties. Some behave linearly, some non-linearly. And together, they give rise to the vast zoo of possible internal representations, many kinds of binding, topologies, and dynamics we experience (such as the strangeness of “fire meditation“).
> Can you explain more what you mean by “us” (by which I’m assuming you mean consciousness) “biasing” activity (by which I assume you mean causing brain activity different from what you would expect by lower-level laws)?
You can’t voluntarily shut down your brain with conscious control. At least not immediately. But you can direct your attention to two parts of your experience at once, and the resonances in those two regions will slowly but surely begin to synchronize. In other words, from an EE point of view, spreading your attention over a given region of your experience increases the impedance matching between the metronomes in those regions. This, I think, is the influence of LFPs (or similar) on neural activity. This may be subtle, but over enough time and neural rewiring, the process can lead to very interesting effects. Hyperconcentrated states of consciousness, starting with access concentration all the way to single-pointed attention and ultimately to the formless Jhanas are obtained through mental moves that slowly by surely “unify the mind” (i.e. brings coherence between disparate metronomes in the nervous system). This is “us” learning to influence “our brain”.
> Not sure I understand this. Aren’t there clear examples of unconscious brain waves (eg delta waves during sleep)?
Two quick things here. The first is that we think brainwaves (macroscopic oscillations in the EM field more generally) are necessary but not sufficient for consciousness. They still need to form a topological pocket, or they will remain unclosed eddies that cannot contain information nor maintain a boundary with their surroundings. The second is that the main point is that the brainwaves track the texture of degrees of wakefulness. More so, it’s not just the spectral power distribution, but also the patterns of spatiotemporal cross-frequency coherence. Thus, two states might look the same in terms of their spectrum, but carry significantly different internal textures since one of them has a high degree of, say, gamma coherence and the other doesn’t.
> Can you explain more about what you mean by distributed representations and why they’re linked to consciousness?
One of the key insights from Stevan Lehar is that using a dynamic, smooth, spatial medium of representation allows us to run spatial algorithms on our representations. One example is the incredibly general reverse grassfire & reverse shock schaffold algorithms that explain a wide range of visual illusions (discussed in The Constructive Aspect of Visual Perception / as well as in his magnum opus video Harmonic Gestalt). Based on the fact that these algorithms generalize to things like breakthrough level DMT experiences and that they apply to hyperdimensional phenomenal objects and their resonant modes, I’m fairly convinced that the local cellular automata view doesn’t explain the facts. The structures that exist in those states follow law-like energy minimization properties reminiscent of fluid dynamics in higher dimensions. To me they seem to necessitate something like Maxwell’s equations; a cellular automaton would need a lot of training and fine-tuning to be able to instantly generate those dynamics right and seamlessly. Combine this with the (not fully verified but tentative) observation that DMT states are phenomenologically similar to those induced by high-dose Fire Kasina. I believe that the mechanism is actually fairly simple: both methods energize the visual field to the point where it transitions from a linear and partially linear state into a fully nonlinear regime. The phenomenon is better seen as what happens when you energize a non-linear optical computer than, say, the effect of changing the ruleset of a cellular automaton.
I know this lacks credibility for the time being […]. I aim to identify crisp and experimentally verifiable demonstrations of this that trained physicists and neuroscientists can both agree on.
In the long-term, I expect humans to figure out ways to use high-energy states of consciousness to tap into the EM field as a computational substrate. Not only will this entail a revolution in consciousness, but also, interestingly, in how we think of computation. The Turing Paradigm will turn out to be a tiny special case of… qualia computing.
Alright, I hope that wasn’t too much, haha.
Thank you again, and happy to answer more questions.
I recently did a podcast with Leigh Brasington (author of Right Concentration) and Wystan Bryant-Scott where we discussed a model for Jhanas in terms of neural annealing, the Symmetry Theory of Valence, and the feedback loop between neural coherence and LFPs.
DMT Experience Report — Learning the Nonlinear Wave Computing theory of subjective experience and internalizing the Symmetry Theory of Valence (originally posted in r/rationalpsychonaut by ClarifyingCard).
This was a sub-breakthrough experience with firmly-set “intellectual” (integrative) intentions. So I wouldn’t really call this a trip report, but an experience report. It’s a little more in the direction of a freeform essay. Working through this experience to translate it into written word is proving very fruitful for annealing what I’ve learned, so I hope it can provide some insight to others. Contents include my real-time integration of QRI’s “nonlinear wave computing” model of subjective experience, and some explanatory applications. I also firmed up my epistemological relationship to the Symmetry Theory of Valence during this experience, so there are some insights integrating these with technical meditation & gender transition.
I hope the length doesn’t render this inaccessible, as I feel that there are many genuinely deep insights here. I’m not the type to typically write reports on experiences, but consuming lots of QRI content has seriously energized me! There’s this feeling of “Finally! People are doing the top-down neuroscience that I’ve been quietly building for years in isolation! People are seeing psychedelic experiences as legitimate tools for investigating the nature of the mind!” So, I’m feeling a drive I haven’t felt in a while, a drive not just to consume information & integrate it acausally, but to contribute & collaborate.
Last night I sipped on a sizeable amount of DMT over the course of a few hours. I probably took over 20 hits from the vape overall, paced gently. I wasn’t specifically striving for a breakthrough, though I left open the possibility, and in fact I was deliberate to keep it sub-breakthrough for the first phase of the trip, since I was trying to use DMT to integrate information content from a video.
To me, coming to DMT fixated on a breakthrough feels like entering a relationship with a striving fixation on sex, or entering sex with a striving fixation on orgasm. So, much like taking your time to get to know someone intimately, or moving through a sexual experience without pushing or striving to let it blossom on its own terms, I’ve been flirting with & getting to know DMT on an increasingly deep level over time. This was the first time I’ve really leaned in & let it show me where it wants to take me.
(“wants” in terms of descending energy gradients, not in anthropomorphizing way. This is a central thread of this experience, so more on this below.)
So, I have not broken through yet; this definitely fell on the side of profound insight & bliss. I’m a deep subscriber to the theory of Neural Annealing, and DMT is so high-energy that metaphorically speaking it felt like pure, elemental annealing; anything my mind turned to, I could understand so crisply, with ease & immediacy, like I’m just letting my representations fall into parsimonious (low-entropy) resonant modes, the local minima that my conceptions have already been swirling around.
I also subscribe to the Symmetry Theory of Valence — well, my epistemological relationship to it has been a little fuzzy or hesitant, being sympathetic to it but not yet feeling like it deeply “clicked”, but after this experience, I not only “get it”, but I’ve felt, intimately, what it’s like to watch it play out in real-time. So that process of “spontaneous understanding” of the above paragraph, the symmetrization/entropy minimization felt really, really good. A truly profound bliss of methodically massaging out any point of tension in my representation field that my attention happened to rest upon.
I also want to point out that it didn’t really quite feel like the positive (additive) happiness of e.g. eating the candy bar you went to the store for, it felt like a negative (subtractive) happiness — in other words, relief from suffering. Very Buddhist in flavor, even at just the most basic level of Buddhist theory, the Four Noble Truths. In other words, the dukkha of the Three Characteristics. I’ve now got this idea in my head of maybe identifying dukkha with the mental tension that’s smoothed by annealing, to some degree at least. That correspondence is a space I’ll be playing in for a while, I can see.
So, here’s the actual report.
Genetic heritage: 39% Scotland, 33% England, &c.
Sex/gender: Trans female (late-stage, meaning enough years of estrogen & social transition to have largely reached mental & physical equilibrium in terms of gender/sex characteristics)
Tremendous experience over 8 years with 80+ different psychedelic/dissociative/otherwise acutely psychoactive substances, with a heavy focus on dissociatives. Sizeable understanding of contemporary technical meditation and Buddhism (my understanding is significantly stronger than my actual practice hygiene). Avid consumer of QRI content. History of engagement with Less Wrong-style rationality. Undergraduate education in math & physics, supplemental education in technical writing, linguistics, analytic philosophy (formal logic, philosophy of language, metaphysics, &c.).
Despite my drug experience, I haven’t used DMT proper before. Before this XP, I dipped my toes in the water with 3-4 puffs of this cart over a few hours about 2 weeks before. A few times over the next 2 weeks, I took a few intermittent puffs to continue feeling it out & acclimating.
Two phases here: first on my couch processing a QRI video, 1 on my bed in a mindset of play & exploration.
XP Phase I
Setting: ~930p. On my couch, comfortable. Full lighting. No music.
For a few months, I’ve been ramping up my consumption of QRI content, technical meditation dharma, info about/reports on psychedelics, etc. Aside from general interest, I’ve been mentally preparing myself for a DMT breakthrough (my psychedelic experiences having waned in the past few years, and DMT being such a crown jewel of psychedelic strength/power).
I’ve had the idea to take solid but sub-breakthrough hits of DMT while attempting to integrate some QRI content. The video I chose was this:
I’m thrilled to say this was a great choice & fruitful exercise. I’m going to talk a lot about Andrés himself & his video style; I hope it’s not too effusive & doesn’t come across in a parasocial sort of way. It’s more like a walk-through of the subjective experience of what I happened to be doing, a snapshot of how it felt for my brain to process & operate in this state. It was very easy to feel what facets of experience were positive or negative, like my mental model of my valence system was in crystal clarity & intuited with immediacy. This is why this experience also had such an annealing effect for STV on me.
First of all, I was struck by how crystal-clear his vibe comes through in these videos where it’s just a single take of him talking into the camera for an hour! For the record, I’m saying nothing teleological here; no clue how much of this has been thought through explicitly. When I first started watching them, I was like, this could benefit from some cuts or superimposed visuals &c., but over time I’ve grown to deeply appreciate the style. The exact reasons why crystallized during this experience. It’s because it’s an extremely directed, one-pointed style, and it’s also more faithful to real life. For these reasons you can synchronize your mental representation of the content very deeply with the content itself (i.e. you can model Andrés’s attention with high fidelity, so as he goes through the material clearly & methodically, so are you). There’s no echoes of practice or rehearsal like an academic lecture, and there’s no attentional context-shifting that would be demanded by video cuts or superimposed visuals (though having experience with physics simulations & wave dynamics, I’d love to see some simulation visualizations of toy models exhibiting some of the wave dynamics in play here sometime). Instead, it feels more intimate in a way, like the feeling of someone in real life patiently teaching you a complicated concept 1-on-1. You’re watching Andrés think through material he’s familiar with in real-time. You can even see him spontaneously understand & explain new connections as he works through the existing material, and since your attentions are so synchronized, by watching him demonstrating the explanatory power of these models, you’re learning what it feels like to wield these concepts to refine something else into a simpler representation.
It’s not just the DMT that helped me understand this I think; poetically, the content of this specific video was very relevant. Later on in the video, he mentions the notions of “Metronome Quotient” & “Entrainment Quotient”, which could be seen as a kind of schematic for understanding the general process of one person transfering information, emotion, or other mental “vibe” complices to another. Knowing what I know about harmonic dynamics from physics, this is very intuitive. When conditions are right (person A is a suitable transmitter, person B is a suitable receiver, attention is localized favorably) — i.e. when the process works — it feels very similar to something like orbital resonance (which is why Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa, & Ganymede have orbital periods in the ratio 4:2:1 — here’s a Steve Mould video explaining this phenomenon). It’s an application of the “soap-bubble” energy-minimization principle: deviations from harmonic equilibrium inducing restoring forces to drag the system into low-entropy resonant modes.
Something else I noticed is Andrés’s emotional/hedonic vibe. He’s always got a smile, on his mouth & in his voice, you can tell that he’s just thrilled to understand this stuff & thrilled to be able to break it down for a willing audience. First of all, obviously this affects the valence of the experience of watching the video, just like smiling when you’re on the phone eases social friction. I think this emotional entrainment can bootstrap informational entrainment as well, by kindling or contributing to overall synchronization, which is neat. It’s intuitive to me; I already “knew” this because walking people through conceptual understanding, processing difficult experiences, &c. is a general passion of mine, and emotion sync is a big part of doing that effectively.
This power to deeply synchronize attention (acausally!) seems like really powerful way to integrate information. It’d have to be in favorable conditions — written word is right out, most likely. Low-stimulus density is important; you want the extraneous setting details/audiovisual landscape to be easy to ignore (to let fade from salience). I think being able to see facial expressions, posture changes, gestural communication, &c. is crucial to be able to really settle in to the entrainment (this is also true in real life — I have no idea why so many people seem almost blind to body language!). Then, by walking through the content in a deeply synchronized way, you know what it feels like to believe it, to synthesize with or wield it against other concepts. That little harmonic signature, that vibe, is there in your mind, ready to be cultivated or dampened by whatever other representations brush against it.
I should also say, I had lots of visual effects during this time of course. Strong tracers, lots of symmetry extrapolation on surfaces. Tons of shimmering on the edges of objects. When I was especially high, I noticed this really cool effect of lowering visual resolution, like a pixelation effect, but overlapping circular blobs of color & texture. They would resolve if I attended to the region. It felt like the corresponding regions of the visual cortex architecture were too energized to be localized properly, blurring/fuzzing of the wave activity translating to decreased specificity in the encoded content. Really neat. The visuals weren’t something I wanted to work with for the moment, so I let myself just enjoy them instead of striving to analyze or categorize.
PsychonautWiki seems to catalog this as environmental orbism. Interesting that they associate it primarily with dissociatives — I have not experienced it on dissos (or anything else). I wonder if there’s something Fourier transform-ish happening with the visual cortex activity, like higher-frequency activity dominating the encoding — if so, it could be thought of as a sort of inverse of symmetrization. No idea, will think about it.
Anyway, I watched the video for a while, frequently backtracking to process content carefully. Eventually it started feeling laborious, so I moved to my bedroom.
XP Phase II
Setting: ~11p. On my bed, very comfortable. Low purple mood lighting. No music.
CW: Some light talk of sexuality.
I wanted to make some time to play with the drug in a very soft, low-stimulus environment. So I just cleared my bed & spread out the top sheet layer, a lush fleece blanket, flat across the top. The space is full of pleasant, comfortable-vibe stuff, so on one side I was enveloped by super-soft blankets & pillows & stuffed animals, very pleasurable. Very deliberately setting an easygoing, pleasurable, sensual vibe for the drug to energize & amplify.
I started taking more hits, just resting comfortably on the blanket to see where it would take me. I just let myself frolick, enjoying the pleasurable touch sensations of my environment, rubbing my hands & legs against the soft surfaces, massaging my inner thighs, feeling out the effects it had on my muscles & sensory processing. I noticed the way my muscles subconsciously started to tense & tighten in anticipation of a hit, and then as the DMT washed through my mind, noticed how it smoothed & blurred & dissipated that tension & the angular mental prickles associated with it. I did a lot of rhythmic contraction & release for various muscles, just letting myself enjoy how relaxing it felt to let it go. I carry a lot of tension in my inner thighs (especially common for girls), so getting deep into the tissue & massaging it out was immensely pleasurable, almost orgasmic at times.
This made me think a lot about the distinction I was drawing earlier, of what I guess I’ll call “positive” vs. “negative”, or “additive” vs. “subtractive” pleasure. This was very much subtractive pleasure, which could maybe be accurately characterized better as “relief”. In other words, nirvana-wards.
I decided that I was in a good state for a breakthrough. I wasn’t sure whether it would happen, since my acute tolerance was probably increasing, so I set the intention that I wasn’t striving for it to happen and that it would continue being a wonderful XP if it didn’t. So I took several (3-4) puffs in succession and lay back to watch.
Here, I noticed a some decoupling of drug effects. I was still getting visuals from each hit, though the open-eye effects were a little less intense, and the CEVs perhaps more. I was still getting positive-valence mental effects — bliss, equanimity, parsimony, &c. However there was a dramatically lowering of that “roller-coaster” feeling, the overwhelming-ness, the sense a drug has seized your experiential field & is now in charge. It’s possible that this was due to me simply becoming more comfortable.
However, the missing qualia is a pretty somatic one, so I think it’s probably acute tolerance attenuating different effects at different rates. Is DMT norepinephrinergic at all? Or is this an endogenous NE effect, or not related at all? Unsure, will research later. That’s a neurochemical I don’t have as much of an intuitive feel for as much as serotonin/dopamine/GABA. Also I should get to know glutamate sometime. Maybe it’s more of a “roller-coaster” feeling because you’re feeling the pull of a novel attractor.
So, a breakthrough didn’t happen; I think that feeling is probably integral to a breakthrough (though I’m speaking from ignorance for now). But I did get huge waves of bliss & felt my all of my mental representations get highly energized. This felt “hyperbolic” in the sense of there being “too much” to fit neatly in onto the mental workspace, so things start jumbling & intersecting and “space” itself expands into itself to accomodate. This is on the level of conceptual representations, so what exactly “intersecting” and “space” mean is left unspecified.
Here’s 2 tangential paragraphs about this. I’ve had this effect before, especially on 4-AcO-DMT and other 4-subbed tryptamines — most extremely, on a truly stupid dose of 160 4-AcO-DMT several years ago, combined with a heavy dissociative I don’t recall (perhaps diphenidine). Never do this! This was many, many years ago, before I had my relationships/career/gender transition/life together, when my thirst for spiritual revelation & relief was matched by my thirst for annihilation & urge to self-harm. Every mental concept just got hopelessly jumbled together and I couldn’t parse a single aspect of my experiential field. It overtook [my model of] my body & external reality, violently smashing together and shredding them and blending them into uncountably many infinitely thin, infinitely long threads all furiously tangling and colliding. There was a sensation of being flung & pulled along this sharp, fast stream along with all the other shreds of my world. As high-entropy a state as I can imagine.
In other words, the entire modeling mechanism of reality, inside & out, underwent a catastrophic system crash. It was immensely physically painful — I felt every bit of physical reality smashing through each other — and it collapsed into this extremely dissonant state with very few experiential components: a 1-frame flashing of pale green & red, an unbearably loud Hypnotoad-esque droning, and sheer unimaginable physical pain. This went on for subjective eternity — to abuse some math notation, I had this intuitive, unshakeable knowledge that S(t + Δt) = S(t), period. I realize now that I was deep, deep in a hellish & steep local minimum. Perhaps you could consider this a “hell realm”. Combined with the “holing” effect of the dissociative, I think this could fairly be considered a seizure-like state. I’m not sure if I was physically moving in reality, as I didn’t have any thrashing marks & I was alone (don’t do that!!), but I do think I wet myself a little. It was one of the worst eternal moments of my life. Walking through this experience with ~5 years of learning & growth behind me, writing this out has actually helped me understand the experience a lot better, so forgive the tangent. Come to think of it, STV has a lot of explanatory power w.r.t. why this was so dysphoric & traumatic, lots of little clues sprinkled in here — my representation system smashed into a catastrophically high-entropy, short-term-unrecoverable state of unfathomable dissonance, inducing physical & psychic agony.
Anyway, back to DMT.
After those 3-4 hits, maybe another part of why it wasn’t overwhelming was related to the notion of “entropy sinks” mentioned in the DMT + hyperbolization video above. I was getting enormous energization of all my representations, but I had no difficulty in skillfully directing them, in applying them to existing mental & physical tension points & smoothing them out, so there was no runaway accumulation. Symmetrization was also very dramatic in CEVs, planar hyperbolic geometries all interweaving at different angles, and the experience of this geometry was itself immensely blissful & high-valence, another strong point in favor of STV. I’d like to strive for brighter, more defined CEVs soon — if I had looked for them earlier, I think they’d’ve presented.
I then took some time to play around with & appreciate my body some more. I let myself explore my body & just revel in my love for it. Lots of transition-centric thoughts here. I played with my breasts, just lightly rubbing & poking them, feeling them jiggle, reveling in how good & right it felt that I had finally grown them after all this time. I felt along the curves of my hips, groping & squeezing, reveling in how good & right it felt that I have this deeply estrogenic body & mind. How, like, over these years I’ve finally found myself falling into the attractor of this cute, bubbly, exciteable, empathic girl I’ve always been meant to become.
I remembered feeling the slightest inscrutable tugs towards it, all those years ago. I remembered blundering around in the dark trying to interpret those gradient descents towards peace with my identity & body. I remembered starting to discover, reveal, & construct this second “persona attractor”, finding this spark of hope & understanding & rightness that I would kindle & cultivate over the coming years. And I remembered the moment I felt myself at the inflection point between the two local minima, the realization that the I could just let myself fall into it, and the immeasurable relief washing over me. I’m nearly in tears recounting this to you, contextualizing this deep consonance & harmony I feel, realizing just how much literal blood, sweat, & tears were demanded of me to achieve it.
I think I annealed a deep understanding of the nature & valence structure of gender transition (at least for my personal case study). It’s not like this isn’t something I’ve thought about in intricate detail for years, so I’ve already earned a very clear picture for myself, but it’s even crisper now, such a simple story once it clicks. STV honestly seems to have tremendous explanatory power w.r.t. gender transition, something I’d like to think & write about more in the future.
I also played around a lot with my representation/experience of sexual pleasure, which I don’t need to get into toooo much detail about, but it was incredible playing around in that space. One weird thing about my mind is that I kind of have a mental “button” wired up for sensual, sexual, submissive pleasure. In other words, I can just push the button whenever I want (I have dissociatives to thank for getting this circuitry wired correctly) — I can feel this submissive pleasure at will. It’s especially effective if I fantasize, so I spent some time letting myself revel in fantasies about various partners of mine doing various things to me, letting the vividity of the feelings wash over me. This wasn’t especially, ah, “intellectual” work, so I’ll leave it at that.
(Side note: I theorize a lot of the “attainments” of technical meditation essentially come down to programming buttons like this. I’m thinking particularly of the brahmavihara (“divine/sublime abodes”). They’ve been conveyed to me as like finding a housekey, so that you can enter anytime.)
Here’s another phenomenon I noticed during this period. A few times I felt a different piece of neural machinery start to whir up — specifically this notion of “self-consciousness”, what I would conceptualize as the submodule of your reality model responsible for modeling the way others would model you back. In other words, I felt this tugging from my self-consciousness engine, nagging with questions like “Don’t you look ridiculous, writhing around alone in your panties? Aren’t you being frivolous, frolicking in pleasure without any thought to intellectual work? What would <Person X> think if they saw you like this? Do you really deserve to consider yourself cute?”
What I’m trying to point out with this is that I found it extremely easy not to engage with this submodule. I could simply fail to regard it, not energizing that representation. Politely say “no thank you” to that mechanism & gingerly place its suggestions on the ground. In the language of NLWV, I noticed this perturbation, but I let it play out & be gone instead of batting down the ripples of the pond. Very anicca-flavored protocol, very familiar to me from meditative experience.
I found I had this ability with all sorts of mental mechanisms. I’m generally mindful of & moderately good at this, but it was cranked up to 11. I had great control over which facets of experience I did or didn’t engage with. If I had a thought about work-related stress, or guilt over lapses in my exercise hygiene, or anxiety about my thumb (which has a damaged ligament), I could so easily say “It’s not skillful for me to engage with & feed this story right now. Now’s not the time.” Strong equanimity. In this sense, I felt ease with & authority over which representations composed how much of my awareness. This is one sort of skill that samatha meditation cultivates, I think. It makes me realize how much I’ve slipped w.r.t. this skill over the past few years, once my life started going well & started growing more complacent.
So, in that moment, I found it easy to cold-shoulder those nagging feelings tugging me out of animal-pleasure-mind. I was able to let myself indulge in the luxuries I’ve cultivated for myself, without shame, which is actually really hard for me usually. I struggle with strong guilt about deserving any success or happiness I achieve. This is something I know I need to work on — being blissful when it is skillful to feel bliss; suffering when it is skillful to suffer.
Speaking of that equanimity, I’ve made a lot of progress towards “skillful sex” (lol), sexual dysphoria being a central theme of my journey from androgenic to estrogenic libido. Allowing your mind to cloud is always a great way to derail sexual pleasure or orgasm, so I’m happy to pick up more skills here.
Anyway, after a while of this, it felt like a good time to pack it up & let the afterglow run its course, starting to integrate the experience. So I put on some music (Strange Diary by Psychic Twin), lay down, & chilled for a while, eventually turning on a light-complexity video & eating some snacky food (which I typically avoid). I took 0.5 mg clonazepam to help still my mind. This XP kept me up till about 2am, but once I lay down to sleep, it didn’t take too long.
[T + 1 day]
I awoke & got up with ease, which is unusual for me. Perhaps residual stimulation combined with the benzo wearing off during the night, but this is also a known fruit of metta meditation which I’ve cultivated for long periods in the past, so this is something I’ll keep an eye on next time. Metta is something that I’ve practiced skillfully before and it’s at the top of my priority list for improving my meditation hygiene.
Mentally, I feel good. I took my standard 10 mg adderall & 300 mg gabapentin after waking, and I’ve had the energy & focus (and desire!) to write this report, which has taken several hours lol.
I do also have this sensation of being drained, too. It’s hard to explain because it’s not really valence-negative or preventing me from action. It kind of feels like a flatness; my closest approximation is not a recreational drug or crash but how I feel if I’m late with my estrogen injection. But in any case, I do know I need to have patience with & take care of myself today.
Damn! This bliss-stick is extremely powerful — not just in terms of how powerful its psychedelic grasp is, but in terms of the applicability of that power. I can see DMT helping me smooth out all sorts of specific (tactics-level) things about my life, and deliberately integrate all sorts of content, in addition to the sheer spiritual blastoff effects. A central theme in this XP is that feel of rounding out “angular” points of tension in mental representations, slipping down those parsimony gradients, massaging the joints of your mind.
I do get the strong intuition that this is a substance to be taken seriously. I won’t be using it casually… (well, for the most part. We’ll see). It’s funny to me that I tried so many drugs so many years ago before finally trying DMT, but I’m honestly glad I’m getting to know the crown jewel at this point in my life, with many different avenues of life experience to synthesize for interpretation & integration.
My cart is running fairly low. I’ll be getting more. I think if I had really gone for it right away, I would have had a breakthrough, so I’ll probably go for it soon 😊
Related trip report by Cube Flipper (pseudonym of an anonymous reader):
Vaping the Genderfluid: Exploring Gender Identity on DMT
Some background on me: I’m in my early thirties, AMAB, somewhere on the autism spectrum (which mostly manifests as skin sensory issues), and a long time Qualia Computing reader.
Sometime last year, my “egg cracked”, to use the parlance of our day. I’d read in the past how autism and gender dysphoria were heavily correlated. I revisited events from my past and decided it was worth exploring whether or not some of my experiences could be explained by gender dysphoria. I suspected that leaning into a more feminine gender identity might feel more comfortable and help me to “vibe” better.
I shaved my legs, got my ears pierced, and started adopting a more feminine identity internally. This felt not unlike flipping a Necker cube on myself from masculine to feminine. I figured out how to see a more female face in the mirror. I started to move differently. I experimented with my voice. I would mostly do this in social settings, though I’m not sure how noticeable it was from the outside.
I even spent three months on estrogen at one point, hoping that its use would help with my sensory issues (it did), before discontinuing its use for a number of unrelated reasons. The phenomenological effects were too numerous to go into detail here; I hope to write up a detailed “HRT trip report” at a later date. Long story short, I found estrogen to be anti-dissociative – like the opposite of ketamine (this assessment is informed by Zinnia Jones’ writeup comparing the effects of HRT with Lamotrigine). My senses felt more tightly integrated – less skin sensitivity, less “noise”, less annoying prediction errors – it was euphoric.
However, my gender identity still felt in flux, unstable. I wasn’t even sure ‘identity’ was a real thing – what is the qualia of identity?
Anyway, I recently gained access to a DMT vape pen, and have been using it on a daily basis to perform a low level annealing on myself, usually in the mornings after a bit of exercise.
I should describe my practice: I lie down, remove any uncomfortable clothing, and ensure my body is relaxed and in a symmetrical position with no muscles under tension. I take one or two puffs on the vape pen – not enough to see more than faint visuals – but enough to feel the bodily vibrations arise, settle, and crystallise throughout my body. I should be clear that my gender identity was not the focus of these experiences, high valence and annealing was.
I am a believer in Leharian force fields: Our sense of touch, bodily awareness, and space is embedded in something like a three-dimensional vector field. As we experience various stressors throughout our daily lives, various contractions, foldings, and distortions can work their way into the “force fields” which guide the way we move and the way we direct our attention. When I smoke DMT like this, I sometimes feel these contractions unfold themselves. This can be kind of unsettling at the time, but in the wake of these experiences I notice my awareness is more expanded and I feel I am navigating a much smoother, less crumpled “possibility space” as I go about my life. Notably, these “unfoldings” don’t tend to happen a second time after vaping DMT again afterwards.
Additionally, colours felt more vivid, and my senses felt brighter – not unlike how I felt on estrogen!
I continued this practice for perhaps a couple of weeks. Something I began to notice was that I was no longer flipping the Necker cube on myself; I was no longer bothering to lean into the feminine identity I had been experimenting with in social settings.
I theorise that the annealing process had drawn my self-model – a giant tree of priors – back towards the stable attractor of my pre-existing masculine identity. Imagine tuning the parameters on a slightly distorted Sierpinski pyramid, bringing it into alignment with itself. I felt comfortable with my masculinity again.
I hope nobody misunderstands me, I don’t mean to say that if you are transgender DMT can draw you back to a pre-transition identity. Quite the contrary, I think DMT can grant you the bandwidth necessary to assess which identity feels most internally robust to you. It’s quite likely that estrogen also can give you the boost required to explore and stabilise your sense of identity.
I had fun exploring my feminine side, and there’s parts of that experience which still stick with me; I still wear earrings and I still shave my legs (because it feels good… and it helps deal with sensory issues). I may yet return to these experiences someday.
By an anonymous reader (this was sent by someone who was formerly deeply skeptical of the Symmetry Theory of Valence. The experience described below made them reconsider QRI’s explanatory frameworks and paradigms. In their own words: “[this experience I] recently had made me think “hmm so maybe there _is_ something to the STV”).
There was a sequence of going back into old experiences, each of them somehow positive or negative. The very earliest one that came to mind was a memory of my mother talking to me with love and delight when I was maybe one year old. There was a sense that my mind and body had been in a particular kind of position when that had happened. Ever afterwards, they had been trying to shift themselves back into that same position, on the theory that the same internal configuration would recreate the same external environment and recreate the same experience of being loved.
There was a sense of the bodymind holding a pattern that was a snapshot of that moment of love, and that the bodymind had been trying to also align the external world into the same kind of a position, out of an understanding that the pattern could only be completed – the puzzle piece matching the rest of the puzzle – if the external world provided the right fit for the bodymind’s internal configuration, letting them interlock in the way that would recreate the old pattern.
In the moment of completely seeing this, there was an understanding of the wisdom that the stuck pattern held – it had correctly seen and recorded a facet of reality, of what I had been like and how that had gotten me love – and also of the fact that its vision had only captured an incomplete facet, with it being impossible to go back to being a baby and replay the same experiences.
As this was seen, seeing the pattern that the stuck energy had been trying to complete caused it to be completed, the parts interlocking once more. There was a sense of the stuck energy pattern being released and melding back into a pattern of universal harmony and love that could be felt in the body. There was an understanding that the stuck pattern had previously acted as a constraint, trying to repeatedly pull the bodymind into a particular configuration whenever possible in order to recreate the original harmonic pattern, when the harmonic pattern had actually been available all along.
Something shifted and the legs felt like they opened and spread out, a pull relaxing that the mind hadn’t even known was there.
There was a sense of tapping into the universal harmony that could now be felt in the body, as a stream of energy trying to run up from the root chakra to the top of the head. As the body tried to upright itself to align with the energy, it found more stuck patterns interrupting the flow, each of them associated with a past experience and a particular configuration of the bodymind that was at odds with the one that the stream was trying to upright the body to.
There was a seeing that the bodymind’s configuration would affect the bodyminds of the people around it, all other people also moving in a constant process of trying to recapture particular configurations, trying to pull their environment into shapes that would complete specific patterns. In seeing this, there was a sense of testing possibilities. If this bodymind wanted to upright itself, what positions would that pull the bodies of others into? How would those positions constrain this body’s positions, and what was the shape that it would be pulled towards in turn?
Each of those considerations brought up a new pattern of stuck energy, a time when the bodyminds of others had been in a particular position, and this bodymind had learned to adapt or avoid a particular position in response. Whenever such patterns were found, they temporarily turned into reality, with the bodymind reliving the experience and seeing both how the pattern held within a piece of wisdom – a true fact about what reality had been like – and how that pattern was at the same time incomplete and unintegrated with the rest of the bodymind’s knowing.
Sometimes that lack of integration caused the pattern’s understanding to be a mistake overall. There were situations when an energy pattern had been scanning for signs of others reacting negatively and stored that as the primary interpretation of the experience, seeing only that and missing out on the way that the thing had been too minor to matter, or missing out on the way that others had been able to see the positive aspects as well.
There was a sense that the act of trying to assume specific configurations required selectively taking in information, so as to not see things that would destabilize the desired postures. There was a sense that the content of consciousness gets selectively filtered so as to create particular mindstates, to allow certain configurations to be reliably recreated.
There were fears around the possibility of being seen, a sense that others would not necessarily take well to a bodymind that was standing upright, and would try to bring it back down. There was a sense that the configurations of their bodyminds had constantly been pulling this bodymind back into more cramped positions, as a way for it to stay safe.
There was a sense that many of the configurations the bodymind has been trying to contort itself into have been physically impossible, different people requiring different physical positions that have been impossible to satisfy at once. There was a thought that it’s no wonder that this bodymind has been grinding teeth at night, given all the contradictory expressions that the jaw and the face have been trying to take at once.
There was also a sense of how some other people’s erratic behavior had been a result of them trying to twist themselves into impossible sets of overlapping configurations. There was a sense that bodyminds will allow the tension of the physically incompatible postures to tear themselves apart, so that different parts of the whole can get split off to adopt different postures at once.
There was a sense of people occasionally catching from the corner of their eye a glimpse of something that a part of them thinks they absolutely cannot be allowed to see, their bodymind instantly making a sharp angle to rotate away from the sight of it and blocking all line of vision, in a single movement of pure terror.
There was a perception that despite everything, the positions of other people didn’t need to matter, and that if this bodymind could tap into the universal resonance of harmonious energy, then that resonance would pull at the body stronger than any other bodyminds can.
There was a sense that if the bodymind tapped into the universal resonance, it wouldn’t need to contort itself to others, but would rather dance together with others who were part of the same resonance, standing effortlessly upright at all times if it so desired.
The bodymind tries again to align with the resonance, to find a stable flow of energy going up from the pelvis through the body.
As stuck energies stored in different parts of the body are released, those parts test whether the rest of the body is capable of holding their full energy. The body parts trash against their restraints, then relax as they become assured that it is safe to do so. Waves of laughter and contented sighs bubble up through the system, a flavor like warm pleasant honey.
There’s a seeing that all the different holds and stuck energies have been attempts to capture the universal resonance and that the way to relax them is to lean into them until they meld back into the resonance, each of their energies containing a fragment of home that shows the way back.
As one leans into them they each become more like reality, are reality, and then there is a recollection and recognition of their essential truth as it’s merged into the whole. Each such merging allows one constraint to be released, for the dynamic system that is the bodymind to move more fluidly between positions, no longer forced to twist and contort itself into a particular rigid shape whenever it comes near to that region of configuration space.
Rather it can do what bodyminds exist to do, weave a smooth and graceful path between configurations that make sense in any given situation, dancing in a way that still repeats specific configurations but with a fluidness that is every human’s birthright.
To have too many constraints is to be torn apart; to have no constraints is to be a newborn incapable of action; to have just the right amount of constraints, pulling the bodymind into configurations that are the right expressions of its essential self, is to be a mature and competent adult.
As this happens, it is as if resonance patterns spread across the body, connecting parts that were previously disconnected. The feet start drumming together, remembering that they are brothers who can do their own thing. The throat spontaneously joins the chants and the song of the people around. The pelvis finds more of its energy, though large parts of it still feel blocked off.
As constraints are dropped and the bodymind manages to better tap into the universal harmony, it begins looking for a new shape, one that would be harmonious both with the universal resonance and the bodymind’s own pattern of energy. Parts of the body try tuning themselves into the song and music and try what it’s like to be in harmony with the universal resonance, what it’s like to generate their own resonance patterns that are separate from the universal resonance but harmonious with each other, how to create something of one’s own that combines with that which is not one’s own. The bodymind explores a role and an identity as a bard-shaman of earth, song and myth, sees where parts of that would fit and where they would not.
There is a sense of harmonious delight and love, of everyone in the room being connected to the same universal resonance that is pulling everyone together, each of them also contributing a piece of their own unique essence into the whole. There is an experience of seeing this bodymind from the outside, and a feeling of it being beautiful and lovable. These new patterns are absorbed into the bodymind to act as the foundation for a new way of being.
Healing Trauma with Neural Annealing might help explain this quote: “There was a sense that the act of trying to assume specific configurations required selectively taking in information, so as to not see things that would destabilize the desired postures.” In particular, note the proposed duality between physiological dissonance and resisting information discussed in that article (special emphasis on “denial”).
Buddhist Annealing: Wireheading Done Right with the Seven Factors of Awakening (video). This might help explain: “As stuck energies stored in different parts of the body are released, those parts test whether the rest of the body is capable of holding their full energy.” Namely, that one key aspect of equanimity is increasing impedance matching between various parts of the nervous system so that one part can process the stress stored in another one.
Non-Linear Wave Computing: Vibes, Gestalts, and Realms. This video provides a conceptual framework capable of making sense of “stuck patterns” that “need to be completed by environmental circumstances”. In brief, these are stored non-linear patterns of resonance that require their oscillatory complement in order to become harmonious. Dissolving them allows you to instead rely on the natural harmonics of your nervous system and thus to not be dependent on external circumstances for positive valence.