Every Qualia Computing Article Ever

 The three main goals of Qualia Computing are to:

  1. Catalogue the entire state-space of consciousness
  2. Identify the computational properties of experience, and
  3. Reverse engineer valence (i.e. discover the function that maps formal descriptions of states of consciousness to values along the pleasure-pain axis)

Core Philosophy (2016)

Bolded titles mean that the linked article is foundational: it introduces new concepts, vocabulary, heuristics, research methods, frameworks, and/or thought experiments that are important for the overall project of consciousness research. These tend to be articles that also discuss concepts in much greater depth than other articles.

The “long” tag means that the post has at least 4,000 words. Most of these long articles are in the 6,000 to 10,000 word range. The longest Qualia Computing article is Burning Man Theme-Camps of the Year 2029: From Replicator to Rainbow God (2/2) at ~16,000 words. The second longest article is the first post about Burning Man which is about 13,500 words long (and also happens to be foundational as it introduces many new frameworks and concepts).

Quotes and transcripts are usually about: evolutionary psychology, philosophy of mind, ethics, neuroscience, physics, meditation, and/or psychedelic phenomenology. By far, David Pearce is the most quoted person on Qualia Computing.


Fast stats:

  • Total number of posts: 196
  • Foundational articles: 42
  • Articles over 4,000 words: 24
  • Original content: 123
  • Quotes and transcripts: 80

2019

Psychotic Depression (quote)

Early Isolation Tank Psychonautics: 1970s Trip Reports (quote collage)

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

State of the Qualia, Fall 2019

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

Harmonic Society (3/4): Art as State-Space Exploration and Energy Parameter Modulation

The Psychobiology of Subcultures (quote)

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

Harmonic Society (1/4): Art as Family Resemblance + Cool Kid Theory

Announcement: QRI Presentations at Harvard and NYU

More Dakka in Medicine (quote)

Typical N,N-DMT Trip Progression According to an Anonymous Reader

Atman Retreat: Safe, Legal Psilocybin Experiences in Jamaica

Kaleidoscopic Integration: Annealing, Symmetry, and the Information Theory of Experience (quote collage)

Why Care About Meme Hazards and Thoughts on How to Handle Them

Carhart-Harris & Friston 2019 – REBUS and the Anarchic Brain (quote + analysis)

Does Full-Spectrum Superintelligence Entail Benevolence? (quote)

Glossary of Qualia Research Institute Terms (long)

Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering (very long)

Using Ibogaine to Create Friendlier Opioids

Treating Cluster Headaches Using N,N-DMT and Other Tryptamines

Realms as Interpretive Lenses

Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution

In brief, LSD…

Ephemerisle: Health Homeostasis, Worldview Annealing, and the Long-Tails of Serious Fun (long)

Wada Test + Phenomenal Puzzles: Testing the Independent Consciousness of Individual Brain Hemispheres

5-MeO-DMT Trip Report by Anonymous Reader (quote)

Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Necklace

Low-Dose Ibogaine + Opioids: A Possible Treatment for Chronic Pain, Schizophrenia, and Depression? (quote)

Coffee Saves Lives

Top 10 Qualia Computing Articles

Ego and Symmetry on 5-MeO-DMT (transcript)

AI Alignment Podcast: On Consciousness, Qualia, and Meaning with Mike Johnson and Andrés Gómez Emilsson (transcript/long)

Timothy Leary’s Final Regrets (quote)

All-Is-One Simulation Theory (quote + analysis)

Rational 4-AcO-DMT Trip Report By An Anonymous Reader (quote)

Against Fetishizing Cortical Neurons: Prioritizing Humans As Instrumentally Rational

+Transhumanism -Signaling: Education Should Be Relevant to Meaningful Work (quote)

An Infinite Variety of Waste (quote)

Microaffect Hash Collision Theory of Déjà Vus

Pure Land Youtube Hits

The Meaning Machine (quotes + analysis)

Low-Dose Ibogaine for Hedonic Tone Augmentation (quote)

Transcending and Including Integral Theory

Frequency Specific Microcurrent for Kidney-Stone Pain (quote)

Every Child is a Genetic Experiment: FAAH Clinical Trials for Hedonic Recalibration as Educated Guesses Rather than Reckless Experimentation

Burning Man Theme-Camps of the Year 2029: From Replicator to Rainbow God (2/2) (long)

Investing Time and Resources in Happiness

Utilitronium Shockwaves vs. Gradients of Bliss (quote)

Do you think that some psychedelic drugs, such as DMT, can help mathematicians visualize the hyperbolic geometry of space?

On Hitting the Actual Target of Hedonic Tone

The Resonance and Vibration of [Phenomenal] Objects (quote + analysis)

“Letter from Utopia” and Other Triple-S Transhumanist Media (quote + analysis)

Burning Man Theme-Camps of the Year 2029: From Replicator to Rainbow God (1/2) (long)

Cooling It Down To Partying It Up

Cause X – What Will the New Shiny Effective Altruist Cause Be?

Detailed 2C-B Trip Report by an Anonymous Reader (quote/long)

Triple S Genetic Counseling: Predicting Hedonic-Set Point with Commercial-Grade DNA Testing as an Effective Altruist Project

Dream Music

Free-Wheeling Hallucinations (quote collage)

Philip K. Dick’s LSD Trip (quote + analysis)

2018

Lucid LSD Trip Report from an Anonymous Reader (quote)

A Non-Circular Solution to the Measurement Problem: If the Superposition Principle is the Bedrock of Quantum Mechanics Why Do We Experience Definite Outcomes? (quote)

What is Love? Neural Annealing in the Presence of an Intentional Object (quote)

The Purple Pill

Personality Traits Are Continuous With Mental Illnesses (quote)

The Phenomenal Character of LSD + MDMA (Candy-Flipping) According to Cognitive Scientist Steve Lehar (mostly quote)

The Universal Plot: Interlude ‽ – The Slytherin Wavelength

The Pseudo-Time Arrow: Explaining Phenomenal Time With Implicit Causal Structures In Networks Of Local Binding (long)

Anti-Tolerance Drugs

Psychedelic Turk: A Platform for People on Altered States of Consciousness

Estimated Cost of the DMT Machine Elves Prime Factorization Experiment (quote)

Thoughts on the ‘Is-Ought Problem’ from a Qualia Realist Point of View

The Qualia Explosion (quote)

Burning Man 2.0: The Eigen-Schelling Religion, Entrainment + Metronomes, and the Eternal Battle Between Consciousness and Replicators (long)

Materializing Hyperbolic Spaces with Gradient-Index Optics and One-Way Mirrors

Why don’t more effective altruists work on the Hedonistic Imperative? (quote)

The Appearance of Arbitrary Contingency to Our Diverse Qualia (quote)

Qualia Computing at Burning Man 2018: “Consciousness vs Replicators” talk (announcement)

Open Individualism and Antinatalism: If God could be killed, it’d be dead already (long)

John von Neumann (quote)

Qualia Computing Media Appearances

Marijuana-induced “Short-term Memory Tracers” (quote)

The Banality of Evil (quote)

Person-moment affecting view (quote)

Qualia Formalism in the Water Supply: Reflections on The Science of Consciousness 2018 (long)

Qualia Research Institute presentations at The Science of Consciousness 2018 (Tucson, AZ)

Modern Accounts of Psychedelic Action (quote)

From Point-of-View Fragmentation to Global Visual Coherence: Harmony, Symmetry, and Resonance on LSD (mostly quote/long)

What If God Were a Closed Individualist Presentist Hedonistic Utilitarian With an Information-Theoretic Identity of Indiscernibles Ontology? (quote)

Every Qualia Computing Article Ever

Qualia Computing Attending The Science of Consciousness 2018

Everything in a Nutshell (quote)

2017

Would Maximally Efficient Work Be Fun? (quote)

The Universal Plot: Part I – Consciousness vs. Pure Replicators (long)

No-Self vs. True Self (quote)

Qualia Manifesto (quote)

What Makes Tinnitus, Depression, and the Sound of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) so Awful: Dissonance

Traps of the God Realm (quote)

Avoid Runaway Signaling in Effective Altruism (transcript)

Burning Man (long)

Mental Health as an EA Cause: Key Questions

24 Predictions for the Year 3000 by David Pearce (quote)

Why I think the Foundational Research Institute should rethink its approach (quote/long)

Quantifying Bliss: Talk Summary (long)

Connectome-Specific Harmonic Waves on LSD (transcript)

ELI5 “The Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences”

Qualia Computing at Consciousness Hacking (June 7th 2017) (announcement)

Principia Qualia: Part II – Valence (quote)

The Penfield Mood Organ (quote)

The Most Important Philosophical Question

The Forces At Work (quote)

Psychedelic Science 2017: Take-aways, impressions, and what’s next (long)

How Every Fairy Tale Should End

Political Peacocks (quote)

OTC remedies for RLS (quote)

Their Scientific Significance is Hard to Overstate (quote)

Memetic Vaccine Against Interdimensional Aliens Infestation (quote)

Raising the Table Stakes for Successful Theories of Consciousness

Qualia Computing Attending the 2017 Psychedelic Science Conference

GHB vs. MDMA (quote)

Hedonium

2016

The Binding Problem (quote)

The Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences: Symmetries, Sheets, and Saddled Scenes (long)

Thinking in Numbers (quote)

Praise and Blame are Instrumental (quote)

The Tyranny of the Intentional Object

Schrödinger’s Neurons: David Pearce at the “2016 Science of Consciousness” conference in Tucson

Beyond Turing: A Solution to the Problem of Other Minds Using Mindmelding and Phenomenal Puzzles

Core Philosophy

David Pearce on the “Schrodinger’s Neurons Conjecture” (quote)

Samadhi (quote)

Panpsychism and Compositionality: A solution to the hard problem (quote)

LSD and Quantum Measurements: Can you see Schrödinger’s cat both dead and alive on acid? (long)

Empathetic Super-Intelligence

Wireheading Done Right: Stay Positive Without Going Insane (long)

Just the fate of our forward light-cone

Information-Sensitive Gradients of Bliss (quote)

A Single 3N-Dimensional Universe: Splitting vs. Decoherence (quote)

Algorithmic Reduction of Psychedelic States (long)

So Why Can’t My Boyfriend Communicate? (quote)

The Mating Mind

Psychedelic alignment cascades (quote)

36 Textures of Confusion

Work Religion (quote)

Qualia Computing in Tucson: The Magic Analogy

In Praise of Systematic Empathy

David Pearce on “Making Sentience Great” (quote)

Philosophy of Mind Diagrams

Ontological Runaway Scenario

Peaceful Qualia: The Manhattan Project of Consciousness (long)

Qualia Computing So Far

You are not a zombie (quote)

What’s the matter? It’s Schrödinger, Heisenberg and Dirac’s (quote)

The Biointelligence Explosion (quote)

A (Very) Unexpected Argument Against General Relativity As A Complete Account Of The Cosmos

Status Quo Bias

The Super-Shulgin Academy: A Singularity I Can Believe In (long)

The effect of background assumptions on psychedelic research

2015

An ethically disastrous cognitive dissonance…

Some Definitions (quote)

Who should know about suffering?

Ontological Qualia: The Future of Personal Identity (long)

Google Hedonics

Solutions to World Problems

Why does anything exist? (quote)

State-Space of Background Assumptions

Personal Identity Joke

Getting closer to digital LSD

Psychedelic Perception of Visual Textures 2: Going Meta

On Triviality (quote)

State-Space of Drug Effects: Results

How to secretly communicate with people on LSD

Generalized Wada Test and the Total Order of Consciousness

State-space of drug effects

Psychophysics for Psychedelic Research: Textures (long)

I only vote for politicians who have used psychedelics. EOM.

Why not computing qualia?

David Pearce’s daily morning cocktail (2015) (quote)

Psychedelic Perception of Visual Textures

Should humans wipe out all carnivorous animals so the succeeding generations of herbivores can live in peace? (quote)

A workable solution to the problem of other minds

The fire that breathes reality into the equations of physics (quote)

Phenomenal Binding is incompatible with the Computational Theory of Mind

David Hamilton’s conversation with Alf Bruce about the nature of the mind (quote)

Manifolds of Consciousness: The emerging geometries of iterated local binding

The Real Tree of Life

Phenomenal puzzles – CIELAB

The psychedelic future of consciousness

Not zero-sum

Discussion of Fanaticism (quote)

What does comparatively matter in 2015?

Suffering: Not what your sober mind tells you (quote)

Reconciling memetics and religion.

The Reality of Basement Reality

The future of love

2014

And that’s why we can and cannot have nice things

Breaking the Thought Barrier: Ethics of Brain Computer Interfaces in the workplace

How bad does it get? (quote)

God in Buddhism

Practical metaphysics

Little known fun fact

Crossing borders (quote)

A simple mystical explanation

Traps of the God Realm

From Opening the Heart of Compassion by Martin Lowenthal and Lar Short (pages 132-136).

Seeking Oneness

In this realm we want to be “one with the universe.” We are trying to return to a time when we felt no separation, when the world of our experience seemed to be the only world. We want to recover the experience and comfort of the womb. In the universe of the womb, everything was ours without qualification and was designed to support our existence and growth. Now we want the cosmos to be our womb, as if it were designed specifically for our benefit.

We want satisfaction to flow more easily, naturally and automatically. This seems less likely when we are enmeshed in the everyday affairs of the world. Therefore, we withdraw to the familiar world of what is ours, of what we can control, and of our domain of influence. We may even withdraw to a domain in the mind. Everything seems to come so much easier in the realm of thought, once we have achieved some modest control over our minds. Insulating ourselves from the troubles of others and of life, we get further seduced by the seeming limitlessness of this mental world. 

In this process of trance formation, we try to make every sound musical, every image a work of art, and every feeling pleasant. Blocking out all sources of irritation, we retreat to a self-proclaimed “higher” plane of being. We cultivate the “higher qualities of life,” not settling for a “mundane” life.

Masquerade of Higher Consciousness

The danger for those of us on a spiritual path is that the practices and the teachings can be enlisted to serve the realm rather than to dissolve our fixations and open us to truth. We discover that we can go beyond sensual pleasure and material beauty to refined states of consciousness. We achieve purely mental pleasures of increasing subtlety and learn how to maintain them for extended periods. We think we can maintain our new vanity and even expand it to include the entire cosmos, thus vanquishing change, old age, and death. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called this process “spiritual materialism.”

For example, we use a sense of spaciousness to expand our consciousness by imposing our preconception of limitlessness on the cosmos. We see everything that we have created and “it is good.” Our vanity in the god realm elevates our self-image to the level of the divine–we feel capable of comprehending the universe and the nature of reality.

We move beyond our contemplation of limitless space, expanding our consciousness to include the very forces that create vast space. As the creator of vast space, we imagine that we have no boundaries, no limits, and no position. Our mind can now include everything. We find that we do not have concepts for such images and possibilities, so we think that the Divine or Essence must be not any particular thing we can conceive of, must be empty of conceptual characteristics.

Thus our vain consciousness, as the Divine, conceives that it has no particular location, is not anything in particular, and is itself beyond imagination. We arrive at the conclusion that even this attempt to comprehend emptiness is itself a concept, and that emptiness is devoid of inherent meaning. We shift our attention to the idea of being not not any particular thing. We then come to the glorious position that nothing can be truly stated, that nothing has inherent value. This mental understanding becomes our ultimate vanity. We take pride in it, identify as someone who “knows”, and adopt a posture in the world as someone who has journeyed into the ultimate nature of the unknown.

In this way we create more and more chains that bind us and limit our growth as we move ever inward. When we think we are becoming one with the universe, we are only achieving greater oneness with our own self-image. Instead of illuminating our ignorance, we expand its domain. We become ever more disconnected from others, from communication and true sharing, and from compassion. We subtly bind ourselves ever more tightly, even to the point of suffocation, under the guise of freedom in spaciousness.

Spiritual Masquerades of Teachers and Devoted Students

As we acquire some understanding and feel expansive, we may think we are God’s special gift to humanity, here to teach the truth. Although we may not acknowledge that we have something to prove, at some level we are trying to prove how supremely unique and important we are. Our spiritual life-style is our expression of that uniqueness and significance.

Spiritual teachers run a great danger of falling into the traps of the god realm. If a teacher has charisma and the ability to channel and radiate intense energy, this power may be misused to engender hope in students and to bind them in a dependent relationship. The true teacher undermines hope, teaches by the example of wisdom and compassion, and encourages students to be autonomous by investigating truth themselves, checking their own experience, and trusting their own results more than faith.

The teacher is not a god but a bridge to the unknown, a guide to the awareness qualities and energy capacities we want for our spiritual growth. The teacher, who is the same as we are, demonstrates what is possible in terms of aliveness and how to use the path of compassion to become free. In a sense, the teacher touches both aspects of our being: our everyday life of habits and feelings on the one hand and our awakened aliveness and wisdom on the other. While respect for and openness to the teacher are important for our growth and freedom, blind devotion fixates us on the person of the teacher. We then become confined by the limitations of the teacher’s personality rather than liberated by the teachings.

False Transcendence

Many characteristics of this realm–creative imagination, the tendency to go beyond assumed reality and individual perspectives, and the sense of expansiveness–are close to the underlying dynamic of wonderment. In wonder, we find the wisdom qualities of openness, true bliss, the realization of spaciousness within which all things arise, and alignment with universal principles. The god realm attitude results in superficial experiences that fit our preconceptions of realization but that lack the authenticity of wonder and the grounding in compassion and freedom.

Because the realm itself seems to offer transcendence, this is one of the most difficult realms to transcend. The heart posture of the realm propels us to transcend conflict and problems until we are comfortable. The desire for inner comfort, rather than for an authentic openness to the unknown, governs our quest. But many feelings arise during the true process of realization. At certain stages there is pain and disorientation, and at others a kind of bliss that may make us feel like we are going to burst (if there was something or someone to burst). When we settle for comfort we settle for the counterfeit of realization–the relief and pride we feel when we think we understand something.

Because we think that whatever makes us feel good is correct, we ignore disturbing events, information, and people and anything else that does not fit into our view of the world. We elevate ignorance to a form of bliss by excluding from our attention everything that is non-supportive.

Preoccupied with self, with grandiosity, and with the power and radiance of our own being, we resist the mystery of the unknown. When we are threatened by the unknown, we stifle the natural dynamic of wonder that arises in relation to all that is beyond our self-intoxication. We must either include vast space and the unknown within our sense of ourselves or ignore it because we do not want to feel insignificant and small. Our sense of awe before the forces of grace cannot be acknowledged for fear of invalidating our self-image.

Above the Law

According to our self-serving point of view, we are above the laws of nature and of humankind. We think that, as long as what we do seems reasonable to us, it is appropriate. We are accountable to ourselves and not to other people, the environment, or society. Human history is filled with examples of people in politics, business, and religion who demonstrated this attitude and caused enormous suffering.

Unlike the titans who struggle with death, we, as gods, know that death is not really real. We take comfort in the thought that “death is an illusion.” The only people who die are those who are stuck and have not come to the true inner place beyond time, change, and death. We may even believe that we have the potential to develop our bodies and minds to such a degree that we can reverse the aging process and become one of the “immortals.”

A man, walking on a beach, reaches down and picks up a pebble. Looking at the small stone in his hand, he feels very powerful and thinks of how with one stroke he has taken control of the stone. “How many years have you been here, and now I place you in my hand.” The pebble speaks to him, “Though to you, I am only a grain of sand in your hand, you, to me, are but a passing breeze.”

The Most Important Philosophical Question

Albert Camus famously claimed that the most important philosophical question in existence was whether to commit suicide. I would disagree.

For one, if Open Individualism is true (i.e. that deep down we are all one and the same consciousness) then ending one’s life will not accomplish much. The vast majority of “who you are” will remain intact, and if there are further problems to be solved, and questions to be answered, doing this will simply delay your own progress. So at least from a certain point of view one could argue that the most important question is, instead, the question of personal identity. I.e. Are you, deep down, an individual being who starts existing when you are born and stops existing when you die (Closed Individualism), something that exists only for a single time-slice (Empty Individualism), or maybe something that is one and the same with the rest of the universe (Open Individualism)?

I think that is a very important question. But probably not the most important one. Instead, I’d posit that the most important question is: “What is good, and is there a ground truth about it?”

In the case that we are all one consciousness maybe what’s truly good is whatever one actually truly values from a first-person point of view (being mindful, of course, of the deceptive potential that comes from the Tyranny of the Intentional Object). And in so far as this has been asked, I think that there are two remaining possibilities: Does ultimate value come down to the pleasure-pain axis, or does it come down to spiritual wisdom?

Thus, in this day and age, I’d argue that the most important philosophical (and hence most important, period) question is: “Is happiness a spiritual trick, or is spirituality a happiness trick?”

What would it mean for happiness to be a spiritual trick? Think, for example, of the possibility that the reason why we exist is because we are all God, and God would be awfully bored if It knew that It was all that ever existed. In such a case, maybe bliss and happiness comes down to something akin to “Does this particular set of life experiences make God feel less lonely”? Alternatively, maybe God is “divinely self-sufficient”, as some mystics claim, and all of creation is “merely a plus on top of God”. In this case one could think that God is the ultimate source of all that is good, and thus bliss may be synonymous with “being closer to God”. In turn, as mystics have claimed over the ages, the whole point of life is to “get closer to God”.

Spirituality, though, goes beyond God: Within (atheistic) Buddhism the view that “bliss is a spiritual trick” might take another form: Bliss is either “dirty and a sign of ignorance” (as in the case of karma-generating pleasure) or it is “the results of virtuous merit conducive to true unconditioned enlightenment“. Thus, the whole point of life would be to become free from ignorance and reap the benefits of knowing the ultimate truth.

And what would it mean for spirituality to be a happiness trick? In this case one could imagine that our valence (i.e. our pleasure-pain axis) is a sort of qualia variety that evolution recruited in order to infuse the phenomenal representation of situations that predict either higher or lower chances of making copies of oneself (or spreading one’s genes, in the more general case of “inclusive fitness”). If this is so, it might be tempting to think that bliss is, ultimately, not something that “truly matters”. But this would be to think that bliss is “nothing other than the function that bliss plays in animal behavior”, which couldn’t be further from the truth. After all, the same behavior could be enacted by many methods. Instead, the raw phenomenal character of bliss reveals that “something matters in this universe”. Only people who are anhedonic (or are depressed) will miss the fact that “bliss matters”. This is self-evident and self-intimating to anyone currently experiencing ecstatic rapture. In light of these experiences we can conclude that if anything at all does matter, it has to do with the qualia varieties involved in the experiences that feel like the world has meaning. The pleasure-pain axis makes our existence significant.

Now, why do I think this is the most important question? IF we discover that happiness is a spiritual trick and that God is its source then we really ought to follow “the spiritual path” and figure out with science “what is it that God truly wants”. And under an atheistic brand of spirituality, what we ought to figure out is the laws of valence-charged spiritual energy. For example, if reincarnation and karma are involved in the expected amount of future bliss and suffering, so be it. Let’s all become Bodhisattvas and help as many sentient beings as possible throughout the eons to come.

On the other hand, IF we discover (and can prove with a good empirical argument) that spirituality is just the result of changes in valence/happiness, then settling on this with a high certainty would change the world. For starters, any compassionate (and at least mildly rational) Buddhist would then come along and help us out in the pursuit of creating a pan-species welfare state free of suffering with the use of biotechnology. I.e. The 500 odd million Buddhists world-wide would be key allies for the Hedonistic Imperative (a movement that aims to eliminate suffering with biotechnology).

Recall Dalai Lama’s quote: “If it was possible to become free of negative emotions by a riskless implementation of an electrode – without impairing intelligence and the critical mind – I would be the first patient.” [Dalai Lama (Society for Neuroscience Congress, Nov. 2005)].

If Buddhist doctrine concerning the very nature of suffering and its causes is wrong from a scientific point of view and we can prove it with an empirically verified physicalist paradigm, then the very Buddhist ethic of “focusing on minimizing suffering” ought to compel Buddhists throughout the world to join us in the battle against suffering by any means necessary. And most likely, given the physicalist premise, this would take the form of creating a technology that puts us all in a perpetual pro-social clear-headed non-addictive MDMA-like state of consciousness (or, in a more sophisticated vein, a well-balanced version of rational wire-heading).

Qualia Computing in Tucson: The Magic Analogy

Panpsychism is sometimes dismissed as a crazy view, but this reaction on its own is not a serious objection. While the view is counterintuitive to some, there is good reason to think that any view of consciousness must embrace some counterintuitive conclusion.

 

Panpsychism and Panprotopanpsychism, David Chalmers (2011)

As Chalmers points out in this 2011 paper, any theory of consciousness will probably have counterintuitive conclusions. It should thus not come as surprise that almost every single consciousness scholar will be ridiculed as crazy by at least a minority of commentators. However, aside from omnipresent cognitive and affective biases, the vast majority of consciousness researchers are using their brains to their full capacity. Their search for understanding is sincere. It simply happens that the problem is, indeed, very hard.

Thus, when someone who is otherwise rational and intelligent has weird views about consciousness, one of several things could be going on. Instead of dismissing the view outright, ask the following four questions:

  1. What conception of consciousness does this person have?
  2. What criteria does he or she believe that a theory of consciousness must satisfy?
  3. What information does this person know about, and how deeply is it being incorporated into the theory?
  4. What are the relevant implicit background assumptions that color one’s reasoning?

Asking these questions will help you sort out the root causes behind the differences in beliefs you and the theorist may have. It will, in turn, help you see how, in a sense, uncrazy the person may be.

I recently had the opportunity to practice asking these questions over and over again in the 2016 “Science of Consciousness” conference in Tucson, Arizona. Every single presenter, panelist and poster-er could be framed in such a way that he or she would look outright crazy. In reality, the reasons behind their views are, for the most part, tractable.

Instead of focusing on the individual craziness of the participants, it is more sensible, and indeed more accurate, to simply realize that the crazy step is the very first: to dare attempt to understand, as a human, what consciousness is.

Ok, so let us just agree that all participants, including me, are crazy for simply trying to make a contribution to this field. After all, our conscious mind evolved to maximize inclusive fitness in complex, Machiavellian social structures, so when we repurpose this machinery to investigate the intrinsic nature of consciousness we are bound to have serious challenges. Starting from this understanding will make it easier to have an open mind when evaluating the merits of different theories of consciousness proposed in this conference. Do not get too fixated on how counterintuitive the theories sound to you; focus on whether they are capable of satisfying at least some minimal requirements we would want from such theories.

Conversely, it could be argued that what is truly crazy is to stand idly at the center of this monstrous philosophical conundrum.


Physicalism.com

My friend and colleague David Pearce persuaded me to accompany him to this year’s instance of this conference. He submitted an abstract of his paper on consciousness and physicalism. If you have been to Qualia Computing before, you may recognize that I heavily draw from Pearce’s philosophy. Not only do we share the belief that the problem of suffering is an ethical emergency best addressed with biotechnology, but we also have substantially similar views about consciousness.

Playing Rogue

David Pearce (left) and Andrés Gómez Emilsson (right) at the 2016 Science of Consciousness conference

Our Conception of Consciousness

Consciousness is very hard to define. But we agree on something: every single experience is an instance of consciousness. The possible components of a conscious experience come from a wide variety of qualia spaces (e.g. the state-space of phenomenal color). Importantly, we do not restrict our conception of consciousness to high-level thought, reasoning or social cognition. In all likelihood, consciousness is extremely ancient (possibly preceding the Cambrian explosion), and it is present in every animal with a thalamus (if not every animal with a nervous system).

More poignantly, the true state-space of possible conscious experiences is unfathomably large. Not only does it include the mental states of every possible animal doing any conceivable activity, but it also includes the ineffable weirdness of LSD, DMT and ketamine, not to mention the countless varieties of consciousness that are yet to be discovered.

Theoretical Requirements

If it weren’t for David, I would probably still be a neuron-doctrine functionalist who believes that we may be just a few decades away from programming a full Artificial General Intelligence in silicon computers.

How did Pearce help change my mind? Well, it comes down to the second question: I used to have an impoverished set of constraints that a theory of consciousness would have to satisfy. The main addition is that I now take extremely seriously the phenomenal binding problem (also called the combination problem).

For the sake of clarity and intellectual honesty, here is the answer that David and I give to the second question:

Criteria.png

Back when I was in high school, before meeting David in person, I used to believe that the phenomenal binding problem could be dissolved with a computational theory of consciousness. In brief, I perceived binding to be a straightforward consequence of implicit information processing.

In retrospect I cannot help but think: “Oh, how psychotic I must have been back then!” However, I am reminded that one’s ignorance is not explicitly represented in one’s conceptual framework.

Background Assumptions

In order to make sense both of physicalism.com and Qualia Computing, it makes sense to be explicit about the background assumptions that we hold. Without explaining them in depth, here are some key assumptions that color the way we think about consciousness:

  1. Events of conscious experience are ontologically unitary: The left and right side of your visual field are part of an integrated whole that stands as a natural unit.
  2. Physicalism: Physics is causally closed and it fully describes the behavior of the observable universe.
  3. Wavefunction realism: The decoherence program is the most parsimonious, scientific, and promising approach for interpreting quantum mechanics.
  4. Mereological Nihilism (also called Compositional Nihilism): Simply putting two objects A and B side by side will not make a new object “AB” appear ex nihilo.
  5. Qualia Realism: The various textures of qualia (phenomenal color, sounds, feelings of cold and heat, etc.) are not mere representations. On the contrary, our mind uses them to instantiate representations (this is an important difference).
  6. Causal efficacy: Consciousness is not standing idly by. It has definite causal effects in animals. In particular, there must be a causal pathway that allows us to discuss its existence.
  7. Qualia computing: The reason consciousness was recruited by natural selection is computational. In spite of its expensive caloric cost, consciousness improves the performance of fitness-relevant information processing tasks.

A Battle of Wits

A Broken Political Analogy

Naïvely, people may get the impression that there are only a few well-defined camps when it comes to scientific theories of consciousness. The layman’s conception of the explanation state-space tends to be profoundly impoverished: “Are you a scientific materialist, or one of those religious dualists?” In this sense, people may picture the discussions that go on in places like The Science of Consciousness conference as something akin to what happens in political debates. There may be a few fringe camps, but the bulk of the people are rooting for one (often very popular) party.

Magic: The Gathering analogy

Instead of imagining a political rally, I would ask you to imagine a Magic: The Gathering tournament. For those unfamiliar with this game: Magic is a card game with two competitive components. First, one selects a set of cards from a pool of allowed cards (which depends on the format one is playing). With these cards one constructs a deck. The cards within a deck tend to have synergistic interactions, and ultimately define a range of possible strategies that the player will be able to use.

And second: one can be better or worse at playing one’s deck. The skills required to play a deck properly often involve being good at estimating odds and probabilities, bluffing, and mind-reading. In terms of knowledge, one needs to be familiar with the sorts of decks that are common out there and the typical strategies that they are built around. This leads us to the concept of deck archetypes.

Types (Clusters)

Often referred to as the flavors of the month, tournament decks tend to cluster rather neatly into deck types. In brief, certain clusters of cards tend to work very well with each other, which means that they will appear together in decks with a frequency that is much higher than chance. Arguably the process of block design is in part responsible for the emergence of these clusters. But even if, I would argue, you were to select at random a pool of 500 Magic cards from its entire history, we would still see clusters emerge: strategizing, trial and error, memetics and the natural synergy between some cards would lead to this outcome.

Intuitively, the game should then be entirely dominated by the deck types that are the most powerful. However, how good a given deck is depends on two things: The synergy between its cards, and the nature of the deck it plays against. Thus, decks cannot be analyzed in isolation. Their competitiveness depends on the distribution of other deck types in tournaments.

Over the months, therefore, the density of various deck types evolves in response to past distributions of deck types. This distribution, and evolutionary process, is often referred to as the Metagame. The connection to evolutionary game theory is straightforward: After gauging the frequency of various deck types at a tournament, one may strategically decide to switch one’s deck type in order to have a higher expected performance.

Rogue

Some number of players tend to find playing common deck types boring or too cliché. In practice, the monetary cost for acquiring certain key cards for a given type may also push some players to develop their own unique deck type. It is rare for these decks to be top performers, but they cannot be ignored since they meaningfully contribute to the Magic ecosystem.

The Cards and Deck Types of Consciousness Theories

To make the analogy between Magic decks and theories of consciousness, we need to find a suitable interpretation for a card. In this case, I would posit that cards can be interpreted as either background assumptions, required criteria, emphasized empirical findings and interpretations of phenomena. Let’s call these, generally, components of a theory.

Like we see in Magic, we will also find that some components support each other while others interact neutrally or mutually exclude each other. For example, if one’s theory of consciousness explicitly rejects the notion that quantum mechanics influences consciousness, then it is irrelevant whether one also postulates that the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct. On the other hand, if one identifies the locus of consciousness to be in the microtubules inside pyramidal cells, then the particular interpretation of quantum mechanics one has is of paramount importance.

In this particular conference, it seemed that the metagame was dominated by the following 8 theories, in (approximate) order of popularity (as it seemed to me):

  1. Integrated Information Theory (IIT)
  2. Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch OR)
  3. Prediction Error Minimization (PEM)
  4. Global Neuronal Workspace Theory (GNWS)
  5. Panprotopanpsychism (not explicitly named)
  6. Nondual Consciousness Monism (not explicitly named)
  7. Consciousness as the Result of Action-Oriented Cognition (not explicitly named)
  8. Higher Order Thought Theory (HOT)

David Pearce and I, together with perhaps up to ten other attendees, seemed to be playing a particularly rare rogue strategy: Panpsychism + Wavefunction realism + Quantum Coherence to Bind.

Other notable rogue types included: Transcendentalism + semantic nihilism, timeless + perspective-free functionalism, and, oddly, multi-draft theory of consciousness (which seems to have fallen out of favor for some reason).

Finally, it is worth mentioning that as far as this conference goes, it did not seem to be the case that any one theory was held by the majority of the participants. The plurality seemed to be held by IIT, which has a lot of interesting developments going for it.


Coming next: In the next article I will provide a chronology of the events in the conference. I will also discuss the most prominent theories of consciousness explored in Tucson this past week (25 – 30 April 2016) in light of their implicit components. Finally, I will also elaborate on some of the strengths and weaknesses of these theories relative to Qualia Computing. We will be assessing these theories in light of today’s points, and making sense of the implicit background assumptions of their proponents. (More specifically, inquiring into: the conceptions of consciousness, the criteria for theories of consciousness, the knowledge bases, and the implicit background assumptions of the various attendees who participated in this event.)

David Hamilton’s conversation with Alf Bruce about the nature of the mind

DH:

“It is important to note that some of the world’s foremost neuroscientists have believed that the mind is immaterial. These neuroscientists have been well aware that stimulating the brain can produce some intriguing psychological results. One of the pioneers in the field of neuroscience was Wilder Penfield. In his fascinating book The Mystery of the Mind, he writes the following:

{When I have caused a conscious patient to move his hand by applying an electrode to the motor cortex of one hemisphere, I have often asked him about it. Invariably his response was: ‘I didn’t do that. You did.’ When I caused him to vocalize, he said: ‘I didn’t make that sound. You pulled it out of me.’ When I caused the record of the stream of consciousness to run again and so presented to him the record of his past experience, he marveled that he should be conscious of the past as well as of the present. He was astonished that it should come back to him so completely, with more detail than he could possibly recall voluntarily. He assumed at once that, somehow, the surgeon was responsible for the phenomenon, but he recognized the details as those of his own past experience.} (76)

Penfield goes on to note that “There is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient . . . to decide” (77). In light of his work as a neuroscientist, Penfield concludes the following: “For my own part, after years of striving to explain the mind on the basis of brain-action alone, I have come to the conclusion that it is simpler (and far easier and logical) if one adopts the hypothesis that our being does consist of two fundamental elements” (80).”

While it wouldn’t strictly debunk dualism if it weren’t true, the fact that neuroscience still has never found a way to convince a patient that they themselves made the decision to commit an action is highly intriguing. It doesn’t strictly prove dualism is true, either, but it does undercut the anti-dualist claims about how neuroscience shows that everything normally attributed to the mind can be produced by physical stimulation. The one thing dualism would most highly lead us to expect can’t be, it just so happens is one of the most significant exceptions to that rule.”

AB: In my perspective, the question of mind-body duality is like someone asking if the mind of Donald Duck exists outside Donald Duck’s body or not. It doesn’t matter, Donald Duck is a fictional character.

I believe that the mind is a myth. The self is an illusion, fiction.

Your true self consists of “emptiness”, “pure awareness”, an empty mirror that reflects the universe but don’t contain anything in itself.

In zen the koans are tools for trying to point out the direction to our “original self”, “our face that existed before our parents were born”.

And the world of senses, forms, thoughts, exists due to that we project it through active action through “our” “intentions” of thinking, sensing, pecieving, and that intentiion is is in itself an extension of the genetic programs “intention” to replicate and sustain itself (survival, metabolism).

The heart sutra says:
“Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
Emptiness is not separate from form, form is not separate from emptiness.
Whatever is form is emptiness, whatever is emptiness is form.”

Brain transformed guy UG Krishnamurti describes it in an entertaining way, he wrote a book named “The mind is a myth”

U. G. Krishnamurti: Complete Part 1 – Mystique of Enlightenment
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXyLbU1GGqU

Sam Harris has some nice descriptions,

Sam Harris: The Self is an Illusion
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fajfkO_X0l0

One classic example:
Emperor Wu: “So what is the highest meaning of noble truth?”
Bodhidharma: “There is no noble truth, there is only emptiness.”
Emperor Wu: “Then, who is standing before me?”
Bodhidharma: “I know not, Your Majesty.”

And one of my favourites on this issue is Aldous Huxleys Doors of perception: Seeing the mind as a filter for consciousness, clear white light that gets filtered trough our human bodies and creates a prism of colours on the other side that appears to us as a separate consciousness.

Aldous Huxley, Doors of Perception excerpt
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9eD7oSX7dg

DHThat is, of course, however, itself a form of dualism – extremely so, in fact; and while it bears some superficial similarities with the extreme materialist line that the self is an illusion because consciousness doesn’t exist at all because there’s no room for it in a physical world, no eliminative materialist would take that sort of *attitude* towards it as a result of their belief. But whether dualistic (or idealistic) or materialistic views are plausible, possible, and likely as opening stating points still sets the tone of a debate which the position you’re expressing there is a complicated point on one of the branches of.

Without breaking spoilers, I think your comments about scare-quote “intentions” borrow too much from the extreme materialist, rather than idealistic tone of the rest of your comments, and in fact I argue from precisely the opposite line: intentionality itself, as a category of types of phenomena in the world, is indispensable. Someone who thinks we’re just the epiphenomena of blindly causal building blocks lacking intentionality has to think any “intentionality” we possess is just the illusory epiphenomena of the causal pseudo-intentionality of those building blocks. But, as I’ll argue, such a project is absolutely utterly impossible. That leaves us, I claim, with a stark choice between either eliminating intentionality (an extremely dehumanizing option that is both untenable and would erase a huge portion of what all of us value about the experience of being human if it even {could be} true), or else acknowledging it as an irreducible aspect of the irreducibly experiential and mental side of reality.

I’m definitely a fan of Huxley’s conception in Doors of Perception, but in an of itself, nothing about this concept requires that the consciousness being so filtered is a “universal” or “empty” one rather than potentially being an individual one, and perhaps even one with some degree of intrinsic content.

William James proposed an equivalent metaphor: “When the physiologist who thinks that his science cuts off all hope of immortality pronounces the phrase, “Thought is a function of the brain,” he thinks of the matter just as he thinks when he says, “Steam is a function of the tea-kettle,” “Light is a function of the electric circuit,” “Power is a function of the moving waterfall.” In these latter cases the several material objects have the function of inwardly creating or engendering their effects, and their function must be called productive function. Just so, he thinks, it must be with the brain. Engendering consciousness in its interior, much as it engenders cholesterin and creatin and carbonic acid, its relation to our soul’s life must also be called productive function. Of course, if such production be the function, then when the organ perishes, since the production can no longer continue, the soul must surely die. Such a conclusion as this is indeed inevitable from that particular conception of the facts.

But in the world of physical nature productive function of this sort is not the only kind of function with which we are familiar. We have also releasing or permissive function; and we have transmissive function.

The trigger of a crossbow has a releasing function: it removes the obstacle that holds the string, and lets the bow fly back to its natural shape. So when the hammer falls upon a detonating compound. By knocking out the inner molecular obstructions, it lets the constituent gases resume their normal bulk, and so permits the explosion to take place.

In the case of a colored glass, a prism, or a refracting lens, we have transmissive function. The energy of light, no matter how produced, is by the glass sifted and limited in color, and by the lens or prism determined to a certain path and shape. Similarly, the keys of an organ have only a transmissive function. They open successively the various pipes and let the wind in the air-chest escape in various ways. The voices of the various pipes are constituted by the columns of air trembling as they emerge. But the air is not engendered in the organ. The organ proper, as distinguished from its air-chest, is only an apparatus for letting portions of it loose upon the world in these peculiarly limited shapes.

My thesis now is this: that, when we think of the law that thought is a function of the brain, we are not required to think of productive function only; we are entitled also to consider permissive or transmissive function. And this the ordinary psycho-physiologist leaves out of his account.”

And, in the source lecture on Human Immortality [http://godconsciousness.com/humanimmortality.php], elaborated it as so: “In note 5 on page 58 I partially guarded against it by saying that the “mother sea” from which the finite mind is supposed to be strained by the brain, need not be conceived of in pantheistic terms exclusively. There might be, I said, many minds behind the scenes as well as one. The plain truth is that one may conceive the mental world behind the veil in as individualistic a form as one pleases, without any detriment to the general scheme by which the brain is represented as a transmissive organ.
If the extreme individualistic view were taken, one’s finite mundane consciousness would be an extract from one’s larger, truer personality, the latter having even now some sort of reality behind the scenes. And in transmitting it — to keep to our extremely mechanical metaphor, which confessedly throws no light on the actual modus operandi– one’s brain would also leave effects upon the part remaining behind the veil; for when a thing is torn, both fragments feel the operation.
And just as (to use a very coarse figure) the stubs remain in a check-book whenever a check is used, to register the transaction, so these impressions on the transcendent self might constitute so many vouchers of the finite experiences of which the brain had been the mediator; and ultimately they might form that collection within the larger self of memories of our earthly passage, which is all that, since Locke’s day, the continuance of our personal identity beyond the grave has by psychology been recognized to mean.
It is true that all this would seem to have affinities rather with preëxistence and with possible re-incarnations than with the Christian notion of immortality. But my concern in the lecture was not to discuss immortality in general. It was confined to showing it to be not incompatible with the brain-function theory of our present mundane consciousness. I hold that it is so compatible, and compatible moreover in fully individualized form. The reader would be in accord with everything that the text of my lecture intended to say, were he to assert that every memory and affection of his present life is to be preserved, and that he shall never in sæcula sæculorum cease to be able to say to himself: “I am the same personal being who in old times upon the earth had those experiences.””

Still, establishing the baseline that the materialistic, “productive” account of consciousness is not the only rationally considerable or rationally believable option is a prerequisite before that debate between us can even take place. Should the “productive” account be the only possibility, both of us are necessarily mistaken, and we aren’t even entitled to try to have that conversation. If and when we establish that dualistic and/or idealistic accounts truly can be worthy of consideration in principle in the first place, then we can perhaps try to move forward on arguing the specifics.

ABI don’t really think of it in terms of materialism or idealism, to me that is more western style concepts, I have more of a background in eastern concepts, they are more natural and comfortable for me to use.

There is a buddhist concept called “dependent origination”;
So if I try to translate it, it will be as I am fully a materialist and fully an idealist “at the same time”.

I don’t know if you are into low level computer languages, but a methaphor in C programming, when you ask for data, built in the question, you declare what shape of data you are looking for, and where to look before you get the data, so: That means that the answer you get, it’s based on the question you made.

A similar methaphor is the double slit experiment in quantum physics; The instant you look for idealism, idealism is the answer you get, the instant you look for materialism, materialism is the answer you get.

I had an altered state of conciousness after doing zen meditation some year ago, where I saw stuff that has been describet by Viktor Frankl, Eckhart Tolle amongst others:
It was like:
Aha the universe is in constant motion, the instant I make some kind of mental construct about the nature of the universe, my mental construct gets disconnected, from the universe, the mental constructs become false the same moment they are constructed. Usually my brain automatically interprets the input that reaches my senses, but now I can see there is a space between input-stimulus and response, that I haven’t noticed before.

DH{{Your true self consists of […] “pure awareness”}}

Whether you like categorizing it in those terms or not, a claim of this sort is either dualist or idealist, and if materialism is true, this claim is false. Concepts are, as Alan Watts put it, something like fish nets thrown over the world to map it out rather than something describing the way the world really is in and of itself, but regardless of that fact, the “Western” concepts are one way of mapping the territory no less valid than any other, and it *is true* that anything floating in the ocean is going to fall into one of the spaces inside the net. What you’re describing here, with the exception of one tiny nuance that borrows premises from a worldview your other statements have flatly rejected, is unavoidably non-materialist.

ABI don’t really care if a claim is either dualist or idealist, as I see it, all claims are ultimately false the moment you make the claim, since the universe is a constant flux, you cannot step in the same river twice as Herakleitos described it. ( I think being on Ketamine activates a kind of awareness of this state in a way)

I see it as the “true” state of the world is “paradoxical” “self contradictionary”, and as soon we put out our mental “fish nets” over the world, we get stuck in the nets, and lose our authentic connection to the world.

If you look at zen koans, they have no answer, that can be reached by logic or thinking, they are tools for trying to force yourself to step out of the fishnet, and plunge yourself into the floating ocean.

(Perhaps we are talking past each other, right now I’m quite tired and have somewhat hard to concentrate and think)

DH“[A] all claims are ultimately false the moment you
make the claim, since [B] the universe is a constant flux, you

cannot step in the same river twice as Herakleitos described it.”

Is [B] true? Is it true that there is a logical relationship between
[B] and [A], so that the truth of [A] follows from the truth of [B]?

ABThere ulimately cannot be a relationship between [A] and [B].
The truth of [A] cannot follow the truth of [B].

Because, when you read and make up the sentence in your head, the act of reading the sentence is a process in time.

Your eyes goes from the beginning of the sentence to the end of the sentence, but when you reach the end of the sentence, the beginning of the sentence is not “valid” anymore, since the universe have changed shape.

So in that way, logic itself will ultimately always be invalid.

But you can make logic valit within its own self contained system, but that is ultimately a “pseudo” system, its disconnected from reality, one gets stuck in the fishing net.

The staues of Dancing Shiva, he dances on a dwarf, The dwarf symbolizes “logic” among other things. The dwarf will always be there, it’s immortal. But Shiva dances outside all logical systems, always in motion.

DH“[C] […] There ulimately cannot be a relationship between [A] and [B]. The truth of [A] cannot follow the truth of [B]. […] So in that way, logic itself will ultimately always be invalid.

[D] Because, when you read and make up the sentence in your head, the act of reading the sentence is a process in time. […] Your eyes goes from the beginning of the sentence to the end of the sentence, but when you reach the end of the sentence, the beginning of the sentence is not “valid” anymore, since the universe have changed shape.”

Are any of the statements in [D] true? Is there any logical relationship between any of the statements in [C] and any of the statements in [D], such that the truth of [C] follows from the truth of [D]? If not, how is your use of the word “because” not implying the opposite and therefore employing a fallacy of stolen concept, and are you not therefore compelled to refrain from using it?

AB: Is there an answer to your question, if you haven’t even began to ask any question?

DH: Does a world still in fact exist, in which you are dreaming, and which your dreaming self will inevitably wake up into, when you are asleep?

ABDepends on if the world you wake up to, also happen to be another dream.

DH: Dream-worlds still {{-exist-}}, whether they exist as “dream-worlds” or regular “worlds.” The question was whether a world exists, not in what form it does, so that doesn’t actually answer the question.

ABAs I see it, the active act of looking for something, itself in a way creates something to look at.

Gonna go to sleep now. Thanks for the brain gymnastics.

I assume that I already have posted this one to you, I still think it’s cool. Perhaps one can see it as Shiva represents the idealist perspective, and Kali represents the materialist perspective, and that ulitmately, if ones goes beyond the fishing net, one can come to realize that they are two sides of the same coin. cya later.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gam77q_LQJA