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For people who are planning on taking psychedelics (I'm not suggesting they do, but if they will anyway) or who have already done so: perhaps consider writing a high-quality trip report. They are super rare, and rationalist-informed trip reports might be excellent sources for research leads to figure out how the brain works.

For inspiration, perhaps read: Guide to Writing Rigorous Reports of Exotic States of Consciousness.

Also, I recommend reading "The Grand Illusion" by Steven Lehar for some excellent pointers for how psychedelic experiences can legitimately inform our understanding of consciousness. Here is a writeup I made about his life's work and how it was informed by his (very rare) rational psychonautics.

For another example of rational synthesis of psychedelic phenomenology see:  The Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences (@Harvard Science of Psychedelics Club) or this talk about mapping high-energy states of consciousness delivered at a ACX online meetup.

Finally, consider submitting a datapoint for the Tracer Tool. More info here.


This is substantiated by data in "Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain" (quote):

Birth of children

I have heard a number of mothers and father say that having kids was the best thing that ever happened to them. The survey showed this was a very strong pattern, especially among women. In particular, a lot of the reports deal with the very moment in which they held their first baby in their arms for the first time. Some quotes to illustrate this pattern:

The best experience of my life was when my first child was born. I was unsure how I would feel or what to expect, but the moment I first heard her cry I fell in love with her instantly. I felt like suddenly there was another person in this world that I cared about and loved more than myself. I felt a sudden urge to protect her from all the bad in the world. When I first saw her face it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It is almost an indescribable feeling. I felt like I understood the purpose and meaning of life at that moment. I didn’t know it was possible to feel the way I felt when I saw her. I was the happiest I have ever been in my entire life. That moment is something that I will cherish forever. The only other time I have ever felt that way was with the subsequent births of my other two children. It was almost a euphoric feeling. It was an intense calm and contentment.
I was young and had a difficult pregnancy with my first born. I was scared because they had to do an emergency c-section because her health and mine were at risk. I had anticipated and thought about how the moment would be when I finally got to hold my first child and realize that I was a mother. It was unbelievably emotional and I don’t think anything in the world could top the amount of pleasure and joy I had when I got to see and hold her for the first time.
I was 29 when my son was born. It was amazing. I never thought I would be a father. Watching him come into the world was easily the best day of my life. I did not realize that I could love someone or something so much. It was at about 3am in the morning so I was really tired. But it was wonderful nonetheless.
I absolutely loved when my child was born. It was a wave of emotions that I haven’t felt by anything before. It was exciting and scary and beautiful all in one.

No luck for anti-natalists… the super-strong drug-like effects of having children will presumably continue to motivate most humans to reproduce no matter how strong the ethical case against doing so may be. Coming soon: a drug that makes you feel like “you just had 10,000 children”.

The histogram of CSHW amplitudes seems to have very little information content, while the entire matrix of just-noticeable-differences of our experience seems to have a whole lot of information. If CSHWs are so important to determine a "brain state", where is all the missing information?

Two points here. First, according to the theory -as Mike points out- the overall "mood" of the state is largely encoded in the low frequency harmonics, while the higher frequency ones are more important for semantic information. In a sense, you can think of the lower frequency harmonics as creating a set of buckets in which to put, juggle, and recombine the information provided by the higher frequency harmonics. Hence, while the specific information content of the experience might require a very fine level of resolution, both the valence and the broad information-processing steps might not. And second, there is more to the CSHWs than just the histogram of amplitudes. There is also a matrix of phase-locking relations between them, which increases the overall information content by a large amount.

I'd mention that Steven Lehar foreshadowed the paradigm in his Directional Harmonic Theory of neurocomputation. I recommend reading his book "The Grand Illusion" for abundant phenomenological data in favor of this flavor of neurocomputation.

Definitely. I'll probably be quoting some of your text in articles on Qualia Computing soon, in order to broaden the bridge between LessWrong-consumable media and consciousness research.

Of all the articles linked, perhaps the best place to start would be the Pseudo-time Arrow. Very curious to hear your thoughts about it.

Sure! It is "invariance under an active transformation". The more energy is trapped in phenomenal spaces that are invariant under active transformations, the more blissful the state seems to be (see "analysis" section of this article).

Really great post!

Andrés (Qualia Computing) here. Let me briefly connect your article with some work that QRI has done.

First, we take seriously the view of a "moment of experience" and study the contents of such entities. In Empty Individualism, every observer is a "moment of experience" and there is no continuity from one moment to the next; the illusion is caused by the recursive and referential way the content of experience is constructed in brains. We also certainly agree that you can be aware of something without being aware of being aware of it. As we I will get to, this is an essential ingredient in the way subjective time is constructed

The concept of blending is related to our concept of "The Tyranny of the Intentional Object". Indeed, some people are far more prone to confusing logical or emotional thoughts for revealed truth; introspective ability (which can be explained as the rate at which awareness of a having being aware before happens) varies between people and is trainable to an extent. People who are systematizers can develop logical ontologies of the world that feel inherently true, just as empathizers can experience a made-up world of interpersonal references as revealed true. You could describe this difference in terms of whether blending is happening more frequently with logical or emotional structures. But empathizers and systematizers (and people high on both traits!) can, in addition, be highly introspective, meaning that they recognize those sensations as aspects of their own mind.

The fact that each moment of experience can incorporate informational traces of previous ones allows the brain to construct moments of experience with all kinds of interesting structures. Of particular note is what happens when you take a psychedelic drug. The "rate of qualia decay" lowers due to a generalization of what in visual phenomenology is called "tracers". The disruption of inhibitory control signals from the cortex leads to the cyclical activation of the thalamus* and thus the "re-living" of previous contents of experience in high-frequency repeating patterns (see "tracers" section of this article). On psychedelics, each moment of experience is "bigger". You can formalize this by representing each moment of experience as a connected network, where each node is a quale and each edge is a local binding relationship of some sort (whether one is blending or not, may depend on the local topology of the network). In the structure of the network you can encode the information pertaining to many constructed subagents; phenomenal objects that feel like "distinct objects/realities/channels" would be explained in terms of clusters of nodes in the network (e.g. subsets of nodes such that the clustering coefficient within them is much larger than the average clustering coefficient of different subsets of nodes of similar size). As an aside, dissociatives, in particular, drastically change the size of clusters, which phenomenally is experienced as "being aware of more than one reality at once".

You can encode time-structure into the network by looking at the implicit causality of the network, which gives rise to what we call a pseudo-time arrow. This model can account for all of the bizarre and seemingly unphysical experiences of time people report on psychedelics. As the linked article explains in detail, how e.g. thought-loops, moments of eternity, and time branching can be expressed in the network, and emerge recursively from calls to previous clusters of sensations (as information traces).

Even more strange, perhaps, is the fact that a long rate of qualia decay can give rise to unusual geometry. In particular, if you saturate the recursive calls and bind together a network with a very high branching factor, you get a hyperbolic space (cf. The Hyperbolic Geometry of DMT Experiences: Symmetries, Sheets, and Saddled Scenes).

That said, perhaps the most important aspect of the investigation has been to encounter a deep connection between felt sense of wellbeing (i.e. "emotional valence") and the structure of the network. From your article:

For instance, you might notice sensations in your body that were associated with the emotion, and let your mind generate a mental image of what the physical form of those sensations might look like. Then this set of emotions, thoughts, sensations, and visual images becomes “packaged together” in your mind, unambiguously designating it as a mental object.

The claim we would make is that the very way in which this packaging happens gives rise to pleasant or unpleasant mental objects, and this is determined by the structure (rather than "semantic content") of the experience. Evolution made it such that thoughts that refer to things that are good for the inclusive fitness of our genes get packaged in more symmetrical harmonious ways.

The above is, however, just a partial explanation. In order to grasp the valence effects of meditation and psychedelics, however, it will be important to take into account a number of additional paradigms of neuroscience. I recommend Mike Johnson's articles: A Future for Neuroscience and The Neuroscience of Meditation. The topic is too broad and complex for me to cover here right now, but I would advance the claim that (1) when you "harmonize" the introspective calls of previously-experienced qualia you up the valence, and (2) the process can lead to "annealing" where the internal structure of the moments of experience are highly-symmetrical, and for reasons we currently don't understand, this appears to co-occur in a 1-1 fashion with high valence.

I look forward to seeing more of your thoughts on meditation (and hopefully psychedelics, too, if you have personal experience with them).

*The specific brain regions mentioned is a likely mechanism of action but may turn out to be wrong upon learning further empirical facts. The general algorithmic structure of psychedelic effects, though, where every sensation "feels like it lasts longer" will have the downstream implications on the construction of the structure of moments experience either way.

I have seen this argument before, and I must confess that I am very puzzled about the kind of mistake that is going on here. I might call it naïve functionalist realism, or something like that. So whereas in "standard" naïve realism people find it hard to dissociate their experiences with an existing mind-independent world, they then go on to perceive everything as "seeing the world directly, nothing else, nothing more." Naïve realists will interpret their experiences as direct, unmediated, impressions of the real world.

Of course this is a problematic view, and there killer arguments against it. For instance, hallucinations. However, naïve realists can still come back and say that you are talking about cases of "misapprehension", where you don't really perceive the world directly anymore. That does not mean you "weren't perceiving the world directly before." But here the naïve realist has simply not integrated the argument in a rational way. If you need to explain hallucinations as "failed representations of true objects" you don't, anymore, need to in addition restate one's previous belief in "perceiving the world directly." Now you end up having two ontologies instead of one: Inner representations and also direct perception. And yet, you only need one: Inner representations.

Analogously, I would describe your argument as naïve functionalist realism. Here you first see a certain function associated to an experience, and you decide to skip the experience altogether and simply focus on the function. In itself, this is reasonable, since the data can be accounted for with no problem. But when I mention LSD and dream, suddenly that is part of another category like a "bug" in one's mind. So here you have two ontologies, where you can certainly explain it all with just one.

Namely, the green is a particular qualia, which gets triggered under particular circumstances. Green does not refer to the wavelength of light that triggers it, since you can experience it without such light. To instead postulate that this is in fact just a "bug" of the original function, but that the original function is in and of itself what green is, simply adds another ontology which, when taken on its own, already can account for the phenomena.

With the aid of qualia computing and a quantum computer, perhaps ;-)

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