QRI in March: lineages, video interviews, building Utopia

This month saw a lot of work on clarifying our core research lineages, the existing threads of research we’ve woven together to create our unique approach. We’ve now expanded our list to eight, and sorted them into three categories: formalismself-organized systems, and phenomenology. Here’s the lead-in to the self-organized systems section:

Traditionally, neuroscience has been concerned with cataloguing the brain, e.g. collecting discrete observations about anatomy, observed cyclic patterns (EEG frequencies), and cell types and neurotransmitters, and trying to match these facts with functional stories. However, it’s increasingly clear that these sorts of neat stories about localized function are artifacts of the tools we’re using to look at the brain, not of the brain’s underlying computational structure.

What’s the alternative? Instead of centering our exploration on the sorts of raw data our tools are able to gather, we can approach the brain as a self-organizing system, something which uses a few core principles to both build and regulate itself. As such, if we can reverse-engineer these core principles and use what tools we have to validatethese bottom-up models, we can both understand the internal logic of the brain’s algorithms- the how and why the brain does what it does- as well as find more elegant intervention points for altering it.

I’m really proud of the list as a coherent description of where the “QRI research platform” comes from, as well as being a quick way people can get up to speed on what we’re doing. (read more)


Earlier this month, my colleague Andrés and I were interviewed by Allen Saakyan for his Simulation youtube series:

I also did a video interview with Adam Ford about Templeton Foundation’s new “Advancing Research into Consciousness” program.


Also this month, Andrés had a nice description of how phenomenological experimentation can help test hypotheses about pain and pleasure in The Resonance and Vibration of [Phenomenal] Objects:

Let’s examine the phenomenology described under the theoretical paradigms developed at the Qualia Research Institute. Some core paradigms are Qualia Formalism (“every conscious experience corresponds to a mathematical object such that the mathematical features of that object are isomorphic to the phenomenology of the experience”), Valence Structuralism (“pain and pleasure are structural features of the mathematical object that corresponds to an experience such that they can be read off from this object with the appropriate mathematical analysis”), and the Symmetry Theory of Valence (“the mathematical feature that corresponds to pain and pleasure are the object’s symmetry and anti-symmetry, namely, its invariance upon the transformations the object is undergoing”). Whereas Qualia Formalism is a necessary assumption to make in order to make any progress on the science of consciousness (cf. Qualia Formalism in the Water Supply), Valence Structuralism and the Symmetry Theory of Valence are currently still mere hypotheses whose truth will be determined empirically by testing the predictions they generate. For now, we rely on strong, but admittedly circumstantial, pieces of evidence. The phenomenology reported of the connection between harmony and bliss in heaven worlds is one of these pieces of evidence. But can we do better?

Just as the best way to figure out how a videogame engine works is to break it with corner cases, to find how your brain builds your world-simulation, overloading the simulation with difficult-to-render elements is highly useful. … With regards to the connection between symmetry and pleasure, the free-wheeling hallucination state is a prime place to conduct high-quality phenomenological research. In particular, R tells us that you can study how different objects generate (are resonant with) particular moods, sounds, and tactile feelings. …

Thus, at least according to these observations, the emotional valence of our world-simulation is both related to the number of active invariant degrees of freedom along which transformations are taking place and the amount of energy entrapped in such spaces. …

We believe that understanding the underlying mathematical basis of valence will be ground-breaking, and analyzing these reports is a really important step in this direction. It will allow us to make sense of the syntax of bliss, and thus aid us in the task of paradise engineering.


Finally, Andrés opines on Nick Bostrom’s famous Letter from Utopia:

Greetings, and may this letter find you at peace and in prosperity! Forgive my writing to you out of the blue. Though you and I have never met, we are not strangers. We are, in a certain sense, the closest of kin. I am one of your possible futures. …

I am writing to tell you about my life – how good it is – that you may choose it for yourself. … What unites us is that we are all dependent on you to make us real. You can think of this note as if it were an invitation to a ball that will take place only if folks turn up.

Bostrom essentially makes two points:

  1. The future could be much better than the present. Much better.
  2. People actually have to build this future; it won’t necessarily happen by default.

The World Transhumanist Association’s initial vision revolved around building a ‘Triple S’ civilization: Superintelligence, Superlongevity, Superhappiness. In most future-oriented communities, the quest for (artificial) intelligence has taken front-and-center, with superlongevity relegated to the fringes and superhappiness long forgotten.

A core goal of QRI is to bring superhappiness back into our stories, goals, and concrete plans for the future.