How can I help?

Consciousness research is a young field. In particular, the focus of simultaneously taking seriously valence realism and qualia formalism opens up a vast expanse of unexplored possibilities. As such, there are many things we just haven’t had the opportunity to do yet even though some of these things could be extremely valuable.

Below you will find a list of projects that we think are definitely worth doing, but that we either need help with, or don’t have enough resources to do in-house at the moment. If you’d like to take the lead on one of these projects, fill out the Contact form at the bottom of this page. We love self-starters who don’t feel like they need to ask permission to go ahead and add a lot of value.

One of the most important bottlenecks we have right now is funding. If you’re in a position to give, funding is one of the most effective force-multipliers for us (used for travel, conferences, research equipment, internships, and visiting scholars). Currently you can donate via:

Research: being a small organization, we’re bandwidth-limited, and are most interested in focusing our efforts on supporting work done within the QRI paradigm (as outlined by our intellectual lineages).

The most important research project for which we need the most outside help is empirical validation of the Symmetry Theory of Valence, with the experimental design proposed in Quantifying Bliss. To do this, we need access to high-quality fMRI data of individuals experiencing strongly positive and strongly negative states. For example, data of people in high-valence states might involve studies that look into the brain activity characteristic of meditative Jhanas and Metta (loving-kindness), romantic love, orgasm, tasty flavors, euphoric drugs, and psychedelics. And data of people in low-valence states might involve studies about chronic pain, suicidal depression, schizophrenia, and drug withdrawal. If you can provide us with such, please get in touch!

Other projects on our radar that we’d be glad to find people to take the lead on:

Cost-effective prevention of very negative valence states: Some experiences are orders of magnitude worse than others. In most cases, this is not the result of anyone’s malice, but the consequence of biological accidents that lead to disproportionate negative valence responses. This is because evolution’s output is not naturally subjected to rational hedonic audits. We are interested in identifying ways to identify and avoid these experiences.

  • Interview people who suffer from migraines and cluster headaches to gather evidence about the effectiveness of sub-hallucinogenic doses of DMT (e.g. ~3mg) to abort these intensely painful states.
  • Rapid prototyping and iteration on the use of frequency-specific microcurrents, ultrasound, and other stimulation techniques for treating acute kidney stone pain. See this article on Qualia Computing;
  • Reach out to people who’ve had experiences of the top 20 most painful conditions to ask if they stumbled upon unusual methods for pain relief. Doing preliminary research of this kind (interviews, surveys, basic biometrics, etc.) may pay off in big ways and further our efforts to provide cost-effective prevention of very negative valence states.

Improve the Baseline: While people can do all kinds of things to temporarily increase their sense of wellbeing, long-term substantial improvements are rarely achieved. We want to find ways to sustainably increase the baseline of hedonic tone:

  • Research the genetic basis of hedonic set point, e.g. develop a model to predict hedonic set point using SNPs available on 23andme. Some promising candidates for such a study include the SCN9A and FAAH and FAAH-OUT genes. See Triple S Genetic Counseling: Predicting Hedonic-Set Point with Commercial-Grade DNA Testing as an Effective Altruist Project;
  • Make a detailed table for the attributes of non-toxic partial mu-opioid agonists with extremely high therapeutic index (e.g. tianeptine, 7-hydroxymitragynine, etc.), and their compatibility for being prescribed in conjunction with anti-tolerance drugs (such as proglumide, agmatine, black seed oil, small dose ibogaine, etc.). See: Anti-Tolerance Drugs;
  • It appears plausible that some of the neurotoxicity of MDMA is caused by overheating of the brain. Development of portable rapid-cooling technologies to be deployed at places with high incidence of MDMA use could be a significant step in harm-reduction.

Test Theories of Valence: Hermann von Helmholtz revolutionized music theory by using a hand-made glass-bulb with two openings and using wax to plug it into his ear in order to filter out all sound outside of a narrow frequency band. Doing this, he discovered that instrumental dissonance is the result of the added dissonance between the partials of the timbres of two given musical notes. This is to say – just because an experiment looks wacky does not mean it can’t tell us very important things about why some things feel good and not others.

  • Characterize the hedonic response to various auditory stimuli while on different states of consciousness. For example, does green noise feel better, worse, or the same while drunk?  Does harmonic reverb sound especially good while under the influence of THC?  Are dissonant city sounds more bearable while on SSRIs?
  • Compile a list of large effect-sizes in the valence space. It would be useful to have a list of little-known non-drug interventions which often result in extremely high valence in order to use as targets for research;
  • Expand Atasoy’s and QRI’s work on Connectome-Specific Harmonic Waves to studies in non-human animals. For example, measure the neuronal response of a C. Elegans to opioid agonists to see if the resulting state is high-valence according to its CDNS. Do worms wiggle harmoniously when happy? This kind of research could plausibly be a method for grounding work into animal suffering on a more formal basis.

Applications of States of Consciousness: Some states of consciousness are better for doing your taxes than others. But when it comes to aesthetic enjoyment, creativity, and open-ended explorations, are the “do taxes” states of consciousness really optimal? A very interesting research area is that of identifying novel applications for unusual states of consciousness. And as we saw in the How to Secretly Communicate with People on LSD article, alien state-spaces of consciousness could have unexpected information-processing benefits

    • Create a software tool to practice identifying wallpaper symmetry groups, an activity which may be useful for corroborating the relationship between symmetry and bliss on altered states of consciousness. See here for inspiration;
    • Implement a Psychedelic Turk prototype. That is, a tool similar to Mechanical Turk, but where the people who do tasks can announce their current state of consciousness so that researchers can more easily do rapid-prototyping of experiments for studying altered states of consciousness.
    • Develop a scale that measures the acute prosocial behavior induced by MDMA. Then identify people who are naturally high on that scale. With them you can then investigate the ways in which their naturally prosocial frame of mind influences their productivity and ability to adapt to high-trust social environments. Identify when such people are taken advantage of by others. This analysis would help us find ways to make a society with MDMA-like states of consciousness as the norm be game-theoretically robust.
    • Survey people in STEM fields about the insights or modes of understanding that they have been able to achieve thanks to alien state-spaces of consciousness (e.g. DMT-like states of consciousness may enhance the ability to study hyperbolic spaces for mathematicians).

  • Do research on the connection between beliefs in Open Individualism and acquaintance with various states of consciousness. In particular, how does e.g. exposure to 5-MeO-DMT-like states of consciousness influence a person’s mood, social behavior, and big-picture beliefs?

Exploratory Work: We are very open to extensions of our work in creative directions.

  • Reinterpreting results from the QRI and IIT paradigms in terms of category theory. See: Tsuchiya et al. 2016;
  • Develop a consistent, formal, frame-invariant framework for ethics that integrates Game Theory, Rationality, and Open Individualism (Related: Write a Decision Theory FAQ that does not assume Closed Individualism).

Artistic projects: often, art is the most effective way to communicate, to teach, and to coordinate. We’re looking for individuals with technical and aesthetic skills to help us on specific projects, including:

Content & organization: we have a lot of writings, and sometimes this can feel a little daunting. We’re looking for help in collecting and organizing our content, e.g.:

  • Creating an e-book of the articles on qualiacomputing.com and opentheory.net. Similar to Rationality: From AI to Zombies, an ebook which logically organizes our articles in a single, accessible source;
  • Creating a logical “intro sequence” of articles to read for someone starting out in the QRI ecosystem.
  • Helping to create a common vocabulary for discussing subjective effects and states, especially more ‘exotic’ ones. A good reference point is the subjective effect index;
  • Writing accurate and accessible summaries of QRI articles and related work. An ‘Explain Like I’m 5’ would be useful for much of our content;
  • Send us candidate questions for expanding our FAQ, as well as terms or concepts which seem ambiguous in our writings;
  • Recording audio versions of our articles.

Community Building: every successful research project has a community around it. We really value efforts which help build and feed this community-

  • The easiest way to get involved: read our stuff, watch our videos, subscribe to our youtube channel, follow our blogs (Mike, Andrés, Romeo, QRI);
  • Organizing local meetups about our research;
  • Coordinating appearances on high-profile shows and podcasts;
  • Writing accurate and accessible summaries of QRI articles and related work. An ‘Explain Like I’m 5’ would be useful for much of our content;
  • Creating QRI-related memes.