Introduction to QRI

Introduction to Qualia Research Institute

  1. The future could be better than the present. Much better.
  2. People actually have to build this future; it won’t necessarily happen by default.
  3. Understanding the mind is the most important problem facing humanity because it will also allow us to understand what a ‘good future’ even means.
  4. To understand the mind, we need to transform the study of consciousness from its current confused state into a systematic science.
  5. This is what QRI is working on.

Why do pleasant things feel pleasant? Can we talk precisely about how substances like alcohol and caffeine affect our subjective experience? How do we fix broken minds? Are there experiences outside the range of normal human experience that are interesting and valuable? How do we get there? What is this thing we call consciousness, anyway?

All these are real questions that should have good answers. But where do we even start?

Qualia Research Institute is working on building a science of consciousness which can answer these questions. We believe a systematic approach here must build off what we already know, but might also involve some surprises— much as the process of turning Alchemy into Chemistry involved new ways of looking at the world.

The core of QRI’s strategy is a “full-stack” approach to understanding the mind. Roughly speaking, this involves:

  • First-principles philosophy: clarifying what the goal of consciousness research is and the nature of knowledge in this field, identifying phenomenological natural kinds, building a naturalized theory of epistemology, and working through issues of identity;
  • Improving neuroscience: applying considerations from our theoretical work in order to extend and unify existing neuroscience models;
  • Building better neurotech: applying insights from our work in neuroscience in order to identify better ways to measure what’s going on in the mind, and better intervention points for managing this.

In short, we believe better philosophy should lead to better neuroscience, and better neuroscience should lead to better neurotechnology. Abstract theories should ultimately lead to better technology, better ways to help people. Likewise, if some technology does effectively help people, we should be able to clearly describe how and why, in a rigorous sense.

In the long term, we believe understanding the nature of consciousness is necessary for creating a good future! As we gain more power over our surroundings, and more dimensions of self-authorship, it seems increasingly important to understand which futures are worth building.


What have we accomplished so far?

Over the past few years we’ve released:

We’re also actively working on several unannounced neurotechnology projects.

Our flagship research focuses on emotional valence (pain/pleasure), for two reasons: first, it’s of particular moral and practical importance. Second, we believe this is plausibly the most tractable place to start reverse-engineering phenomenology. Our core outputs here are the Symmetry Theory of Valence (STV), and an empirical paradigm for applying STV to the brain (CDNS). If we had to highlight one research result, it would be this.


What should I read if I want to get up to speed on QRI’s work?

If you prefer video, watch our intro video, then Mike’s and Andrés’s talks from TSC2018.

Or browse by person:

Finally, a fuller description of what we’re doing can be found on our Research page; the core existing research traditions we’re drawing from can be found on our Lineages page.