On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast, I talk with Andres Gomez Emilsson who is co-director of research at the Qualia Research Institute. The Qualia Research Institute is a non-profit whose goal is to study consciousness in a scientifically rigorous way. 

This podcast begins with a presentation that Andres gave to a group at The Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. The presentation is about the Symmetry Theory of Valence, which is a possible explanation of why experiences feel good or bad. 

If you’d like to skip straight to my conversation with Andres, you can skip forward approximately an hour and 2 minutes.  

In this conversation, we briefly sketch the Symmetry Theory of Valence, and discuss valence as the basis for morality. I ask Andres a number of critical questions about studying consciousness scientifically - isn’t consciousness extremely vague, how did consciousness evolve, how do we rely on people’s reports about their experiences. 

We also talk about the connection between the value that we assign to objects in the world, and how we might be misleading ourselves by doing do. 

Then we talk about how we might improve valence in the future, and Andres mentions an exciting project they’re working on at Qualia Research Institute. 

We talk about the long-term future of valence in the universe, and the influence of AI. 

Finally, we discuss a comprehensive world view involving conflict between consciousness and what Andres calls pure replicators - during which we also discuss the nature of personal identity. 

If you find these ideas interesting, I encourage you to donate to Qualia Research institute, at Among other things, this would help them empirically test the Symmetry theory of valence. 




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Thanks for doing long interviews!

I was intrigued by the hypothesis, mentioned by Andrés, that symmetry may be an efficient diagnostic tool for quickly checking on whether bodily functions are doing okay. (The example given was that a problem with one arm suddenly breaks the default sense of resonance or symmetry between the two arms.)

Does this imply the experimental predictions that

(1) symmetric pains might be detected more slowly than asymmetric pains, and

(2) subtle, symmetric sensations might go unnoticed more easily than asymmetric ones?

Could e.g. QRI test this?


I don't know whether QRI could test that hypothesis in such a setup. Based on what I know, they're going to test the Symmetry Theory of Valence more directly. 

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