Abby Hoskin

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A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Just want to be clear, the main post isn't about analyzing eigenmodes with EEG data. It's very funny that when I am intellectually honest enough to say I don't know about one specific EEG analysis that doesn't exist and is not referenced in the main text, people conclude that I don't have expertise to comment on fMRI data analysis or the nature of neural representations. 

Meanwhile QRI does not have expertise to comment on many of the things they discuss, but they are super confident about everything and in the original posts especially did not clearly indicate what is speculation versus what is supported by research. 

I continue to be unconvinced with the arguments laid out, but I do think both the tone of the conversation and Mike Johnson's answers improved after he was criticized. (Correlation? Causation?) 

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Ok, thank you for these thoughts.

Considering how asymmetries can be both pleasing (complex stimuli seem more beautiful to me than perfectly symmetrical spheres) and useful (as Holly Ellmore points out in the domain of information theory, and as the Mosers found with their Nobel prize winning work on orthogonal neural coding of similar but distinct memories), I question your intuition that asymmetry needs to be associated with suffering. 

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Hi Mike, 

Thanks again for your openness to discussion, I do appreciate you taking the time. Your responses here are much more satisfying and comprehensible than your previous statements, it's a bit of a shame we can't reset the conversation.

1a. I am interpreting this as you saying there are certain brain areas that, when activated, are more likely to result in the experience of suffering or pleasure. This is the sort of thing that is plausible and possible to test.  

1b. I think you are making a mistake by thinking of the brain like a musical instrument, and I really don't like how you're assuming discordant brain oscillations "feel bad" the way discordant chords "sound bad". (Because as I've stated earlier, there's no evidence linking suffering to dissonance, and as you've stated previously, you made a massive jump in reasoning here.) But this is the clearest you have explained your thinking on this question so far, which I do appreciate. 

1c. I am confused here. I did not ask whether dissonance in VWFA causes dissonance in FFA. I asked how dissonance between the two regions causes suffering. What does it mean neurologically to have dissonance within a specific brain area? I thought the point of using fMRI instead of EEG was that you needed to measure the differences between specific areas. 

1d. You're saying dissonance in place a could cause dissonance in place b, or both could be caused by dissonance in place c. That sounds super reasonable. But my question is why would dissonance between a and b cause suffering? It doesn't really matter what brain areas a and b are, I know I keep hammering at the point of why suffering == dissonance, but this is the most important part of your theory, and your explanation of "This  is a huge, huge, huge jump, and cannot be arrived at by deduction" is incredibly unsatisfying to me.

2&3. Ok, I appreciate this concrete response. I don't know enough about calculating eigenmodes with EEG data to predict how tractable it is. 

4. Your current analysis is incompatible with wearable biotech. Moving your body even a millimeter within the fMRI scanner negatively affects data quality. This is part of the reason I am confused about why you are focused so much on fMRI. I appreciate in general the value of accurate biomarkers for wellbeing, but I don't think symmetry/harmonics is either accurate or useful. 

5. The labs I am in (although not me personally) are working on closed loop fmri neurofeedback to improve mental health outcomes of depressed patients. I am familiar with the technical challenges in this work, which is partially why I am coming at you so hard on this. Here's a paper from my primary and secondary academic advisors: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.06.07.137943v1.abstract

More undergraduate or just-graduated students should consider getting jobs as research techs in academic labs

This is good advice. As somebody who basically did what you're describing, I can say that it worked for me. 

The only things I would take issue with are: grades/fellowships/awards are not totally useless. They can help you signal you will be a good asset to a lab, and they can help you get funding from big agencies later in your career. I agree that undergraduates overvalue their grades relative to getting actual research experience or publishing something (the best currency once you graduate), but I would not endorse completely disregarding your grades.  

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Hi Michael,

I appreciate your comment here, and am a big fan of your work.

In response to point #3, I think it is extremely revealing how you ask for definitions of a few phrases, and Mike directs you to a link that does not define the phrases you specifically ask for. https://www.qualiaresearchinstitute.org/glossary   Edit: Mike responded directly to this below, so this feels unfair to say now. 
 

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Object level questions:

1. Why would asynchronous firing between the visual word form area and the fusiform face area either cause suffering or occur as the result of suffering?

2. If your answer relies on something about how modularism/functionalism is bad: why is source localization critical for your main neuroimaging analysis of interest? 

3. If source localization is not necessary: why can't you use EEG to measure synchrony of neural oscillations?

4. Why can't you just ask people if they're suffering? What's the value of quantifying the degree of their suffering using harmonic coherence?

5. Assuming you are right about everything, do you think EA funds would more efficiently reduce suffering by improving living conditions of people in poor countries, or by quantifying the suffering of people living in rich countries and giving them neurofeedback on how coherent their brain harmonics are at the cost of over $500 per hour?

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

I feel like it's important to highlight two things QRI people have said. These statements illustrate why STV sounds extremely implausible to me. 

"STV makes a big jump in that it assumes the symmetry of this mathematical object corresponds to how pleasurable the experience it represents is. This  is a huge, huge, huge jump, and cannot be arrived at by deduction; none of my premeses force this conclusion. We can call it an educated guess. But, it is my best educated guess after thinking about this topic for about 7 years before posting my theory. I can say I’m fully confident the problem is super important and I’m optimistic this guess is correct, for many reasons, but many of these reasons are difficult to put into words."

"I started out very skeptical of STV myself, and in fact it took about three years of thinking it through in light of many meditation and exotic high-energy experiences to be viscerally convinced that it's pointing in the right direction."

These are not satisfying arguments.
 

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

To be clear, the comment flow was originally disrupted because Mike deleted one of his comments. Then some of his comments got buried under so many downvotes that they're hidden. I edited my top post to try to partially address this. 

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

This sounds overwhelmingly confident to me, especially since you have no evidence to support either of these claims. 


If there is dissonance in the brain, there is suffering; if there is suffering, there is dissonance in the brain. Always.

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence
  1. In brief, asynchrony levies a complexity and homeostatic cost that harmony doesn’t. A simple story here is that dissonant systems shake themselves apart; we can draw a parallel between dissonance in the harmonic frame and free energy in the predictive coding frame.

I appreciate your direct answer to my question, but I do not understand what you are trying to say. I am familiar with Friston and the free-energy principle, so feel free to explain your theory in those terms. All you are doing here is saying that the brain has some reason to reduce “dissonance in the harmonic frame” (a phrase I have other issues with) in a similar way it has reasons to reduce prediction errors. There are good reasons why the brain should reduce prediction errors. You say (but do not clearly explain why) there’s a parallel here where the brain should reduce neural asynchrony/dissonance in the harmonic frame. You posit neural asynchrony is suffering, but you do not explain why in an intelligible way. “Dissonant systems shake themselves apart.” Are you saying dissonant neural networks destroy themselves and we subjectively perceive this as suffering? This makes no sense. Maybe you're trying to say something else, but I have made my confusion about the link between suffering and asynchrony extremely clear multiple times now, and you have not offered an explanation that I understand. 
 

I’ve learned that neuroimaging data pipelines are often held together by proverbial duct tape, neuroimaging is noisy, the neural correlates of consciousness frame is suspect and existing philosophy of mind is rather bonkers, and to even say One True Thing about the connection between brain and mind is very hard (and expensive) indeed. I would say I expect you to be surprised by certain realities of neuroscience as you complete your PhD, and I hope you can turn that into determination to refactor the system towards elegance, rather than being progressively discouraged by all the hidden mess.

I mean, I've done ~7 peer reviewed conference presentations on my multiple fmri research projects, and I also do multi-site longitudinal research into the mental health of graduate students (with thousands of participants), but thanks for the heads up ;)  

I agree neuroimaging is extremely messy and discouraging, but you’re the one posting about successfully  building an fmri analysis pipeline to run this specific analysis to support your theory. I am very annoyed that your response to my multiple requests for any empirical data to support your theory is you basically saying “science is hard”, as opposed to "no experiment, dataset, or analysis is perfect, but here is some empirical evidence that is at least consistent with my theory."

I wish you came at this by saying, "Hey I have a cool idea, what do you guys think?" But instead you're saying "We have a full empirical theory of suffering."

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