Building a Science of Consciousness

To improve the lives of sentient beings

Expanding the Horizons of Consciousness Research

Founded in 2018, our focus lies in developing a mathematical framework for subjective experience and understanding emotional valence. Our rigorous research and theoretical insights are directed towards mapping the state-space of conscious experience. We maintain a collaborative community of researchers and thinkers, all dedicated to creating technologies that improve the well-being of sentient beings.

Concepts QRI Takes Seriously
(standard psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy term)

There are over a dozen common uses for the word consciousness, and all of them are interesting. Common senses include: self-awareness, linguistic cognition, and the ability to navigate one’s environment. With that said, the sense of the word in the context of QRI is more often than not: the very fact of experience, that experience exists and there is something that it feels like to be. Talking loosely and evocatively—rather than formally and precisely—consciousness refers to “what experience is made of”. Of course formalizing that statement requires a lot of unpacking about the nature of matter, time, selfhood, and so on. But this is a start.

(standard psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy term)

This word refers to the range of ways in which experience presents itself. Experiences can be richly colored or bare and monochromatic, they can be spatial and kinesthetic or devoid of geometry and directions, they can be flavorfully blended or felt as coming from mutually unintelligible dimensions, and so on. Classic qualia examples include things like the redness of red, the tartness of lime, and the glow of bodily warmth. However, qualia extends into categories far beyond the classic examples, beyond the wildest of our common-sense conceptions. There are modes of experience as altogether different from everything we have ever experienced as vision qualia is different from sound qualia.

(QRI term; 1, 2)

Qualia Formalism means that for any given physical system that is conscious, there will be a corresponding mathematical object associated to it such that the mathematical features of that object will be isomorphic to the phenomenology of the experience generated by the system.

(standard psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy term; ref: 1, 2)

The binding problem (also called the combination problem) arises from asking the question: how is it possible that the activity of a hundred billion neurons that are spatially distributed can simultaneously contribute to a unitary moment of experience? It should be noted that in the classical formulation of the problem we start with an “atomistic” ontology where the universe is made of space, particles, and forces, and the question then becomes how spatially-distributed discrete particles can “collaborate” to form a unified experience. But if one starts out with a “globalistic” ontology where the universe is made of a universal wavefunction, then the question that arises is how something that is fundamentally unitary (the whole universe) can give rise to “separate parts” such as individual experiences, which is often called “the boundary problem”. Thus, the “binding problem” and “the boundary problem” are really the same problem, but starting with different ontologies (atomistic vs. globalistic).

(recent philosophy term from rationalist-adjacent communities; ref: 1, 2)

The view that our overriding obligation is to focus on suffering. In particular, taking seriously the prevention of extreme suffering is one of the features of this view. This is not unreasonable if we take into account the logarithmic scales of pain and pleasure into account, which suggest that the majority of suffering is concentrated in a small percent of experiences of intense suffering. Hence why caring about the extreme cases matters so much.

(coined by David Pearce; ref: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

This is a hypothetical future intellectual society that investigates consciousness empirically. Rather than merely theorizing about it or having people from the general population describe their odd experiences, the Super-Shulgin Academy directly studies the state-space of consciousness by putting the brightest minds on the task. The Super-Shulgin Academy (1) trains high-quality consciousness researchers and psychonauts, (2) investigates the computational trade-offs between different states of consciousness, (3) finds new socially-useful applications for exotic states of consciousness, (4) practices the art and craft of creating ultra-blissful experiences, and (5) develops and maintains a full-stack memeplex that incorporates the latest insights about the state-space of consciousness into the most up-to-date Theory of Everything.

(coined by David Pearce; ref: 1, 2)

The way our reward architecture is constructed makes it difficult for us to have a clear sense of what it is that we enjoy about life. Our brains reinforce the pursuit of specific objects, situations, and headspaces, which gives the impression that these are intrinsically valuable. But this is an illusion. In reality such conditions trigger positive valence changes to our experience, and it is those that we are really after (as evidenced by the way in which our reward architecture is modified in presence of euphoric and dysphoric drugs and external stimuli such as music). We call this illusion the tyranny of the intentional object because in philosophy “intentionality” refers to “what the experience is about”. Our world-simulations chain us to the feeling that external objects, circumstances, and headspaces are the very source of value. More so, dissociating from such sources of positive valence triggers negative valence, so critical insight into the way our reward architecture really works is itself negatively reinforced by it.

(coined by David Pearce; 1, 2, 3)

This is a hypothetical map that contains the set of all possible experiences, organized in such a way that the similarities between experiences are encoded in the geometry of the state-space. For example, the experience you are having right now would correspond to a single point in the state-space of consciousness, with the neighboring experiences being Just Noticeably Different from your experience right now (e.g. simplistically, we could say they would be different from your current experience “by a single pixel”).

(coined by Daniel Kolak; ref: 1, 2, 3, 4)

This is the personal identity view that we are all one single consciousness. The apparent partitions and separations between the universal consciousness, in this view, are the result of partial information access from one moment of experience to the next. Regardless, the subject who gets to experience every moment is the same. Each sentient being is fundamentally part of the same universal subject of experience.


The hypothesis that if an experience can be represented by a mathematical object, then the symmetry of that object corresponds with its hedonic tone.


Is annealing the key condition for successful psychedelic psychotherapy?


Digital computers may remain unconscious until they recruit physical fields for holistic computing using well-defined topological boundaries.


An analysis of the phenomenology of DMT with algorithmic, geometric and information-theoretic frameworks.


Rating, ranking, and comparing peak experiences suggest the existence of long tails for pleasure and pain.


Explaining phenomenal time with implicit causal structures in networks of local binding.

Getting Started with QRI

At the Qualia Research Institute (QRI), we understand that learning our concepts can be a complex and multifaceted process. To help get you started, we suggest the following blueprint:

  1. First, visit our About page to familiarize yourself with our mission and principles.
  2. Next, explore our Research page and read some of our publications to get a sense of our approach and the topics we explore.
  3. To better understand our unique vocabulary and intellectual lineage, we recommend checking out our Glossary and Research Lineages.
  4. For a deeper dive into our methodology for studying consciousness, take a look at our Guide to Writing Rigorous Reports of Exotic States of Consciousness and Psychophysics Toolkit.
  5. If you're feeling creative, consider participating in our Consciousness Art Contests, which encourage exploration of the nature of consciousness through art.
  6. If you're interested in contributing to our research, you can donate to our organization or reach out to us to explore opportunities for collaboration or fill out our general application.