New whitepaper: Qualia Formalism and a Symmetry Theory of Valence
It’s been almost eight years since the release of my book on consciousness, Principia Qualia. PQ was a massive undertaking spread across almost seven years and 20+ complete rewrites; I started the process with a simple burning curiosity about ‘what kind of thing’ consciousness was, and ended the process with grey hair but confident I’d laid down a blueprint for a path forward. PQ formed part of the foundation for the organization I co-founded (and left last year), QRI, and I believe it remains the best starting point for thinking about consciousness.
The most significant result from PQ (and the core test of my paradigm) was the Symmetry Theory of Valence (STV). The intuition that there could be a formalist approach to understanding pain and pleasure has been with us from Plato to Epicurus to Spinoza; STV makes this real by grounding valence in the mathematical symmetries of an experience’s representation. If there exists a precise and elegant theory for valence, I believe STV is exactly the answer. I also have the sense that STV and insights derived from it will be crucial for navigating the future of humanity, AI, brains, and minds.
As part of a soft launch for the Symmetry Institute (actual announcement to come later) I’m releasing a highly condensed and updated adaptation of PQ more narrowly focused on STV: Qualia Formalism and a Symmetry Theory of Valence. It’s approximately 25% of the length, and I’ve substantially expanded both the rationale for “why symmetry?” and the section dealing with empirical predictions.
The Symmetry Theory of Valence was recently referenced in a special issue of The Royal Society’s Interface Focus: Making and Breaking Symmetries in Mind and Life, organized by my friend Adam Safron & others. It’s a wonderful collection and I recommend reading.