We know that experience has a layered structure. There are many components to a single now. There may be the breath and the field of vision, and a particular feeling tone. These aren’t experienced separately in sequence. They are integrated.
This is one of the axioms mentioned in Giulio Tononi’s Integrated information theory:
Integration: Consciousness is unified: each experience is irreducible to non-interdependent, disjoint subsets of phenomenal distinctions. Thus, I experience a whole visual scene, not the left side of the visual field independent of the right side (and vice versa). For example, the experience of seeing the word “BECAUSE” written in the middle of a blank page is irreducible to an experience of seeing “BE” on the left plus an experience of seeing “CAUSE” on the right. Similarly, seeing a blue book is irreducible to seeing a book without the color blue, plus the color blue without the book.
Some of the other axioms in his theory seem arbitrary or overlapping. You be the judge.
But this particular axiom is a hard one to disagree with. What this suggests is that experience contains “nodes” or “qualia-units.” These come together to create a larger experience – the entirety of now. The entirety of now is also irreducible in this sense. We do not experience the field of vision and then the music. A slice of now is like “BECAUSE,” inseparable in its components. But yet we can identify that it has components. Sound is not the same as bodily sensation, and yet we can feel them at once. Heat is not the same as suffering, and yet we can feel them at once.
Now imagine that there is a catalogue of all possible nows. A Library of Babel with its inner spacetime filled, not with books, but with each possible multi-sensorial frame of experience. You can select from every “now” that was ever, or could ever be known.
It may turn out that in this library of nows, only 10 are so good as to be indistinguishable in perfection. Out of nostalgia for Homo sapiens sapiens, the bookkeeper calls them Firdaus, Heaven, Nirvana, Moksha, Siddhasila, Shamayim, Omeyocan, Devachan, Omega Point, and Supermind.
If we are willing to grant that such experiences could exist in unexplored regions of mind-configuration space, then the next question is: How can we recognize them?
We must first deconstruct the frame of Firdaus into its individual pixels/qualia-units. In our day-to-day life the equivalent of these qualia-units can be tingling sensations, pressures, thought motion, color, shape, etc. In this frame of Heaven, we cannot know its component units until we know them.
So let’s try to identify proto-Heaven based on the experiences we know are good. The first thing to notice is that different experiences of goodness have different qualities. Take some of the greatest feelings of goodness possible in humans: family love differs from romantic love, food pleasure differs from sexual pleasure, pride of victory differs from deep relaxation, the hedonic indulgences of a masochist differ from those of a neurotypical bacon-eater, which in turn differ from those of an experienced meditator. The pixels on the goodness grid contain all kinds of qualia-units.
Presumably, some selection and arrangement of these pixels, of the micro-pleasures that fall through the net of these words, will yield the greatest experiences of all. Delicious cherry, delicious coolness, and delicious joy, can be sliced into even smaller experiences. Now take each of these experiences and make a grid of them. Every location on the grid represents a qualia-unit and each pixel can light up to some extent or another, based on how present in consciousness it is. Pixels that are off (black) are not a part of present experience.
Each pixel represents a qualia-unit. Some are warmth-like, some compose flavors, some compose dense pleasures, others – sparkly pleasures, others compose the perception of beauty. The entire grid is a now – a whole of experience.
How many pixels exist in the real world? Could it be billions? –Or surprisingly few?
The true Nirvana’s and Moksha’s in the posthuman Library of Babel would be the perfect shapes, those that arise when each qualia-unit dosage is just right. Somewhere in this grid lies a solution to the puzzle of existence, a combination of valences and aesthetics that meticulously fine-tune bliss.
Sadly, we do not know the solution to the grid beforehand. Our minds are empty of this knowledge in the same way that shrimp are empty of the number nine.
(Just because shrimp don’t know about nine doesn’t mean that nine doesn’t exist. I have nine tabs open in the browser. And goddamnit, the universe hinges on those nine tabs really being open.
We cannot say the tabs are real but the number is imaginary. We cannot say that the brain is real but experiences are imaginary.)
I hypothesize that the ultimate shape(s) can be known, but not by humans. When asking to become a mind that is as comfortable knowing the shapes as comfortably as we know numbers, you are asking a shrimp to become the Uber driver. There is no transmutation of souls: for both the shrimp and the Uber driver lack one.
In other words, reconfiguration of matter at such a drastic magnitude entails complete annihilation.
As humans, we can do two things to crack the puzzle. The first is to be told, and to believe. This method has a negative success rate evidenced by the lineage’s attempt to trick itself with holy books. Advanced aliens might be more credible sources if they behave in recognizably benevolent ways. But let’s be real: who would follow their map when it would necessarily entail re-engineering the entire ape brain?
But the second thing we can do is stumble around new regions of mindspace via gradual ascent to transhumanity. Neural mesh here, targeted amygdala calcification there, and so on. If this is the approach, then we can gradually become better at recognizing the paradises.
The strategy is to take what reality gives us: some experience that can be decomposed into its components; catalogue these components in 2-d; for a single slice of now, track which components are at play.
(I am elaborately visualizing someone selling data from his brain by filling his connectome with nanobots that record his neural activity and send it to be analyzed on a far away lab with neon screens that bleep with the qualia-unit grid indicating which experiences are on.)
Then transfer the qualia-units into a linear array. And prepare to learn the way with the power of gradient descent and minimization of the cost function. Many training samples from many people reporting peak experiences.