Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain (@Effective Altruism NYC)

Link post

An­drés Gómez Emils­son from the Qualia Re­search In­sti­tute pre­sents about the Log­a­r­ith­mic Scales of Plea­sure and Pain.

How good is good? How bad is bad? In this pre­sen­ta­tion, An­drés makes the case that the true range of in­ten­sity of both plea­sure and pain is or­ders of mag­ni­tude wider than we in­tu­itively be­lieve. The core ar­gu­ment for this claim fo­cuses on com­par­ing what a world with lin­ear plea­sure and pain scales (“lin­ear world”) would look like rel­a­tive to a world in which they are log­a­r­ith­mic (“log­nor­mal world”). An­drés ex­plains that the “log­nor­mal world” is more con­sis­tent with the fol­low­ing em­piri­cal re­sults: (1) the char­ac­ter­is­tic dis­tri­bu­tion of neu­ral ac­tivity, (2) per­sonal ac­counts of in­tense plea­sure and pain, (3) the way var­i­ous pain scales have been de­scribed by their cre­ators, and (4) the re­sults of a re­cent study by the QRI which an­a­lyzes the rank­ings, rat­ings, and com­par­i­sons of the he­do­nic qual­ity of peo­ple’s most ex­treme ex­pe­riences of their lives, both good and bad.

It turns out that the best way to in­ter­pret plea­sure and pain scales is by think­ing of them as log­a­r­ith­mic com­pres­sions of what is truly a long-tail. That is, the most in­tense pains are or­ders of mag­ni­tude more awful than mild pains (and sym­met­ri­cally for plea­sure).

This dis­cov­ery is not just of aca­demic in­ter­est. It also cashes out in a se­ri­ous and im­por­tant re­vi­sion to eth­i­cal pri­ori­ties for util­i­tar­ian and hu­man­i­tar­ian move­ments like Effec­tive Altru­ism. Rather than merely fo­cus­ing on met­rics such as Qual­ity Ad­justed Life Years (QALYs), num­ber of peo­ple be­low the poverty line, or lives saved per dol­lar donated, the log­a­r­ith­mic scales of plea­sure and pain strongly sug­gest that among our top eth­i­cal im­per­a­tives ought to be to min­i­mize the in­ci­dence of ex­tremely painful con­di­tions such as cluster headaches, kid­ney and gal­lblad­der stones, mi­graines, child­birth, chronic pain, etc.

On the flip side, the find­ings also sug­gest that work­ing on neu­rotech­nolgy to en­hance he­do­nic tone might pro­duce pos­i­tive effects or­ders of mag­ni­tude more valuable than ex­pected. Key re­search leads for this pur­pose in­clude the study of ul­tra-bliss­ful states of con­scious­ness such as those in­duced by 5-MeO-DMT, Bud­dhist Jhana med­i­ta­tion (aka. ab­sorp­tion states), and the on­set stage of tem­po­ral lobe epilepsy.


See origi­nal ar­ti­cle: Log­a­r­ith­mic Scales of Plea­sure and Pain

And the EA Fo­rum post ver­sion: Log Scales EA Post


For more, read about the Qualia Re­search In­sti­tute at: https://​​www.qualiare­search­in­sti­tute.org/​​

An­drés blogs at Qualia Com­put­ing: Top 10 Qualia Com­put­ing Articles



This pre­sen­ta­tion was given in Septem­ber of 2019 at the Har­vard Effec­tive Altru­ism stu­dent club, the MIT Effec­tive Altru­ism stu­dent club, and at the Effec­tive Altru­ism NYC meetup (which is where this par­tic­u­lar video was recorded).


Many thanks to the or­ga­niz­ers of the Effec­tive Altru­ism NYC meetup Anisha and Chris. Also thanks to Winslow, Ja­son, Quintin, Mike, Romeo, Zuck, Ken­neth, Ja­cob, and oth­ers for sup­port­ing this work. And also thanks to Bence for edit­ing the video.

In­finite Bliss!!!