Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Necklace

An ap­proach to do­ing good is to come up with a met­ric for what con­sti­tutes good or bad, and then try­ing to do things that will op­ti­mally in­crease or de­crease such met­ric, as the case may be.

If you do this, you have to be care­ful about what met­ric you choose.

If you have an on­tol­ogy where you mea­sure good by “num­ber of peo­ple who feel benefited by you”, you might end up do­ing things like send­ing ev­ery­one you can a dough­nut with a signed note. If in­stead your met­ric is “num­ber of peo­ple clas­sified as poor” you might do best to fo­cus on in­ter­ven­tions that get peo­ple just over the hump of poverty as defined by your scale. And so on.

Con­scien­tious and sys­tem­atic al­tru­ists tend to see prob­lems with met­rics like those above. They re­al­ize that “peo­ple im­pressed” and “be­ing poor ac­cord­ing to an eco­nomic met­ric” are not met­rics that re­ally carve na­ture at its joints.

Dis­satis­fied with mis­lead­ing met­rics, one then tends to look closer at the world and ar­rive at met­rics that take into ac­count the length of differ­ent lives, their qual­ity, their in­stru­men­tal effect in the world, how much are they ex­actly be­ing benefited by the in­ter­ven­tion rel­a­tive to other cost-effec­tive al­ter­na­tives, and so on. And that’s how you get things like Qual­ity Ad­justed Life-Years (QALY), micro­morts, and the hap­piness in­dex.

This is, I think, all mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion. Met­rics that make an effort to carve na­ture at its joints can provide new lenses to see the world. And look­ing through those lenses tends to gen­er­ate novel an­gles and ap­proaches to do a lot of good.

This is why to­day I will sug­gest we con­sider a new met­ric: The Hell-In­dex.

A coun­try’s Hell-In­dex could be defined as the yearly to­tal of peo­ple-sec­onds in pain and suffer­ing that are at or above 20 in the McGill Pain In­dex (or equiv­a­lent)*. This in­dex cap­tures the in­tu­ition that in­tense suffer­ing can be in some ways qual­i­ta­tively differ­ent and more se­ri­ous than lesser suffer­ing in a way that isn’t re­ally cap­tured by a lin­ear pain scale.



What does this met­ric sug­gest we should do to make the world bet­ter? Here is an idea (told as if nar­rated from the fu­ture):


Between 2030 and 2050 it was very com­mon for peo­ple to wear Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Neck­laces. Peo­ple had an in­cred­ible va­ri­ety of cus­tom-fit aes­thetic and prac­ti­cal ad­di­tives to their neck­laces. But in ev­ery sin­gle one of them, you could rest as­sured, you would find a cou­ple of doses of each of these agents:

  1. N,N-DMT (in case of Cluster Headaches)

  2. Que­ti­ap­ine (in case of se­vere acute psy­chosis)

  3. Novo­caine + men­thol (for very painful stings)

  4. Ke­tamine (for se­vere suici­dal feel­ings)

  5. Micro­dosed Ibo­gaine + cock­tail of par­tial mu-opi­oid ag­o­nists (for acute se­vere phys­i­cal pain and panic at­tack, e.g.. kid­ney stones)

Some other peo­ple would get ad­di­tional things like:

  1. Beta blocker (to take right af­ter a trau­matic event)

  2. Ag­ma­tine (to take in case you sus­pect of hav­ing be­ing brain­washed re­cently), and

  3. Caf­feine (if you ab­solutely need to op­er­ate heavy ma­chin­ery and you are sleep-de­prived)

In all cases, the an­ti­dote needed would be ad­ministered as soon as re­quested by the wearer. And the wearer would re­quest the an­ti­dote as in­di­cated by a very short test done with an app to de­ter­mine the need for it.

But why? What’s this all about?

The Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Neck­lace con­tents were cho­sen based on a cost-benefit anal­y­sis for how to re­duce the world’s Hell-In­dex as much as pos­si­ble. Cluster-headaches, kid­ney stones, bad stings, se­vere psy­chotic epi­sodes, suici­dal de­pres­sion, panic at­tacks, and many types of acute phys­i­cal pain turned out to ac­count for a sur­pris­ingly large per­centage of each coun­try’s Hell-In­dex. And in many of these cases, a sub­stan­tial amount of the suffer­ing was ex­pe­rienced be­fore med­i­cal help could be able to ar­rive to the scene and do any­thing about it. A lot of that in­tense suffer­ing hap­pened to be tightly con­cen­trated in acute epi­sodes rather than in chronic prob­lems (save for some no­table ex­am­ples). And by in­cred­ible luck, it turned out that there were sim­ple an­ti­dotes to most of these states of agony, all of them small enough to fit in a sin­gle light neck­lace. So it was de­ter­mined that sub­si­diz­ing Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Neck­laces was a no-brainer as a cost-effec­tive al­tru­is­tic in­ter­ven­tion.

By 2050 safe and cheap ge­netic vac­cines against al­most all of these un­pleas­ant states of con­scious­ness had been dis­cov­ered. This, in turn, made the use of the Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Neck­laces un­nec­es­sary. But many who benefited from it- who had been un­lucky enough to have needed it- kept it on for many years. The piece was thought of as a sym­bol to com­mem­o­rate hu­man­ity’s progress in the de­struc­tion of hell. An achieve­ment cer­tainly worth cel­e­brat­ing.


* Ad­mit­tedly, a more re­fined in­dex would also dis­t­in­guish be­tween the in­ten­sity of differ­ent types of pain/​suffer­ing above 20 in the McGill Pain In­dex (or equiv­a­lent). Such in­dex would try to in­te­grate a fair “to­tal amount of hellish qualia” by adding up the pain of each state weighted by its most likely “true in­ten­sity” as de­ter­mined by a model, and then do so for each model you have and weight the con­tri­bu­tion of each model by its like­li­hood. E.g. do both a quadratic and an ex­po­nen­tial con­ver­sion of val­ues in the 0 to 10 vi­sual analogue scale into do­lors per sec­ond, and then do a like­li­hood-weighted av­er­age to com­bine those re­sults into a fi­nal value.


[Note: Cross-posted in Qualia Com­put­ing]