Louis Arge
Published on

The Future of Suffering, Euphoria, and Productivity

Here's a super important slide that I suspect you might not have seen before (credit: Andrés Gómez Emilsson):

A diagram illustrating the relationship between reported pain / pleasure (1-10) and the actual intensity of the experience

I'll explain a few things you can learn from it:

1) In medicine you often report pain or mood on a 1 to 10 scale, but lots of evidence shows that the actual experienced pain is exponential. So 10/10 is a multiple worse than 9/10, which is a multiple worse than 8/10, and so on.

1-10 is a logarithmic compression.

2) This means that the most morally urgent problems lay in preventing the most intense suffering. This is counterintuitive, bc in the limit it could mean something like "1% of people who have the most painful illnesses account for >50% of all human suffering"

3) There is an optimal range for productivity, and it's not just higher is better. We all know pain & bad mood destroys our focus, and honestly it'd also be hard to work if you're curled up in a ball of ecstasy or sitting in a very refined meditation state.

4) Psychiatric medicine is almost all about pushing you into that productive zone. Sometimes at the cost of euphoria / happiness (by dampening mania), but usually by reducing suffering slightly (via SSRIs, stimulants, etc.)

Which - that's generally good - but importantly it happens because there's a monetary incentive for it. Moving someone from -2 -> +2 means they can hold a job, despite it being a much smaller reduction in suffering than bringing someone from -10 to -6! (remember, exponentials)

On the outside though, "objectively looking", -10 and -6 don't look as different as -2 and +2 do. I mean sure, the screaming might stop, but really they're just two different cases of chronic, disabling pain. But this is actually where all the moral alpha lies!

Yet there's no real incentive + most people have no clue how bad -10 is because they've never seen it, and most have no clue how good +10 is, because they've never experienced it. But we really need to take it seriously, and have more people working on extreme pain.

5) Similarly, there's a lot of stigma against pushing into the far positive. Which makes very little sense, because most people's experience with euphoria is that it has a very healing and illuminating effect, that let's them live life in a more productive & intentional way.

This is seen in psychedelic retreats, MDMA-assisted therapy, or when people say "wow I quit my job & had an adventure for 6 months, and I've never felt burnout since."

Those were some takeaways. The slide is taken from a talk called The Future of Consciousness, by the great and powerful Andrés Gomez Emillson.

More about logarithmic pain/pleasure scales: Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain