Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain (@Effective Altruism NYC) 2019-11-19T09:55:35.905Z
Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering 2019-08-11T03:49:44.221Z
Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution 2019-08-02T22:47:08.770Z
Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Necklace 2019-07-09T21:30:13.295Z


Comment by algekalipso on Cost-Effectiveness of Air Purifiers against Pollution · 2020-09-11T07:55:40.109Z · EA · GW

Now that the California fires are raging, it may be time to bring up a few additional reasons why HEPA filters make a lot of sense. I don't know how much this changes the cost-benefit analysis, but I think it is important to take into account:

1) Right now the PM2.5 outside my apartment is 230. Inside it's 40. A week ago the PM2.5 was 100, and inside it was 8. By having a HEPA filter inside, I've been seeing reductions of PM2.5 between 80% and 90%. I also saw this two years ago, and it's been a rather consistent pattern.

2) The idea that non-linearity makes the benefits strictly less than linearity, and therefore that assuming linearity will lead to an optimistic assessment is questionable. In particular, I grant this is true with "diminishing returns" curves. But it's not true with S-shaped curves. So, if it is true that the negative health effects of PM2.5 are concave below 20 and convex above 20, then the assumption of linearity will lead to an underestimation of the positive health benefits of HEPA filters for places with relatively clean air.

3) As a special case of (2), I would expect that giving your lungs "time to breath" (so to speak) might be really good to let them heal, and also allow your cardiovascular system to recover from inflammation. So there may be some extra benefits to being in places that have close to 0PM2.5 for at least some periods of time. And lastly,

4) I do think that the case for massively reducing the economic cost of HEPA filters should be considered more thoroughly. If subsidized at the governmental level, how cheap could these filters become? My suspicion is that they can become extremely cheap, turning them into a utility.

Thank you for the analysis and for bringing this topic to attention of EAs (whose saved micromorts may, well, ultimately have compounding benefits for all). Cheers!

Comment by algekalipso on Making discussions in EA groups inclusive · 2020-06-26T04:01:05.601Z · EA · GW

Like many other problems that EAs are aware of, the particular incident you described comes from an outlier that drives the mean significantly forward (I of course know who you are talking about, and the fact that many who've been in EA for a long time know as well should indicate that this is both rare in terms of % of people yet perhaps not that rare in terms of % of drama it accounts for).

The key insight here is that the long-tail matters. As a rough prior we could anticipate that 80% of the drama will come from 20% of people (in my experience this is even more skewed, to perhaps 98% of drama coming from 2% of people). In which case, advocating for self-censorship in general in the community is stifling and unnecessary for the bulk of people (who already doubt themselves), and desperately necessary for the outliers who just march forward without much self-awareness in some or other controversial direction, as if mandated by a higher power to cause as much drama as possible.

If we recognize that the problem per person follows a long-tail distribution, our strategies should look very different than if it was a kind of normal/Gaussian distribution.

Comment by algekalipso on EAGxVirtual Unconference (Saturday, June 20th 2020) · 2020-06-11T06:39:35.816Z · EA · GW

Hi Aidan!

Thank you ^_^

We are collaborating with John Hopkins and Stanford researchers on a couple of studies involving the analysis of neuroimaging data of high-valence states of consciousness. Additionally, we are currently preparing two key publications for peer-reviewed journals on our core research areas.

Off the top of my head, some well-known researchers and intellectuals that are very positive about our work include: Robin Carhart-Harris, Scott Alexander, David Pearce, Steven Lehar, Daniel Ingram, etc. (e.g. Scott acknowledged that QRI put together the paradigms that contributed to Friston's integrative model of how psychedelics work before his research was published). Our track record so far has been to foreshadow by several years in advance key discoveries later proposed and accepted in mainstream academia. Given our current research findings, I expect this to continue in the years to follow.

Cheers! :)

Comment by algekalipso on EAGxVirtual Unconference (Saturday, June 20th 2020) · 2020-06-10T16:34:17.221Z · EA · GW

*Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain*

Recall that while some distributions (e.g. the size of the leaves of a tree) follow a Gaussian bell-shaped pattern, many others (e.g. avalanches, size of asteroids, etc.) follow a long-tail distribution. Long-tail distributions have the general property that a large fraction of the volume is accounted for by a tiny percent of instances (e.g. 80% of the snow that falls from the mountain will be the result of the top 20% largest avalanches).

Keeping long-tails in mind: based on previous research we have conducted at the Qualia Research Institute we have arrived at the tentative conclusion that the intensity of pleasure and pain follows a long-tail distribution. Why?

First, neural activity on patches of neural tissue follow log-normal distributions (an instance of a long-tail distribution).

Second, the extremes of pleasure and pain are so intense that they cannot conceivably be just the extremes of a normal distribution. This includes, on the positive end: Jhana meditation, 5-MeO-DMT peak experiences, and temporal lobe epilepsy (Dostoevsky famously saying he'd trade 10 years of his life for just a few moments of his good epileptic experiences). On the negative end, things like kidney stones, cluster headaches, fibromyalgia, and migraines top the charts of most intense pain.

And third, all of the quantitative analysis we conducted on a survey about people's best and worst experiences showed that the ratings, comparisons, and rankings of such experiences was far more consistent with a long-tail distribution than a normal distribution. The data could not be explained with a Gaussian distribution; it fit very nicely a log-normal distribution.

This is an *important*, *tractable*, and *neglected* cause.

1) Important because we may be able to reduce the world's suffering by a significant amount if we just focus on preventing the most intense forms of suffering.

2) Tractable because there are already many possible effective treatments to these disorders (such as LSD microdosing for cluster headaches, and FSM for kidney stones).

3) And neglected because most people have no clue that pain and pleasure go this high. Most utilitarian calculus so far seems to assume a normal distribution for suffering, which is very far from the empirical truth. Bentham would recoil at the lack of an exponent term when additively normalizing pain scales.

Importantly, in Effective Altruism there might be an implicit "youth" bias involved in the lack of knowledge of this phenomenon - due to the age of the people in the movement, most EA activists will not themselves have had intensely painful experiences. Thus, why it is so crucial to raise awareness about this topic in the community (it does not show up on its own). Simply put: because the logarithmic nature of pleasure and pain is *news* to most people in EA.

For more, see the original article: Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain

And a presentation about it that I shared at the New York EA chapter:


[I would prefer the late session if possible]


[June 22 2020 edit: Thank you all for attending and/or voting for this talk! I appreciated your engagement and questions! For people who would like to see the video, here it is: Effective Altruism and the Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain]

Comment by algekalipso on What are the key ongoing debates in EA? · 2020-03-11T01:51:46.782Z · EA · GW

Whether avoiding *extreme suffering* such as cluster headaches, migraines, kidney stones, CRPS, etc. is an important, tractable, and neglected cause. I personally think that due to the long-tails of pleasure and pain, and how cheap the interventions would be, focusing our efforts on e.g. enabling cluster headaches sufferers to access DMT would prevent *astronomical amounts of suffering* at extremely low costs.

The key bottleneck here might be people's ignorance of just *how bad* these kinds of suffering are. I recommend reading the "long-tails of pleasure and pain" article linked above to get a sense of why this is a reasonable interpretation of the situation.

Comment by algekalipso on Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain (@Effective Altruism NYC) · 2019-11-22T03:43:19.626Z · EA · GW

Thank you! I just left a reply to your comment. Here's a summary of the core claim:

In this account, the fact that people would naturally and spontaneously use a logarithmic scale to report their level of pain is a simple implication of the fact that you can only definitively tell that "the pain got worse" when it got 10% worse and not when it became 1 unit worse (which soon becomes hard to notice when you talk about experiences with e.g. 1000 pain units per second).
Comment by algekalipso on Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering · 2019-11-22T03:42:44.610Z · EA · GW

Hey Michael,

Thank for commenting. First of all I agree that the claims of (A) and (B) do need to be distinguished, and I admit I didn't make that conceptual distinction very clear in the article. I agree that the most important takeaway from the piece is (B), and I also think that this alone is already enough to challenge EA's prioritization methods (i.e. ultra-painful experiences are completely flying under the radar from the point of view of QALYs and similar metrics; reducing the incidence of cluster headaches, migraines, kidney stones, etc. could be an extremely cost-effective EA objective).

With that said, I would claim that (1) the article does actually provide evidence for (A), (2) taking this seriously clarifies a lot of puzzling facts about experience and how it is reported, and (3) understanding that pain and pleasure follows a long-tail (most likely a log-normal distribution) gives us a new principled way to approach cause prioritization.

I understand the fact that the pain scales of stings and cluster headaches are *by construction* logarithmic. But you have to understand that such a scale would only ever be "filled to the top" if experiences actually differed in intensity also by the same amount. The article (and presentation, which I strongly recommend you watch) explain that all of the following are consistent with the pain scales (as reported!) are actually logarithmic:

(a) the characteristic distribution of neural activity is log-normal, and under the modest assumption that intensity of experience is roughly proportional (or at least polynomially proportional) to intensity of experience, that entails the distribution of intensity is also log-normal.

(b) the above can be further understood as a kind of "neuronal weather" (see the "avalanches" metaphor in the video presentation)

(c) the predictions of the log-normal world are held by the data, and in particular:

(c1) there are few categories of experiences that capture most of the extremely good and extremely bad sensations

(c2) there is consistency in the deference judgements of the quality of experience (as seen in the deference graph), and importantly

(c3) The ratio of "1st worst or best experience vs. 2nd worst or best experience" fits a log-normal distribution and it does not fit a normal distribution.

For the above reasons, bringing up the Fechner-Weber is not, I would claim, a red-herring. Rather, I think it ties together the whole argument. Here is why:

I understand that Fechner-Weber's law maps physical intensity to subjective intensity, and that valence is not externally driven a lot of the time. But you may have missed the argument I'm making here. And that is that in one interpretation of the law, a pre-conscious process does a log transform on the intensity of the input and that by the time we are aware of it, what we become aware of are the linear differences in our experience. In the alternate interpretation of the law, which I propose, the senses (within the window of adaptation) translate the intensity of the input into an equivalent intensity of experience. And the reason *why* we can only detect multiplicative differences in the input *is because* we can only notice consciously multiplicative differences in the intensity of experience. Do you see what I am saying? In this account, the fact that people would naturally and spontaneously use a logarithmic scale to report their level of pain is a simple implication of the fact that you can only definitively tell that "the pain got worse" when it got 10% worse and not when it became 1 unit worse (which soon becomes hard to notice when you talk about experiences with e.g. 1000 pain units per second).

In other words, the scales are logarithmic because we can only notice with confidence multiplicative increments in the intensity of experience. And while this is fine and does not seem to have strong implications on the lower end of the scale, it very quickly escalates, to the point where by the time you are in 7/10 pain you live in a world with orders of magnitude more pain units per second than you did when you were in 2/10 pain.

Finally, you really need the logarithmic scales to make room for the ultra-intense levels of pleasure and pain that I highlighted in the "existence of extremes" section. If people reported their pain on a linear scale, they would quickly run into the problem that they cannot describe even something as painful as a broken bone, let along something like a cluster headache.

Comment by algekalipso on Is pain just a signal to enlist altruists? · 2019-10-02T06:47:26.142Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this.

How would this model explain Cluster Headaches? They are not particularly more incapacitating than migraines, yet they are (possibly literally*) thousands of times more acutely painful than them. What is the role of this X1000 multiplier on phenomenal pain in such cases? As far as I can tell, in the ancestral environment nobody could have done anything to help you if you were having a Cluster Headache, and your chances of reproduction seem to be the same whether that pain was a thousand times less bad (which would still be VERY bad, but not in the level of ultra-Hellish pain). In particular, other species are known the have Cluster Headaches too, such as cats. So perhaps we should cluster pains into two buckets - those that have social significance and those that don't. I worry that this study will make people dismiss extreme suffering in nonhuman animals, but that should only really apply to socially-useful pains. I suspect that there are many species-specific ultra-painful experiences that we will not discover (and prioritize!) unless we look for them.


Comment by algekalipso on Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution · 2019-09-12T19:11:27.029Z · EA · GW

That's a good point, thank you. We should distinguish between lifetime use and current use in future surveys. Perhaps even asking whether "they worked the first time you used them" to see if people who currently use them had a better reaction to their first try relative to those who did try them at some point but do not currently use them.

I would add that other reasons why people might have used them in the past but don't currently include "can't access it now", "too afraid of legal repercussions", and "social stigma". While discontinuing them due to side-effects and lack of effectiveness can make them look more effective than they are among the "use them" group, the other reasons for discontinuation do not have this effect. I don't know what % of past users discontinued for which reason, and that seems like a good thing to find out.

Comment by algekalipso on Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution · 2019-09-12T19:06:48.547Z · EA · GW

Depends on context. In most cases the 'we' refers to my team and I at the Qualia Research Institute. For example: "Since a number of interviews we’ve conducted have shown that even sub-hallucinogenic doses of DMT can abort cluster headaches" refers to QRI (with other members of the research group having conducted such interviews).

I should note that the word is also used in the 'didactic we' sense a number of times (as in "we will explore the era of the dinosaurs together" in a National Geographic documentary).

Comment by algekalipso on Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering · 2019-09-04T17:54:15.233Z · EA · GW

According to "Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jhanas" by L. Brasington and "The Mind Illuminated" by Culadasa, it is feasible to achieve Jhana states within two years of dedicated practice. This entails a few hours of meditation a day and attending at least one 9-day retreat over the course of this time period. The books explain in detail how to get there in a very practical and no-nonsense way.

I personally have yet to invest that time into this task, but I know that one of the other core members of the Qualia Research Institute, Romeo Stevens, is now able to achieve Jhanas thanks to his meditation practice. I do intend to do this in the near future.

Also, we are looking into doing EEG and fMRI studies on people who can enter those states as a means to test the CDNS approach to valence quantification, which is a core part of our research plan.

Comment by algekalipso on Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering · 2019-09-04T17:26:18.059Z · EA · GW

2019-09-04 Update: Since posting this I've learned about the Bradley-Terry model for obtaining latent traits based on sets of rankings ( and also that there are libraries to do this (e.g.

Additionally, I've learned about "extreme value theory", which describes the statistical distribution of extreme values (e.g. and seen some applications to other long-tail events (see:

I will use those two new key statistical approaches to analyze this pilot dataset and also future iterations of this study (focused more on people who've experienced extremes of valence like cluster headaches or 5-MeO-DMT states). I am currently busy working on a number of other projects critical for the Qualia Research Institute, so doing this is currently on the back-burner (though of course I'm happy to hear if anyone is interested in taking on this challenge as a volunteer project).


Comment by algekalipso on Cause X Guide · 2019-09-02T01:29:48.142Z · EA · GW

To zoom in on the "logarithmic scales of pleasure and pain" angle (I'm the author), I would say that this way of seeing the world suggests that the bulk of suffering is concentrated on a small percentage of experiences. Thus, finding scaleable treatments specially for ultra-painful conditions could take care of a much larger percent of the world burden of suffering than most people would intuitively realize. I really think this should be up in the list of considerations for Cause X. Specifically:

An important pragmatic takeaway from this article is that if one is trying to select an effective career path, as a heuristic it would be good to take into account how one’s efforts would cash out in the prevention of extreme suffering (see: Hell-Index), rather than just QALYs and wellness indices that ignore the long-tail. Of particular note as promising Effective Altruist careers, we would highlight working directly to develop remedies for specific, extremely painful experiences. Finding scalable treatments for migraines, kidney stones, childbirth, cluster headaches, CRPS, and fibromyalgia may be extremely high-impact (cf. Treating Cluster Headaches and Migraines Using N,N-DMT and Other Tryptamines, Using Ibogaine to Create Friendlier Opioids, and Frequency Specific Microcurrent for Kidney-Stone Pain). More research efforts into identifying and quantifying intense suffering currently unaddressed would also be extremely helpful.

(see also the writeup of an event we hosted about possible new EA Cause Xs)

Comment by algekalipso on Ask Me Anything! · 2019-08-16T20:06:01.664Z · EA · GW

Do you think that the empirical finding that pain and suffering are distributed along a lognormal distribution (cf. Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain) has implications for how to prioritize causes? In particular, what do you say about these tentative implications:

Of particular note as promising Effective Altruist careers, we would highlight working directly to develop remedies for specific, extremely painful experiences. Finding scalable treatments for migraines, kidney stones, childbirth, cluster headaches, CRPS, and fibromyalgia may be extremely high-impact (cf. Treating Cluster Headaches and Migraines Using N,N-DMT and Other Tryptamines, Using Ibogaine to Create Friendlier Opioids, and Frequency Specific Microcurrent for Kidney-Stone Pain). More research efforts into identifying and quantifying intense suffering currently unaddressed would also be extremely helpful. Finally, if the positive valence scale also has a long-tail, focusing one’s career in developing bliss technologies may pay-off in surprisingly good ways (whereby you may stumble on methods to generate high-valence healing experiences which are orders of magnitude better than you thought were possible).

Thank you!!!

Comment by algekalipso on Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering · 2019-08-16T19:51:32.372Z · EA · GW

Hey Soeren!

I would disagree for the following reason. For a group to contribute equally it needs to have both its average and its size be such that when you multiply them you get the same value. While it is true that people at the 50% percentile get 1/10 of the people at the 90% (and ~1/50 of the 99%), these do not define groups. What we need to look at instead is the cumulative distribution function:

The bottom 50% accounts for 3.17% of incidents

The bottom 90% accounts for 30% of incidents

The bottom 95% accounts for 43% of incidents

What I am getting at is that for a given percentile, the contribution from the group "this percentile and lower" will be a lot smaller than the value at that percentile multiplied by the fraction of the participants below that level. This is because the distribution is very skewed, so for any given percentile the values below it quickly decrease.

Another way of looking at this is by assuming that each percentile has a corresponding value (in the example "number of CHs per year") proportional to the rarity of that percentile or above. For simplicity, let's say we have a step function where each time we divide the group by half we get twice the value for those right above the cut-off:

0 to 50% have 1/year

50 to 75% have 2/year

75 to 87.5% have 4/year

and so on...

Here each group contributes equally (size * # of CH is the same for each group). Counter-intuitively, this does not imply that extremes account for a small amount. On the contrary, it implies that the average is infinite (cf. St. Petersburg paradox): even though you will have that for any given percentile, the average below it is always finite (e.g. between 0 and 40% it's 1/year), the average (and total contribution) above that percentile is always infinite. In this idealized case, it will always be the case that "the bulk is concentrated on a tiny percentile" (and indeed you can make that percentile as small as you want and still get infinitely more above it than below it).

The empirical distribution is not so skewed that we need to worry about infinity. But we do need to worry about the 57% accounted for by the top 5%.

Comment by algekalipso on Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering · 2019-08-15T23:29:20.190Z · EA · GW

Hi! Thank you for elaborating on what your question is :)

"Bulk" is indeed a very ambiguous term. Would you say 80% is "the bulk"? And 20% is "a small percentage"? If so we would be in agreement. If not, it is more of a wording issue than a matter of substance, I think.

Good catch that the numbers I provided would suggest a power law that just keeps going (e.g. similar to St. Petersburg paradox?). If we use the Cluster Headache dataset, the numbers are:

50% percentile experiences 70 CH/year

80% percentile experiences 365 CH/year

90% percentile experiences 730 CH/year

98% percentile experiences 2190 CH/year

So at least in this case the 90th percentile does get 10X the amount of the 50th percentile. But the 98th and 99th percentile is not as high as 100X, and more like 20 to 50x. So not quite the numbers I used as an example, but also not too far off.

I should also clarify that by frequency I mean the product of 'how many people have it', 'how often' and 'for how long'.

Here is the main idea: In Lognormal World, you would see a lognormal distribution for "amount of suffering per person", "peak suffering per person", "how long suffering above a certain threshold lasts for each person", etc.

To illustrate this point, let's say that each person's hedonic tone per each second of their life is distributed along a lognormal with an exponent that is a Gaussian with mean x and sd of y. We would then also have that x, across different people, is distributed along a Gaussian with a mean of z and sd of t. Now, if you want to get the global distribution of suffering per second across people, you would need to convolve two Gaussians on the logarithmic pain scale (which represent the exponents of the lognormal distributions). Since convolving two Gaussians gives you another Gaussian, we would then have that the global distribution of suffering per second is also a lognormal distribution! So both at the individual, and the global scale the lognormal long-tails will be present. Now, for you to appreciate the "bulk" of the suffering, you would need to look at the individuals who have the largest means for the normal distribution in the exponent (x in this case). Hence why looking at one's own individual % of time in extreme pain does not provide a good idea of how much of it there is in the wild across people (especially if one is close to the median; i.e. a pretty happy person).

Comment by algekalipso on Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering · 2019-08-15T18:46:51.496Z · EA · GW

Adding to what Lucas mentioned (how we are motivated in part by longing/addiction for strong rewards): Suffering and negative reinforcement are correlated but are by no means the same thing. In the case of extreme suffering, there seems to be a point where the pain has already maxed out in terms of negative reinforcement capacity, and anything above it is just senseless suffering. Cluster headaches would not cause any less behavioral suppression if they were 10 or even 100 times less painful. Likewise, our ability to reason about pain and pleasure is limited by our state-dependent ability to imagine it. As I argued in the article, our ability to imagine any pain or pleasure that goes beyond our ability to extrapolate with the qualia accessible to us at the moment is very limited.

The bliss of 5-MeO-DMT or epileptic temporal lobe seizures is as Dostoevsky said "a happiness unthinkable in the normal state and unimaginable for anyone who hasn’t experienced it". Likewise for extreme pain. So you wouldn't be able to infer that these states exist (and are much more prevalent than one intuitively believes) merely from observing the patterns of reinforcement from a third-person point of view.

Comment by algekalipso on Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering · 2019-08-15T18:41:00.797Z · EA · GW

The short answer is - extreme pain is vastly more common than is generally believed. Statistics such as 20% of people in the USA experience chronic pain, with 8% experiencing high-impact chronic pain (interferes with most aspects of life). If indeed we live in Lognormal World, we can expect that the median person will probably have relatively low acquaintance with extreme suffering (until old age), but that the people in the top 10% of sufferers will have 10X the amount, and people in the 99% will have 100X the amount. If we take a person-neutral point of view (i.e. Empty or Open Individualism) and care about "moments of experience" it does not really matter who gets to experience it, at least not morally. There are no diminishing returns per person when it comes to the negative value of suffering (once adaptation has been taken into account).

As with other long-tails, it may seem hard to believe that "...the bulk of suffering is concentrated in a small percentage of experiences...". But so it is hard to imagine that there are billionaires out there if all one knows about is the income of one's family and small circle of friends. Millionaires are rare, but not that rare (about 3% of the population), and we have that in the case of income the bulk of capital is concentrated in a small percent of people (e.g. ~20% of the population controlling ~80% of the wealth, and the top 1% controlling ~45% of it).

Likewise, the research presented here would suggest that in the case of suffering there are "suffering billionaires" out there, and that they account for a much larger % of total suffering than we intuitively would imagine.

Comment by algekalipso on Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering · 2019-08-15T07:59:19.095Z · EA · GW

Thank you!

The article does focus on the long-tail of intensity and quality of both pleasure and pain rather than frequency. That said, it discusses the Lognormal World as a general principle, which would also predict that the frequency of pain or pleasure would follow a long-tail in addition to their intensity and quality.

This is backed up by the previous article "Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution", where we analyzed a survey about Cluster Headache frequency among sufferers, and showed it followed a long-tail (with statistics like "The bottom 80% accounts for 17% of incidents and the bottom 90% accounts for 30% of incidents", and values ranging from 1 Cluster Headache a year all the way to more than 1,000). We should collect data on e.g. kidney stone, migraine, etc. frequency per individual to see if they also follow a long-tail. Given the general pattern, we suspect they probably do.

Comment by algekalipso on Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution · 2019-08-09T19:36:26.943Z · EA · GW

It's great that it works for some people, some of the time. In absolute terms, it is a massive good, so it should be promoted more. Pragmatically it might make sense to emphasize it right now given the low probability that DMT will be approved as a treatment in the next few years, so until then Emgality should be discussed more. That said, yes, in terms of % relief it still is in a completely different class than DMT. That is, it tends to reduce incidence rather than get rid of them, and it is only approved for episodic (rather than chronic) CHs, which account for a relatively small % of the number of CHs experienced, as described in this article (due to the long-tail).

Comment by algekalipso on Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution · 2019-08-07T20:07:16.586Z · EA · GW

In the article specifically about N,N-DMT as a possible treatment for CHs, Quintin added a rough QALY calculation (I should add that any QALY estimate concerning CHs and other ultra-painful disorders will typically severely underestimate the value of the interventions, given the logarithmic nature of pain scales):

While we believe that traditional metrics such as the QALY do not accurately capture the suffering caused by a cluster headache (see upcoming post on the true pain/pleasure scale), a rough QALY calculation would be as follows (focusing on chronic cluster headache sufferers rather than average, since they compromise up to 83% of total headaches[3]):
Facebook AD campaign:
1. An estimated 370,000 Americans suffer from cluster headaches, 68% of whom are on Facebook[4] (=251,000). About 15% of these suffer from chronic cluster headaches (=37,740). According to Sprout Social, the average estimated cost per click of an ad campaign is $1.72. Assuming 1/10 who click are cluster headache sufferers, to reach all chronic sufferers would take (ballpark) $650,000.
2. Assuming about 30% of those who view the ad will pursue the treatment (rough estimate-those who put 2 or less on survey results for questions of legality, difficulty to acquire etc.) and that in 68% of cases it cured or nearly cured their clusters (based on survey results), then the resulting increase in QALYs would be (37,740 people * 0.3 * 0.68) * [0.760 (QALY coefficient) * 1 QALY – ( -0.429 (QALY coefficient)* (0.47QALY)) [5]] = $650,000/7, 404QALY = $87.70 per QALY.  
3. These ads could also be targeted to users in countries where psilocybin and DMTare legal for use recreationally, increasing conversion rate. Further targeting could be done on Facebook groups (and other social media groups) which are associated with cluster headache treatment. 
Comment by algekalipso on Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution · 2019-08-04T08:50:09.999Z · EA · GW

I completely agree that the members of a cluster headache subreddit or facebook group are not necessarily representative, and in fact quite likely not representative at all.

I think that the conclusion that the distribution follows a long-tail regardless is still accurate. I reason this based on the following point: even if the probability of participating in the survey increased exponentially as a function of the number of times one experiences CHs per year (or sigmoid at the limit), you would nonetheless not be able to make a Gaussian distribution look like a log-normal. The reason is that the rate at which a Gaussian decreases is proportional to the inverse *squared* of the distance from the mean. So we would still get a net decrease at an exponential rate, which does not produce a long-tail (just a somewhat more bulky tail that still tapers off rather quickly). For it to exhibit a long-tail, the probability of participating in the survey as a function of the number of CHs per year would have to grow *doubly* exponentially, at which point we really run out very quickly of possible participants.

That said, I do agree that there is likely an over-estimation of the frequency, but I would argue due to the above reasons that such over-estimation can't account for the long-tail.

Comment by algekalipso on Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution · 2019-08-03T23:21:50.106Z · EA · GW

Thank you. The survey said that 68% of sufferers who have used psychedelics found gave them a rating of 4 or 5, where 5 means “They have completely eliminated the cluster headaches”. I would certainly stand by the claim that "there are millions of people suffering needlessly from this condition who could be nearly-instantly cured with something as simple as growing and eating some magic mushrooms." We've interviewed people for whom sub-hallucinogenic doses of DMT and psilocybin took a 10/10 pain CH all the way to a 1/10 or 0/10. And in the case of DMT, due to its method of administration, this takes place within seconds (more than one but less than 10). Even if this works only for, say, 20% of the sufferers, it is still millions in absolute terms.

Thanks for saying: "Generally I really find this research agenda interesting". My experience has been that few people take seriously the long-tails of pleasure and pain. This is precisely the sort of missing piece of information that can add an entire new wing to EA.

Comment by algekalipso on Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Necklace · 2019-07-30T00:34:41.865Z · EA · GW

Let's say "the typical pain of the top 5% most painful of the cases of a given condition".

My sense is that the pain scale is exponential. Let's say that kidney stones rank on average at a 7/10 level with a standard deviation of 1. In that case, about 2% of the kidney stone cases are a 9/10, which might be hundreds of times more painful than the 7/10 typical case. In other words, you can't really judge how many hell-seconds a given condition contributes by observing a *median* case... you need either the average or to look at the more painful side of it.

Comment by algekalipso on Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Necklace · 2019-07-10T07:07:14.152Z · EA · GW

Agmatine is an aminoacid you can buy over the counter at supplement stores and online. It is used as a workout supplement, to make weed feel stronger, and as a hangover prevention remedy. Agmatine has a high affinity for a number of receptors sites, and it is currently being debated whether it satisfies the criteria for being called a neurotransmitter.

Of particular note is agmatine's high affinity to the imidazoline receptor, which according to Thomas Ray- who analyzed the receptor affinity of 30+ psychedelics- might be one of the keys to the "magic of MDMA". On 2o to 80mg doses on an empty stomach, agmatine does have a nice and very mild positive effect on valence. Mild relaxation, akin to chamomile tea, and mild feeling of social closeness, akin to a glass of wine or a bit of Indica. According to some anecdotal data, and in line with Thomas Ray's predictions, taking agmatine in conjunction with 5HT2A agonists gives rise to a subtle empathogenic effect.

Now, all of that is for background. If you buy a tube of agmatine you will see that the recommended dose is between 500 milligrams and up to entire grams. After all, it is in food and it has an extremely high safety profile. Somehow the general public has missed that on much lower doses it has a nice mild euphoric quality. Anyhow, at the doses typically consumed, agmatine has a distinct blunting effect. As described by people who have both taken SSRIs and agmatine, the effects of high-dose agmatine on pleasurable and noxious stimuli are of the general type of "blunted quality". Emotions feel more fuzzy, music sounds more flat, thoughts seem less deep, philosophy is more boring, and orgasm is less intense. This type of effect (both cutting the top and bottom ends of valence) is what we expect to happen if you add *neural noise* into your nervous system. Like listening to white noise - it is good if the sound it masks is dissonant and unpleasant, but bad if you are trying to listen to a symphony, or to the voice of your loved ones.

It is the blunting effect of agmatine at 0.5 grams+ doses that makes it a great candidate to reduce the impact of brainwashing. Like an SSRI, but much faster and reversibly, agmatine will make whatever multilevel marketing pyramid scheme feelings of guilt and greed you were subjected to kind of melt away and feel more dreamy and less "real". This psychological effect seems to last after the agmatine has been metabolized.

Comment by algekalipso on Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Necklace · 2019-07-10T00:01:09.747Z · EA · GW

Thank you.

Two things:

(1) We are trying to arrive at a metric like you describe at QRI. See: Quantifying bliss and a future for neuroscience for the big-picture idea. I think the suffering you describe is very relevant for instrumental reasons, but perhaps not very large in terms of absolute values (still sucks, obviously!).

(2) I think that another important update that people should make in EA is that hell-seconds are not only much, much, much worse than garden-variety pain and suffering. But also that they are *far more prevalent* than we realize. About 20% of people in the US live with chronic pain, of which 8% is "high-impact" (i.e. severe enough to interfere with life on many fronts). Kidney stones happen to 10% of people, migraines are equally as common, and about 2-3% of people who get fractures develop complex regional pain syndrome, which tops the scale (and worse of all, it is chronic and persistent pain rather than episodic like cluster headaches).

I suspect most people will be horrified when we get an accurate estimate of a country's Hell-Index. Perhaps you don't dip your toes into those realms often, but chances are that your neighbor or two houses down the line someone very close to you does.

Comment by algekalipso on Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free Necklace · 2019-07-09T21:46:37.192Z · EA · GW

For context, this post is motivated by the realization that pain-scales are logarithmic compressions of what is probably an exponentially-increasing capacity for pain and suffering in sentient beings. Here is a simple example, as told by the guy who stung himself with 80+ insects to put the pain on a scale:

4:28 - The harvester ants is what got the sting pain scale going in the first place. I had been stung by honey bees, old jackers, paper wasps, etc. the garden variety stuff, that you get bitten by various beetles and things. I went down to Georgia, which has the Eastern-most extension of the harvester. I got stung and I said “Wooooow! This is DIFFERENT!” You know? I thought I knew everything there was about sting insects, I was just this dumb little kid. And realized “Wait a minute! There is something different going on here”, and that’s what got me to do the comparative analysis. Is this unique to harvester ants? Or are there others that are like that. It turns out while the answer is now we know what’s later - it’s unique! [unique type of pain].

7:09 - I didn’t really wanted to go out and get stung for fun. I was this desperate graduate student trying to get a thesis, so I could get out and get a real job, and stop being a student eventually. And I realized that, oh, we can measure toxicity, you know, the killing power of something, but we can’t measure pain… ouch, that one hurst, and that one hurts, and ouch that one over there also hurts… but I can’t put that on a computer program and mathematically analyze what it means for the pain of the insect. So I said, aha! We need a pains scale. A computer can analyze one, two, three, and four, but it can’t analyze “ouch!”. So I decided that I had to make a pain scale, with the harvester ant (cutting to the chase) was a 3. Honey bees was a 2. And I kind of tell people that each number is like 10 equivalent of the number before. So 10 honey bee stings are equal to 1 harvester ant sting, and 10 harvester ant stings would equal one bullet ant sting.

Some EAs have already pointed this out, but I suspect that this has yet to make it into "EA Canon" and it thus hasn't really given rise to novel interventions. Brian Tomasik, Jonathan Leighton, Manu Herran, David Pearce, and other "suffering focused ethics" people have been saying this for a while. Read more here.

I realize that it is always kind of depressing to look into how bad suffering gets, but it does seem important to know if one is indeed trying to reduce suffering as much as possible.