Falling In Love With The World


What this project has evolved to become is an experiment in figuring out how to convey that there are vast fields and potentials of subjective states that are not only possible but that, if the ‘point’ of human existence is to increase wellbeing, are almost ethically important to recognise.

The grid and the poem is only trying to get at that first part — how do I convey the sense of real potential and help expand people’s conceptions a little bit more?

Real Potential

Here’s what I mean by ‘real’. I’m drawing heavily inspired by two sources:

  1. Hanzi Freinacht’s discussion of states in his book ‘The Listening Society’.
  2. Nick Cammarata’s tweets on twitter — he works at open AI and talks a lot about happiness.

Hanzi’s States

Below is a rough sketch scale from Hanzi Freinacht’s The Listening Society.

  1. Hell

  2. Horrific (phenomenological reality breaks down)

  3. Tortured

  4. Tormented

  5. Very uneasy

  6. Uneasy, uncomfortable

  7. Somewhat uneasy, “okay”, full of small faults

  8. Satisfied, well

  9. Good, lively

  10. Joyous, full of light, invigorated

  11. Vast, grand, open

  12. Blissful, saintly

  13. Enlightened, spiritual unity

  • Lower states: 1-4
  • Medium states: 5-10
  • Higher states: 11-13

Most only experience a small range (most of us 3 or 4 states for our entire lifetimes e.g 6-9), and not only can not understand the other states, but don’t even believe that, particularly the higher ones, are even real/ is possible/ are a thing

In the hour of vision there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The Soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well. Vast spaces of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea; long intervals of time, years, centuries, are of no account…

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

What if we take this description not merely as fanciful ‘poetics’ or him trying to sell you something, but as a genuine, as accurate as possible description of his subjective experience?

The idea that life can only be, and more importantly should only be drowning in misery 95% of the time is tragic. It reminds me of Plato’s cave — life is the shadows, the prisoners claim, and should only be the shadows as they proceed to fight off the one freed prisoner who’s trying to help them break their chains.

It’s not only about the highs — it’s also about the lows. Recognizing that pain/ pleasure have long-tail distributions — that they very good and the very bad are expontentially higher and lower than the majority of the in-between states. See Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering. An excerpt:

Based on: the characteristic distribution of neural activity, personal accounts of intense pleasure and pain, the way various pain scales have been described by their creators, and the results of a pilot study we conducted which ranks, rates, and compares the hedonic quality of extreme experiences, we suggest 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. The most intense pains are orders of magnitude more awful than mild pains (and symmetrically for pleasure).

This should inform the way we prioritize altruistic interventions and plan for a better future. Since the bulk of suffering is concentrated in a small percentage of experiences, focusing our efforts on preventing cases of intense suffering likely dominates most utilitarian calculations. [emphasis mine]

Nick C Inspiration

Nick C’s tweets convinced me that higher baseline happiness states are possible, that we aren’t just stuck in homeostasis and regulating back to a baseline of only being ‘okay’ or lower, but that this is actually a good thing!

Elsewhere, I’ve heard enlightenment described as ‘happiness without condition’ (see this video by Shinzen Young)

I’ve included a selection of his tweets below. You can see these and more at Happiness MOC.

An Ethical Case For Higher States

As to making a case for why we ought to explore this space more, and actively try and improve subjective states to these heights, I’ll just note three pieces:

  1. Increasing our subjective states radically seems to switch us from scarcity into abundance, and also one of fixed into growth mindset.
    • Scarcity mindset vs abundance, openess, short term, fight flight, decrease in decision making abilities and to have insight and frame breaks, digging heels in to your own particular viewpoint and perspective, decrease in IQ, bad impulse control, decrease in flexibility, transformation not sensed as viable
    • There’s a difference between ‘blissful’ and ‘blissed-out’
  2. There’s this conception of e.g UBI and people becoming couch potatoes who does crack and plays video games all day. This description is not one of human nature but of broken people. See Schmachtenberger on episode 36 of the Future Thinker’s podcast, starting from 20 minutes and 58 sec.
    • In reality, happiness can actually increase productivity because of at least two reasons:
      1. You’re not hindered by unhelpful depressive doubts — it doesn’t mean you become totally blind to bad things, but that the good becomes way better
      2. Meaning increases, and meaning drives rather than make us complacent. See this article on hypermotivation
  3. if we don’t think it’s possible, our idea of human nature and human potential will heavily affect the way we socialise our kids and socialise one another, our culture, our institutions, and importantly — our visions of what the future can and ought to look like. I think our failure of imagination is causing us a lot of problems, particularly in the realm of creating guiding narratives that’ll help steer us out of the current metacrisis we’re in .