Inspired by Jacob Falkovich's Internal Diet Crux.

Disputants: Read Bermudez, and Play On.

PO: State your hypothesis, sir!

RB: You are spending too much time playing video games. Now yours.

PO: You're mistaken; I'm indulging in a reasonable amount of downtime.

RB: Using the Sapience Spell, I summon, and precommit to engaging with, the sensation of loving-kindness for whatever claims you may make or emotional disclosures you reveal.  You want what's best for SupposedlyFun.

PO: Using the Sapience Spell, I summon, and precommit to engaging with, the sensation of loving-kindness for whatever claims you may make or emotional disclosures you reveal.  You want what's best for SupposedlyFun.

RB: Okay. We are working four hours per day as a lawyer.  This is about 65% of the daily work we were doing before we moved to a foreign country to be with our spouse who temporarily works there.  We should have a lot of slack for other intellectual projects.  I want us to read Bermudez' cognitive science textbook. Kahneman and Tversky can come later. We should be able to set aside 30 minutes per day for this.

PO: Nothing you said is unreasonable. But I like playing video games, and it's not abnormal for people to spend 2 hours a day on leisure pursuits.  The average American apparently spends twice that time on TV per day.  I, meaning you, have never been the kind of person who can just work nonstop all day.  Additionally, we are still living in quarantine society, a once-per-generation if not rarer level of interference with normal life, in particular with things that keep us from getting depressed, like socializing.

RB: That's all true. However, you are able to work at the food court with the big sunny windows, or likewise at the library, and be around people while working and getting sun-eye exposure time.  You could add 30 minutes of Bermudez at the end.

PO: After two hours of working, we need a substantial break[, and reading a textbook doesn't feel like a break, even though we get a lot from reading it]. This is apparently a function of working outside the office; when we were there in person, billing seven hours a day was much easier.  Fewer distractions, or being around people, or all of the above? Anyway, let's be honest--you are the voice of SupposedlyFun's dad-when-we-were-in-high-school, who is similar to SF but wired somewhat differently, such that the "self improvement" drive is just stronger.  He's also clearly aged out of a lot of the psychological drags we experience.

RB: I'd give you 2:1 odds that I'm basically his dad. But you and I both care about rationality and human flourishing; do you expect to make meaningful contributions without even being able to finish Bermudez?

PO: That seems like the wrong question.  We have several objectives right now--make money, start a family, contribute more to the rationalist project, continue being a gym rat, avoid getting depressed, walk the dog, play with the cat. Some of them overlap. And we're in this foreign country for another 15 months. Realistically, we'd be talking about an online graduate degree, which...come on.  I can't even get through Bermudez.

RB: We're getting far afield here. Let's try to find a crux. My chief observation is that we uninstalled the game, even uninstalled Steam, and within 36 hours, we'd reinstalled both. That seems like...addict behavior? But at least strong evidence of a values disconnect.  This needs resolving.

PO: I agree; that's why SupposedlyFun is making us do this.

RB: I would be satisfied, I think, if you limited yourself to a hard stop at two hours of gaming per day, no matter what, including weekends. Maybe some slack on weekends. Maybe.

PO: That seems like an arbitrary number, but...there's no obvious reason I couldn't get along with that limit. In exchange, will you stop making us feel bad about playing video games when we do?

RB: That seems only fair.

PO: We didn't actually find a crux.  How about this: I think your position is something like "Three hours of gaming in a day is fine." Mine is, "Three is too many. Something about indulging in a third hour has knock-on effects on productivity and mood." My evidentiary claim is, "Limiting you to two will, on net, make SupposedlyFun feel better in general (at least one point on a scale of one to ten), feel better about himself (same, at least one point), and spend more time reading Bermudez."  Would you agree to allow him to resolve the truth of my evidentiary claim after a week of actual compliance as recognized by him?

RB: Yes. If your evidentiary claim is correct, then three hours of gaming per day is not fine. And if it's not correct, three hours is fine.

PO, RB {in unison}: GO PLANET!

New Comment
4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:22 PM

Endweek update: I completed the week in compliance with the two-hour limit. I have not perceived a one-point-in-ten improvement is my wellbeing as a result, but a mild improvement nevertheless. My work productivity did not increase, although work was also slow on the supply side. Presumably I did something relatively more productive for that third hour, but I don't track my nonwork time to the tenth of an hour like I do my work time, so I don't know for sure.

I didn't read more Bermúdez, but I did start the Khan Academy course on Linear Algebra after getting stumped by M. Kosoy and M. Filan's discussion of closed...cone...somethings on the most recent AXRP, which I nevertheless recommend, the way one might recommend trying out the bucking bronco ride at the neighborhood honky-tonk.

Read Bermúdez was the clear winner here, although ze was overestimating the drag that too-much-gaming was having on my mood.

Overall, I think the exercise of treating this like a double crux between two subroutines in my brain was helpful. Just the process of making them write down their views was about 85% of the benefit. The effort involved in self-imposing the two-hour limit was also more than worthwhile in terms of wellbeing benefits. This is probably a combination of "playing too much video games is depressing" and "it feels good to exert agency over your own life". Maybe a 70/30 split?

A one point improvement (measured on a ten point scale) feels like a massive change to expect. I like the guts to bet that it'll happen and change your mind otherwise, but I'm curious if you actually expected that scale of change.

For me, a one point change requires super drastic measures (ex. getting 2 hours too few sleep for 3+ days straight). Although I may well be arbitrarily compressing too much of my life into 6-9 on the ten point scale.

I agree with what you're saying. I think it was some combination of not defining my scale with enough precision and overestimating the gaming's status as a cause rather than a symptom.

Midweek update: SF has successfully limited himself to less than two hours per day. This has not been accompanied by increased work productivity or more Bermudez-reading. One thing at a time, maybe?