Levers error

by TekhneMakre 2 min read8th Nov 20191 comment


Anna writes about bucket errors. To gloss the idea: sometimes two facts are mentally tracked by only one variable; in that case, correctly updating the belief about one fact can also incorrectly update the belief about the other fact, so it is sometimes epistemic to flinch away from the truth of the first fact (until you can create more variables to track the facts separately).

I think there's a sort of conjugate error: two actions are bound together in one "lever". An action is a class of motor outputs, and a lever is a thing actually available to the mind to decide to do or not.

For example, I want to clean my room. But somehow it feels pointless / tiring, even before I've started. If I just started cleaning anyway, I'd get bogged down in some corner, trying to make a bunch of decisions about where exactly to put lots of futzy random objects, tiring myself out and leaving my room still annoyingly cluttered. It's not that there's a necessary connection between cleaning my room and futzing around inefficiently; but the only lever I have right now that activates the "clean room" action also activates the "futz interminably" action.

What I want instead is to create a lever that activates "clean room" but not "futz". When I do that, I feel motivated to clean and do so efficiently. (I do this by picking a few specific spots, e.g. "this desk" and "that pile of stuff in the way", picturing what clean and neat would look like, and then holding the intention towards that state.)

I find many examples of this sort of levers error in my life.

  • For example, it's taken me a long time to start writing things to share with other people; for a long time, whenever I'd start to write up an idea, I'd somehow end up "desecrating" the idea, twisting it into some kind of high-school-essay monstrosity, because that was the only way I knew how to write paragraphs. I felt anti-motivated to actually write stuff, even though "writing up some ideas" seemed like a pretty good action to take.
  • I find lots of examples in my ways of interacting with people. For example, for a long time I didn't know how to be nice / receptive / spacious with a person, without also being deferential / self-effacing. Whenever I'd start to be receptive to what the other person was feeling / thinking / wanting, I'd also start ignoring / overriding my thoughts and desires.
  • Another example: sometimes I want to maintain a connection with another person, and I believe that to do that I have to hear and understand about their feelings; but the only way I know how to hear about their feelings also involves dissociating / holding them at a distance, and that can be damaging to the connection in a different way.

The general pattern is something like: I want to do X to acheive some goal, but the only way (that I know how right now) to do X is if I also do Y, and doing Y in this situation would be bad. I only have the one lever, even though there's two kinds of actions that might be doable independently of each other. I can look for ways to do X without also doing Y, and I can look for information I can glean and then use to indicate whether or not it would be good to also do Y in this situation. (Maybe sometimes it's good to futz around with stuff in the corner of my room, e.g. if I'm trying to pack up for a move and want to get rid of a bunch of stuff.)

To complete the conjugation from Anna's post: flinching away from action toward a goal is often about protecting your goals.