Akrasic Reasoning

by MatthewBaker3 min read5th Aug 201120 comments


Personal Blog

This post is in a constant state of revision, similar to this post. This is mainly because I do not have a beta and this is based on many personal experiences that are unclear at times.


This subject has been touched on many times throughout LessWrong because Akrasia is the most dangerous foe of any true follower of Rationality. When you know you could be amazing but you find yourself unable to change due to the havoc that feelings can play with your thoughts you feel helpless and I want to help you surpass that. I am beginning a Journey to fight Akrasia directly in all its forms and in the past such Journey's have been abandoned without much progress. In this mini-sequence of posts I plan to not only document my fight to push past the depressing weight of Akrasia as a tool to keep me on the path, I will also provide some anti-Akrasia reports on my progress with different techniques that fellow LessWrongians can look back on and draw strength from in times of despair and laziness.


My name is Matthew Baker and I want to save the world.

I think most people share the feeling that the world should be saved and that only true sociopaths can discount the value of all sentient life. This is so important because the majority of people aren't able to defeat their innate Akrasic reasoning, ugh fields, and other factors that prevent them from functioning in a way that aligns with their beliefs. I think that if you believe in something, and you wish to be more rational towards the world then you should either push your beliefs towards the current state of reality or push reality towards your current state of beliefs.

When I was younger and sought something that I could devote effort to that would change the world for the better, I was quite disillusioned by the fact that nearly every cause relied on their innate biases to deal with the problems facing them. From political struggles to moral tribulation humanity is very good at ignoring things that don't coincide with their worldview. I always sought to surpass that but for a long time I failed to find anything to believe in that coincided with reality. Now that my skepticism is satisfied I have to logically take a look at what things are preventing me from promoting my beliefs. Akrasia is the most dangerous foe of any true follower of rationality. I've personally experienced Akrasia as the feeling when you know you could be amazing but you find yourself unable to change due to the havoc that feelings can play with your thoughts. I am beginning a journey to fight Akrasia directly in all its forms. I've attempted this in the past without making much progress; I'm hoping a different approach will help me succeed (or at least make new and different mistakes). In this mini-sequence of posts I plan to document my fight to push past the depressing weight of Akrasia. As a tool to keep me on the path, I will also provide some anti-Akrasia reports on my progress with different techniques.

My goals for this quest are varied yet connected. I don't intend to take them all on at once, but instead phase them in over the upcoming month and see if i can find the limit of my ability to avoid wasting time.

  1. My goal to make myself more fit and transition to eating healthier food, right now I'm fairly skinny and I want to build some muscle to match with my height(6'1"). Enough so that I dont have trouble picking up things and carrying them without much out-word signalling of effort, but I'm not looking to become a bodybuilder or anything I just wanna optimize the vessel carrying my consciousnesses with better food and habits.

  2. My goal is to become more skilled socially, I rested on my social laurels for a long time and focused on associating with people that fit my views on set issues. For maximum success I will focus on general social group construction as I advance into my second year of college. I wanna see how much fun and rationality I can spread if I focus on being skilled at gathering smart and interesting people into the fun vortex I can create around me.

  3. My goal is to get a substantially higher GPA then I did last semester. I spent very little time on school but managed to pull off a 3.1 which was lower than my first semester GPA and I want this trend to reverse as I spend more focused time on school and actually study for the first time in my life.


Things that prevent me from achieving my goals are mostly random web browsing and gaming, lots of ugh fields I've only recently been able to write down and start purging from my thought process, negative emotions that sap my willpower and currently unknown other factors. Hopefully I will be able to surpass these problems with the power of self reflection and sharing, classical conditioning and positive substance use.

My goals for the upcoming week involve some social and fitness goals until school starts on the 20th. Hopefully I can get these partially phased in and be able to focus more on academia once I'm back up at school. For specific milestones I want to dance closely with at least 1 girl at a rave I'm going to tonight up in LA and I want to start working on pull-ups so I can get back up to my previous total(3) and start building from there.

I expect I'll have to deal with some social anxiety at the rave and some ugh field's towards the fitness, but hopefully this form of specific goal setting and reflection will work well. I will also have substances available for backup in case I fail to perform to my personal expectations. Combined, this should allow me to surpass my Akrasic Reasoning of the past for the sake of our combined future.

What can you gain from my efforts as fellow rationalists? Hopefully, once I've competed my journey I'll be able to explain my mind state well enough that you can learn from it and apply it to your own goals. When my mental state is low reading about how someone else was able to push back up from a similarly bad state can be amazingly helpful and I hope that I can provide that to others.


Tsuyoku Naritai! My Friends

P.S. If luck exists, I wish to gain more of it and believe in it so wish me luck with my first top level post. :) Edit: Its now in discussion until I see a surge of excitement towards the idea of this mini-sequence.




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20 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:50 AM
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I myself have just joined Less Wrong and am working to figure out what gets upvoted and what doesn't, so I feel a sense of camaraderie with you.

But still, new guy to newish guy, here's why I was unimpressed with your post: you didn't actually offer anything you've done to overcome akrasia. You just outlined that akrasia is a problem, and something that can be overcome, something that LW already knows well. I like how you drew an analogy to your own life, but I'm not really honestly interested in what your specific struggles are unless you're either (a) asking for help, or (b) telling me what you've done to overcome them.

I also agree with others here that you've plugged in a lot of LW "buzzwords" (Tsuyoku Naritai, Litany of Tarski, wanting to save the world, etc.), which are all in themselves admirable ideas, but in this post, only loosely connected to your main idea. I doubt you did this intentionally, but it looks like you're just name-dropping terms to gain favor. Including them all is doing too much at once.

I think that you should complete your journey a little bit, and when you actually have some solutions to contribute, post them. I'll look forward to it.

Also, don't live by karma -- I think it's a good idea to sacrifice karma in order to learn about what works. Ensuing discussions in the spiral of downvotes can still tell you what you've done wrong, allowing you to fix yourself to a point where you can have good karma. (I also don't think karma is a good terminal value anyway.)

I hope this isn't harsh and helps a little bit. I don't have that much other advice to give (being new myself), but I do hope you do well in your future postings.

Hi Matthew! Welcome to LessWrong. I think that your goals are admirable and I'm glad that your'e sharing your story with us. However, I think a post such as this belongs in the Discussion section, rather than the front page.

Moved. (This will also save Matthew some of the Karma hit.)

I'm willing to take the karma hit, but if you think it would fit better in discussion feel free. Everyone else on LW, please continue to vote on this post as if it was in Top level not discussion if you could as a favor to me.

The focus of this post is not "my story". I find that Akrasic reasoning can be very hard to overcome in certain mindsets, and reading about other real people surpassing those mindsets can provide unique strength in those situations. I meant this to be a top level series of around 3 posts and i really didn't expect a condescending response. I suppose i needed to send it to someone to edit for grammar and spelling but that seems like something fixed through draft form anyway like in this popular top level post.

You asked people to vote on this as they would a front page article, so here are the reasons why I downvoted:

  1. Your post wasn't useful to me -- it didn't help me make any progress towards any of my goals or learn anything that I think would help me make such progress.

  2. Your post didn't have anything interestingly new in it. This is pretty vague, but (as other commenters have said) the important stuff you mentioned has been covered on LW already.

I skimmed. If I read to absorb, I think I would want my time back.

In addition...

Akrasia is the most dangerous foe of any true follower of rationality.

This sets off an alarm (maybe because of the hyperbole and the 'true follower of rationality bit') that the writer may not be the most precise thinker.

Hope that helps.

P.S: Be careful about telling people that you want to save the world.

4 Downvotes and no comments? I wager 1 bitcoin towards the singularity institute for every comment on this comment ;) that convinces me of the negative utility of my post. For the grammar issue, i did make it clear that this was my first top level post and i dont have a beta i can just call up for editing. I'm constantly revising the article to make it more clear and i think that some measure of leniency should be afforded due to situational factors in this circumstance.

You are saying some of the same phrases that well-known LW-ers say, and want to do the same things some of them do. This is fine, and I've decided not to downvote you, but it's not novel material, it's fandom.

I have never seen a documentation of a quest to avoid Akrasia on LW. I've seen summary's of tips and tricks. I've read Alicorn's challenge. I've seen reports of specific tools. I was thinking more along the lines of a cognitive tale of me trying to control my mental state that others can use as a rope when they fall into the pit of despair. If it seems like I am falling into fandom because my lack of experience I can't control your opinion. However, I think you are suffering from the same cognitive pattern that some others are

Unfortunately for you, many of us use "did the author take the time to get spelling and grammar correct" as a proxy for "did the author take the time to think about what she wrote".

and therefore feeling undue condescension towards my work. I would appreciate specific examples as I said above so that I may better understand your position.

Whatever you want to call this post, I assure you that all the worthwhile bits have already been on LW. Maybe if your tale contained more than "I want to do nice-sounding stuff" it would be almost as interesting to read as those "tips and tricks," or as they are sometimes called, actually going out and doing stuff.

And I mean that. You don't absolutely have to give new information in the text to write a good post. Personal stories can be nice, both as entertainment and because of the information they contain in the subtext. But stories have to be stories. They have to have a beginning and a middle, and sometimes an end. They should probably have a character or two, and these characters should probably actually go out and do stuff.

It was probably downvoted for a combination of the large number of spelling errors and the fact that you posted to the wrong place (as I mentioned above, this belongs in Discussion, not the front page).

I think that its more grammar than spelling. I cant find any spelling errors :( but if you do please message me about them and i am constantly updating it as i find any such errors.

Mainly, you consistently forget to capitalize words. I don't have time to point out all the instances, but I'm sure you can find them.

It's also unclear how your current goals relate to "saving the world", which could be another one of the problems. (There's nothing wrong with having non-world-saving goals as well, but it is just that your introduction doesn't fit the rest of the post in this sense.)

I find it helpful to point out a few specific examples to clarify a point that fades quickly as its changed. For instance i have trouble finding my own errors and when you say that there are "many" without giving me any examples i feel very confused and have trouble realizing how you justify a down-vote for a flaw that will be easily fixed as its updated with future information. I also have trouble understanding how you dont see the connection between overcoming Akrasia and Saving the world. Maybe I'm just biased because i wrote the article but i thought the connection was quite clear.

You are free to choose as you wish, we obviously have very different priors here and I'm just looking for clarification on a issue that i dont understand as well as you do.

Unfortunately for you, many of us use "did the author take the time to get spelling and grammar correct" as a proxy for "did the author take the time to think about what she wrote".

i have trouble

i feel very confused

i dont understand

Capitalize the word "I".

as its changed

as its updated

The word "its" is possessive, you want "it's", the contraction.

i dont understand

The word "don't" has an apostrophe.

on a issue

Before "issue", you want "an" rather than "a".

I have trouble editing my own work, I recognize these flaws when I beta for others but when it comes to my own work I tend to get lost in my own train of thought. Now that I have people finally offering to beta my work maybe I can surpass these flaws for good. Also, I'm used to I capitalizing on it's own for some reason my spell-check is not working on I's today.

Also, I'm used to I capitalizing on it's own

Now, see, here you don't want the apostrophe. :-)

Also, speaking of capitalization: "akrasia", "journey", and "rationality" are not proper nouns and should not be capitalized.

I learned the moral of the story, don't post to top level without a beta/substantially clear thesis of why your content should be there.

Overcoming akrasia is about more effectively achieving your goals. Those goals don't necessarily have to involve saving the world. All the goals you listed were of the non-world-saving variety. Again, that doesn't make them bad goals, but it does make it unclear what the overall point of the post is (since the first and second halves seem to contradict each other).

I did not downvote the post, and personally think it is silly to downvote due to spelling errors (since good spelling seems like more of a way of demonstrating status than communicating effectively). I was merely trying to answer your question based on my best guess.

I've edited it to make the relationship between overcoming Akrasia and saving the world more clear, but when I asked for comments earlier I was focusing on people who down-voted so I trade for their opinions with possible expected utility. I greatly appreciate your commentary on my article though because its helped it grow to become something much more stable as a LessWrongian piece.