In many instances of Akrasia the it's pointed out that the victim has a preference reversal either due to time differences or due to different context. E.g. I might be enjoying staying up late tonight, but tomorrow I will experience headache, sluggishness and frustration which would by far outweigh tonight's pleasures. I am going to hate myself tomorrow, but at the moment I might look my tomorrow's self in the face and tell him to piss off. Oh, if only I was more consistent! - my overall life happiness would increase quite a bit. Should I try?

Maybe; I don't know if a direct approach to "increasing consistency" would hit the mark, thought it definitely seems worth investigating.

On the other hand, I recently noticed another phenomenon, where the ability to be less consistent is a potential benefit. Just to be clear, I am not talking about consistency of opinion - it a different topic well covered by Churchill's "I've often had to swallow my words, and found it a wholesome diet". I am talking about the ability to dissociate from certain future versions of self, same kind of dissociation that allows me to tell the Tomorrow Me to piss off (yes, I've actually done that). 

Here is an example. I am swimming for exercise, but every time I jump in the pool the water will give me an uppleasant shock. So here I am, standing in my swim trunks in front of the pool and deciding when I am ready to take the pain. This is clearly self-inflicted "addition of insult to injury". And it's all based on thinking and imagining how much pain I am going to experience in the next few seconds.

Of course, in a sense I have already dealt with the problem - I am after all in front of the pool, in public, and not at home, deciding whether to jump in the pool; so it seems that in a sense the problem has been dealt with. On the other hand, the pain of pain anticipation is not nothing, and perhaps it will eventually propagate back (via, say, reinforcement learning) to the decision to stay home one day when I'm feeling tired and maybe the next day... So there are two reasons to address the issue: Less Pain=More Fun and to avoid stacking the deck against yourself in terms of achieving your goals.

So one thing that comes to mind is to use the ability to dissociate from yourself in order to Just Do It. As a matter of fact your swimming-pool pals might have already learned the trick - look at the ones who, like you, stand hesitantly by the water, thinking, and then watch out for that one guy who runs and just dives in. 

It is interesting that a certain kind of spontaneous decisiveness is stereotyped as a hallmark of successful people. To many of us it seems crazy - these people Are Not Thinking Through Things! I think this intuition is not incorrect, stereotypes reflect a lot of selection bias - we do not see all those who Just Did and CrashBurned, but perhaps there is also a certain positive ability there to think about.

Interested in the following feedback:



Additionald motivation - why might this idea be useful?

Potential applications - related to above.

 - asking for significant favor, raise, etc.



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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:29 AM

Disagree. There is no contradiction.

Why am I going swimming? To socialize and for health benefits.

Why do I want to jump into the cold water? Because (a) I've precommited to do so (b) I want to build the habit and (c) it's not worth the opportunity cost of any further analysis.

Is this the time or place for any further analysis? No. I'm in swimming mode not in hobby-rationality mode.

Our rationality hobby is about meta-thinking. Learning how to think better and about how to reason better. When you're standing in front of a pool or when going through life in general you have to to make ordinary 5-second decisions. Our rationality, ideally, helps us make better decisions in that time span because we notice when we're confused, we are aware of what our preferences are and so on. Or we may conclude it's an important decision that demands more time for further analysis. Either way we still have to make regular decisions within a few seconds like everybody else! Five seconds to either go home to your thinking-chair or to jump into the pool and go swimming.

And why are we even thinking about this problem in the first place? It's an absolute no-brainer. There is nothing to be gained by analyzing this.

Of all the philosophical problems you could be thinking about, of all the rationality problems you could be working on, is this the one you should spend your time on? No. Slap a question mark on it and mark it "for further analysis" if you have to, but otherwise it's just a humongous waste of time.

(One trick though for fooling yourself that works consistently for me is asking myself "Would James Bond do this?". Would he stand at the edge of the pool questioning himself? No. Would he walk down the street while looking at his feet? No. Would he avert his gaze or mumble incoherently? No. The question fits easily within the 5 second window and as a bonus: it's fun to visualize Mr Bond standing at the edge of a pool awkwardly rubbing the back of his head as he deliberates whether to jump or not to jump.)

I broadly agree.

I've found that when discussing rationality people place more focus toward having consistent beliefs than on forming accurate beliefs. This is because people can Dutch Book you when you're inconsistent but not when you're consistent and wrong.

But in real life people don't know what your beliefs are, and so can't Dutch Book you anyway. I'd rather be accurate and inconsistent than consistent and wrong.

P.S. Title needs capitalisation.

How does the 'Just Do It' solution avoid the reinforcement learning of not wanting to go swimming next time?

You end up experiencing less pain overall; the pain of anticipation is avoided.

Upvoted for the insight that it may be worth considering the long-term effects due to reinforcement learning as an additional cost to having painful experiences, over and above the immediate cost of experiencing the pain itself.

I understand with conclusion more or less.

I agree it's beneficial to "Just Do It" at times. If you're a fan of Seinfeld, there's an episode where George does the opposite of what his instincts tell him to do and his life gets better. I think the "Just Do It" attitude could be beneficial sometimes, BUT NOT ALL THE TIME. For example, when you're sitting in front of your computer screen weighing the options of whether or not you should download an illegal copy of The Hurt Locker, that's when the "Just Do It" attitude would not be beneficial.

There should be moderation, a "Just Do It" attitude shouldn't be entirely emotional. It should be both rational and emotional. Back to the pool story, you're standing in front of the cold pool waiting to dive. You've weighed the outcomes, "It's going to be painful, but look at the fun they're having over there. I know this is good for me," that's you're rational side, "I know it's going to be painful," that's you're emotional side. After a while, you're conclusion, assuming you want to have a healthy lifestyle, would be "I should jump into this pool and deal with a few seconds of pain." That's you're balanced "Just Do It" attitude.

The issue isn't as black and white as you described it.