I am greatly afficted by akrasia, and in all probability, so are you. Akrasia is a destroyer of worlds.1
I have come to the conclusion that akrasia is the single biggest problem I have in life. It is greater than my impending biological death, my imperfect enjoyment of life, or the danger of a car accident.
For if I could solve the problem of akrasia, I would work on these other problems, and I believe I would solve them too. Even a big problem like physical mortality can be meaningfully challenged if I spend a lifetime tackling it. But until I solve the problem of akrasia, I will sit around and do nothing about my mortality.
(Edited here) Without solving akrasia, we are relatively inefficient in attacking the other problems that matter to us. However, if LW readers - typically smart, rational, luminous, and relatively rich people - were to defeat akrasia and become highly productive, I think we would possess real world-changing power2.
Some people have either solved this problem or never had it. Thus, we know it is possible to vanquish akrasia. However, it is a unique problem that fights its own cure: because of akrasia, we don't spend as much effort as we'd like fighting akrasia.
I propose forming a community dedicated to fighting akrasia.
There have been many posts about akrasia on LW. There are also many methods and workgroups in the world which are dedicated to it. I haven't tried very many myself, and no doubt there are many useful approaches I don't know about. I'm aware of other LW users who have more relevant knowledge and experience than me.
I do know that there are several common problems with all such efforts:
- Any given method, and even any well-defined compact combination of methods, works for some people but not for others, or works only some of the time.
- When a method does work, it almost always stops working for that person after a while, and can't be used again.
- Most methods have no clear theories of the mechanisms behind them. Those that do, almost always have bad theories, which don't predict why the method sometimes fails, or are untestable just-so stories.
- Most methods have no scientific backing of double-blind experiments, comparisons with other methods, ruling out other explanations, etc.
- Many methods perform no better than the placebo of doing something that doesn't actually work, feeling "pumped up", and expecting akrasia to disappear.
- There are many different methods out there, and a person can't test them all to find one that works for them.
- Most existing workshops and groups are formed around a method, rather than around the goal of fighting akrasia, and they apply that method like a hammer to the exclusion of all others.
- None of the methods I have tried so far have helped me, personally.
Many of the methods also share a problem of transparency. If a method works for some people, they may publish it widely, via books, websites, and workshops. But there is usually no-one collecting reports of cases where that method failed, investigating them, and publishing updates of the method's expected effectiveness. In other words, there is a large positive selection bias for publication, and third-party reports aren't reviewed and published.
Finally, there are few organized attempts to collate knowledge of many different methods and test them in combination.
I suggest that the first step in the fight against akrasia should be to proclaim the establishment of a community dedicated to this fight: the Anti-Akrasia Alliance, or 3A for short. A public commitment will help us to keep attacking the problem.
Commitments are hard to keep (due to akrasia). If we commit to trying specific methods and following various regiments, we will often fail. Therefore we should reserve our willpower for just one Big Commitment: that of fighting akrasia by participating in 3A. I'm not asking anyone to commit to any particular procedure; only to participation in a community effort to solve the problem of akrasia.
I do have some idea of what to do next, although we may well end up doing something different (and better) instead.
The danger of stopping all progress due to akrasia is bigger, in the initial stage, than the danger of failing to find good solutions. We need mechanisms for making and keeping commitments, and for giving these commitments a positive affect.
We should establish a website as a meeting-point. LW has the right format (group blog + wiki), but if this is judged to be off-topic in the Discussion section, I'll set up a similar site somewhere else.
Next, we should briefly examine existing methods and collect suggestions to determine the course of action. Ideally, we should organize the existing knowledge on the subject, analyze members' akrasia case-histories, identify likely theories, and get enough people to run the appropriate experiments. And then take over the universe, because we have some objections to the way it is currently being run.
I believe the application of rationality and the scientific method will, in itself, give us a head start over other groups. We should also be transparent and open to newcomers and to importing new techniques. We should make good use of data collection and analysis (naturally, allowing for anonymity). We should, in short, use all the LW techniques.
The next steps
I would like to hear your reactions in the comments. Do you think there is a better approach? Do you think we're bound to fail because I didn't take problem X into account? Is there a great, rational community fighting akrasia that we should join instead of starting our own? Would you like to join 3A?
If you are one of the lucky few who have beaten akrasia, please join us too. You can probably further goals that we all care about by helping us understand how to do what you did.
I commit to posting an update by Jan 5th, which will take into account the comments here. If the consensus is to establish a website (and not use LW) I commit to setting one up by Jan 8th.
Edit: yeah, right. See update.
1. We choose to create possible future worlds. Akrasia destroys our choices.
2. Personally, I might choose to invest effort in things other than FAI. Anti-akrasia is a necessary meta-tool for humans to achieve all hard goals.