Related to: Akrasia as a collective action problem and Self-empathy as a source of "willpower".

The Less Wrong community has discussed negotiating with one's conflicting sub-agents as a method to defeat akrasia and other forms of dynamic inconsistency, with some mix of reactions about how possible or effective that strategy can be. This article presents a successful example in my life, though it is probably an extreme outlier for a number of reasons.

I have been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. It is one of the most significant challenges in my life, and certainly the one with the most dire implications. I can be fairly well modeled as three major sub-agents1:

  • Neutral: asymptomatic. Attempting to control mood swings has resulted in me spending the vast majority of my time as "neutral".
  • Hypomanic: anxious and energetic. I have some trouble focusing, but can be extremely productive. I often exercise several hours a day and sleep an average of two hours a night (often six hours every three days). I've written a 70 page paper in three days, and a 12 KLOC compiler in five days.
  • Depressed: listless, and suicidal. I have serious insomnia, but stay in bed all day. I can't stand other people and would really sincerely prefer not to exist. Ironically, I can credit my inability to motivate myself to do anything with not having killed myself in this state. Sometimes I'm very emotional (crying, etc.), sometimes I'm emotionally dead.
Of course, everything I know is perceived by all three agents, but it is interpreted in vastly different ways. None is rational, but all are biased in different ways. Each agent feels that it is less biased than the others, which is key to successful negotiation, since each thinks that it's getting the better end of the bargain.
Here are desires, both conflicting and otherwise:
  1. Hypomanic loves being who he is and doing what he wants. The main difficulty of transitioning back to Neutral is unwillingness, rather than inability.
  2. Hypomanic despises Depressed, and thinks that Neutral is boring. He recognizes that staying Hypomanic for too long will likely result in a crash followed by Depressed taking over, but still wants "one more day".
  3. Depressed loathes all of us. He doesn't like the others more than himself, but is usually willing to trade knowledge and pain for ignorance and happiness. However, he's unmotivated to bother taking the steps to make that happen. Again, the difficulty in forcing a transition is not really about inability, although difficulty and self-discipline are an issue.
  4. Depressed doesn't really want to kill himself, but he's very desirous of nonexistence. 
  5. Neutral is scared of and pained by Depressed. He is wary of Hypomanic but recognizes his usefulness. He spends much more time thinking of the other two than they think of him, and actively prevents transitions to the other two, which are fairly easy to accidentally trigger otherwise.
  6. Neutral is somewhat careful for his own sake, but all are motivated by other's concern for him. The latter is the only other significant reason Depressed hasn't gone through with a suicide attempt.
Without further ado, a compromise brokered by Neutral: Depressed will not take his life, on the condition that Neutral will free Hypomanic to do more things that might kill him.
This probably sounds like it's a terrible compromise, but it's the most we could agree to. Depressed would really like us to die, but would prefer it look like an accident for the sake of our family and friends. This is actually very unlikely, but becomes most likely when Hypomanic is doing something stupid and dangerous. Neutral thinks that Depressed is overly pessimistic, and is greatly exaggerating how dangerous Hypomanic's activities are2. Hypomanic is rather fearless, and dismisses the possibility of dying on accident. Also, although this is something I'm not supposed to say, my own life isn't that important to any of my agents. An accidental death in the near future is not that bothersome to any of us, even if it's not particularly desirable to Neutral or Hypomanic3. The prospect of causing grief for those around me weighs much more heavily in my mind, and while any death will cause this, I think a suicide will have a much longer lasting impact and make a lot of people feel guilt for something that isn't their fault.
I *don't* have faith that Depressed is sincere in his agreement (he's really not), but I *do* have faith and weak evidence that the existence of this compromise is one more excuse that reduces his motivation, and will still reduce the net likelihood that I will die in the near future. Likewise, Neutral doesn't constrain Hypomanic's activities very well to begin with, but the existence of this compromise ironically makes Hypomanic more likely to have second thoughts about the dangerous things he's about to do.

Neutral feels it necessary to let Hypomanic take control more often to ensure that the compromise has weight to Depressed, but has started using Hypomanic to accomplish goals that are otherwise too exhausting to attain (a several-day code crunch or a need to meet and make a good impression on dozens of people). Meanwhile, Hypomanic has been more responsible lately in relinquishing control within days rather than weeks, partially because of these negotiations, but mostly because of other people in my life who have been conscripted to help monitor and rein me in.

I do not have a great deal of proven success with this strategy. I started doing this less than a year ago, and have not dealt with a full-blown major depressive episode since then. During that time I have also been more successful than ever at preventing myself from slipping into depression in the first place and treating early depression aggressively. In the end, that makes a much more significant difference, but on the two occasions when I became depressed enough to start feeling suicidal I was positively influenced by this agreement.

It seems unlikely that this approach will help many people with anything, but I feel like it is interesting in the debate about dynamic inconsistency, and I encourage others to find mutually-beneficial agreements they can make with themselves if they also feel like they deal with mutually incompatible agents from time to time. Also, this is my first post that is more than a link, so please be constructive.



I've never used names to refer to myself in different states, and don't think of my major sub-agents as individuals, but I felt that it was useful for didactic purposes to refer to myself in different states as different proper nouns.

2 I don't race cars, do drugs, or get in fights (except at the dojo). I do push my physical limits farther than I should (do parkour that I'm not be ready for, run 20km when I usually run 5, etc.), and I have injured myself this way, but just pulled muscles, sprains and once a broken finger.

3 I haven't heard this argument before, but this is the reason I haven't signed up for cryonics.


If it's not obvious, I was in a neutral state when I wrote this. It would have been impossible for me to do while depressed, and unlikely for me to try while hypomanic. I tried to de-bias myself, but no matter what state I'm in, I prefer my own viewpoint, and speak less highly of the others that diverge.


42 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:30 PM
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You said:

...this is something that I haven't actually talked to my psychiatrist or my close circle of friends and relatives about, partially because it's minor among my other maintenance operations, but really because I'm afraid it would upset them. If this is too alien, I'm not sure I should try talking about it, and in some way, this post is testing the waters.

My guess is that if anyone became upset in a justified way, it would grow out of a fear that you might be cultivating habits of mind that appear dissociative and which might increase the chances that this becomes a new and additional symptom of a larger complex of poor mental health.

Suppose that self-ontologies involving multiple agentive subselves makes it easier to fall for certain kinds of bad reasoning, or suggest planning mistakes that lead to obviously maladaptive behavior, even as it allows more nuance and better models in certain circumstances where a clear mind can understand the details and prune the obviously dumb plans will not actually go off the tracks. From experience talking with smart people about these subjects, this seems very reasonable to me.

For example, some really really dumb versions of hedonism suggest that you shouldn't bother to look both ways before crossing the street because if you are hit by a car and killed then you'll simply not exist with any happiness state (so scenarios with fatal dangers "don't count" because your "self" disappears in those and your standard of judgment evaporates) but if you don't pause to look and aren't hit then you'll get to the other side faster and be slightly happier than if you wasted time checking for danger when there wasn't any.

Obviously this is wrong... but if you put enough hand waving between the stupid parts of the argument and changed the context from a familiar danger (like crossing the street where you have cached answers that are obviously right) to an unfamiliar danger (like investing or choosing a medical treatment?) it might convince someone. Perhaps it might convince your "hypomanic self" who doesn't stop to think very much?

The fact that the bargain between your subselves involves a promise by "a self that does things without thinking" to enact a desire of "a self that can safely contemplate horrors because it won't thereby do something rash" makes this worry particularly vivid. It makes sense that both depression and mania are bad versions of cognitive states that have a mild and adaptive version which is functional for some environments... using trade-between-subselves to give the bad parts of each extreme more effectiveness seems at least potentially unwise.

Raemon pointed this out but then dismissed it:

My guess is that the part that would concern your psychiatrist is the fact that you're actually making a negotiation that involves increasing the odds of killing yourself so that you can decrease the odds of killing yourself. It makes sense to me and probably most people here, but I suspect it'd bother most people.

Count me bothered. I really really don't want you to kill yourself, either consciously while depressed or through "more than normal recklessness" while manic. Your comments here are striking because you're the one who has been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and yet you are also one of the more level headed commenters in this thread, offering gentle encouragement and insight to people who are bouncing around ideas that relate to intellectual issues raised right next to discussion of suicide.

You clearly have a lot to offer the world and it would be bad if you don't explore more of that potential. Your suicide would be tragic. I want you to live.

I think it might be wise to print out this article and the comments and show it to your therapist or someone else whose intellect you respect and who you can interact with face-to-face. If your logic is clean then it should be fine, but if not then maybe they will be able to see something important that you missed. Getting a second opinion like this seems like something that would make your friends and family (the people you're trying to protect from your chemically induced suicidal tendencies) very happy.

[-][anonymous]11y 9

You clearly have a lot to offer the world and it would be bad if you don't explore more of that potential. Your suicide would be tragic. I want you to live.

I agree. I don't know if this is a useful reaction, because it is emotional (tell me if you find it offputting so that I can modulate in future) but I found this whole post incredibly winning and incredibly bittersweet. I like you -- the reflective, self-aware "you" who is striving diligently to protect his loved ones from the parts of his brain that might harm them -- and I ache for you, because you have a tough road to hoe. I experienced a brief and situational bout of suicidal depression about fifteen years ago, and I remember how hard it was. You have to go through that over and over. You're so matter-of-fact about the pain of living, but I feel it in this post, and I have both admiration and sympathy for you.

The negotiation that you're performing with your subagents seems reasonable the way you've laid it out here, especially considering Footnote #2. I would, however, encourage you to share it with your psychiatrist--or find another psychiatrist that you can share it with. If your psychiatrist wouldn't understand this post, he or she is the wrong psychiatrist for you. You should not feel like you have to protect your psychiatrist from your thoughts.

And good luck. I hope to hear a lot more from you going forward.

Thank you, very much. Your and Jennifer's care is really touching.

I will bring this up---gently---with my psychiatrist. I am in an uncomfortable position, in that my psychiatrist has a lot of power over me. If he decides that I am unreliable, I lose my job and gain around $50,000 of debt. I can change psychiatrists, but I can't get a second opinion.

How did you come to be in such an uncomfortable position with such obviously counterproductive incentives?

The US government payed for my masters on the condition that I work for a federal agency after graduating. I now need the continued support of my psychiatrist to handle classified material. If I lose that, I lose my job, have broken contract, and have to pay back the cost of my degree.

It is certainly less than ideal for the purpose of effective therapy, but at least I've finally found a therapist who is on board with non-pharmaceutical treatments.

Is there some reason why you can't also see a second therapist, possibly without the first one knowing about it? It seems to me that it might be useful for you to do so.

I can have as many therapists as I can afford, and I wouldn't need to tell them about each other (though it would probably be wisest to), but I do need to tell my employer about every source of help I'm receiving, and each source will be contacted.

What is the objection to pharmaceutical treatments? Mood stabilisers are a class of drugs that actually do work reliably (as opposed to, say, SSRIs for depression). Although I suppose you don't really need a 'pharmacutical' company to use lithium. Doctors have been treating patients with lithium since the second century.

My objection is purely based on the side effects I've experienced, and I've only been on a limited number of drugs. Every mood stabilizer that I've been on has left me intellectually and emotionally crippled. That is perhaps putting it too strongly, but when I stopped the last drug I was on, my internal reaction was "Oh. This is what it's like to be alive. I had forgotten." The really upsetting thing was that I had slowly faded (cognitively) to where I didn't even notice that I was impaired, even though I had stopped getting work done and stopped participating in relationships. I was a pre-op Algernon (or Charlie, I guess), and that's not a person I'm willing to be.

I haven't actually taken lithium. I believe it's not as useful for treating depression, which is my real problem, but it's probably a bad idea for me to have around anyway; psychiatrists avoid prescribing it to patients who have a history of suicidal tendencies, because it is so toxic that it is occasionally used by those patients in suicide attempts.

[-][anonymous]11y 3

Yikes. In that case you have good reason to carefully screen what you say to your shrink -- but this is a really suboptimal setup for successful therapy.

I think I've been moderately depressed my whole life, with times of deeper depression. I have just recently gotten myself antidepressants. What the heck I figure, rather than self-medicate let the insurance company medicate me. After 20 years of talk therapy with no drugs, fuggit.

When I went to the psych I did tell him about thinking about suicide. It was part of the diagnostic criteria for depression, so he actually asked directly. I downplayed it, I was afraid that my life would be impacted negatively if he really thought I was suicidal. At the level I told him, I think it was optimal to support my drug seeking behavior.

I'm glad you posted your story. I think the workings of real human minds are important for considerations of AI. I also think it is good that you find someplace you can say stuff that may be in your mind if you don't have other places to say it.

My own tentative conclusion about depression is that it is a bug, not a feature. As a state of mind, it does not carry information about the universe outside my head, but only information about biases in my head. In this case, emotional and pervasive biases, but biases none the less.

Admittedly this insight, if can be called that, doesn't cure depression, but it does leave me committed to live with it if I can. I anticipate ways of dealing with it getting better in the near future.

Best wishes for your dealings with your subagents. I'll look forward to more from you on this topic.

I wish you the best of luck in your own struggles. I want to caution you about drugs; go ahead and take them and see if they work for you, but start doing other things in the meantime. There's a lot of evidence that antidepressants don't work over the long term.

For me, SSRIs sometimes improve my sex life, but don't seem to help with depression. I think there's a lot of evidence that they don't work as well as behavioral treatments for anybody.

What does work for me: exposure to bright light early in the morning. I don't have a light box, so this means going outside for at half an hour every day, soon after the sun rises. As near as I can tell, this may be the most effective thing for me, bizarre as it may be.

Possibly equal in value is exercise. Blumenthal of Duke University demonstrated that half an hour of walking, three times a week, was remarkably more effective than Zoloft. That was nearly 20 years ago; the results have been shown in more than a dozen trials since then. I require more than that to stay healthy, but exercise has been shown to work better than just about anything else for a broad range of people.

Next on the list is personal connection. Studies have shown that face time is enough; I personally have found that I need physical contact. Ranging all the way from friendly hugs to partner dancing to sex, all of these have a remarkably grounding effect and pervasively positive effect on me.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, better sleep habits, meditation and cognitive behavior therapy round out the list of things that work for me.

I strongly encourage you to develop habits around these behaviors, and I urge you to contact me if you think I can help you with anything.

I've recently decided to try something similar, negotiating with my future self. I have two long-term tasks I can complete, both unpleasant, which lead to a rather pleasant goal. I've resolved to complete one of the tasks over the next several months, so that my future self won't have to, with the understanding that in exchange my future self will complete the second task for me. So far I've been holding up my end of the bargain, I can only hope that he'll hold up his.

This seems like a good strategy, but I think mostly because practicing willpower now will help you exercise it in the future. On the other hand, if conceptualizing it as an acausal bargain helps you exercise that willpower, more power to you!

You can only regard sub-agents if there is at least some overlap. Otherwise there exist an utility event horizon. Two agents with fundamentally different values can only ignore or fight each other. I did personally experience this a few times. If at a certain time I assign no utility to a certain activity and my future self which might value the activity retrospectively then there is absolutely nothing I could have done about it at that moment because I didn't want to. That means that if you have a serious mental illness that might temporarily make you do something you don't value on average then sometimes only other people can force you not to do what that transitory you wants to do.

There is some overlap. Among other things, I never stop caring for the people I love, although I'm a lot less selfish about it when Neutral. This is really quite important, since the fact that they care for me means that I always need to extend some modicum of care to myself on their behalf, even if I'm truly loathing myself at the time. Being forced to that contradiction sometimes makes me hate them, or my care for them, but it doesn't diminish my care for them, and is still powerful.

if you have a serious mental illness that might temporarily make you do something you don't value on average then sometimes only other people can force you not to do what that transitory you wants to do

I think I agree with the rest of your argument that agents need to have some common ground, but this seems to indicate that all their ground must be common (utilities with the same sign, if not the same weight). I don't think this is the case, and I think I've done many things that I don't value on average. Self-mutilation is something that even Depressed almost never assigns a positive value to, but I have done that.

I did personally experience this a few times.

Would you mind elaborating?

I confess that this mode of decision-making is also somewhat alien to me -- perhaps I fear engaging in 'negotiations' of some sort with myself because I feel that it should all agree on something -- doubts should be dealt with, one way or the other, and separating myself into sub-agents too readily may increase my chances of missing that tiny note of discord.

I am not bipolar, but I think that the same method may cause you to make unnecessarily irrational compromises. I would create an agenda when in 'neutral' mode to accomplish, and then maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative effects that each mood has on the realization of that agenda. Example: I predict that Hypomaniac has a lot of energy which can be usefully harnessed to, say, write that 12 page paper. Depressed doesn't feel like doing anything, so if you can't improve on that in any way, then the best you can do is prevent Depressed from interfering with the productivity of Neutral and Hypomaniac. Compromising with Depressed gives him more power than is necessary.

Of course, Neutral and Hypomaniac can always be insincere to depressed -- say that they're going to do dangerous things, and then refrain from such. (This last bit is a joke more than anything. :D)

I've spent so much of my adult life depressed that it has unfortunately formed too much of my self image. Separating it out into it's own identity, and then calling it dysfunctional and undesirable is helpful in overcoming some of that.

I said that I'm not really interested in continuing to live; I might get over this feeling if I manage to keep my depression in check for several more years. Right now, knowing that I will (statistically) soon feel like killing myself is that tiny note of discord, and makes me doubt any desire I have to affirm life.

I would create an agenda when in 'neutral' mode to accomplish, and then maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative effects that each mood has on the realization of that agenda

The primary way I achieve this agenda is to prevent either of the other agents from taking control. The fallback mechanism is the compromise I mentioned. How can Neutral modify their behavior if they won't cooperate? If they do cooperate, isn't that necessarily an agreement?

Of course, Neutral and Hypomaniac can always be insincere to depressed

Though this is a joke, we at Less Wrong often talk about agents with access to each other's source code. This is sort of a restricted example of that. If one of my agents defects, and says "my finger slipped", the other agents know immediately whether the defection was indeed accidental. Rarely is this possible at all, much less so convenient!

How can Neutral modify their behavior if they won't cooperate?

Do they exist as distinct entities or are they ideas? Neutral can unimagine them. Or, rather, you can unimagine all of them. Dictate them out of your head.

Are you actually three agents? Have you tried being four agents or two? Does that make sense as a question to ask?

Have you tried any other treatment for depression as depression, not as bipolar disorder - e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy?

Are you actually three agents?

you can unimagine all of them. Dictate them out of your head.

I am not actually three agents, any more than you are actually one (or six, or whatever). However, modeling my behavior is much simpler from a three-agent perspective than a two- or a nine- agent perspective, so it's a useful tool. I can stop using that model, but that won't make my aberrant behavior disappear.

Edit to clarify: I was behaving this way, (but much worse) years before it occurred to me that thinking of myself this way might help me understand and remedy my behavior. Your post seems to imply that I could fix the problem by unimagining these agents. If that's what you mean, I'm a bit insulted, but you might mean something else.

Have you tried any other treatment for depression as depression, not as bipolar disorder

I was originally treated for depression, not bipolar, because my hypomanic states aren't manic, and weren't originally noticed as contraindications for certain standard treatments. This is very common for type II bipolar.

Regardless, non-pharmacological treatments for depression have helped me, and continue to help me more than the subject of my post---they're just less relevant to the Less Wrong community. Cognitive behavioral therapy has helped a little, but my most successful treatments have been habitual and environmental changes. Notably, regular early morning sun exposure, omega-3 fatty acid supplements, more sex and more frequent exercise.

Mood stabilizers also work, but at the cost of my mind, so I don't take them any more. I'm lucky that my disease is mild enough that it can be controlled with the methods above. There are plenty of people who simply have no choice other than their mind or their life.

Your post seems to imply that I could fix the problem by unimagining these agents. If that's what you mean, I'm a bit insulted

Not "could" in the sense that it's an ability you have but choose not to use, nor in the sense that you could "if you were a better person", nor in the sense that your illness is imaginary.

Only 'could' in the narrow literal sense that it answers the question "how could neutral modify their behaviour without their cooperation?" - if you aren't really three entities and "you" are the greater whole then you 'could' ignore their lack of cooperation and alter their behaviour by fiat. (Whether you actually could in real life, or if it would be helpful to do so, is another matter).

rest of reply

Interesting. Thank you.

[-][anonymous]6y 0

I used to behave bipolar, enough to get diagnosed as cuh and experience it realistically as such, only when I believed I was bipolar. Do you get what I mean? I suspect it's more of a self-fulfilling prophecy that follows from black and white thinking. My periods hypomania are probably better explained as periods of anxiety that put me into flow states, coupled with sleep deprivation from obsessive behaviour like surfing the web then getting not very much sleep. In fact, I dare say its one of the worse psychometrically and statistically defined illnessness. Ironically, ADHD gets the most flak when it's probably the best defined one (the question is instead whether its a disability or not). I dont identify with bipolar states and I quite simply don't get them anymore. I'm no longer considered 'diagnosed' with bipolar. I'd be more skeptical if I were you.

Thank you for this, I've recently been diagnosed as Bipolar II and it's comforting to read someone with similar experiences. I can especially relate to the no-sleep thing, and intense focus on the first idea that comes into my head. I've had periods where I will code on a project for days and then never touch it again. Or I'll write an exposition to a story, etc. I have so many unfinished projects. Although, I do find these states useful for getting necessary, smaller tasks done like homework, or punchlists for my work projects. The bit about death / suicide / desire to live also resonated with me, but sometimes I have wanted to off myself and have tried once or twice but I didn't for some reason or another. So, in all, thank you. (:

Interesting. It would be sad if you accidentally died and this post were somehow linked to the event. Hopefully no one would try to do that.

On reading footnote: I agree, this is not a concern. You're not really risking much death.

I don't have faith that Depressed is sincere

Who doesn't have faith that Depressed is sincere?

I don't. This is more factual than it is about perspective, so the different way sub-agents tend to view and interpret things doesn't come strongly into play. So all agents, if I understand your question.

This is a very interesting read. I have, on occasion, been similarly aware of my own subsystems. I didn't like it much; there was a strong impulse to reassert a single "self", and I wouldn't be able to function normally in that state. Moreover, some parts of my psyche belonged to several subsystems at once, which made it apparently impossible to avoid bias (at least for the side that wanted to avoid bias).

In case you're interested, the split took the form of a debate between my atheist leanings, my Christian upbringing, and my rationalist "judge". In decreasing order of how much they were controlled by emotion.

Do you not want to be Hypomanic all the time? My ego is similarly divided, but no matter which state I'm in I always prefer hypomania to the alternatives... limitless energy with which I can question my epistemology for hours on end. It's like waking up from a mildly entertaining dream and engaging in real and exciting problems in the real and exciting world for a few days or however long before I run out of drive.

Also, more fuel for multi-agent self model construction: Freud's id/ego/super-ego distinction and discussion of defense mechanisms and Maslow's hierarchy of competing thermostats are decent ontologies that I'm glad to be familiar with. These are applicable to all minds as well, not just temporally unstable ones.

There are several significant drawbacks to being in a hypomanic state.

  1. It's physically harmful. Sleeping six hours every three days is probably unhealthy by itself, but I sometimes push myself beyond my physical limits in other ways, and end up injuring myself.
  2. It's psychologically dangerous. The longer I spend in a hypomanic state, the more likely it is that I will crash straight into severe depression. Unlike depression, hypomania regresses to the mean, and I've never had one last longer than two weeks. I suspect this is mostly physical exhaustion catching up to me.
  3. It's short-sighted. In a hypomanic state, I act in an optimistic near-mode all the time. I don't plan for the future, I don't realistically assess risks, and I manage my time (including the new excess) very poorly.
  4. It's not creative. While hypomanic, I don't think, I just do. I've never come up with a worthwhile research idea while in a hypomanic state, although I've occasionally thought I have. While I have a huge amount of energy to devote to projects, I'm much more likely to tackle the wrong project because it's the first one I thought of. I've heard people exhibit similar behaviors when using Adderall to boost mental performance.

I've heard discussions about the usefulness of alternate states for different kinds of work, and hypomania is useful when I have a specific thing that I am already doing and willing to keep doing, but is too tiring for me to expect to finish in time. I saw a study that indicated people (neurotypicals, without a history of depression) are better at critical thinking when (mildly) depressed. This may be the case for me, but depression is way too severe for me to consider using it as a tool; regardless, I can't coax my depressed self to do the simplest things, so I don't know where the motivation would come from.

I feel super-energized sometimes, but I know that this is not a sustainable state, regardless of my wishes. My theory on it is that it takes up too much emotional energy to sustain such a period over an indefinite amount of time, so I finally get tired.

I know that I'm shamelessly generalizing from one example, but I don't think that being Hypomanic is an option for him 100% of the time.

No, it's not at all, and you're not wrong to generalize in this case. For me, emotional energy is pretty boundless except as linked to physical energy, which eventually wears down. In one week of a hypomanic state I might run three marathons and sleep twelve hours. In my first drug-assisted state (I was originally put on paroxetine for depression, which apparently forces me into a hypomanic state) I slept three hours over a period of 10 days. That's not sustainable!

This seems completely alien to me.

Is it alien? Well, yes, on account of I don't have bipolar disorder. But in my experience, people with "rationalist" mental architecture look pretty alien to the majority of humankind when we describe our thought processes.

I thought it was a very interesting read. Best of luck to datadataeverywhere.

What I meant to say was that I had imagined being bipolar was like the normal mood swings I have, but more intense. This essay describes a different state altogether; I've learned something new.

And yes, normal people who enjoy watching television strike me as alien, too. There are books full of ideas to be read! Why are you watching people talk about nothing?

Thanks for the good wishes.

Earlier this month, I was at having lunch at a conference at a table of ten. The topic of vegetarianism came up, and I mentioned the calculations I made in this comment. The conversation riveted immediately on this, as if none of them had even considered that one could put numbers to such a thing. At the end of lunch, the topic hadn't changed, and one person told me I needed to write an article or a book on it.

It wasn't supposed to be a revolutionary thought, it was supposed to be a perfectly ordinary way of rationally (and roughly!) answering a question. Apparently, completely alien.

Is it completely alien to you, or just extreme? Do you never feel like you are being run by agents with different goal systems?

If not normally, have you ever been in an altered state (such as from drugs or alcohol) where you behaved in a way that doesn't make sense to you at other times?

Looking at myself as separate individuals could be a bad idea because of a propensity to reinforce those divisions and cause internal dissonance, but it feels useful and productive to me. Moreover, I'm under the impression that most people feel this way some of the time, I just do so more often and more strongly. If you can't even imagine what that would feel like, that's useful information to me in how I should approach talking about it with other people.

EDIT: this is something that I haven't actually talked to my psychiatrist or my close circle of friends and relatives about, partially because it's minor among my other maintenance operations, but really because I'm afraid it would upset them. If this is too alien, I'm not sure I should try talking about it, and in some way, this post is testing the waters.

My guess is that the part that would concern your psychiatrist is the fact that you're actually making a negotiation that involves increasing the odds of killing yourself so that you can decrease the odds of killing yourself. It makes sense to me and probably most people here, but I suspect it'd bother most people.

Most people can at least imagine having multiple personalities talking to each other, because it's something that shows up in movies and tv shows. Most people, in my experience, can't imagine acting counter-intuitively rational because they have literally no role model that portrays it realistically and positively.

I think most people have very strong defense mechanisms against noticing their conflicting subsystems, because it goes against the sense of having a central continuous identity. So it's difficult to acknowledge the conflict unless you've experienced relatively extreme states of mind that are suicidal or homicidal or the like, that are so clearly not part of the 'central' agent that they can't be written off as just a brief lapse of judgement.

Also, I am not a psychiatrist, but I doubt that thinking in these terms is harmful, just non-standard.

Also, I don't know how the average person would see their own mind, if they took the time to understand themselves. I only know me.

I know that I am being run by agents with different goal systems. I've successfully fought my unconscious mind over the question of how many calories I ought to be eating. But I would never consider negotiating with that mind.

When intoxicated, I'm still me, but less capable of thinking. Same level of intelligence, but I can't hold as many things in my head at one time. Like three-quarters of my registers have been disabled and I lose all my cycles to loads and stores. That, and euphoria, followed by nausea. So if I make a judgment error while intoxicated it is because I didn't have the time to think it out.

One thing that I am better at in a hypomanic state is interacting with people. I'm exciting (because I'm excited) and interesting (because I'm interested), and generally fun, funny and friendly. Normally, I avoid meeting people, and find long social interactions emotionally draining.

I bring this up because I've often heard this as a reason people drink. Some people become "people people" when intoxicated. Their relative weighing of the utility of personal interaction goes up, while the emotional cost to them might even change sign. This is the kind of thing that I meant; not impaired choices, but alternate choices. Again, maybe that doesn't happen to you, but I assume you're aware of the phenomenon.

Note: some people use alcohol to abate shyness; this isn't what I mean. I mean changing the desirability of something, not just reducing barriers to get to it.

It is hard to be aware of what is really going on... The conscious mind is more fragmented than it wants to admit. Recently I attempted to exhale and prevent myself from breathing until I lost consciousness. But my mind subsequently made the decision to inhale, while still conscious, each time I repeated the experiment. The odd thing was that it felt exactly like I had made a conscious decision to inhale. It sort of made me realize that the conscious mind precomitting to not inhale and the conscious mind that really wants to breathe are two separate agents.