Jul 14, 2013
I wrote a blog post this week about another kind of akrasia: unhealthy addiction. Most uses of "akrasia" here use it as a synonym for (real) procrastination (as opposed to structured procrastination which is actually just an effective way to fight Parkinson's Law: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion")... but the actual term refers more broadly to "acting against one's better judgement", a concept which obviously includes most addictions. When the addiction is time-consuming (e.g. internet addiction) then it can also be procrastination. Mine, on the other hand, is chocolate.
The article integrates a wide range of topics, making it hard to find an obvious pull-quote, but I will offer that it links mindfulness to rationality by means of the Litany of Gendlin (which I've gained a lot of value from memorizing, as I find a chance to refer to it in thought or conversation about once/week):
Presence also implies a kind of acceptance: that reality is as it is, right now. And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
For anyone looking for a rationalist introduction to mindfulness, you might appreciate A Less Mysterious Mindfulness Exercise, in a comment of which I offer a longer exploration of the word "accepting":
I would like to offer a distinction between two different kinds of accepting. One is the opposite of denial (which is being called "fighting" in this case). The other is the opposite of changing. Obviously, as rationalists, we want to move to do as much of the first kind of accepting as possible: this is what the Litany of Gendlin is all about: "what is true is already so" so we might as well accept that it is presently true, regardless of whether or not we'd like to change it long-term. This is true of our thoughts as well. Am I thinking of a pink elephant? Very well, I'm thinking of a pink elephant. Fighting the thought doesn't work, so why do it?
"Accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference." A rather obvious axiom of mindfulness is that it's too late to change the present. So you might as well accept it.*
*unless you have a time-turner, in which case subtract six hours.
While there are a number of strategies for going from addiction to abstinence (aka "quitting") it appears to be much more complicated to go from addiction to periodic, non-compulsive use. This is of huge importance for addictions to things like food and internet, that one can't give up entirely. Or chocolate, where the first bite has a huge actual positive coefficient in my utility function, but the marginal benefit drops steeper than my present ability to stop eating it. So, my post is an attempt to find a way to transform the addiction so it's no longer harmful, without ceasing chocolate consumption altogether.
(While working on the post on the LW Study Hall, I had some people review drafts of the blog post, and one suggested posting it to LW. Initially we thought it would make sense to actually cross-post it, but I felt that didn't make sense for this post which is more personal and contains lots of references to earlier blog posts. I'm curious to know if anyone has an opinion on whether or not that makes sense. Also, I intend to do some full cross-posts in the future!)