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Comment author: MikeStankavich 27 February 2010 07:18:28PM 7 points [-]

Nicely done, well summarized. I definitely agree with your point that there are almost always multiple conflict sources behind any given instance of akrasia. It's often an exercise in peeling the onion.

My other key takeway from this article was your reminder that it's an important, perhaps core, rationalist skill to learn to look past philosophical differences (law of attraction, religious belief, etc) with experts in any given field, not just self-help or anti-akrasia techniques. Apply your own filter and look for the underlying value. Don't just dismiss the source because some portion of their content is irrational.

Comment author: ciphergoth 01 April 2009 11:03:33AM *  10 points [-]

"Utilons" isn't quite the right word: utilons are all I purchase. My utility function is a sum of components: I can decompose it into a local part to do with my happiness and the happiness of those close to me (and thus status, warm fuzzies and the like) and a global part to do with things like the lives of strangers and the future of humanity. I try to strongly mark the boundary between those two, so I don't for example value the lives of people in the same country as me more than those in different countries.

You're saying I can more optimally spend resources on efforts that clearly serve one or the other than on efforts that try to do both and do neither well, and I agree, I'd just phrase it differently: purchase big-picture utility and small-picture utility separately.

Comment author: MikeStankavich 01 April 2009 10:47:28PM 0 points [-]

So you see warm fuzzies, status boost, and societal good as subtypes of the utilon output of altruistic activities? Interesting.

Comment author: pjeby 30 March 2009 05:17:20PM *  11 points [-]

You've actually missed a key distinction here: the negative emotion of the incomplete assignment is almost certainly what makes you procrastinate... and you're mistakenly interpreting that negative emotion as being about the writing.

What happens is this: since you feel the unfinished item pressure every time you think about doing the task, you literally condition yourself to feel bad about doing the task. It becomes a cached thought (actually a cached somatic marker) tagging the task with the same unpleasantness as the unpleasantness of it "hanging over you".

So, it's not that the process of writing really bothers you, it's the unfinishedness of the task that's bothering you. However, your logical brain assumes that it means you don't want to write (because it doesn't have any built-in grasp of how emotional conditioning works), and so it looks for logical explanations why the writing would be hard.

When you're busy writing, however, you're not thinking about that unfinishedness, so it doesn't come up -- the somatic marker isn't being triggered. That's not at all the same thing as "shifting the balance".

The actual way to fix this is to make it so you don't feel any pressure to finish the assignment... at which point you'll be able to freely choose to work on it, or not work on it, and won't find yourself looking for ways to avoid the conditioned negative response to the assignment.

Likewise, all the stuff you said about arms races is pure baloney: just a crazy story your logical mind is making up to explain your problems, like anosognosia of the will.

So here's what you do: establish a test for the somatic marker, by thinking about the task, and observing what happens to your body: does your head slump? Your gut clench? Fists tighten? What specific body changes take place, whenever you think about it? If you have trouble, clear your mind, shake out your body, and think about it again, so you can watch the physical state transition as it happens.

Once you've established the test, you can use it as a basis to check the effectiveness of different motivational or belief-change techniques: if a technique actually works, you will no longer respond with the same somatic marker to the original thought... and you will find that your inclinations to the task have also changed.

This is something I do in my work, and I only teach those few techniques (out of the many thousands in self-help books) that I have been able to successfully change somatic markers with. (Not that I've tested ALL of them yet, not by a long shot. And I only bother testing new ones when they have potential to be faster to use or easier to teach or cover a different kind of problem than the ones in my current toolbox.)

Happy self-experimentation. ;-)

Comment author: MikeStankavich 01 April 2009 10:42:33PM 1 point [-]

Thank you for your thoughtful response. As it happens, I disagree with your premise that the negative emotion of the incomplete assignment is almost certainly what makes me procrastinate. Yes, that's a potential factor, but only one of many. For example, there's the difference between anticipated and actual difficulty of performing a procrastinated task progress.

But in the the spirit of rationality, I will give your suggestions a fair trial. You are absolutely correct that the most effective way to figure out what works is to use the scientific approach - design an experiment to test the hypothesis, test, assess the results, and go from there.

Comment author: MikeStankavich 30 March 2009 01:13:54PM *  7 points [-]

I found this article both interesting and informative. I definitely plan to spend some time studying picoeconomics.

One interesting effect that I have found in personal productivity efforts is that applying techniques to enforce resolution and overcome passive resistance can change the perceived emotional weighting between alternatives, often quite rapidly.

For example, let's say I'm reading LW instead of writing a term paper. I've made a (probably irrational) decision that the negative emotion of exerting the effort to write the term paper exceeds the negative emotion of having an incomplete assignment hanging over me. If I apply a pattern interrupt to get me started writing, my emotional weighting will shift, often within a matter of minutes - the effort of writing will not feel nearly as bad as the pressure of the unfinished assignment. Overcoming the emotional inertia of passive resistance shifts the perceived emotional weight of the alternatives.

Of course the challenge is to translate that knowledge into action. Even though I know that the emotional balance will likely shift, that doesn't alter the feeling of initial resistance. That challenge has sold and will continue to sell millions of self help books :) It's like an arms race between future/planning self and present moment self. For every pattern interrupt devised by future self, present self finds a defense to defuse the pattern interrupt and continue the present moment pleasurable activity.

The irony of reading LW as a present moment escape under the nominal guise of strengthening future self's ability to keep present self on course is not lost on me. And on that note, I'm off to get some work done.

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 March 2009 08:58:18AM 16 points [-]

I think it's about risk to credibility. If I refuse to join, my reputation is entirely my own; it flatters my fierce independence of mind, in contrast to the sheeple. If I join, anything about the organisation might reflect on me, might be used to mock me. Joining is sticking my neck out; making an excuse not to is always the safer choice.

So the group norm we really need to establish is that if you want to criticise someone for joining, only a solid case is acceptable; a cheap shot based on joining behaviour should reflect badly on the speaker.

Comment author: MikeStankavich 26 March 2009 12:32:49PM *  3 points [-]

Good point. Joining a group introduces a level of implied assent to the group's publicly visible aspects. As Eliezer suggests, if there's a net gain from the utility of the positive aspects of the group less the utility of the negative, on the balance it's worth consideration as long as the negatives aren't fundamental issues. The issue is managing that implied assent.

Perhaps another way to look at this is to explore how to cultivate an individual persona that exhibits independence, but also exhibits a visible capability to deliberately subsume that independence to further group goals, i.e. determine how to show others that you can work with a group while disagreeing on non-core principles. It seems that a great deal of politics involves application of this paradigm.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 24 March 2009 02:44:44PM 0 points [-]

These laboratory experiments are quite artificial. I'm not saying we learn nothing from them, but they are often misinterpreted.

Comment author: MikeStankavich 24 March 2009 05:09:44PM 1 point [-]

Yes, it's a great temptation to draw broader conclusions than the actual test results would warrant. This type of test only measures a subset of the factors that inform behavior.

Comment author: MikeStankavich 24 March 2009 04:32:21PM 2 points [-]

An interesting correlated effect of perceiving someone as awesome is the "we're not worthy" starstruck reaction to meeting the object of your admiration in person. And as Eliezer mentions, you often find reality diverges from the perception that you had. I noticed that a number of bloggers that attended the SXSW conference expressed surprise at the amount of cognitive dissonance that they encountered both in meeting other bloggers whose work they admired, and when admirers of theirs exhibited starstruck behaviors.

I find that in the rare instance where I meet somebody whose work I admire in person, I find myself deliberately suppressing any untoward fanboyish behaviors. I do believe in expressing honest and heartfelt admiration, but gushing and fawning are too much. Maybe I need to devise some sort of metric to calibrate the appropriate expression of admiration... :)

In response to On Juvenile Fiction
Comment author: MikeStankavich 17 March 2009 08:00:25PM 5 points [-]

I'll also cast my vote for most hard sci-fi. My exceptionally fundamentalist parents tried to keep me from reading fiction of any sort, particularly sci-fi and fantasy. Once I managed to get my own library card it was all over pretty quickly. In particular I recall being impressed by Heinlein's protagonist's stubborn individualism and resistance to dogma.