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Comment author: Sandi 31 July 2017 08:25:23PM *  2 points [-]

What would be the physical/neurological mechanism powering ego depletion, assuming it existed? What stops us from doing hard mental work all the time? Is it even imaginable to, say, study every waking hour for a long period of time, without ever having an evening of youtube videos to relax? I'm not asking what the psychology of willpower is, but rather if there's a neurology of willpower?

And beyond ego depletion, there's a very popular model of willpower where the brain is seen as a battery, used up when hard work is being done and charged when relaxing. I see this as a deceptive intuition pump since it's easy to imagine and yet it doesn't explain much. What is this energy being used up, physically?

Surely it isn't actual physical energy (in terms of calories) since I recall that the energy consumption of the brain isn't significantly increased while studying. In addition, physical energy is abundant nowadays because food is plentiful. If the lack of physical energy was the issue, we could just keep going by eating more sugar.

The reason we can't workout for 12 hours straight is understood, physiologically. Admittedly, I don't understand it very well myself, but I'm sure an expert could provide reasons related to muscles being strained, energy being depleted, and so on. (Perhaps I would understand the mental analogue better if I understood this.) I'm looking for a similar mechanism in the brain.

To better explain what I'm talking about, what kind of answer would be satisfying, I'll give you a couple fake explanations.

  • Hard mental work sees higher electrical activity in the brain. If this is kept up for too long, neurons would get physically damaged due to their sensitivity. To prevent damage, brains evolved a felling of tiredness when the brain is overused.
  • There is a resource (e.g. dopamine) that is literally depleted during tasking brain operation and regenerated when resting.
  • There could also be a higher level explanation. The inspiration for this came from an old text by Yudkowsky. (I didn't seriously look at those explanations as an answer to my problem because of reasons). I won't quote the source since I think that post was supposed to be deleted. This excerpt gives a good intuitive picture:

My energy deficit is the result of a false negative-reinforcement signal, not actual damage to the hardware for willpower; I do have the neurological ability to overcome procrastination by expending mental energy. I don't dare. If you've read the history of my life, you know how badly I've been hurt by my parents asking me to push myself. I'm afraid to push myself. It's a lesson that has been etched into me with acid. And yes, I'm good enough at self-alteration to rip out that part of my personality, disable the fear, but I don't dare do that either. The fear exists for a reason. It's the result of a great deal of extremely unpleasant experience. Would you disable your fear of heights so that you could walk off a cliff? I can alter my behavior patterns by expending willpower - once. Put a gun to my head, and tell me to do or die, and I can do. Once.

Let me speculate on the answer.

1) There is no neurological limitation. The hardware could, theoretically, run demanding operations indefinitely. But, theories like ego depletion are deceptive memes that spread throughout culture, and so we came to accept an nonexistent limitation. Our belief in the myth is so strong, it might as well be true. The same mechanism as learned helplessness. Needless to say, this could potentially be overcome.

2) There is no neurological limitation, but otherwise useful heuristics stop us from kicking it into higher gear. All of the psychological explanations for akrasia, the kind that are discussed all the time here, come into play. For example, youtube videos provide a tiny, but steady and plentiful stimulus to the reward system, unlike programming, which can have a much higher payout, but one that's inconsistent, unreliable and coupled with frustration. And so, due to a faulty decision making procedure, the brain never gets to the point where it works to its fullest potential. The decision making procedure is otherwise fast and correct enough, thus mostly useful, so simply removing it isn't possible. The same mechanism as cognitive biases. It might be similar to how we cannot do arithmetic effortlessly even though the hardware is probably there.

3) There is an in-built neurological limitation because of an evolutionary advantage. Now, defining this evolutionary advantage can lead to the original problem. For example, it cannot be due to minimizing energy consumption, as discussed above. But other explanations don't run into this problem. Laziness can often lead to more efficient solutions, which is beneficial, so we evolved ego depletion to promote it, and now we're stuck with it. Of course, all the pitfalls customary to evolutionary psychology apply, so I won't go in depth about this.

4) There is a neurological limitation deeply related to the way the brain works. Kind of like cars can only go so fast, and it's not good for them if you push them to maximum speed all the time. At first glance, the brain is propagating charge through neurons all the same, regardless of how tiring an action it's accomplishing. But one could imagine non-trivial complexities to how the brain functions which account for this particular limitation. I dare not speculate further since I know so little about neurology.

Comment author: HungryHippo 10 May 2017 12:30:34AM 0 points [-]

Your post reads as if you read my mind. :)

I currently use a mix between TapLog (for Android) and google forms (with an icon on my home screen so that it mimics a locally installed app).

Neither feels as if they really solve my needs, though. E.g. both lack a reminder feature.

Comment author: Sandi 10 May 2017 08:46:23PM 0 points [-]

What does TapLog lack, besides a reminder feature? It seems pretty nifty from the few screenshots I just saw.

Comment author: Lumifer 09 May 2017 12:40:10AM 1 point [-]

Looks like a database with some input forms.

Comment author: Sandi 09 May 2017 05:28:18PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, that's why I kept comparing it to a spreadsheet. Ease of use is a big point. I don't want to write SQL queries on my phone.

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 May 2017 04:15:53PM 2 points [-]

I used to be very active in the Quantified Self community in the past but currently I still follow the Facebook group. As far as I know there's no app that does a good job at this task.

For background research you might check out: https://gyrosco.pe/ http://www.inputbox.co/#/start http://www.reporter-app.com/ http://brainaid.com/

Comment author: Sandi 09 May 2017 05:27:25PM 0 points [-]

Thanks! I didn't know this was such a developed concept already and that there are so many people trying to measure stuff about themselves. Pretty cool. I'll check out Quantified Self and what's linked.

Comment author: lifelonglearner 08 May 2017 09:24:22PM 0 points [-]

Cialdini is based off a comment I think I saw by Scott Alexander along the lines of "everything in Cialdini now seems to be bunk". This is low confidence and I'm happy to revise in light of new info.

My priors on Cialdini are mainly based on how priming, which seems similar to many of his claims, doesn't replicate well.

Comment author: Sandi 08 May 2017 10:06:02PM 1 point [-]

That is indeed very low weight. My prior is pretty shaky as-is, but that evidence shouldn't move it much.

I thought about priming a lot while reading. Many of the results he lists are similar to priming, but priming being false doesn't mean all results similar to it are false. One could consider a broader hypothesis encompassing all that, namely "humans can be influenced by subtle clues to their subconsciousness to a significant degree". That's the similarity I see with priming, both it and many of Caldini's hypothesis follow from this premise. The priming failure would suggest it's false, but those experiments used extremely subtle subliminal clues, as if they were designed not to work. Much of Caldini's work affirms this broader thesis. It's no metastudy, but the guy lists a lot of studies, all affirming it. A lot of Kahneman's work does, too. Surely it is acceptable that humans often act on instinct (unconsciously) and that they are subconsciously influenced by their surroundings. This follows from System 1 being so prevalent in our thought.

SSC has a new open thread right now, I should ask there. Maybe Scott can clear it up.

Comment author: Sandi 08 May 2017 07:44:50PM 5 points [-]

I have a neat idea for a smartphone app, but I would like to know if something similar exists before trying to create it.

It would be used to measure various things in one's life without having to fiddle with spreadsheets. You could create documents of different types, each type measuring something different. Data would be added via simple interfaces that fill in most of the necessary information. Reminders based on time, location and other factors could be set up to prompt for data entry. The gathered data would then be displayed using various graphs and could be exported.

The cool thing is that it would be super simple to reliably measure most things on a phone in a way that's much simpler than keeping a spreadsheet. For example: you want to measure how often you see a seagull. You'd create a frequency-measuring document, entitle it "Seagull sightings", and each time you open it, there'd be a big button for you to press indicating that you just saw a seagull. Pressing the button would automatically record the time and date, perhaps the location, when this happened. Additional fields could be added, like the size of the seagull, which would be prompted and logged with each press. With a spreadsheet, you'd have to enter the date yourself, and the interface isn't nearly as convenient.

Another example: you're curious as to how long you sleep and how you feel in the morning. You'd set up an interval-measuring document with a 1-10 integer field for sleep quality and reminders tied into your alarm app or the time you usually wake up. Each morning you'd enter hours slept and rate how good you feel. After a while you could look at pretty graphs and mine for correlations.

A third example: you can emulate the experience sampling method for yourself. You would have your phone remind you to take the survey at specific times in the day, whereupon you'd be presented with sliders, checkboxes, text fields and other fields of your choosing.

This could be taken further in a useful way by adding a crowd sourcing aspect. Document-templates could be shared in a sort of template marketplace. The data of everyone using a certain template would accumulate in one place, making for a much larger sample size.

Comment author: lifelonglearner 28 April 2017 12:24:39AM *  4 points [-]

On the Replication Crisis and examining research:

My knowledge of statistics and research is fairly elementary. I know what the different tests / conditions are, so I can do some minor discrimination, but does anyone know anything about figuring out which things are real? (i.e. what to look for when seeing if research papers check out)

My current understanding / heuristics look like:

  • Try to analyze the experiment yourself.

  • Look for multiple studies that try to confirm the phenomenon.

  • Look for meta-analyses of the thing.

  • Check on OSF if replication has happened.

  • Priming, power stances, willpower-as-a-resource, and everything in Cialdini is on shaky ground.

Comment author: Sandi 08 May 2017 07:31:59PM 0 points [-]

Cialdini? I'm finishing "Influence" right now. I was extra skeptical during reading it since I'm freshly acquainted with the replication crisis, but googling each citation and reading through the paper is way too much work. He supports many of his claims with multiple studies and real-life anecdotes (for all that's worth). Could you point me to the criticism of Cialdini you have read?

Comment author: Sandi 22 April 2017 03:11:04AM 1 point [-]

The SSC article about omega-6 surplus causing criminality brought to my attention the physiological aspect of mental health, and health in general. Up until now, I prioritized mind over body. I've been ignoring the whole "eat well" thing because 1) it's hard, 2) I didn't know how important it was and 3) there's a LOT of bullshit literature. But since I want to live a long life and I don't want my stomach screwing with my head, the reasonable thing to do would be to read up. I need book (or any other format, really) recommendations on nutrition 101. Something practical, the do's and don'ts of food and research citations to back it up. On a broader note, I want to learn more about biodeterminism, also from a practical perspective. There might be conditions in my environment causing me issues that I don't even know of. It goes beyond nutrition.

Comment author: Sandi 15 March 2017 10:28:23PM *  0 points [-]

I have two straight-forward empirical questions for which I was unable to find a definitive answer.

1) Does ego depletion exist? There was a recent meta-study that found a negligible effect, but the result is disputed.

2) Does visualizing the positive outcome of a endeavor help one achieve it? There are many popular articles confirming this, but I've found no studies in either direction. My prediction is no, it doesn't, since the mind would feel like it already reached the goal after visualizing it, so no action would be taken. It has been like this in my personal experience, although inferring from personal experience is incredibly unreliable.

Comment author: g_pepper 08 February 2017 11:30:21PM 1 point [-]

Do you know of a practical way of finding intellectual friends, so as to have challenging/interesting conversations more often?

Depending on where you are in your life and education, you could consider enrolling in graduate school. I found that I tended to have intellectual conversations with my fellow students and professors in graduate school. Plus you will have at least one common interest with your fellow students - whatever subject you are studying in school.

Grad school is too big of a commitment just to find intellectual friends. But, if you have an interest in grad school to advance your education or career, then meeting intellectual friends is an added benefit.

Finally, even if you are working and do not wish to go back to school full time, many universities offer a master's program that you can enroll in on a part-time basis. As a part-time student you will have less contact with your fellow students and therefore fewer chances to make friends, etc., but this can be overcome with a little effort to socialize, attend events, host small dinner parties, etc.

Fun fact about me (or a thinly vailed plea for a diagnosis): Often when I'm bothered by a problem or simply bored, my mind will conjure vivid conversations with one of my friends and have us argue this problem.

I do this too. I don't think that it is abnormal - I agree with you that it can be a useful way to think through issues. I once worked with a more senior engineer who was also a personal friend and mentor. But, his job was demanding and he was always quite busy. So, when I needed his help to solve some problem, I would think about what sorts of questions he would ask, so that I could be prepared to answer them - basically, I would play out the (probable) conversation in my head ahead of time to avoid wasting his time. More often than not, this process would yield the answer to the problem, and I would end up not having to bother him at all.

Comment author: Sandi 09 February 2017 09:08:55PM *  1 point [-]

Depending on where you are in your life and education, you could consider enrolling in graduate school.

If I've managed to translate "graduate school" to our educational system correctly, then I currently am in undergraduate school. Our mileages vary by quite a bit, most people I meet aren't of the caliber. Also, it's hard to find out if they are. Socially etiquette prevents me from bringing up the heavy hitting topics except on rare occasions.

I guess I should work on my social skills then cast a bigger net. The larger the sample, the better odds I have of finding someone worthwhile. Needless to say I'm introverted and socialization doesn't come easily, but I'll find a way.

I do this too.

Oh, thank the proverbial God.

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