Saturday, August 8, 2009

Akrasia as Revealed Preference

I have begun wondering whether claiming to be victim of "akrasia" might just be a way of admitting that your real preferences, as revealed in your actions, don't match the preferences you want to signal (believing what you want to signal, even if untrue, makes the signals more effective).

Complaining about akrasia, the lack of will-power, to get done what you want to do, may show that your real preferences are not those you are claiming. You do what you choose to do - if you are not doing what you claim to want to do, then you are lying, definitely to others, and likely to yourself.

From a Less Wrong comment thread: "This is an insufficient explanation. I have on many occasions found myself doing superficially enjoyable but instant-gratification, low effort activities that I actually enjoyed less than some other, delayed-gratification and/or higher effort activity." (SoullessAutomaton 07 August 2009 10:39:56PM, in response to a comment from me)

Your situation, both immediate and longer-term, strongly influences your prefereneces; so many workable "anti-akrasia" efforts involve "situation management"; for some examples, people quitting smoking by avoiding cues that used to trigger habitual lighting-up; a dieter getting rid of snack foods so they have to think about and prepare anything they eat; posting reminders of your longer-term goals so they don't get so easily overwritten by the immediate preferences (this works short-term, until you stop seeing them because they become just part of your visual background).

On a T-shirt I saw a while back:
“Hard work pays off in the future,
Laziness pays off right now.”
Akrasia can also be an excuse for laziness.

Or it could possibly be an avoidance activity, where you had some reason (see Burka & Yuen's book Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now for a long list of reasons for avoidance behaviors). Anyone who procrastinates much is going to find themselves doing this kind of stuff - you need to rout out the fears that tend to cause the avoidance. This would be an example where the avoidance of X is preferred to doing X even when you consciously think you want to do X.

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