[linkpost] The Psychological Economy of Inaction by William Gillis

Link post

William Gillis is an excellent essayist, LessWrong amongst their influences, who doesn’t post on LessWrong.

I wanted to open up a dialogue about their new essay to see what commenters here have to say, it’s just under 2k words.

Gillis is a compelling philosopher of agency, in this they argue that consciousness is insufficient for agency.

All of which is to underline: just because you’re conscious doesn’t mean you’re agential. Agency is – perhaps unfortunately – habituated.

Speaking for myself, I feel like Gillis’ take on “what actually is freedom?” is closest to my own, yet I think they go farther than I’ve gone with this idea of processes that habituate less or more agency (rather than simply agency as a metric on scenarios, as if evaluated on a snapshot )

But taking away choice isn’t a path to happiness, it’s a path to depression. Freedom from stress or fatigue, perhaps, but certainly not a freedom to influence the wider universe. This is not to praise the shallow causal depth that a choice over mere toothpaste has, but to emphasize the often overlooked degree to which even small situations of immediate choice in our lives help habituate our capacity to act.

Toward the bottom, the comment about projects that don’t pay out for a long time vs. projects with immediate payout seems like one way to operationalize the utilons-fuzzies distinction

The general idea of tipping the scale in favor of action over inaction is tricky, it calls to mind the Catch 22 of Advice that I think Kelsey TUOC used to write about—that you can’t determine if the people who need to hear it will hear it more than the people who need to hear the exact opposite. Can we do better than the Catch 22?

There’s a comment in methods chapter 93, actually, (don’t click if you haven’t read it before, spoilers) where Harry takes the side of action

“because Neville tried to do something, even if it wasn’t the right thing, doing what’s right is the second lesson, you can start practicing that after you learn to do anything at all—”