Proposal: Anti-Akrasia Alliance

Re­lated to: Kick­ing Akra­sia: now or never; Tsuioku Naritai

The situation

I am greatly af­ficted by akra­sia, and in all prob­a­bil­ity, so are you. Akra­sia is a de­stroyer of wor­lds.1

I have come to the con­clu­sion that akra­sia is the sin­gle biggest prob­lem I have in life. It is greater than my im­pend­ing biolog­i­cal death, my im­perfect en­joy­ment of life, or the dan­ger of a car ac­ci­dent.

For if I could solve the prob­lem of akra­sia, I would work on these other prob­lems, and I be­lieve I would solve them too. Even a big prob­lem like phys­i­cal mor­tal­ity can be mean­ingfully challenged if I spend a life­time tack­ling it. But un­til I solve the prob­lem of akra­sia, I will sit around and do noth­ing about my mor­tal­ity.

(Edited here) Without solv­ing akra­sia, we are rel­a­tively in­effi­cient in at­tack­ing the other prob­lems that mat­ter to us. How­ever, if LW read­ers—typ­i­cally smart, ra­tio­nal, lu­mi­nous, and rel­a­tively rich peo­ple—were to defeat akra­sia and be­come highly pro­duc­tive, I think we would pos­sess real world-chang­ing power2.

Some peo­ple have ei­ther solved this prob­lem or never had it. Thus, we know it is pos­si­ble to van­quish akra­sia. How­ever, it is a unique prob­lem that fights its own cure: be­cause of akra­sia, we don’t spend as much effort as we’d like fight­ing akra­sia.

I pro­pose form­ing a com­mu­nity ded­i­cated to fight­ing akra­sia.

Ex­ist­ing efforts

There have been many posts about akra­sia on LW. There are also many meth­ods and work­groups in the world which are ded­i­cated to it. I haven’t tried very many my­self, and no doubt there are many use­ful ap­proaches I don’t know about. I’m aware of other LW users who have more rele­vant knowl­edge and ex­pe­rience than me.

I do know that there are sev­eral com­mon prob­lems with all such efforts:

  1. Any given method, and even any well-defined com­pact com­bi­na­tion of meth­ods, works for some peo­ple but not for oth­ers, or works only some of the time.

  2. When a method does work, it al­most always stops work­ing for that per­son af­ter a while, and can’t be used again.

  3. Most meth­ods have no clear the­o­ries of the mechanisms be­hind them. Those that do, al­most always have bad the­o­ries, which don’t pre­dict why the method some­times fails, or are untestable just-so sto­ries.

  4. Most meth­ods have no sci­en­tific back­ing of dou­ble-blind ex­per­i­ments, com­par­i­sons with other meth­ods, rul­ing out other ex­pla­na­tions, etc.

  5. Many meth­ods perform no bet­ter than the placebo of do­ing some­thing that doesn’t ac­tu­ally work, feel­ing “pumped up”, and ex­pect­ing akra­sia to dis­ap­pear.

  6. There are many differ­ent meth­ods out there, and a per­son can’t test them all to find one that works for them.

  7. Most ex­ist­ing work­shops and groups are formed around a method, rather than around the goal of fight­ing akra­sia, and they ap­ply that method like a ham­mer to the ex­clu­sion of all oth­ers.

  8. None of the meth­ods I have tried so far have helped me, per­son­ally.

    Many of the meth­ods also share a prob­lem of trans­parency. If a method works for some peo­ple, they may pub­lish it widely, via books, web­sites, and work­shops. But there is usu­ally no-one col­lect­ing re­ports of cases where that method failed, in­ves­ti­gat­ing them, and pub­lish­ing up­dates of the method’s ex­pected effec­tive­ness. In other words, there is a large pos­i­tive se­lec­tion bias for pub­li­ca­tion, and third-party re­ports aren’t re­viewed and pub­lished.

    Fi­nally, there are few or­ga­nized at­tempts to col­late knowl­edge of many differ­ent meth­ods and test them in com­bi­na­tion.

    Proposal

    I sug­gest that the first step in the fight against akra­sia should be to pro­claim the es­tab­lish­ment of a com­mu­nity ded­i­cated to this fight: the Anti-Akra­sia Alli­ance, or 3A for short. A pub­lic com­mit­ment will help us to keep at­tack­ing the prob­lem.

    Com­mit­ments are hard to keep (due to akra­sia). If we com­mit to try­ing spe­cific meth­ods and fol­low­ing var­i­ous reg­i­ments, we will of­ten fail. There­fore we should re­serve our willpower for just one Big Com­mit­ment: that of fight­ing akra­sia by par­ti­ci­pat­ing in 3A. I’m not ask­ing any­one to com­mit to any par­tic­u­lar pro­ce­dure; only to par­ti­ci­pa­tion in a com­mu­nity effort to solve the prob­lem of akra­sia.

    I do have some idea of what to do next, al­though we may well end up do­ing some­thing differ­ent (and bet­ter) in­stead.

    The dan­ger of stop­ping all progress due to akra­sia is big­ger, in the ini­tial stage, than the dan­ger of failing to find good solu­tions. We need mechanisms for mak­ing and keep­ing com­mit­ments, and for giv­ing these com­mit­ments a pos­i­tive af­fect.

    We should es­tab­lish a web­site as a meet­ing-point. LW has the right for­mat (group blog + wiki), but if this is judged to be off-topic in the Dis­cus­sion sec­tion, I’ll set up a similar site some­where else.

    Next, we should briefly ex­am­ine ex­ist­ing meth­ods and col­lect sug­ges­tions to de­ter­mine the course of ac­tion. Ideally, we should or­ga­nize the ex­ist­ing knowl­edge on the sub­ject, an­a­lyze mem­bers’ akra­sia case-his­to­ries, iden­tify likely the­o­ries, and get enough peo­ple to run the ap­pro­pri­ate ex­per­i­ments. And then take over the uni­verse, be­cause we have some ob­jec­tions to the way it is cur­rently be­ing run.

    I be­lieve the ap­pli­ca­tion of ra­tio­nal­ity and the sci­en­tific method will, in it­self, give us a head start over other groups. We should also be trans­par­ent and open to new­com­ers and to im­port­ing new tech­niques. We should make good use of data col­lec­tion and anal­y­sis (nat­u­rally, al­low­ing for anonymity). We should, in short, use all the LW tech­niques.

    The next steps

    I would like to hear your re­ac­tions in the com­ments. Do you think there is a bet­ter ap­proach? Do you think we’re bound to fail be­cause I didn’t take prob­lem X into ac­count? Is there a great, ra­tio­nal com­mu­nity fight­ing akra­sia that we should join in­stead of start­ing our own? Would you like to join 3A?

    If you are one of the lucky few who have beaten akra­sia, please join us too. You can prob­a­bly fur­ther goals that we all care about by helping us un­der­stand how to do what you did.

    I com­mit to post­ing an up­date by Jan 5th, which will take into ac­count the com­ments here. If the con­sen­sus is to es­tab­lish a web­site (and not use LW) I com­mit to set­ting one up by Jan 8th.

    Edit: yeah, right. See up­date.

    Notes

    1. We choose to cre­ate pos­si­ble fu­ture wor­lds. Akra­sia de­stroys our choices.

    2. Per­son­ally, I might choose to in­vest effort in things other than FAI. Anti-akra­sia is a nec­es­sary meta-tool for hu­mans to achieve all hard goals.