Breakdown of Will by George Ainslie

By George Ainslie

Ainslie argues that our responses to the specter of our personal inconsistency verify the elemental textile of human tradition. He means that people are extra like populations of bargaining brokers than just like the hierarchical command constructions envisaged via cognitive psychologists. this attitude is helping us comprehend rather a lot that's perplexing in human motion and interplay: from self-defeating behaviors to willfulness, from pathological over-control and self-deception to subtler sorts of habit equivalent to altruism, sadism, playing, and the "social construction" of trust.

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Samuel Butler Lore abounds not only about how people mistrust their own future preferences, but how they sometimes engage in strategic planning to outsmart the future selves that will have these preferences. Here is Ulysses facing the Sirens or Coleridge moving in with his doctor to be protected from his opium habit. We know that the stakes in this intertemporal game sometimes reach tragic proportions. Yet we can’t reconcile this game with utility theory’s basic meat-and-potatoes notion that people try to maximize their prospects.

We don’t pick our other appetites, either. Once we’ve become familiar with how our appetites respond to dessert carts, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t weigh our prospects as we do ordinarily. If the desserts stimulate appetite and the appetite increases their prospective rewardingness, this experience should also become familiar and get evaluated in comparison with alternative experiences. According to conventional utility theory, if the experience of appetite-followedby-food is worth more than the experience of abstention-followed-bywhatever-benefits-accrue at the time the food is at hand, then it should also be worth more when anticipated from a distance.

But theories should always start in the simplest way. Let’s assume that the ubiquitous 37 The Puzzle of Akrasia hyperbola is the basic discount curve – that our basic instinct is to evaluate future events by dividing their amount by their delay – and see where its implications lead us. 1 How Utility Theory Can Predict Inconsistency The most basic implication is that you’ll tend to prefer smaller, earlier rewards to larger, later ones temporarily, during the time that they’re imminent. Then the obvious task is to find out what kind of effort could sometimes make your expressed preferences look exponential.

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