Breakdown of Will by George Ainslie

By George Ainslie

Ainslie argues that our responses to the specter of our personal inconsistency be certain the fundamental cloth of human tradition. He means that everyone is extra like populations of bargaining brokers than just like the hierarchical command constructions envisaged by way of cognitive psychologists. this angle is helping us comprehend lots that's complicated in human motion and interplay: from self-defeating behaviors to willfulness, from pathological over-control and self-deception to subtler kinds of habit resembling altruism, sadism, playing, and the "social construction" of trust.

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The utilitarians’ problem has been that they’ve assumed a person’s evaluation of rewards (or emotions) to be exponentially discounted, and hence consistent over time; as a result, utility theory hasn’t been able to account for self-defeating choices, or for the various kinds of uniquely human effort that we call forth to avoid them. If we simply maximize our prospective reward, what use do we have for self-control? What role is there for a will, either strong or free? My argument is that exchanging hyperbolic discounting for the exponential kind in the reward-maximizing process supplies utility theory with its missing element.

The conventional answer would almost certainly be that since only exponential curves produce consistent preferences, they’re the ones that are objectively rational, and that people should learn to correct their spontaneous valuations to fit them. After all, science has long known that the intensity of many other subjective experiences is described by hyperbolic curves16 and that people can learn to correct such impressions. It soon becomes second nature to a child that the telephone pole down the street is as tall as the one nearby, even though it forms a smaller image on her retina.

A popular solution is the suggestion that addiction occurs only in two special cases – when a person doesn’t know its consequences or when she doesn’t care. In the first case, you’re supposed to have committed yourself to the poorer, earlier alternative before you knew its cost – so that the hangover or damage to relationships is a surprise. Certainly this could be a factor in how people first get addicted to something. Despite the fact that most smokers, for instance, know the dangers of smoking before they start, it may be that they can’t picture how strong their craving will become once they’re addicted.

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