Bargaining trade-offs in your brain

Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation

Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.

Part 2a: Empirical time management

Part 3: The time that you have

Part 4: What does that look like in practice?


So you are now at the point where you are thinking about your exploration and exploitation behaviours.  Exploration and exploitation is a trade off between the value of what you know and the value of what you might know if you find out.

Remember the heuristic: You want to explore as much as to increase your information with regard to both the quality of the rest of the exploration and possible results and the expected returns on the existing knowledge.

You know they are trade-offs between different types of things you want to do, specifically I want to address this:

  1. You probably make the most measurable and ongoing gains in the Exploitation phase.  I mean – lets face it, these are long running goal-seeking behaviours like sticking to an exercise routine.
  2. The exploration might be seem more fun (find exciting and new hobbies) but are you sure that’s what you want to be doing in regard to 1?

What’s going on here?  If you know you know where to get the most reward, say exercising but you don’t find yourself doing the action you seem to know is the right thing, what’s going on?

I covered increasing complexity of models, and in aid of that I propose the idea of Bargaining trade-offs to your own brain.

As long as you take it with a grain of All models are wrong.

“The most that can be expected from any model is that it can supply a useful approximation to reality: All models are wrong; some models are useful” – George Box


Bargaining with your own brain

We take the model of Daniel Kanemann, in Thinking, fast and slow, that the brain is made of up System 1 and System 2.  System 1 feels like the automatic intuitive process, the process that can catch things thrown at it, or know what an apple looks like, just as  *it is this thing*.  System 2 is the part of you that can do complicated stepwise tasks, like multiplication of long numbers, following a recipe.

Going back to our example, it seems like we have an intellectual understanding that exercise is a good thing.  Yea; pretty important for health and long term well-being.  But why is that not automatically an easy thing to do.

I propose that the understanding of exercise being good is a System 2 activity, where the motivation to actually do exercise (or in this case – not do exercise), can be in System 1.  Of course you can still use system 2 to force yourself to get up and go exercise, but if you can make your System 1 believe that exercise is a good idea, life will be so much easier.

Intellectually understanding the importance of exercise is one step.  Negotiating it to System 1 is a lot less intuitive.

I want to cover a major bug in just trying to commit to exploration and exploitation automatically.  And that is where you feel like you want to exploit more but your system 1 still wants to explore.  It’s that voice in your head that sometimes says, “maybe I should go to the bar with my friends” or maybe it’s the other way around, all you want to do is go home, but you feel like you have to stay at the bar with your friends.


What do?

It’s an internal disagreement, (CFAR calls it a double crux.) and it has a solution.  While I can’t objectively solve every single internal disagreement you have ever; I have a few pieces of machinery to offer.

“How could I resolve this disagreement in my head?”
Or more specifically:
“what information could I use as evidence to make my decision of what to do next?”

Obviously there are reasons on each side.  To continue the bar example; we are trading off social friend opportunity with going home and doing other things.  However social friend opportunity comes only at opportune times for other people.  It’s not something that guarantee-ably happens on your schedule.  In weighing up these options we find ourselves sitting in the middle both not able to go home right away and not able to stay in the bar with our friends (kind of like a Buridan’s ass situation, except you probably won’t starve to death and have powers to resolve the puzzle).

It’s an all too common pattern to get in this position.  The process of solving the bug is a matter of signalling to either system (the one that disagrees with your choice) that you are doing some disagreeing with it for reasons that it supports.

Example 1:
In an internal dialog you can say okay System 1.  I am going to stay in the bar.  I feel the urge to “go do work”  that you are giving me (I clearly acknowledge the stimuli, including focusing on the other option for a moment), and this isn’t the most productive thing I could be doing right now, yes.  I know I also like to enjoy the company of my friends.  And tomorrow when I do want to enjoy their company more after I have done my two hours of work, I will be unable to, so to best take advantage of the company of my friends while they are available, I am going to stay in the bar.

Example 2:
In an internal dialog you can say, okay I know on a System 2 level that I should be working but being here in the bar is worthwhile to my system 1, because it likes my friends.  I value my friends as important right now compared to my other goals.

Some creative example of a discussion between s1 and s2 doesn’t need to be sensical, it just needs to be acceptable to you at the time so that you can finish deliberating and continue on with the task at hand.

The meta question being:

How will I resolve my indecision at this time?

It’s important to note that this is not, “how do I decide?” but what should be the easier version of, “what would inform my decision?”, “how can I help myself decide?”

Which is really – “what evidence do I need to convince my other indecision of my choice in this decision?” Or, “How do I go about gathering evidence for better making this decision?”  (You may notice this is becoming a lot like the VoI process from Exploration exploitation.

Noticing

One big part of this process is noticing that you are indecisive.  That’s a really important and exciting event!

Oh great!  The opportunity to resolves an indecision, I always feel better after my indecision is resolved.

If you are the kind of person who is with limited anxieties; the positive reinforcement of the correct attitude may be irrelevant, but if you are in need of the affirmation this is a step that cannot be left out.  Leaving it out will give you ugh fields, and holding plenty of stress and confusion of indecision.

Communication and being honest with yourself

Emirically assessing your time use is a process I designed to help defeat a s1/s2 incongruity.  You can System2!know that these are all the tasks you spend your time on, so in order to System1!change your mind on what you want to do in your time you need to inform/convince/bargain/wrangle the monkey of your system 1 that there is no time that has sneakily “escaped” your view, fallen down the back of the couch, or somehow there is “more time” other than what you already have.  This is what I consider the most powerful insight of this process.

What this whole meta-process of asking yourself questions and untangling really entails is establishing strong and confident pathways of communication between different parts of yourself.  And that really comes down to being honest amongst those different parts.  People take actions based on their desires and goals.  That’s fine.  Sometimes we do things for bad, dumb, silly, irrational, frustrating, self-defeating, or irrelevant reasons.  That’s okay.  As long as you are okay with it.  If you are not okay with it, that’s when you have the choice to do something else.

Humans are complicated, they have many motivations and goals and reasons why they may or may not do any given action.  That’s fine.  Sometimes the possible actions in front of us take competing paths.  Whichever path you end up going down you need to be okay with that.


Meta: this took 2 hours to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/odr/


Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation

Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.

Part 2a: Empirical time management

Part 3: The time that you have

Part 4: What does that look like in practice?

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