Friday, August 3, 2012

Bob teaches me about the Prisoner's Dilemma, Gene teaches me about his bedtime routines...

...and for some crazy reason I still feel the need to point out that I am actually not tremendously stupid (I'm only idiosyncratically stupid).

Gene writes:

"Daniel Kuehn Sides with Socrates and Plato; Unfortunately, Aristotle Was Right

Nobody who genuinely understands the time inconsistency problem is ever going to be in a position where in the short-run they want something that is inconsistent in the long-run, because anybody who genuinely understands the time inconsistency problem (or really any number of other “unintended consequences” type problems like it) is going to knowingly cut off their nose to spite their face like that.
This was the position adopted Socrates and Plato: "No one goes willingly toward the bad." But it is wrong. It fails to account for akrasia: weakness of the will. I can testify with certainty that, for an entire month, while perfectly aware that I was engaging in hyperbolic discounting, I still night after night failed to unfold the sofa bed upon which I was to sleep because it seemed like to much trouble that night."
I will concede that "understands" was not the best word to use in that comment. But I had plenty of comments in that thread to provide further elaboration so there's no reason to interpret me like this.
I understand the time inconsistency problem.
Now, if you were to hear Gene say "I really should open up this sofa bed - it would be much better for me to just do it. I won't regret my short sighted inclinations in the morning", and if, after hearing that, you were to see Gene start opening his sofa bed, you would conclude that he is doing it because he WANTS to do it, beause he thinks it is a GOOD not a BAD. And as I pointed out in my post last night, you'd assume that he is taking into account the utility of his future self as well. It's the only explanation of why he would go to the trouble of doing it.
If someone can explain to me why you would observe Gene doing those things if it's something he considers BAD, then I'll concede I was wrong. Otherwise I'm sticking to it. 
Of course, as we all know, you don't always end up considering your future self. In fact you often don't consider your future self. That's why this is even a problem worth discussing. That's why from the very beginning of this discussion I have been on the rules side of the rules vs. discretion divide.


  1. Well, Gene hasn't shown up to 'splain things, so let me try:

    I know you know about a Prisoner's Dilemma. And Gene presumably knows you understand procrastination in daily life.

    So, when you make statements of your position in a blog debate, if we think your principle is obviously wrong, we will show how it would imply something that is clearly wrong. How can it be "clearly" wrong? Why, we draw on stuff that we are sure you (and most of our readers) will instantly grasp.

    The point isn't to say, "Ha ha! Daniel doesn't know how a Prisoner's Dilemma works!" No, the point is to say, "Daniel, the principle you just enunciated can't possibly be right, because it would imply such-and-such. Try again."

    1. I know - I was hoping that opening sentence was tongue in cheek enough you weren't too worried.

      If you want, think about this post as my way of saying, "OK, I'll get down to simple examples too and point out what I'm saying". I'm specifically doing that with Gene's example here - and hopefully my point is clearer for it.


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