blunt essays with sharp points
Aug 25, 2004 3:35 AM– Decision making in humans is now represented by a formula:
If it feels good, we do it. We pursue whatever has the greatest chance of a reward, the largest reward, and the shortest tolerable delay before a reward, as we perceive it. And impulsive people (people who are less tolerant of delay) procrastinate more.
Human behavior consistently bears this out. Impulse goals elbow out long term goals and less pleasant tasks.1
Why do our brains work this way? Because animals with a built-in preference for impulse goals, who “sleep and hoard and mate when the relevant urge arises,”2 are more likely to survive and pass it on to future generations.
So procrastination is a label for a normal, healthy functioning brain being asked to do something it isn’t adapted to: sacrifice impulse goals for long term goals.
Western religions have another name for impulse goals: temptations. The mythology of western religions reframes them as sin. For people who believe an impulse goal to be sin, the threat of punishment reduces its perceived value. The success of western culture, which owes much to long term planning, a.k.a. the work ethic, is a testament to the power of mythology to color our perceptions of value.
Recently, scientists found a center of procrastination in the brain. When they interfered with the rhinal cortex of monkeys, the monkeys were no longer able to discover that a desired goal would take time to accomplish. These monkeys treated all goals as impulse goals. Normally procrastinators like us, they suddenly became extreme workaholics.3, 4
I guess this counts as science improving on religion, but do we need better mind control?
1. Measuring Your Procrastination
2. George Ainslie.
3. Gene blocking turns monkeys into workaholics
4. DNA targeting of rhinal cortex D2 receptor protein reversibly blocks learning of cues that predict reward (requires Adobe Reader)
August 25, 2004 8:16 PM–Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise that as common sense? The commonest sense is the sense of men asleep, which they express by snoring. -Thoreau
I tell you that there are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to. -Wilde
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sometimes they fool you by walking upright.
What part of “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” don’t you understand?
Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life. —Terry Pratchett
Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig. —Robert Heinlein
Do not ask why the past was better than the present, for this is not a question prompted by wisdom. —Ecclesiastes 7:10
Power lines abruptly stopped causing cancer in 1997 after the U.S. National Cancer Institute conducted a better study. —Robert Parks
Встретимся под столом! (Vstretimsja pod stolom: To meeting you under the table!)
The more you cry, the less you’ll pee.
Relish the love of a good woman.
It’ll never get better if you keep picking at it. —advice from Judge “Maximum” Bob Gibbs