Directness Is Dangerous

If self-control were easy, we might end up accomplishing nothing at all. Extinction would be swift indeed for species that could simply switch off hunger or pain. Instead, there must be checks and balances.

Imagine if any one process could seize and hold control over all the rest – we wouldn’t complete many tasks. So, for processes to exploit each other’s skills, roundabout pathways have to be discovered.

Fantasies can provide missing paths. You may not be able to make yourself angry simply by deciding to be angry, but you can still imagine objects or situations that make you angry, that, in effect, arouse your Anger and, for example, its tendency to counter Sleep as a self-control “trick” to continue Work.

For conscious schemes for self-control to work, e.g. in which we offer rewards to ourselves, incentives need to be discovered – our processes' dispositions must be learned. This may involve bargaining and deception. But self-incentive tricks often don’t work because, again, directness is dangerous.

Indirection is a hallowed design technique in computer programming. Code and processes can be made more robust through separation between what and how, when “how does this work?” is best answered, “it depends.”

This post was adapted from a note sent to my email list on Machine-Centric Science.
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