S1, S2, and Superego

Brienne has posted on LW about simulating and deferring to more rational selves. The core idea is that you take an outside view on yourself and then act based on that outside view. “What would rational-me do in this situation?” and then do that.
I think this is a great idea. I also think it is a terrible idea. Following I explain why.


This can be a really good hack. It clearly has worked for Brienne.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is this, in a nutshell. You stop struggling with whatever is happening, trying to flee from it, and
instead accept and embrace it and you act in a way that respects your values despite how you feel, despite what-it’s-like to be you in that moment. You just keep going, you just soldier on.
You (in LW- speak) let go off the inside view and take the outside view on yourself instead. “What would you have wanted to do?” You (in ACT-speak) stop being fused with your thoughts, evaluating and avoiding your experience, and reason-giving for your behaviour. And instead you accept your reactions, you recall the values you have decided as being the more important to you, and you act on them. (ACT, get it?)
And ACT apparently works.


Besides the necessary note that Brienne has been doing meditation for a whole lot of time and thus has muscles you don’t know you have, I think this can be terrible for other reasons.
Kahneman has conclusively shown that humans fail to behave according to the normative standards of rationality, probability and logic. And maybe they can get better, but there is no evidence from this from debiasing research thus far. Further, if Gigerenzer is correct, there can be no debiasing in principle, for the most part.
And thus what Brienne framed as outsourcing to rational-Brienne is actually outsourcing to a particular normative frame that you think works/is good/desirable.
And this leads to the problem of normativity: you really don’t want to choose the wrong normative frame and constantly S2 override your S1 desired because of it. As Mark said:
“And, geez, I say this all the time, but with great power comes great responsibility. You should be really, really, really, really sure that this isn’t one of those times that System 1 is being brilliant, not stupid. Otherwise, you hurt yourself if you override repeatedly. (Like, maybe you should eat those mixed nuts, because maybe you need that selenium–and people typically lose weight eating nuts, anyway–but, yeah, that selenium. System 1 is brilliant, in its own way.)

And there are certain games where System 1 always wins in the end, like with sexuality. You use System 2 to constructively engage with System 1. Otherwise, System 1 will eat you alive. It’s like the alcoholic who somehow convinces themselves that walking into the bar is precisely what they need to do to keep from having a drink.

For some things, System 1 always wins in the end, if you fight it head on–a very dangerous long-term game to play.”

You can match the S2 mind to the public and private mind, and the S1 mind to the experiential mind. One way of causing massive trouble for yourself is to take whatever normative systems society gives you and let them slide from your public mind into your private mind and actually overriding your S1 to be able to behave according to them. Some part of you will literally embody this system.
And this is problematic. So problematic and so frequent that we need super-ego therapies to deal with these overgrown agents. (The super-ego being, of course, just the internalisation of societal normative systems.)

Conclusion, sort of

I don’t have a solution (Did I ever?) but noticing this is a problem is of value. I agree with Hilbert that formulating a problem is half of the solution. I feel that one quarter is recognising that you have a problem, and that is where such analyses help and stuff like Focusing are invaluable.

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