158: Negotiating with your future selves (George Ainslie)

May 1, 2016

Ever make a plan to diet, or exercise, or study, and then — when the scheduled hour rolls around — decide, “Nah, I’ll just put it off another day”? If you said “no,” I don’t believe you!

This episode features behavioral psychiatrist (and economist) George Ainslie, who demonstrated the existence of this ubiquitous phenomenon in human willpower, called hyperbolic discounting, in which our preferences change depending on how immediate or distant the choice is.

George and Julia discuss why hyperbolic discounting exists, and how it can be modeled as a negotiation between your current self and your future selves. In the process they explore some of the benefits and risks of this “intertemporal bargaining” approach to willpower, and how it relates to philosophical thought experiments such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Kavka’s Toxin.

Transcript (PDF)