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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Mar 26, 2021



What is willpower?

Five years ago, I reviewed Baumeister and Tierney's book on the subject. They tentatively concluded it's a way of rationing brain glucose. But their key results have failed to replicate, and people who know more about glucose physiology say it makes no theoretical sense.

Robert Kurzban, one of the most on-point critics of the glucose theory, gives his own model of willpower: it's a way of minimizing opportunity costs. But how come my brain is convinced that playing Civilization for ten hours has no opportunity cost, but spending five seconds putting away dishes has such immense opportunity costs that it will probably leave me permanently destitute? I can't find any correlation between the subjective phenomenon of willpower or effort-needingness and real opportunity costs at all.