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Willpower as muscle, not battery

Adam Limehouse writes in about "The Cognitive Costs of Doing Things" -

Mr. Marshall,

First off, very cool article.

Second off, I have a question/conflict about the language you used when talking about ego/willpower depletion. I would suggest that instead of talking about it in terms of a battery (something that can be depleted, must be recharged from the outside and eventually wears out) it would be better to approach this in terms of a muscle group many people have allowed to become lax (a virtue ethics perspective if ever there was one). I think the advantage here has to do both with the need for external charging intrinsic in the metaphor of batteries and with the status in most Americans minds of the possibility of becoming physically stronger as something they can do. We might pursue this as a sort of meta-willpower.

Would love to hear your thoughts about this, Adam

The Concretes and the Abstracts

On Isaac Lewis

There's an important division in our society that is rarely spoken about. This division is between two styles of thinking; between those who think concretely and those who think abstractly.

In truth, abstract versus concrete thinking is more of a spectrum than a binary. Extremely abstract thinkers and extremely concrete thinkers are rare; most people fall somewhere in the middle. Then again, few fall exactly in the middle. Most definitely lean in one direction. Though this essay will describe two opposing tribes - the concretes and the abstracts - keep in mind that this is a simplification of a complex reality. You might feel that neither description fits you perfectly, but you will almost certainly identify with one tribe more than the other.

To distinguish these two tribes, we'll need to define abstraction. Here's a working definition:

Abstraction is the ability to recognise deep patterns and structures within a domain without being distracted by surface details. Crucially, it is the ability to recognise analogous patterns and structures between different domains.

The second part explains how abstract thought can be highly useful in the real world. Analogy allows human beings to navigate unfamiliar domains by drawing on their knowledge of the familiar. For example, one might use one's knowledge of Spanish to master Italian, or use one's knowledge of biological evolution to understand the evolution of language, or use one's knowledge of the dating marketplace to understand the dynamics of the co-founder marketplace.

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