Thinking, Fast & Slow Summary

After this book was recommended to me by too many friends and coworkers, I decided it’s time to read it.

The structure of the book is such that concepts are introduced with examples, backed by scientific experiments. At the end of each chapter, summary statements are included.

It’s an okay book, though I cannot say that I have learned a ton from it – most of the stuff I had already experienced or read somewhere else. I liked the “puzzles” bit. The author starts talking about something and then walks you through your own thought processes while you were reading that piece. Felt pretty similar to GEB, in a way.

The book could’ve used a bit of structure to make things more explicit. I think a proper categorization of “Definitions”, “Experiment”, “Results”, “Takeaway” would make for a much easier read. Every page is just filled with letters – there’s a lot of text! 🙂

Here I will give a short summary of every part.

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Reflections on anxiety

The what

Anxiety is that feeling when you try to run away from something, but there’s actually nothing to run away from.

Here’s one definition, from Healthline:

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. The first day of school, going to a job interview, or giving a speech may cause most people to feel fearful and nervous.

But it doesn’t always have to happen before or after some event. It can also happen randomly, e.g. when you chill, when you walk, etc.

The why

There are different anxieties.

In my case, it was/is due to over-analysis of even the most simple events in my daily life. For example, I was/am always considering the worst-case scenarios and how to handle them, should they happen, for each event. But the event can also be something in my head that didn’t really happen, my mind would just wander and start thinking of random possible situations. After thinking about it some more, I believe it relates to my profession, but that’s another topic for discussion.

But more generally, anxieties have to do with being less in the present, and being more in the past/future, or being more in some non-existent universe.

The solution

The obvious solution is to stay more in the present, but this is easier said than done. It is not hard at all, but it just requires practice and patience, as with everything else in life. Here I will share one hack that I found that seems to work.

We have thoughts. You can imagine they happen at one level. But a level above those thoughts is that with our thoughts, we can control our thoughts. (Do these levels really exist? I don’t know, but adding a structure makes it easier to explain for me and visualize for the reader)

One way to stay more in the present is to get rid of negative thoughts, by building a habit of positive thinking. To achieve that, one can build an “observer” in the mind, such that it will observe thoughts, and whenever a negative thought comes to it, it identifies it as soon as possible and switches the mind to something else.

Another way to stay more present is to physically stand up and regain control of your body. This also involves physical activity, like biking, jogging or swimming, or even walking.

Now, it gets a little bit more complex than that. For example, what is a “negative thought”? Sometimes these “negative thoughts” can save our life when the threat is real. The trick is to correctly distinguish fake threats from real threats:

  • A very brief example, the thought of a bear chasing you inside a shopping mall is very unlikely, but it is likely in the deep woods (for people that have bear-related anxieties).
  • For another example, if shortness of breath is due to anxiety, and not due to some underlying health condition, one should focus on their breathing and convince themselves that their health is okay (for people that have illness-related anxieties).

Personal appendix

Considering the levels again, I believe that a level above our thoughts is God; our very own ability to hack our mind comes from God. Here’s one quote that I like that seems to relate to anxiety:

He who forgets God takes upon himself the care of God, and the care of God is not for the weak human shoulders.

So, have faith and keep hacking!

Re-inventing the Monad wheel

Lately, I spent some time working on one of my Haskell projects: hoare-imp. It is basically an implementation of propositional calculus+first-order logic+number theory (Peano)+Hoare logic, and allows one to reason about computer programs, producing Hoare triples. The source code of this implementation is at around 600 LoC at this moment.

I will explain how I re-implemented a monad, and even used it without knowing about it. And I am sure you have done the same, at some point, too!

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