Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I never used to watch a movie twice, nor read the same book again. But lately, i don't know why, but i get this urge to do just that. Not just watch it on TV, but go out, rent a DVD and watch the damn thing again. That's scary.

Why would you watch a movie which you have already seen and remember very well? Some say they learn something new every time they watch it (especially the movies they love). Well this might be true for books, they leave a lot to imagination so the insights change according to your mood, experiences, etc. It might be somewhat true for seriously layered motion pictures. But for routine action flicks and slapstick comedies? Nah..

What i have come to like is the safe feeling that my expectations cannot be shattered. There is tension, but no anxiety. That happy feeling you get when you know that everything _has_ to go according to plan. The plan that you know all along. The plot will unfold as expected, the good guys will win. Watching re-runs makes your universe, well deterministic for that short duration of time. And it is a lovely feeling.

It is also a clear indication that my appetite for risk is reducing. I am perhaps tired of trying something new, failing miserably most of the time. Getting myself hurt in the process, but then again getting up and fighting on.

This drill looks nice for a 20 year old, but i am past 30. Maybe i should look at what other decent 30 year olds around me are doing. Grow up like them. Perhaps...

Perhaps, but not today. Not tonight. Tonight, i dream on. A dream of doing something extravagant, exhilarating, fearless and unbound.

Today i resist the urge to grab the rail. Tomorrow?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thinking, fast and slow - Part V

I am done reading the book but it will be a long time (if ever) before i understand the terrific insights that it has provided. I have logged the stuff i liked while going through it on this blog, mostly for posterity. I intend to write my own thoughts and learnings some time soon.   

Few excerpts:

"Memories are all we get to keep from our experience of living, and the only perspective that we can adopt as we think about our lives is therefore that of the remembering self (not the experiencing self)."

An inconsistency is build into the design of our minds. When we remember an episode (be it painful or a pleasurable one) we neglect the duration and only focus on the most intense moments and the feelings we had when it ended. A memory that neglects duration will not serve our preferences for long pleasure and short pains.

A story is about significant events and memorable moments, not about time passing. Duration neglect is normal in a story, and the ending often defines its character. The same core features appear in the rules of narratives and in our memories of vacations. This is how the remembering self works: it composes stories and keeps them for future reference.

"Tourism is about helping people construct stories and collect memories. The frenetic picture taking of many tourists suggests that storing memories is often an important goal, which shapes both the plans for the vacation and the experience of it."

"Helen was happy in the month of March if -- she spent most of her time engaged in activities that she would rather continue than stop, little time in situations she wished to escape, and - very important because life is short - not too much time in a neutral state in which she would not care either way."

"A plausible interpretation is that higher income is associated with a reduced ability to enjoy the small pleasures of life. There is suggestive evidence in favor of this idea: priming students with the idea of wealth reduces the pleasure their face expresses as they eat a bar of chocolate!"

"Experienced well-being is on average unaffected by marriage, not because marriage makes no difference to happiness but because it changes some aspects of life for the better and others for the worse."

"I observed that permanent life circumstances have little effect on well-being and tried in vain to convince my wife that her intuitions about the happiness of Californians were an error of affective forecasting."

"It's like having ten toes: nice, but not something one thinks much about. Thoughts of any aspect of life are more likely to be salient if a contrasting alternative is highly available."

"Adaptation to a new situation, whether good or bad, consists in large part of thinking less and less about it. In that sense, most long-term circumstances of life, including paraplegia and marriage, are part-time states that one inhabits only when one attends to them."

"It does not make sense to evaluate an entire life by its last moments." 

"The central fact of our existence is that time is the ultimate finite resource, but the remembering self ignores that reality. It favors short periods of intense joy over a long period of moderate happiness."

"For behavioral economists, however, freedom has a cost, which is borne by individuals who make bad choices, and by the society that feels obligated to help them."

"The economists of the Chicago school (Libertarians) do not face that problem, because rational agents do not make mistakes. For adherents of this school, freedom is free of charge."

"Thaler and Sunstein advocate a position of libertarian parentalism, in which the state and other institutions are allowed to nudge people to make decisions that serve their own long-term interests." (as opposed to forcing them to do so)

"The voice of reason may be much fainter than the loud and clear voice of an erroneous intuition, and questioning your intuitions is unpleasant when you face the stress of a big decision"

Notes on previous parts: 1 2 3 4

Monday, February 20, 2012

Thinking, fast and slow - Part IV

 [Image Courtesy: www.alexwhittaker.org]

This was perhaps the most interesting part. It dealt with choices.

Few excerpts:

"But of course the main reason that decision theorists study simple gambles is that this is what other decision theorists do."

"I call it theory-induced blindness: once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws."

"Your leisure time and the standard of living that your income supports are also not intended for sale or exchange"

"The high price that Sellers set reflects the reluctance to give up an object that they already own, a reluctance that can be seen in babies who hold on fiercely to a toy and show great agitation when it is taken away. Loss aversion is built into the automatic evaluations of System I."

 "For the poor, costs are losses."

"The brains of humans and other animals contain a mechanism that is designed to give priority to bad news. By shaving a few hundredths of a second from the time needed to detect detect a predator,  this circuit improves the animals odds of living long enough to reproduce. No comparably rapid mechanism for recognizing good news has been detected."

"We are driven more strongly to avoid losses than to achieve gains."

"People often adopt short-term goals that they strive to achieve but not necessarily to exceed. They are likely to reduce their efforts when they have reached an immediate goal."

"Altruistic punishment could well be the glue that holds societies together. However, our brains are not designed to reward generosity as reliably as they punish meanness. Here again, we find marked asymmetry between losses and gains."

"Many unfortunate human situations unfold in the top right cell. This is where people who face very bad options take desperate gambles, accepting a high probability of making things worse in exchange for a small hope of avoiding a large loss."

"For one thing, it helps us see the logical consistency of Human preferences for what it is - a hopeless mirage."

 "The suck-cost fallacy keeps people for too long in poor jobs, unhappy marriages, and unpromising research projects."

"This short example illustrated a broad story: people expect to have stronger emotional reactions (including regret) to an outcome when it is produced by action than to the same outcome when it is produced by inaction."

"My personal hindsight-avoiding policy is to be either very thorough or completely causal when making a decision with long-term consequences. Hindsight is worse when you think a little, just enough to tell yourself later, "I almost made a better choice."

"Do those statements have the same meaning? The answer depends entirely on what you mean by meaning."

"A bad outcome is much more acceptable if it is framed as the cost of a lottery ticket that did not win than if it is simply described as losing a gamble. Losses evokes stronger negative feelings than costs."

Notes on previous parts: 1 2 3

Thinking, fast and slow - Part III

The name of this part is Overconfidence. Needless to say, its a must read.

Few excerpts:

"Once you adopt a new world, you immediately lose much of your ability to recall what you used to believe before your mind changed."

"We all have a need for the reassuring message that actions have appropriate consequences, and that success will reward wisdom and courage. Many business books are tailor-made to satisfy this need."

"In a memorable example, Dawes showed that martial stability is well predicted by a formula:
        frequency of lovemaking minus frequency of quarrels
 You don't want your result to be a negative number."

"When action is needed, optimism, even of the mildly delusional variety, may be a good thing."

"They felt no need to explain why they expected to succeed where six or seven others had failed. A common thread of boldness and optimism links businesspeople, from motel owners to superstar CEOs"

"President Truman famously asked for a "one-armed economist" who would take a clear stand; he was sick and tired of economists who kept saying, "On the other hand..."

"An unbiased appreciation of uncertainty is a cornerstone of rationality - but it is not what people and organizations want."

Notes from previous parts: 1 2

Thinking, fast and slow - Part II

Part II of this book is more academic and statistically oriented. It mostly deals with our inherent biases and how they are formed in our mind.

Few excerpts:

"My advice to students when I taught negotiations was that if you think the other side has made an outrageous proposal, you should not come back with an equally outrageous counteroffer, creating a gap that will be difficult to bridge in further negotiations. Instead you should make a scene, storm out or threaten to do so, and make it clear - to yourself as well as the other side - that you will not continue with the negotiations with that number on the table."

 "One of the best-known studies of availability suggests that awareness of your own biases can contribute to peace in marriages, and probably in other joint projects."

"Psychologists enjoy experiments that yield paradoxical results, and they have applied Schwarz's discovery with gusto. For example, people are less impressed by a car after listing many of its advantages."

"I don't spend a lot of time taking polls around the world to tell me what I think is the right way to act. I've just got to know how I feel." (George W. Bush) (To illustrate that a feeling of power increases our trust in our intuitions.)

"The world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality; our expectations about the frequency of events are distorted by the prevalence and emotional intensity of the messages to which we are exposed."

Notes on previous parts: 1