Csikszentmihalyi has a difficult name to remember and the great ideas to follow. He is a man who is famous for developing notion of FLOW – the condition of human being at the moment of submergence in meaningful activity, which is perfectly realigned with ability of this person to handle the activity, and provides immediate feedback on progress allowing on the spot correction. This realignment provides for feeling of achievement, happiness, and fulfillment that would be impossible if the activity’s demands were above person’s aptitude (failure leading to frustration) or below person’s aptitude (low level of challenge leading to boredom). The notion of flow was developed from experiments based on random checks of correlation between psychological condition and activity at the moment.
This book is going way beyond psychology into quite interesting review of human condition, history, and potential for future. I think it worth to check all 10 specific themes discussed in this book’s chapters. MC defines objective of this book as analysis of forces that shaped humanity, review of ways to free humanity from “the dead hand of the past”, and suggestion of how to improve quality of life and achieve “joyful involvement”. So here it goes:
1. MIND AND HISTORY
The idea I am fully agreed upon with MC is that we are formed by evolution, future is unknown, incomprehensible, and subject to chaotic changes represented by butterfly effect. MC presents a very interesting idea that evolution is a buffer between deterministic forces and human actions. I think it is a great idea except that I would not limit it to humans only. We are animals and not only humans, but all complex animals define their future by their actions which in turn defined not only by biology, but also by patterns of behavior acquired from surrounding animals through process of socialization and skill acquisition whether this process happens to be in Harvard or in the herd of antelopes.
There is an interesting discussion about good and bad in human nature, but it is kind of beyond the point. Humans act trying to achieve whatever objective they have either it is successful hunt or building house. The result of actions in specific environment leads either to passing of some genes on to the next generation or not. The complex machinery of brain includes multiple semi-independent systems, which create representation of environment based on current sensory input, rules learned during socialization, and previous experience. This machinery is based on genes, but actually a lot less then car is based on blueprint, because genes get expressed or not depending on environment and timing of external signals. In short, human’s developed self that is always unique even if compared with self of another human with the same set of genes (twin).
In this regard a very interesting idea of MC is that animal without self needs reproduce only the information in its genes, while person with self will want to keep and spread information in his or her consciousness as well. MC believes that the fate of humanity depends on kind of self we are creating. Evolution is not guarantied human continuation and whether life exists or not depends on humans’ understanding of their place in the nature. I think in a little bit different venue. I see humans as part of nature and evolution as force not that much different from gravitation so we hardly have option to stop it. Actually whatever we’ll do is a part of nature and if we changing wild forest into the city this city is a part of nature not any less then ants colony. What I do agree with MC is that kind of self that we are developing has a huge implication for the kind of lives we are going to have.
2. WHO CONTROLS THE MIND
The discussion presented here in regard to brain-mind mechanism is kind of difficult for me to comprehend because I do not see any difference between brain and mind. The congestion that we need conscious control over our mind because it is limited by evolution and has lots of imbedded biases is completely valid. However the idea that our educated in university and highly conscious reason is in any way deprived of biases seems to me completely ridiculous. Both gut feelings of unconscious and well-reasoned inferences of conscious include biases, misrepresentations and errors. There is one and only one method that works was discovered so far – science based on experiment and falsification of theories. This and only this invention gave us all technology that we have and gave us incredible opportunity to go through live without starving and fighting other people for survival. Actually we and other animals in possession of brain used this method from the very beginning as long as we’ve got brain via evolutionary process. As far as I am concern brain is just another organ, which give its processor valuable advantage in strive for survival – instant accommodation to constantly changed environment based on accumulated patterns of past events either obtained via experience or via communications with other animals. Since this organ is highly self-programmable it is obvious that this advantage is big enough to justify long period of growth and programming and high consumption of energy required by the brain. So, I guess my answer would be – nobody controls the brain, it just runs its program changing it on the fly as needed to accommodate to environment.
3. VEILS OF MAYA – GENES, CULTURE, AND SELF
Veils of Maya expression come not from America, but from Hindu and means illusion. MC goes through discussion of multiple levels of illusions that populate our mind/brain. It created by our genes, our culture, our environment, and by self and he comes to conclusion that reality is eminently elusive. I could not agree more, but I do not think it matters. We had to understand and accept that our theories are always either completely wrong or ruefully incomplete. So what? The only thing that really count is that they are at least partially work and allow us predict future from weather tomorrow to behavior of new airplane before it took off. The problem is that we way too often refuse to accept our limitations trying to act based on reasonable theories that are simply speculation like changing behavior based on weather prediction for 100 years from now.
4. PREDATORS AND PARASITES
This part is about external obstacles humans encounter that come from interaction with other people. This is another level of evolutionary process when we deal with predators and parasites: two types who try to prosper at our expense – predators by taking all our resources and annihilating us in the process, while parasites just milking out some resources leaving us alive so we could continue to provide for them. MC provides quite interesting discussion along these lines about exploitation and power plays between humans. I would just look at the two examples: cannibals as predators who would kill and eat us and bureaucrats and politicians as parasites who live by sucking out our resources.
5. MEMES VS. GENES
Next comes memes versus genes discussion. Meme being cultural equivalent of gene that carries unit of cultural information while gene carries a unit of biological information. The main idea here is that memes go through the same process of evolution as genes only much faster. I am completely agreed with it.
6. DIRECTING EVOLUTION
The main idea is that process of evolution is unstoppable and humanity needs to direct this process, rather then passively allow it to go its own way without control. MC states 7 rules of evolution build around energy consumption that do not make a lot of sense to me. The key difference is rule 3 where MC stated that each organism would try to take as much energy from environment as possible. I do not think this statement is supported by reality. I would rather state that each organism try to obtain as much energy as required by its internal structure in order to obtain state of satisfaction.
MC infers from this rule inevitability of self-destruction due to over consumption of energy, unless some more complex type of live externally limit this consumption for a less complex organism. So his solutions for preventing self-destruction by over consumption are: control of population and Eumemics – limiting reproduction of memes. I should say that MC deserves respect for not suggesting something like Chinese one child policy to control population and censorship to implement Eumemics, but he gets pretty close to it. What is obvious however is that he is looking for “collective” actions for resolution of these problems. Since I do not believe in existing of “collective” as thinking and acting entity, I think all this would be naturally resolved by voluntary individual actions.
7. EVOLUTION AND FLOW
The main idea is that FLOW is an evolutionary tool that make human much more evolutionary fit by increasing complexity of their behavior and providing innate rewards for correct behavior. I could not agree more.
8. THE TRANSCENDENT SELF
Here MC is bringing notion of Trascender or T-person – the person whose psychic energy is joyfully invested in complex goals. It is a funny part of the book because MC provides examples of T-person and goes into some weird staff about “something in our mind that is more than the sum of the individual neurons that make up the brain”. Since I think that we all are just a bunch of connected neurons, this “something” makes no sense to me whatsoever. However it is fun to read anyway.
MC also allocates lots of space to creation and maintenance of images including self-images and collective images and this part actually does make a lot of sense.
9. THE FLOW OF HISTORY
In this part the discussion of history turns into discussion of “good society” MC goes through short analysis of French revolutionary ideals vs. American ideals and eventually comes to definition that “a good society is one that helps each individual develop his/her genetic potential to its fullest”. This is the statement I fully agree with. However MC’s extension to “ It must take into account differentiation and integration beyond the needs of individual human beings, and of humanity as whole. It has to be a system that recognizes the law of nature as well as laws of men”. Here is difference – I believe that as long as individual is taken care off, everything else will be fine even if “laws of men” are corrected. As to the law of nature, I have no idea how one could not comply with them. It is just not possible. What we need is just a better understanding of such laws and consequences that these laws cause in response to our action. We actually have a good tool for this – science, that is system of methods of processing information that allows limited correct predictions of the future conditions arrived to as consequence of action.
10. A FELLOWSHIP OF THE FUTURE
When I got to the final part of the book about creating “Fellowship of the Future” – that is informal community of individuals moving world to better future as MC understands it, I somewhat unexpectedly found that I pretty much agree with his tenets on which to base the work of such fellowship. Here they are:
a. You are part of everything around you: the air, the earth, and the sea; the past and the future
b. You shall not deny your uniqueness
c. You are responsible for your actions
d. You shall be more than what you are – the self is a creative construction.