Title: One Man’s Flow
Date: 05 Sep 14 (Friday in the PM)
Time: 2 minutes
Replies: 35
Revisions: 1
Publicity: Workshop


A state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand. A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove.

This Wikipedia definition of Csíkszentmihályi’s flow will do. I recommend his book on it to anyone interested in “the meaning of life” non-fiction lineage (Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Alan Watts’ This is It). There’s a lot more science to this gem though. If I’m not mistaken, over the course of these pages he implies that for all our advancement as a species, there’s an untapped potential in our own experience of the mind. Who could disagree! All you have to do is get on the highway at rush hour — at any hour — to know that our failures to experience optimal states of mind don’t just create problems for ourselves, they create problems for everyone around us. And not just other people, but for other organisms of any kind. Will a society of flowing individuals always bring about good things, for all? What if one’s man’s flow is another mans … ?

Something, by the way, that bothers me about flow theory, even though I’m sure Csíkszentmihályi covers this with some indisputable neuroscience, is the way it seems to draw a line between us and our chitinous, scaled, fury, haired and feathery friends (once again, like we always go and do). I mean, come on! Have you ever seen wild animals in their natural habitat? They’re in the groove. Even their supposed anxiety about who’s going to eat them (a theory of mind we project onto them anyway, no?) has a groove of its own. They are in the zone. Now, what if their entire niche gets thrown out of whack? Around these parts, I just don’t see that dividing line between us and them, on the level of space and behavior I might add. So this is a real question. And you know what — if there’s ever a time when they seem distracted, a little self-conscious and doing something not necessarily for either their own or anyone’s good (the opposite of flow perhaps), it’s when they’ve crossed a line, and when they’re acting like us.

Just this morning, a raccoon was spotted pacing back and forth in front of the door to a coffee shop, as if waiting for the line to get smaller or something. He didn’t seem to know whether he was coming or going. In the same hour, a hawk of confused motivation it seemed, perched itself on one of the gables of the art supply store across the street from there. He couldn’t stop looking down into the window, obsessing over a reproduction of Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring. And I swear I saw a fisher cat frustratingly yanking at a garden hose in the neighbor’s yard yesterday. It’s like they just don’t see how they can mind their own business anymore, and have completely given in to our “higher states” of conciouseness themselves. That hose, all twisted and dirty as is the usual, was putting up quite a fight I might add.

Lost and confused souls are they? Or harbingers? I shudder to think about the beavers, minks and coyotes of this lost, flowless zone.


Horse » Authorship
Horse » 5:00 PM 05 Sep 14

The Thread (35)

 Author's voice in grey. 

  1. I know nothing of the neuroscience of flow, but would submit that there are probably conflicting flows that inevitably ensnare one another. We are just one roadblock to these creatures. Harmony is excellent, but go watch two unlike ants dissembling each other mandible to mandible and tell me that’s harmonious.

  2. On some level, I’m sure it is. And yes, is flow good by definition? And what about the complexity of competing flows? If it is just a mental state, by definition, then you have to conclude, as you have, that there are flow states that can be bad. I don’t remember if the psychology of flow got into that, but I do think about it often. I also imply above that when our niche is disrupted, either by accident or by design, by our own will or by some other’s, whether we’re gnats or humans, we’re thrown off, and have to adjust. Our flow can knock something or someone else off balance, or it can help. Certainly that goes for everything we’re capable of doing, whether we’re in a flow state or not. We have to take a look at how it fits into the world.

  3. True, your definition doesn’t imply judgment. So is flow knowing one’s own niche?

  4. I think it’s a kind of niche. Technically, it exists where and at which point you feel challenged, yet capable, not stressed out, yet not bored. You’re doing something you’re good at, and you don’t even know whether you really like it or don’t. You’re just killin’ it. And right there in that unfortunate figure of speech is the crux of our quandary. Can you be doing harm in your flow, in your niche?

  5. I’m just going to take this opportunity to say that other animals are from my vantage far more in touch with reality than Homo sapiens sapiens – not least wiser and healthier because totally unconcerned with wealthier.

    We don’t take on their character here in Rooster Land for nothing.

  6. The philosopher Baudrillard said something similar concerning the idea of simulation – that our current mode of being is so far removed from nature that we can’t even recognize it anymore. We live in a simulated version of nature to the degree that we now are simulating, no longer nature, but former versions of simulated nature.

    That is, we are simulating the simulation and have no connection to the original (a condition that he connects to wealth and materialism).

  7. I like this Frenchman. And I’d be honored to push back a little on his idea, as I thought about it myself albeit it to no avail.

    I’m sure you will not disagree, Bear, if I say that it would be characteristically grandiose of humans to think they could have transcended nature like that. They have definitely gotten creative with its rules, but they are still of it and in it.

  8. Wouldn’t disagree. Yet there seems a paradox here. If we are of nature, then nothing we do is unnatural, including coming up with ideas on our distance from nature.

    Can we be of nature and feel unnatural?

  9. There is no such thing as unnatural.

  10. I may have to retract my initial thought. Our reconstruction of nature in society has perhaps caused more separation than we are aware of. That might have been part of a natural process (the recreation), but now that we have invented the construct and coinciding rules, we have removed ourselves from the original. This isn’t to say, mind you, that we have progressed.

    That’s at least another way to think of it. Not sure which is true or which I believe. Probably both.

  11. No distance is possible — there is no unnatural and therefore no degrees of it either. If you mean that on the whole we’re walking in the woods less (FYI I’m doing more than my share of outdoor roaming, offsetting the whole at least a little bit), then yes. But nature is more than oxygen, trees, birds, and sunlight — it’s absolutely everything. We can’t distance ourselves from anything, let alone everything, not even at death.

  12. I bristled at Baudrillard initially as well, by the way. Felt it was a clever but ultimately flawed viewpoint, given empiricism. I take it more seriously now – though I’m still skeptical. Within society, and Baudrillard is speaking of consumer society, I think he’s pretty spot on. But I think that we can return to nature, whereas Baudrillard doesn’t – this idea he calls simulacra, which he defines as a copy of something that doesn’t or no longer exists.

    Uncannily, he uses a Borges story, On Exactitude in Science, as an analogy. The story is of a group of cartographers who recreate an entire empire with a map so real that it covers the empire itself. Eventually the map crumbles and is found only in the furthest reaches. Baudrillard retells the story – he says that the map survives the empire and that we today live in the map.

    If you consider the written word and its relationship to history, this concept is hard to deny.

  13. Elk, I said those same words myself. But the fact that we have those words – oxygen, trees, birds, sunlight – to represent actual objects that have no inherent word associations creates a system, through which we understand the world, that is ultimately arbitrary, possibly meaningless.

  14. But you are right. It’s a mistake to believe we are completely severed from nature. We still to eat, sleep, die. It’s our methods of doing so that are called into question here.

  15. Again – there is also no unnatural, let alone no distance. The styrofoam cup didn’t come from nowhere. That doesn’t mean we can’t do something wrong, or bad. But it’s exceedingly difficult to discern this idea of right/wrong and good/bad, and thus far it appears to be largely individual. A universal good is really what we’re all after, particularly in this post.

  16. Aside, classic Borges – meta.

  17. Right. When you say natural, you mean all-encompassing, universal.

    But there is another sense of it. The styrofoam cup is a simulation. It didn’t exist until we made it and we made it in the likeness of something. This original something we might term natural, the copy less so. It wouldn’t exist without us. We are surrounded by copies of things that simulate originals. The grocery store is a fine example.

  18. Homo sapiens sapiens is natural. All materials available to Homo sapiens sapiens are natural. Therefore, using the transitive property, anything Homo sapiens sapiens does or makes is natural. It would be beyond godly to think that because we touch something it is taken out of the realm of nature.

  19. It is our mindset that’s at stake in this scenario. Our being surrounded by copies has changed the way we think about the world. Whether this is natural is not the point – the point is the difference.

  20. And for the record, I agree with you about the word natural, though Oxford disagrees with both of us in at least one definition. They contrast nature with human activity. And once again we encounter the slippery nature of words.

  21. I see the issue of reflection in what you’re saying — it’s the meta. It can, no doubt, cause us to become centered on ourselves, our particular iteration of animal. It may even need to be consciously offset.

  22. True. I consciously offset it by, as noted, trying to be more like my dogs.

  23. Supposedly (and I’m dictating this as I’m starting my car and getting ready to back up, and so I’m not in a position to look into what philosophies and definitions “supposedly” is referring back to) it is our ability to have this conversation, to reflect on all of nature and our place within it (some definition of consciousness, I suppose) that indicates our distance or separation. Yet there is also a paradox right there, because certain modes of reflection are exactly how we can tune into our nature and the Nature. There are paradoxes all over this topic. Paradoxes are a peculiar phenomenon of the mind.

    I suggest you poke around at Keats’ idea of negative capability.

  24. Although I suggest looking at his original usage of the phrase, which occurs in the letter he wrote to a friend, I believe — a written conversation.

    Aside, after reading many of his letters, and it being the dawn of email, I was inspired to include a few months of email conversation about the sublime in my year-long independent study paper in college. My argument was that letter writing was a serious literary art form that helped all manner of writers work through and present ideas, and that extracting those ideas and formulating them in a paper was part of an academic construct, and my paper was more important than that construct. It took. What a typical English major.

  25. Yes on the paradoxes. They are omnipresent concerning such topics. I can live with them.

  26. No shortage on this subject — just the other day in the New York Times.

  27. Now here comes Rabbit, fashionably late to the flow-cum-natural debate, which seems to feature at least a bit of semantic wheel-spinning. Bear presents the traditional definition of “natural” as something which exists outside human intervention, with “unnatural” being something which can only exist through some form, whether direct or indirect, of human intervention. Elk counters with a definition of “natural” which includes anything capable of existence. Both concepts are fine and useful for certain purposes so long as you understand which sense is being employed.

    Just trying to help this fly get out of the bottle.

  28. Righteous summation, Mr. Rabbit.

  29. According to Nixon’s article:

    In 2013, the world’s 85 wealthiest individuals had a net worth equal to that of our planet’s 3.5 billion poorest people.

    That seems an easy fix.

  30. Apropos – the whole of the Wealth Transfer post. Duly noted that your cynicism is particularly consistent on this subject, Mr. Bear.

  31. No sarcasm intended. I was thinking of an 85 vs. 3.5 billion showdown at the OK corral. It almost seems unfair.

  32. Almost? You’re right. I always wonder why there’s less mutiny.

  33. Because the 85 will have 3.5 billion-and-one on payroll.

  34. Sounds like we’re venturing into some Supreme Mathematics territory here.

  35. Perhaps why I may never understand – payroll doesn’t interest me. I’ve always had to make my own and have grown to prefer it that way.

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