Wednesday, 22 February 2012
I'm currently reading an article in the New Scientist which is an update of recent thinking about the idea of 'flow'; that state of 'effortless concentration' that is said to be associated with achievement and the development of expertise. From what I've read so far, the article seems to be suggesting that researchers are isolating the chemicals that are associated with the state, and experimenting with administering them to people to see if it will help them 'drop into' this state and therefore be more creative and productive, to a higher level.
There must, of course, be a chemical correlate to what they're calling the state of flow. But is seeking to identify and then administer the relevant chemicals going to do it? Make people 'concentrate effortlessly' and 'achieve' at a 'high level'?
'Achieve' and 'high level' are culturally-based judgements (dependent on local context), applied, in a sense, after the fact. The person who has 'achieved' actually has little control over whether or not they will finally get this stamp of approval from the outside world. They may be motivated by the desire to gain such approval, but this may have little to do with whether they get it.
It seems to me that reducing the 'ability to drop into' such states to their chemical constituents is likely to be missing the point somehow. So you take the chemical, feel focussed, start to 'achieve', or concentrate in that direction. But then what? It could kick start a virtuous circle, where the satisfaction gained by said achievement or concentration motivates and feeds the person's desire to keep going.
But I wonder. I suspect that what is defined as a capacity to drop into a state is the result of an existential drive which is integral to an individual's meaning-making system. This meaning-making drive may create the appropriate chemicals, but administering the chemicals to people with all sorts of half-understood existential drives seems seems unlikely to create clearer, or more relevant, frames of meaning (which in turn might drive the kind of concentration and application which this research seems to be trying to get at)....
On the other hand, the power of chemicals to reconstitute the internal/external nexus that is consciousness might lead to all sorts of unexpected effects....