Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal explores the concept of ecstasis. What is that? You may ask. It’s the moments you step outside yourself. It’s when you’re taking out of your rut and you feel alive. It’s what extreme sports enable. It’s why people take psychedelic drugs. And it’s what Kotler and Wheal have been searching for in the past few years. The book is very interesting to read, sometimes light on science, but high (pun intended) on aspiration and futurism.
The book expands on ideas proposed by Csikszentmihalyi (Flow) and Kotler (The Rise of Superman). They take flow, a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation, and elevate it even further to ‘STER’.
- Selflessness: (partial) loss of ego or executive function
- Timelessness: attention is driven to the present (and you’re not wondering about yesterday/tomorrow, which in most cases is less enjoyable to do)
- Effortlessness: it all seems easier because of a mix of chemicals in your brain (norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, oxytocin, serotonin)
- Richness: because there is more focus on the now you see more patterns, connections, ‘umwelt’, there is more processing of the now
Kotler and Wheal also discuss why we haven’t done more already in exploring these types of states. They argue that it’s because of the church (but you could argue that revelations that started religions were inspired by ecstasis states). Another reason is how we look at our bodies and that using external tools is cheating (but if you take this view, eating itself is cheating). And finally that the state prohibits experimentation and ecstasis experiences (banning drugs, dangerous sports, etc).
The 4 Forces to Ecstasis
Stealing Fire is full of examples of how we’re progressing and finding out new ways to achieve ecstasis. The authors state that there are four main drivers/areas of new discoveries:
- Neurobiology: we are getting better at understanding what is going on in our brain. What is the influence of certain drugs, states, activities? We can almost measure these things in real-time
- Psychology: take the learnings from 10 years meditation and condense them into a few weeks. Promises like that are starting to emerge from the field of psychology.
- Technology: neurofeedback, sharing experiences, virtual reality. With technology, the advance and sharing of ecstasis will be able to spread exponentially.
- Pharmacology: there are recipe books out there that help us better explore our own minds. And at the same time drugs are being used in a better way to treat mental diseases.
I listened to the book and I think that was the right choice. But for taking notes/making this summary it’s less useful. One thing I will be taking away (doing now) is the Hedonic Calendar. It’s their way of looking at ecstasis and how much you should be seeking it. It shouldn’t be that you’re always trying to lose yourself (your executive function isn’t there for nothing), but that you do it responsibly and in a way that enables learning and development.
Mega sports challenge
Gut check (no substances):
No more than 1x p/month mind expansion & more than a few drinks
First entrepreneurship, then relationships, then fun
Make Haste Slowly!