Monday, January 23, 2006

Scrumptiousology and "flow"

You know, this really is one of those "blindingly obvious in retrospect" ideas.

If you can make a three-dee printer that uses hotmelt (or other thermoplastic), why not make one that uses chocolate?

Chocolate is good for my morale, if I don't eat so much I get a hangover the next day. I think I should write more about food. Especially strange crossovers like this idea. The phrase "a flow machine" popped into my mind, and slid laterally. I'd like to be a flow machine...

It's clear my hyperfocus practices usually lead to increased irritability. I figure that a big part of that is ignoring body signals: RSI precursors, bad posture, hunger. It's about attention. Lots of things turn out to be about attention.

In the last decade or two, lot has been written (and sung...) about being "in the zone", and Csikszentmihalyi, of course, put out Flow back in 1991. I haven't read any of his later works yet, in part because (for me) the book Flow... ...didn't. But that's not what I want to talk about. When I first encountered that book, I was struck by its subtitle, which refers to "the psychology of optimal experience". Hmm. Do I detect a classical monad that's subject to dissection?

Varieties of "optimality"

There are varieties of flow, I think. Here's my list:

Level-Zero Flow
Hyperfocused, usually single-tasking, easily thrown by interuptions or setbacks. Exemplified by the "Heraus! Can't you see I'm decomposing?!" joke. A face-to-face interruption can cost fifteen minutes to restore lost state and context; an interruption that results in crafting an email can cost more. This tends to be the kind of consciousness where any music must have no vocals (or for some people, no instruments that *sound* like vocals). For me, at least, subvocalization and verbal-"digital" formulation is frequent, and even dominates, as an idea is executed.

Key characteristics: Focus + fragility.

I call this state "fragile flow", aka "Artists Only" or "the Porlock propensity".

Level-One Flow
Able to treat interruptions as invitations or opportunities. The Oblique Strategy "Honor thy error as hidden intention" can come into play, as can humor, the inability to stay irritated by setbacks, flexibility in approach while being able to remind oneself of the goal, and the ability to engage in civil conversation. Still rather selfish, and can be hard to explain to others (especially people who ask what you're doing, since you might be multitasking with no spare "explain yourself" thread running). I tend to be less self-critical in this mode, and there's virtually no running internal dialogue -- what internal verbal representation occurs is more like the literary stream-of-consciousness in Joyce; hints, not sentences.

Key characteristics: Vigilance + resilience.

I call this state "grace".

Level-Two Flow:

Able to sway or persuade others in the moment, who might nonetheless experience a "WTF moment", or buyer remorse, after you pass out of their experience. Really good con men have this kind of flow down pat. Certain types of crazy people do, too. You're golden, you're sparking; you might also experience logorrhea ;).

Key characteristics: Charisma + persuasiveness.

I call this "R. P. McMurphy flow", after the character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
. "McFlow", for short. Like McDonald's french fries, it's a perfect thing in its way, but at the same time bad for you. Plus, you can think you're there when all you are is manic. This requires calibration. Are they laughing with you or at you?

Level-Three Flow

Able to execute Levels One and Two flow while being ethical and respectful (don't scare the horses or parents); able to dip down into Level Zero and surface with the fish in one's mouth without biting others' heads off. Elegant, socio-ecologically-sound flow.

Key characteristic: getting things done while retaining supportive connection with others.

I call this "laminar flow", from the technical term for flow exhibiting no turbulence. It's still possible to be in Level Three and doing the wrong thing, of course. But at least you're not making waves. :) "Slick" people have it. So do wise people. The quality of the flow doesn't disambiguate the two.


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