I've been staying at home for the last two days writing a paper about information and entropy in biological systems. My wife is away, and I'm trying to keep distractions to a bare minimum, trying to get into that state where I'm completely absorbed, there's always something to do, and it's lots of fun. That's what I love about writing. At first I feel stuck, frustrated. But gradually the ideas start falling into place - and once they do, I don't want to be anywhere else!
This state is called flow
, and it's great. But life can't be all flow, it seems.
I like this chart. I like any chart that takes psychology and maps it down to a few axes in a reasonably plausible way. I don't have to 'believe in it' to enjoy a neat picture that pretends to tame the wild mess of the soul.
Apparently this chart goes back to Mihaly Csikszentmihaly's theory of 'flow'. According to Wikipedia:In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi outlines his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is 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. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he is doing. This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.In an interview with Wired magazine, Csíkszentmihályi described flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."Csikszentmihályi characterized nine component states of achieving flow including “challenge-skill balance, merging of action and awareness, clarity of goals, immediate and unambiguous feedback, concentration on the task at hand, paradox of control, transformation of time, loss of self-consciousness, and autotelic experience.”
What does autotelic
mean? It seems to mean 'internally driven', as opposed to seeking external rewards. Csíkszentmihályi says "An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding." Anyway, back to the Wikipedia article:To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.
But in this chart, 'apathy' is just one of 8 options, the one diametrically opposite to 'flow'. I like the idea of how 'relaxation' is somewhere between flow and boredom, but I'm not sure it feels next to 'control'.
It's all very thought-provoking. We have these different modes, or moods, and we bounce between them without very much thought about what they're for and what's the overall structure of the space of these moods.
Moods seem like the opposite of mathematics and logic, but there's probably a science of moods which we haven't fully understood yet - in part because when we're in a mood, it dominates us and prevents us from thinking about it analytically.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi