Flow

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The Devil’s Advocate
Flow.jpg

In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.

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Flow /fləʊ/ (n.)

Up on your hiking straps, that hypnotic state Hendrix would go into during Machine Gun — in the zone, immersed, focused, absorbed, involved to the point of losing awareness of time, ego and an exterior world. Awesome, but hard to do if you work in legal and compliance in a financial services organisations

Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi — that’s pronounced something like “Me-hi Chick-sent-me-hi” as best as I can guess — in 1975.

Interesting — in asmuch as I understand it — in how important it is to getting in a flow state it is to reduce our usual cluttered and confusing reality into a a few essential fundamentals with a clear purpose, fixed, narrow boundaries (both keeping you in and everything else out) and permitting unidivded focus on a goal.

We see such bounded narratives in other contexts: this is, too, Nancy Cartwright’s nomological machine as a model for the scientific theory, and this is also how fiction, and for that matter, sport, works: in each case there is a conditioned and defined environment with pre-defined, enforceable rules of engagement, a beginning and an end, and a single common objective.

These things work for so long as all those conditions prevail. In a sporting context and in a work of literature, they do without material exception (if the pitch is flooded or invaded the game is called off — there may be other sociological crises as a result, but they are not to bne resolved within the rules of a game of football anymore). In the case of science and commerce the brute facts of the external world have a habit of intruding while the game must continue.

Is “flow” the process of rerendering the wicked as tame?

Art as the process of creating a new reality. More interesting to us when there are clear goals and rules. Hence reductionism.

  1. Clarity of goal
  2. Immediate feedback
  3. Challenge of activity matched to your own skill
  4. Focus... Undivided attention
  5. Everyday frustrations are removed from attention
  6. You are in control, but on an edge where control is possible
  7. Your ego is switched off. You don't have the luxury of worrying what others feel about yourself.
  8. Time is transformed. Hours get condensed into minutes. Sometimes seconds stretch into minutes


Boredom and anxiety are varieties of psychic entropy: confusion, inability to do work, randomness and chaos. You're conflicted.