Friday, November 14, 2014

Call me Neo

 You’ll excuse me if I seem etheric.    

I have passed through a complicated mass of neurobiology and entered the flow state.  The deep now. 

Always seeking the cutting edge, and in accordance with the latest research, I have eased up on my gray matter accelerator and backed off my normally ultra-quick sharp-as-a-tack-edness.

But Carolyn, you must be thinking, why would you do such a thing? 

I’m so glad you asked. 

I have gone deep to improve my performance in the realm of mental acuity.  I read about it in an article on Big Think titled, “Your Brain Performs Better When It Slows Down.”

At first glance, that might seem like a paradox; but it made immediate sense to me, being pretty darned acute already. 

Of course!  Thought I.  I want to expand my awareness.  And at last, I can quit gritting my teeth and ease into amplification; turns out, a pokey perceptual pace performs preeminently!

That’s what best-selling author of TheRise of Superman, Steven Kotler, talks about on Big Think – “the optimization of consciousness through flow states.” 

And I’m all over it.

The best way to describe a person in flow, e.g. me, is a person who obtains the ability to hone her focus on the task at hand so keenly that everything else falls away. 

That is so me!

Sometimes, I am so immersed in writing this very column, Dear Reader, that time “dilates,” which means it slows down (You’re welcome).  

I strive for that freeze frame effect Kotler references, just like the one Keanu Reeves has in The Matrix when Laurence Fishburne is trying to teach him martial arts, or kill him.  

According to Kotler, Keanu and I are in “bullet time.”

Conversely, he says time may speed up and five hours will pass by in what seems like five minutes.  Not sure what that means on the actual clock.  Did I miss my nap?

But yeah.  There’s nothing else quite like it.  Not since the sixties anyway.  As though wading through molasses, I can navigate my slow crawling stream of consciousness.  Everything is within my reach – eventually.  I pull words out of the cosmos as if they’re Carl Sagan’s teeth.  Whatever.

And, Kotler says, when in flow, “all aspects of performance go through the roof.”

It’s relative, of course.  I mean, if a person’s mental performance in her normal, anxiety-ridden, distraction-filled, scatter-brained time is at a baseline of, say, four, then the ceiling is considerably lower.  Think old English thatched-roof bungalow.  It’s fairly easy to reach up and touch it.  

Still, it’s an improvement.

Big Think says it’s a common myth that humans use only 10% of their brains.  If that were true, an optimal “flow” performance would mean the brain works harder and faster to achieve 100% efficiency.  But Kotler says that’s backwards –

"In flow, parts of the brain aren’t becoming more hyperactive, they’re actually slowing down, shutting down.  The technical term for this is transient, meaning temporary, hypo frontality.  Hypo – H – Y – P – O – it’s the opposite of hyper – means to slow down, to shut down, to deactivate.” 

OK.  He seems a little condescending.  I mean really.  We get the transient hypo frontality thing, Mr. I’m-the-Brainiac Scientific Guy.

And since the prefrontal cortex calculates time, when we experience this transient hypo frontality, we lose the ability to sense past, present, and future.  Hence, flow.

As Kotler explains it, "We’re plunged into the ‘deep now.’”

So it’s all good in the deep now, even if it is a bit of a conundrum:  You get to the flow when performing at high levels.  And when you’re in the flow, performance levels are enhanced. 

Kotler says scientists have studied flow for 140 years and it is present in every altered state from dreaming to mindfulness to psychedelic trips.  Umm hmm.  

When in the deep now, your sense of self-doubt and your brain's inner critic are silenced.  This results in boosted states of confidence and creativity. 

That will come in handy because I’ve been thinking for a while now that it would be fine with me if my Inner Critic would just Shut Up.  She’s messing with my flow, man.

In the meantime, I’m scheduled for a cookie with the Oracle.