Although there is little within the book, Flow : The Psychology of Optimal Experience, which is entirely unknown to anyone with some knowledge of psychology or yoga, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly writes a very readable book for a lay audience with a great deal of useful information and has a talent, at least in the early introductory chapters, for short statements of potent cynicism which would basically detonate the average person's illusions in regards to life and its purpose and meaning, if his brief conjectures were accepted.
Some of the more interesting and helpful ideas in this book are his later developments on the idea of...
We can basically understand the entire thesis of the book if we take the view of a sort of "ultimate battle" within the universe taking place continually between entropy - the forces of destruction, corruption, and death, and negentropy - the catastrophically creative, constructive and ordering, organizing forces of life. Mihaly's ideas are significant in this context because he sees the bestowal of meaning, participation in a community, learning and perfection of skills and talents, as being part of the negentropic force which seems inherent to organic life.
This idea is far from original. The author advances an essentially energetic view of human consciousness, considering our attention, that nebulous "something" which builds our subjective universes for us, which is sought perpetually by various media of advertising, which makes the universe into what it appears to be, as the source of psychic energy. In espousing this view, he is placing himself in a position which parallels many of Carl Jung's ideas of the creative libido as well as Wilhelm Reich's orgone energy, and even the purely Freudian libido (which Jung considered to be only a fragment and a fraction of the true libido).
Information, he says, enters into this energetic system and is processed, and the characteristics of this processing will depend on the depth and degree of organization of the psyche - either the influx of new data will disrupt or threaten consciousness, creating psychic entropy (another term might be cognitive dissonance), or it is assimilated into the system, in effect strengthening the psychic self.
Flow in Practice and Theory
A key observation in this book is the idea that if we can gain control of ourselves and our habituated and automatic reactions and emotions, we are in effect learning to control consciousness, which means we are developing the capacity to alter our subjective experience of the world. The whole of this psychology is the subject of esoteric thought and speculation and arguably one of the principle goals of Raja yoga as Patanjali interprets it in his Yoga Sutras. Yet this "control" which we are to develop is paradoxically the exact opposite of what is necessary for us to experience the state of "flow".
The idea of "flow" is almost counterintuitive - it is the result of our efforts at establishing an ordered psyche in line with our goals, and yet it is experienced as a surrender of the self to the effectively autonomous and unconscious processes of consciousness, which is only possible to us through the extensive training and efforts at control, practice and mastery which we have achieved in a particular discipline. In effect, we spend conscious effort refining the machine and then let go, allowing the energy to "flow" through it, producing (hopefully) the result we willed to achieve.
The Autotelic Self
Another major principle he states is that our most useful "survival" skill is our ability to turn an unfortunate situation, hostile environment, or threat, into a challenge, an opportunity for growth, or a puzzle to be solved. In effect, he is telling us that we should attempt to convert entropy into negentropy. The accomplishment of this is the creation of the authentic, autotelic self.
As he is careful to point out, our programmed needs, social and genetic, are not in themselves capable of effecting this self-willed transformation. It takes conscious effort to establish any sort of higher context of meaning, and that alone results in an increase of order within the psyche and the greater possibility for energy flow with less resistance, because our psyche is then "in harmony" with the goals established by the mind.
As Csikszentmihaly tells only slightly less plainly, the mechanism of society itself is essentially parasitic (or at least predatory), subsisting by the exploitation of our genetically- and socially-determined desires and proclivities. Only, he reasons, in the event that we become aware of possibilities outside those programmed contexts, do we have the chance to establish the authentic autotelic self, or to accept or reject the finding of authentic meaning within those programmed contexts.
Your radical ideas of society as a form of social exploitation have definitely occured to others -
one of whom holds a Doctorate in Psychology, is a Fulbright Fellow and a world-recognized scholar
written to celebrate my finally returning this book to the library!