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Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER CNBC and Strategy + Business Best Business Book of 2017 It’s the biggest revolution you’ve never heard of, and it’s hiding in plain sight. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt and Elon Musk, Special Operators like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets, and maverick scientists like Sasha Shulgin and Amy Cuddy have turned everyth NATIONAL BESTSELLER CNBC and Strategy + Business Best Business Book of 2017 It’s the biggest revolution you’ve never heard of, and it’s hiding in plain sight. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt and Elon Musk, Special Operators like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets, and maverick scientists like Sasha Shulgin and Amy Cuddy have turned everything we thought we knew about high performance upside down. Instead of grit, better habits, or 10,000 hours, these trailblazers have found a surprising short cut. They're harnessing rare and controversial states of consciousness to solve critical challenges and outperform the competition. New York Times bestselling author Steven Kotler and high performance expert Jamie Wheal spent four years investigating the leading edges of this revolution—from the home of SEAL Team Six to the Googleplex, the Burning Man festival, Richard Branson’s Necker Island, Red Bull’s training center, Nike’s innovation team, and the United Nations’ Headquarters. And what they learned was stunning: In their own ways, with differing languages, techniques, and applications, every one of these groups has been quietly seeking the same thing: the boost in information and inspiration that altered states provide. Today, this revolution is spreading to the mainstream, fueling a trillion dollar underground economy and forcing us to rethink how we can all lead richer, more productive, more satisfying lives. Driven by four accelerating forces—psychology, neurobiology, technology and pharmacology—we are gaining access to and insights about some of the most contested and misunderstood terrain in history. Stealing Fire is a provocative examination of what’s actually possible; a guidebook for anyone who wants to radically upgrade their life.


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NATIONAL BESTSELLER CNBC and Strategy + Business Best Business Book of 2017 It’s the biggest revolution you’ve never heard of, and it’s hiding in plain sight. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt and Elon Musk, Special Operators like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets, and maverick scientists like Sasha Shulgin and Amy Cuddy have turned everyth NATIONAL BESTSELLER CNBC and Strategy + Business Best Business Book of 2017 It’s the biggest revolution you’ve never heard of, and it’s hiding in plain sight. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt and Elon Musk, Special Operators like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets, and maverick scientists like Sasha Shulgin and Amy Cuddy have turned everything we thought we knew about high performance upside down. Instead of grit, better habits, or 10,000 hours, these trailblazers have found a surprising short cut. They're harnessing rare and controversial states of consciousness to solve critical challenges and outperform the competition. New York Times bestselling author Steven Kotler and high performance expert Jamie Wheal spent four years investigating the leading edges of this revolution—from the home of SEAL Team Six to the Googleplex, the Burning Man festival, Richard Branson’s Necker Island, Red Bull’s training center, Nike’s innovation team, and the United Nations’ Headquarters. And what they learned was stunning: In their own ways, with differing languages, techniques, and applications, every one of these groups has been quietly seeking the same thing: the boost in information and inspiration that altered states provide. Today, this revolution is spreading to the mainstream, fueling a trillion dollar underground economy and forcing us to rethink how we can all lead richer, more productive, more satisfying lives. Driven by four accelerating forces—psychology, neurobiology, technology and pharmacology—we are gaining access to and insights about some of the most contested and misunderstood terrain in history. Stealing Fire is a provocative examination of what’s actually possible; a guidebook for anyone who wants to radically upgrade their life.

30 review for Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sherrie

    ***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway*** This book doesn't really say anything. It gives a lot of anecdotes about people trying to reach ecstasis through drugs, religion, music, jumping out of planes, etc...but doesn't really tie it all together into a cohesive argument. Also, it desperately needs fact checking. For example, the authors claim that more copies of 50 Shades of Grey were sold than all 7 Harry Potter books combined. A quick Google search shows that to be false. It makes me quest ***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway*** This book doesn't really say anything. It gives a lot of anecdotes about people trying to reach ecstasis through drugs, religion, music, jumping out of planes, etc...but doesn't really tie it all together into a cohesive argument. Also, it desperately needs fact checking. For example, the authors claim that more copies of 50 Shades of Grey were sold than all 7 Harry Potter books combined. A quick Google search shows that to be false. It makes me question pretty much all the facts in this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I'm a psychologist, and I was hoping this book would build on my knowledge of how to leverage empirically based principles of behavior science to enhance performance and well-being. Although I found the "altered state" information interesting (and aligned with work I'm familiar with about group dynamics and bonding), the main point of the book seemed to be: Do some drugs. Now I'm not a puritan who casts judgment on the use of controlled substances, BUT I do think this advice is completely impract I'm a psychologist, and I was hoping this book would build on my knowledge of how to leverage empirically based principles of behavior science to enhance performance and well-being. Although I found the "altered state" information interesting (and aligned with work I'm familiar with about group dynamics and bonding), the main point of the book seemed to be: Do some drugs. Now I'm not a puritan who casts judgment on the use of controlled substances, BUT I do think this advice is completely impractical for the average reader. One reason so many of the success stories in this book are billionaires and CEOs is because they also have the power and resources to obtain and use these substances without facing the legal and social consequences your average Joe might. It was telling to me that unlike most good pop psychology books, this one really didn't offer any meaningful suggestions for harnessing the altered state techniques in your own life ("hedonistic calendar" be damned). What, you can't tell us how to obtain these miracle substances you've been touting for 200 pages? At best, this book is an entertaining way to think "what if" in terms of caring for your brain and body very differently. At worst, it's an advertisement for Burning Man and a glib assumption that anyone who's not microdosing with LSD before work is wasting her potential.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    “Altered states of consciousness” conjures visions of rogue scientists hitting hallucinogens and then sealing themselves up in sensory deprivation tanks until they either have a breakthrough or a breakdown. This book may touch on such activities, but it’s about something else--something broader and in some sense, and yet narrower in another. What it’s about are the states of consciousness in which the part of the mind that is critical, cautioning, and always creating worst case scenarios fades i “Altered states of consciousness” conjures visions of rogue scientists hitting hallucinogens and then sealing themselves up in sensory deprivation tanks until they either have a breakthrough or a breakdown. This book may touch on such activities, but it’s about something else--something broader and in some sense, and yet narrower in another. What it’s about are the states of consciousness in which the part of the mind that is critical, cautioning, and always creating worst case scenarios fades into the background, allowing one to be more effective, happier, and to drop one’s neurotic tendencies. Kotler and Wheal refer to this as ecstasis, borrowing from the Greek word meaning “to get outside oneself.” They differentiate it from the Flow of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi with which it clearly has overlap. (One of the authors, Kotler, wrote a great book on the exploitation of Flow by extreme athletes entitled “The Rise of Superman.”) [I’d love to see a Venn diagram of how they see these states overlapping, but—alas—one isn’t provided, though there is some discussion of it.] The book is organized into three parts. The first part consists of three chapters and it both explores what ecstasis is and why it’s so hard to find. The story of how the Navy SEALs designs training to build group Flow states on command is illuminating as is the second chapter’s discussion of how Jason Silva found ecstasis through freewheeling philosophizing. The third of the chapters describes three prominent barriers to achieving these states of mind. These barriers are among the reasons for the rarity of these altered states even though they’re available to everyone. The heart of the book is the second part which describes four avenues by which people pursue these altered states of consciousness: psychology, neurobiology, pharmacology, and technology. The chapter on psychology uses a dialogue series between Oprah and Eckhart Tolle as a stepping off point, probably more because of what it tells us about the scale of yearning for ways to get outside of one’s head than because of the dialogues’ value in facilitating that condition. Positive psychology as recipient of a mantle once held by religion and spiritualism is an important theme in this chapter. The neurobiology chapter isn’t just about the biology of the brain and nervous system; it’s about the integration of brain and body. In it, we learn about how expressions, postures, and gestures can influence our state of mind. Many apparently believe that the story of pharmacology is a much bigger part of this book than it actually is, but it’s a part that’s hard to ignore. As one who seeks non-pharmacological approaches to Flow (I’m more about yoga, meditation, and movement) I still found this chapter fascinating, and perhaps most so in its discussion of other species’ pursuit of chemically-induced highs [particularly that of dolphins.] The technology discussed covers a range of approaches from biofeedback devices designed to help one navigate one’s way into the zone, to gear to help one engage in trigger activities at lower risk. For example, the mix of defiance of gravity and high-speed gliding experienced wing-suiting seems to be a potent trigger for ecstasis. It also seems to kill anyone who keeps doing it long enough. So the question is whether one can create the sensation and still achieve the trigger without inevitably experiencing an untimely demise. The grimness of that last paragraph is an apropos lead-in to discussion of the book’s final part, which considers how one can organize one’s pursuit of ecstasis without running into the many pitfalls that coexist with it—from becoming a pleasure junky to dropping out of life to killing oneself. The first of three chapters in the final part discusses the Burning Man festival phenomena in great detail as well as other avenues by which people find themselves drawn into the pursuit of altered consciousness. The next chapter describes how both government and commercial firms have sought to exploit the bliss of these altered states. The last chapter is about how to merge daily life and pursuit of ecstasis in a balanced way so one avoids becoming a pleasure junky who runs his life aground on rocky shoals in pursuit of the next ecstasis fix. The book is endnoted, and has some nice ancillary features—a number of which are available online with the link being given at the back of the book. An appendix that I found interesting was one entitled “Notes on Inside Baseball.” This section discussed a number of controversies that were outside the scope of the book, but which readers might wish to research in greater detail. I found this book to be highly engaging. The authors use the narrative approach throughout to keep it interesting, while at the same time conveying complex ideas in an approachable fashion. They scour many disparate realms in search of this altered consciousness, and so there’s never a dull moment. I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about how to shut down that perpetually critical and gloomy part of the brain so that one can achieve one’s optimal potential.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Frank Carnevale

    Entertaining read, but lacks practical tips. Maybe I came into this book with improper expectations. I kept waiting for practical steps on how to reap the benefits of ecstasis. Aside from some suggestions on how to schedule consciousness altering practices into one's life, the book lacked practical tips. I'm already convinced that a flow state is beneficial to me. I didn't need 98% of the book to convince me of that. If you need some convincing, this book is for you. If you need a practical roadm Entertaining read, but lacks practical tips. Maybe I came into this book with improper expectations. I kept waiting for practical steps on how to reap the benefits of ecstasis. Aside from some suggestions on how to schedule consciousness altering practices into one's life, the book lacked practical tips. I'm already convinced that a flow state is beneficial to me. I didn't need 98% of the book to convince me of that. If you need some convincing, this book is for you. If you need a practical roadmap on integrating these practices (and applying them to your life pursuits), look elsewhere.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mario the lone bookwolf

    Enlightenment, intelligence enhancement, mental invulnerability through neurobiological and pharmacological tuning, ... Superhero fiction? Yes too, but in this case military and commercial research. Please note that I have put the original German text to the end of this review. Just if you might be interested. Four ways lead to the goal. According to the severity of invasiveness psychology, neurobiology, pharmacology and finally technology. Psychology in this context means to come to the status of Enlightenment, intelligence enhancement, mental invulnerability through neurobiological and pharmacological tuning, ... Superhero fiction? Yes too, but in this case military and commercial research. Please note that I have put the original German text to the end of this review. Just if you might be interested. Four ways lead to the goal. According to the severity of invasiveness psychology, neurobiology, pharmacology and finally technology. Psychology in this context means to come to the status of a Zen meditator who meditates for life. To perfect the techniques for learning body control and mind control so that people, much faster and at a younger age, can control their consciousness, subconscious, sleep, emotions, hormone release, ... That both the obstructive aspects of their subjective identity and any side effects of group dynamics become obsolete. The flow, the detachment from the ego and the loss of space and sense of time can also be generated pharmacologically. But only as an aid and crutch on the path to each individuals perfection. Neurobiology works on the hardware of the operating software in psychology. The better the brain and the linked hormone circuits of the organs are understood, the better one can optimize them. Be it invasive, by genetic engineering, via external stimuli or with Pharmacology. The insights of the effects on hardware and software flow together. The most effective, but also the hardest to implement, would be an individualized dosage. That every patient or voluntary self-optimizer gets the mix tailored to his wishes. Creativity, perseverance, association, memory, visual imagination,... Before that, the general increase of one or more properties by a standard drug will be the rule. But as soon as individual analyzes allow the drugs to be adapted to unique brain chemistry, another milestone will be reached. For the primary work focus, leisure activities, hobbies, ... Whatever one can imagine. Technology is also the key to immortality. It already starts with first, primitive implants and will gradually continue to increase until the consciousness is uploaded to a machine. As fundamental research in psychology shows more and more that the brain can fundamentally adapt to new conditions, it´s just a question of finding the right way to do it. To make it possible to exist in other places than in a bone ball with eyes and stuff. Interdisciplinarity will be the mantra. Neurobiology decodes and tests optimal pharmacological and technological conditions. To first make a brain in an artificial environment viable. And then to transfer the functions of the brain to technical devices. The individual human consciousness is just a complex algorithm that can be recreated as a program in a machine. Nothing special or not reproducible inside there, just conditioning, epigenetics, many cognitive dissonances and a wobbly self-concept. Alternatively, the body is simply immortalized by nanotechnology and genetic engineering. After all, these are the key technologies in all preliminary stages that will make the implementation possible in the first place. Whether the "brain in a vat" and "mind transmittable to the machine/ deus ex machina" approach will be more successful than the "instant, immediate immortality" in ones own body, is difficult to say. Whether it is harder to stop aging and decay or to write a program that corresponds a consciousness and can be transferred back to a clone or an empty host for set up. Subjectively and speculatively, I just pick one of many possible ways: The frozen bodies/minds can be brought back to life without damage and kept alive. Like amphibians. As a stopover, they inhabit artificial storage media after leaving the body. And, in the end, these formerly real, temporary artificial intelligences could take possession of non-conscious biological clones produced on an industrial scale. The transfer of consciousness between the original, to be renovated body, storage unit and a new body is arbitrary. The motivation behind it is not altruistic and caring about the welfare of entire populations, let alone individuals. Instead, it is the top goal of the state to become the birthplace of the superior and unbeatable people of the future trough leadership in these disciplines,. The realization of transhumanist ideals with a grain of cyberpunk and mental uploading. The geniuses would not even get lost someday. Indeed, the primary application will be designed for military and commercial purposes. Sooner or later civil applications will emerge. It is pragmatic to accept that a better late than never is the only viable option in this case. Erleuchtung, Intelligenzsteigerung, mentale Unverwundbarkeit durch neurobiologisches und pharmakologisches tuning, … Superhelden Fiktion? Nein, militärische und privatwirtschaftliche Forschung. Vier Wege führen zum Ziel. Nach dem Grad ihrer Invasivität Psychologie, Neurobiologie, Pharmakologie und Technologie. Psychologie bedeutet in diesem Kontext, auf den Status eines lebenslang meditierenden Zenmeisters zu kommen. Die Techniken zur Erlernung der Körperkontrolle und Gedankensteuerung so zu vervollkommnen, dass Menschen schneller und in jüngerem Alter ihr Bewusstsein, Unterbewusstsein, Schlaf, Emotionen, Hormonausschüttung,… kontrollieren können. Dass sowohl die hindernden Aspekte ihrer subjektiven Identität als auch etwaiger Nebeneffekte von Gruppendynamik obsolet werden. Der Flow, die Loslösung vom Ego und der Verlust von Raum und Zeitgefühl können auch pharmakologisch erzeugt werden. Das aber nur als Hilfsmittel und Krücke bis zur eigenen Vervollkommnung. Neurobiologie arbeitet an der Hardware des Funktionierens der Software in der Psychologie. Je besser das Hirn und die daran gekoppelten Hormonkreisläufe der Organe verstanden werden, desto besser kann man sie optimieren. Sei es invasiv, mittels gentechnischen Verfahren, über externe Stimuli oder über Pharmakologie. Dabei fließen die Erkenntnisse aus den Auswirkungen auf Hardware und Software zusammen. Am effektivsten, aber auch am schwersten umzusetzen, wäre eine individualisierte Dosierung. Dass jeder Patient oder freiwillige Selbstoptimierer die auf seine Wünsche zugeschnittene Mischung bekommt. Kreativität, Ausdauer, Assoziationsgabe, Gedächtnis, visuelle Vorstellung,…. Davor wird die generelle Steigerung einer oder mehrerer Eigenschaften durch ein Standardmedikament die Regel sein. Aber sobald individuelle Analysen ermöglichen, die Wirkstoffe auf die einzigartige Hirnchemie hin zuzuschneiden, wird ein weiterer Meilenstein erreicht sein. Für den primären Arbeitsfokus, Freizeitgestaltung, Hobbies,… Die Technik ist gleichzeitig der Schlüssel zur Unsterblichkeit. Es beginnt bereits mit primitiven Implantaten und wird sich sukzessive immer weiter bis zum Hochladen des Bewusstseins in eine Maschine steigern. Da die Grundlagenforschung der Psychologie immer mehr zeigt, dass sich das Hirn grundsätzlich auf neue Bedingungen einstellen kann. Etwa an anderen Orten als in einer Knochenkugel. Interdisziplinarität wird das Mantra sein. Die Neurobiologie entschlüsselt und testet die optimalen pharmakologischen und technologischen Bedingungen. Um zuerst ein Hirn in einer künstlichen Umgebung lebensfähig machen zu können. Und dann die Funktionsweisen des Hirns auf technische Geräte zu übertragen. Das individuelle menschliche Bewusstsein ist nur ein komplexer Algorithmus, den man als Programm in einer Maschine nachbauen kann. Alternativ wird einfach der Körper mittels Nanotechnologie und Gentechnik unsterblich gemacht. Überhaupt sind das in allen Vorstufen die entscheidenden Technologien, die die Umsetzung erst möglich machen werden. Ob der "Hirn in einem Bottich" beziehungsweise " Übertragbarer Geist in der Maschine" Ansatz eher Erfolg haben wird als die unmittelbare Unsterblichkeit, lässt sich schwer sagen. Ob es schwerer ist, das Altern und den Verfall zu stoppen oder ein Programm zu schreiben, dass einem Bewusstsein entspricht und sich wieder auf einen Klon oder einen leeren Wirt übertragen lässt. Subjektiv und spekulativ sehe ich einen von vielen möglichen Wegen: Die tiefgekühlten Körper/ Hirne werden ohne Schaden wieder zum Leben erweckt und am Leben erhalten werden können. Wie etwa bei Amphibien. Als Zwischenstation bewohnen sie nach dem Verlassen des Körpers künstliche Speichermedien. Und am Ende könnten diese ehemals echten, vorübergehend künstlichen Intelligenzen, von in industriellem Maßstab hergestellten, biologischen Klonhüllen ohne Bewusstsein Besitz ergreifen. Der Transfer des Bewusstseins zwischen echtem, zu renovierenden Körper, Speicherung und neuem Körper ist beliebig. Es geht dabei nicht altruistisch um das Wohl ganzer Bevölkerungen, geschweige denn um Einzelpersonen. Sondern um den Staat, der sich durch die Führungsrolle in diesen Disziplinen zum Geburtsort für überlegene und nicht zu schlagende Menschen der Zukunft macht. Die Verwirklichung transhumanistischer Ideale mit einem Schuss Cyberpunk und mentalem Uploading. Die Genies würden irgendwann nicht einmal mehr verloren gehen. Sicher wird die Primäranwendung für militärische und kommerzielle Zwecke ausgelegt werden. Daraus erwachsen über kurz oder lang die zivilen Anwendungen. Es ist pragmatisch zu akzeptieren, dass ein besser spät als nie in diesem Fall den einzig gangbaren Weg darstellt.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brad B

    Stealing Fire opens with a story from ancient Greece, so surely that proves what an important book it is. The anecdote is about the mysterious, psychoactive beverage kykeon and its use during the time of Socrates. While the authors acknowledge the probable presence of the mind-altering substance ergot, they also claim “uncovering the ingredients of kykeon has become a Holy Grail kind of quest.” These guys should really learn about Wikipedia, or any of the many web sites that describe the ingredi Stealing Fire opens with a story from ancient Greece, so surely that proves what an important book it is. The anecdote is about the mysterious, psychoactive beverage kykeon and its use during the time of Socrates. While the authors acknowledge the probable presence of the mind-altering substance ergot, they also claim “uncovering the ingredients of kykeon has become a Holy Grail kind of quest.” These guys should really learn about Wikipedia, or any of the many web sites that describe the ingredients of kykeon. That carelessness is one of the biggest problems with the book. The authors jump breathlessly from anecdote to anecdote without ever creating a coherent narrative. The overall point seems to be that a state of “ecstasis,” a broad term that includes flow states, contemplative/mystical states, and psychedelic states, is easy to achieve through a variety of methods. Sometimes the anecdotes offer a clear connection to this point. Other times, the authors seem so eager to drop as many names as possible that the connection is lost. For example, the story of Joseph Smith and his “Book of Mormon” is included. Are the authors arguing that spirit visitations and secret religious texts are a good thing? Considering how much money the LDS has spent trying to limit the basic freedoms of millions of Americans, this doesn't do much for the authors' point. There is an appendix where the authors acknowledge that some of the research they cite has subsequently been called into question (in fact, in some cases, flat out refuted). That kind of disclosure belongs in the text, not in an appendix that many won't even read. And there are still glaring omissions. For example, they report a study claiming that “power poses” (think the Wonder Woman or Superman power stance) increases testosterone. As a former healthcare worker, this didn't make sense to me, so I looked it up. Later research fully discredited the “power pose” finding – power poses can increase one's self-confidence, but they have no impact on testosterone levels. Another name-dropping example is the Trojan Warrier Project undertaken by the Pentagon to integrate meditation, biofeedback, and other techniques into training of Green Berets. But the authors provide no follow-up! Not only do the authors not indicate if the project was a success, they don't even speculate as to what “success” would mean in that situation. Was the goal to help soldiers kill more efficiently? To train them in non-violence techniques? To reduce the future prospects of PTSD? No clue. This kind of sloppiness – going so far as to seem like deliberate avoidance at times – occurs throughout the book. The authors love Burning Man to the point of worship. They salivate over the unity and creative incubator culture but only gloss over the class separation that has become rampant at Burning Man (private camps that amount to gated communities). And they don't even mention the considerable environmental impact of this city in the dessert, temporary or otherwise. (And can we please put to rest the myth that Elon Musk invented hyperloop? He simply repackaged the work of scientists like Robert Goddard.) Meditation and mindfulness, one of the possible paths to “ecstasis,” represents another issue with Stealing Fire. We're supposed to be impressed that health insurer Aetna (important name!) implemented a mindfulness training program to employees. It's wonderful that Aetna “saved $2,000 per employee in health-care costs, and gained $3,000 per employee in productivity.” Good for Aetna! Did the employees benefit? Did the savings get passed on to Aetna's customers? (And did you know that you can experience a “breakthrough” after only four days of meditation training? Hurry now, while supplies last!) Even more problematic is the neglect of potentially significant ethical conflicts. The authors mention that they were the keynote speakers at an annual Advertising Research Foundation meeting. Then they caution about corporations (many of them members of the aforementioned foundation) influencing consumer spending with the techniques described in the book. No connection is made between this influence and the authors' participation. Similar issues exist surrounding the authors' fanboy descriptions of Google founders Brin and Page, completely ignoring the ethics of Google's eager collection and exploitation of private consumer data. Ultimately, Stealing Fire ends up feeling like just another cog in the propaganda machine that serves Silicon Valley libertarian technocrats. Of course new companies and business units will result from Burning Man – any time that many uberwealthy people get together to party, they will come up with money-making schemes. That's what they do. Except for one brief mention, the authors never connect success with effort. One reasons the titans of tech succeed (based on material standards of “success,” which are themselves debatable) is that they simply work longer hours than most of us. Hopping in and out of a state of euphoria might sound like fun, but good things really do take time. A lifetime of meditation, years of disciplined athletic training, or the seven-day work weeks of a technology start-up – time and commitment are the real sources of value. Some of the book's anecdotes are very interesting, hence my two stars instead of one, but the reader should view every page with a critical eye. And much of this is either useless to the average layperson (How many of us are really going to experiment with LSD? Not me.) or reinforces long-standing awareness (yes, you will probably benefit from a regular meditation practice). It mostly adds up to a long, and poorly researched, press release. In the end, these authors are not stealing fire so much as blowing smoke.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

    People have known for a long time that there are a whole lot of ways to experience consciousness outside the every day way we experience it. Every society sorts these ways that are either acceptable or “beyond the pale” as it’s described in Stealing Fire. Up until recently, Western culture has been quite wary of anything that changes our experience of the world too drastically. Lately though, maybe since the 1950’s, this has started to shift, and in the last few years in particular, altered stat People have known for a long time that there are a whole lot of ways to experience consciousness outside the every day way we experience it. Every society sorts these ways that are either acceptable or “beyond the pale” as it’s described in Stealing Fire. Up until recently, Western culture has been quite wary of anything that changes our experience of the world too drastically. Lately though, maybe since the 1950’s, this has started to shift, and in the last few years in particular, altered states have received increased mainstream interest and attention. We’re at the beginning of what might be a revival in experimentation with altered states of consciousness. A more careful, measured revival. Stealing Fire calls the over-arching feeling we’re seeking “ecstasis,” the Greek word for “stepping beyond oneself.” This is pretty good choice of word, but their acronym STER was even more useful, it stands for Selflessness, Timelessness, Richness, Effortlessness and enumerates the broad categories of reasons for seeking altered states. Of these, richness was the most ambiguous to me, so here’s how they describe it: “creative inspiration or divine madness or that kind of connection to something larger than ourselves that makes us feel like we understand the intelligence that runs throughout the universe.” If you think about it, everything we do has the goal of either directly or indirectly obtaining or avoiding a mental state. It’s why we exercise, eat well, use substances like caffeine or alcohol, and, at a more abstract level, it’s why we avoid regret and do things to make memories. So we seek states of mind. We always have, always will. Stealing Fire is about going after them in less conventional ways. In a nod to the less conventional, the authors give plenty of space to the altered states brought on by psychedelics. I suppose this is why a lot of reviews are hard on the book. What’s the point of reading about taking illegal substances like DMT or LSD for people who are unwilling to risk breaking the law to experience them? Well, I'd argue that regardless of whether or not you are willing to try them there are reasons to learn about them, but even if you disagree, the book’s central focus isn’t illegal substances, it’s a survey why people are interested in altered states and the variety of ways they achieve them. Apart from hallucinogens, they explore flow, and contemplative states like those achieved through meditation, sexuality, chanting, and dance. Within these broad categories they look at how technology, psychology, neurobiology, and pharmacology can best induce, measure, and control these non-ordinary states of consciousness and make them useful in our quest to experience novelty, form creative connections, and make meaning. Stealing Fire isn’t perfect but the complaints that the authors are just trying to push people toward their courses or seminars or whatever it is are overstated. Their courses are hardly mentioned. There is however, a clear bias toward the Silicon Valley mentality with their love of Burning Man, self-quantification, expensive conferences, and projects that only millionaires could even fathom. At times it’s a little eye-roll inducing, but don’t let that keep you away from the book. As any good survey style non-fiction book should have, there are more starting points than conclusions here. I took pages of notes and have a new list books to check out that go deeper into the topics they treat briefly. It’s well written and engaging and worth your time.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    I was ready to give this two stars, but after getting home, I have to go with one star. What do the following have in common? Google. Navy SEALs. Joan of Arc. Monks. Brain waves. I'm not entirely sure even after reading this. This book is all about altered states of consciousness and cognitive enhancement....yes, that includes drugs. He then plays the "everyone who is anyone is doing it". It is entertaining enough, but I kept feeling "played" all throughout this. Every time the author wants you I was ready to give this two stars, but after getting home, I have to go with one star. What do the following have in common? Google. Navy SEALs. Joan of Arc. Monks. Brain waves. I'm not entirely sure even after reading this. This book is all about altered states of consciousness and cognitive enhancement....yes, that includes drugs. He then plays the "everyone who is anyone is doing it". It is entertaining enough, but I kept feeling "played" all throughout this. Every time the author wants you to be impressed with his statements (whether true or not), he mentions super famous/popular people, organizations that are glowing examples of all that is good in the world, successful businesses, and the like. And if he wanted to attach a negative vibe to his statements, he'd conjure up images of Barney the purple dinosaur, Mormons (several times), obesity, masturbating monkeys, and anything else people don't want to get too close to. This was so slanted and he tried too hard to color this. I wish the research and the science was presented as such, because that part was kind of fascinating. But the sad attempts to make it something it clearly is not...that irked me. Then towards the end the author issues words of caution about doing drugs....it sounded like an afterthought. This book had me rolling my eyes and wondering if people really fall for this high school type of posturing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Charles Franklin

    THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST INTRIGUING BOOKS THAT I HAVE READ THIS YEAR! "Stealing Fire" is an exploration of man's journey through altered states of consciousness. The authors, Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler explore thins topic from a variety of perspectives that you wouldn't expect-mind gyms, exterme sports, neurotheology, Navy SEALS, mind control as well as the stuff that you would expect, mind-altering substances. The book isn't a straightforward and boring academic book, though, it's a story-dri THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST INTRIGUING BOOKS THAT I HAVE READ THIS YEAR! "Stealing Fire" is an exploration of man's journey through altered states of consciousness. The authors, Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler explore thins topic from a variety of perspectives that you wouldn't expect-mind gyms, exterme sports, neurotheology, Navy SEALS, mind control as well as the stuff that you would expect, mind-altering substances. The book isn't a straightforward and boring academic book, though, it's a story-driven, exciting adventure. that goes down different rabbit holes that eventually tie together into one big theme. I immediately intrigued by the idea of "flow" (I'm a productivity nerd) and immediately loved going down all of the rabbit holes that Kotler and Wheal take readers down. While I was reading this book, I made quite a few changes in my life (which means it was a good book!). I started to listen to bianaural beats and gamma music on YouTube, joined the free webinar about flow sponsored by the Genome Project website, and took time to devote more quiet time so that I can get into the "flow state" more often. I have a different perspective on the brain because of this book and look forward to learning more about "flow". The one area that everyday people might have trouble is applying some of the tips on a down-to-earth level. The book is full of absolutely incredible stories and there are some general principles that help the everyday reader identify the characteristics of flow state and a little bit about how the brain works while under the flow state. On the other hand, I (like many readers) don't have access to a mind dojo, tickets to the Burning Man festival, or access to any of the other cool stuff in the book. For those readers, I would advise taking the principles of the book and the tips in the last chapter (hedonic calendar) to start an exploration of the "flow state" moments in your life (meditating, listening to good music, taking a trip into nature).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    This is about altered mental states and how they improve life. It seems a little too much like a commercial for their web site and their classes. It doesn't tell you how to make any of this help in your regular, everyday suburban life. Like you can go to Burning Man, or climb mountains on the weekend with your extra time and money and then come back on Monday and everything will just be magically improved. It wasn't bad, but I didn't get out of this what I was hoping for. This is about altered mental states and how they improve life. It seems a little too much like a commercial for their web site and their classes. It doesn't tell you how to make any of this help in your regular, everyday suburban life. Like you can go to Burning Man, or climb mountains on the weekend with your extra time and money and then come back on Monday and everything will just be magically improved. It wasn't bad, but I didn't get out of this what I was hoping for.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    This book talks about the latest trend in using 'alternative state of mind' to make ourselves more creative, train harder or just for fun. Basically getting high, and mainly through psychedelic drugs. He explained that all the Silicon Valley elites and Davos 0.01%-ters are doing it. The author invoked Csikszentmihalyi's 'flow' states of high performing athletes and artists which feels timeless and blissful, and is also a high-performance state. Similarly, Buddhist monks can enter similar state o This book talks about the latest trend in using 'alternative state of mind' to make ourselves more creative, train harder or just for fun. Basically getting high, and mainly through psychedelic drugs. He explained that all the Silicon Valley elites and Davos 0.01%-ters are doing it. The author invoked Csikszentmihalyi's 'flow' states of high performing athletes and artists which feels timeless and blissful, and is also a high-performance state. Similarly, Buddhist monks can enter similar state of 'oneness with the universe through meditation. He explained that nowadays psychedelic drugs can help human beings do the same thing. This I must disagree. The athletes and monks can Control entering and leaving the state. People taking drugs can't. And even the author acknowledged that one can fall into the trap of seeking blissfulness for its own sake, or what we simply called addiction and/or dependence. I can't imagine a future when everyone would just take psychedelic drugs in class to increase their creativity. Sounds scary to me.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    this book was highly recommended to me but my concentration continually skidded away like it was Teflon-coated. dnf at p. 109

  13. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    I came across this book on recommendation from podcast, and it sounded interesting - but from the cover and initial impressions, I thought it'd be another sort of self-help "using flow state or mindfulness to be a better worker bee." While I want to be good at my job, it wasn't my main interest, but when reading it anyway, this book presented so much more! Sure, it talks about efficiency and flow states, but it explores cultural backgrounds, different paradigms and approaches - from psychedelic I came across this book on recommendation from podcast, and it sounded interesting - but from the cover and initial impressions, I thought it'd be another sort of self-help "using flow state or mindfulness to be a better worker bee." While I want to be good at my job, it wasn't my main interest, but when reading it anyway, this book presented so much more! Sure, it talks about efficiency and flow states, but it explores cultural backgrounds, different paradigms and approaches - from psychedelic drugs (and their history and cultural context) to Temporary Autonomous Zones to communes to extreme sports. The personal stories and varied experiences are fantastic and engaging, and illustrate the points about the concepts, and how it may apply to various aspects of your life - job, mental well-being, spiritual well-being, relations with others - but without veering into New Age-land *or* being skeptical to the point of dismissing ideas just because they're outside the norm. That probably raises some eyebrows, but it's like this: the authors never ask you to believe in anything, they just show cases where certain things have worked, why they might have worked, and that belief in itself may have been a component of the experiences. I've been reading about these sorts of experiences for decades, and keep running into walls because so much out there is reiterations of Flow 101. This is finally a next step, in a way that doesn't fill it all up with anyone's particular fluff, but provides streamlined ways to integrate the ideas into your own mental fluff.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alecsandra Litu

    It seems like this year the typical book that falls in my hands is the one that takes your beliefs and ideas about the world, laughs at them with that "Disney witch" laughter and then smashes them with a hammer into thousands of pieces. This is one of them. As most of my friends know, until recently I was your basic "boarding school" type of girl: no drugs, no drinking, no smoking, no coffee… (Yes, I used to do other stupid stuff, just not those ones). So this book puts things in a whole new per It seems like this year the typical book that falls in my hands is the one that takes your beliefs and ideas about the world, laughs at them with that "Disney witch" laughter and then smashes them with a hammer into thousands of pieces. This is one of them. As most of my friends know, until recently I was your basic "boarding school" type of girl: no drugs, no drinking, no smoking, no coffee… (Yes, I used to do other stupid stuff, just not those ones). So this book puts things in a whole new perspective. What if all those (and a lot more) are methods of expanding our consciousness (if applied in certain conditions)? Increasing performance? Solving complex problems? Creating a sense of community? And by the way, we used to do this for thousands of years until we became "puritans". What if there is no difference in terms of ethics between using meditation and LSD as tools for "getting there" (for example)? All in all, the case they make is logical (most part of it at least) and easy to follow. Tons of examples and approaches to help you "get there", in flow. The only two issues I had with the book were a) the touch of "conspiracy theory" added and b) the tendency to over-generalize at the end of the arguments. But still a good provocative read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Praxedes

    Three and a half stars, really. This title deals with the benefits of attaining a 'flow' mentality, which the authors claim has long-lasting physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Science has already shown that many activities discussed within provide positive effects for us, such as meditation, prayer, and the liberating "rush" of performing extreme sports. Any act which unleashes an epiphanic episode provides us with a distinct and ultimately useful view of ourselves, and by extension of Three and a half stars, really. This title deals with the benefits of attaining a 'flow' mentality, which the authors claim has long-lasting physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Science has already shown that many activities discussed within provide positive effects for us, such as meditation, prayer, and the liberating "rush" of performing extreme sports. Any act which unleashes an epiphanic episode provides us with a distinct and ultimately useful view of ourselves, and by extension of our world. What the authors here propose is that we should be actively pursue these states in life, and gives us some tips on how to do so. I particularly recommend to millennials the final chapter, which warns us that this is not about being a 'bliss junkie': exhilaration is only a first step which needs to be followed by hard work, grit, and discipline.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Noel Burke

    I have to admit, I would have likely never listened to this book had I known the premise. I thought it was going to be about technology advancements in the Navy Seal community. While I guess you could kind of make that connection, the premise is far less about them and more about how the Silicon Valley is accessing high performance through very unconventional ways. The Seal community is connected for the reason that they are studying how groups "get in the zone" and become high performing teams. I have to admit, I would have likely never listened to this book had I known the premise. I thought it was going to be about technology advancements in the Navy Seal community. While I guess you could kind of make that connection, the premise is far less about them and more about how the Silicon Valley is accessing high performance through very unconventional ways. The Seal community is connected for the reason that they are studying how groups "get in the zone" and become high performing teams. They gel, they become lock step, and they are high performing. This concept is also connected to many entrepreneurs seeking to obtain a competitive edge. While that may sound like an interesting business book, it was much more about how people are seeking high performance through mind altering drugs and strange ecstatic experiences. If you ask me, it sounded kind of wacky. One area that I had to point out because it destroys the author's point was found in part six (of ten) of the audiobook. The author compared the founder of the Mormon faith (Joseph Smith) with Moses of the Christian Old Testament. His point was that people have had to trust leaders about spiritual matters without having the evidence to prove their assertions. In Joseph Smith's story, he has a conversation with an angel named Mordecai who relays all of these messages from God to Joseph on golden plates. He later writes them down in book form but cannot produce the golden plates later to confirm his evidence of divine communication. The author attempts to compare this to the Christian Bible where Moses comes down from the mountain with the ten commandments on stone tablets after speaking with God. Moses sees the utter unfaithfulness of the Jewish people who have resorted to worshipping false gods while Moses was away. In anger, Moses throws the tablets down and rebukes the people. The author states that the Bible is based on Moses word, not hard evidence. Unfortunately, the author never read the rest of the story. The very next chapter (Exodus 34) shows Moses going back up to speak with God about this matter and he brings back down another set of the same ten commandments. Thus, the faith of the Christian Bible can never be similarly compared to the Mormon religion. The Christian faith is not based solely on trusting that Moses was speaking to God. This invalidates the point made about spiritual experiences being believed or experienced with no proof. It certainly happens every day with false religions. Certainly we can see this with the Mormon religion, but this cannot be claimed against the Christian faith. The one thing I can appreciate with this book was that it provided a look into the culture in which we live. I can appreciate the disclaimers that were made regarding pursuing this kind of lifestyle. But I also wonder what cost some will bear for pursuing this kind of lifestyle, allowing life decisions to be made through such emotionally charged experiences. It's easy to commit to something when you are emotionally connected to something. In fairness, the Burning Man Conference (referenced throughout the book and a model of sorts for the author's theme) does recommend that those attending this conference avoid making any major decisions for at least one month after their experience of attending the conference. The author desires for us to find hope in our pursuits of human achievement. Through finding "exstacia", their hope is on what they can accomplish. I think this is fleeting and temporary. I personally find hope in the unchanging God who created all things. He has always been, is here, and always will be. He is all knowing, all powerful, and cannot sin. He is completely trustworthy. I rely on Him for my whole life and encourage others to trust in Him. You see, we all have sinned (made poor life decisions that we regret). Sin is disobedience against God's moral law. God has made clear that those who sin, deserve death and are cast into a dark place full of suffering for eternity. It is the consequence for our disobedience to His commands. No one can be good enough to earn life and avoid this punishment. But at the right time, God sent His only son, Jesus Christ, into the world. Jesus lived a perfect life, and yet died on a cross to satisfy God's punishment for our sin. If you would just believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that He alone can save you from your sin, that he alone can forgive you of your sin, and that you commit to living your life as Christ did, you can be saved from your sin and live in eternity with God forever. We cannot save ourselves through our achievements. We cannot even save ourselves through good works as Christians. We can only be saved by what Christ accomplished 2,000 years ago on a cross. He died on a cross to bear my sin and I am forgiven for my sin because I place my faith in Him alone. Dear reader, please flee from this life of strange appetites and weird substitutes as this book presents, and come to the God who made you and walk in His ways through the life and death of Jesus Christ who alone can save you.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karsten Speckmann

    One needs an Open Mind for Flow and Inspiration... A fascinating, yet controversial read. This book may inspire or offend you. If you are more on the conservative or deeply spiritual side, parts of this most interesting book you might not like. I personally also wouldn't opt for doing the riskier things. However, the collection of studies around "flow" or heightened mental states is fascinating. Group flow and meditation practice has been done for millennia, so there most probably is something to One needs an Open Mind for Flow and Inspiration... A fascinating, yet controversial read. This book may inspire or offend you. If you are more on the conservative or deeply spiritual side, parts of this most interesting book you might not like. I personally also wouldn't opt for doing the riskier things. However, the collection of studies around "flow" or heightened mental states is fascinating. Group flow and meditation practice has been done for millennia, so there most probably is something to it. I will look further into these for myself and at work. Towards further success :-)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alin Pinta

    An exuberant and vital study on the neurochemistry of 'flow' and 'altered states of consciousness' that brings a modern ontological perspective on what many of us still consider shamanistic mysticism. An exuberant and vital study on the neurochemistry of 'flow' and 'altered states of consciousness' that brings a modern ontological perspective on what many of us still consider shamanistic mysticism.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bogi Takács

    (Just a few quick sentences, not a lengthy review...) This was so badly fact-checked that it made me wonder if I could have asked for a refund, had it not been a library book. It just had a *lot* of random inaccuracies (no, hemp seeds are not psychoactive... the power pose research did not replicate... not all painkillers have psychological effects etc.). Otherwise the book is basically about using spirituality to increase work efficiency when you are a businessperson - with a lot of namedropping (Just a few quick sentences, not a lengthy review...) This was so badly fact-checked that it made me wonder if I could have asked for a refund, had it not been a library book. It just had a *lot* of random inaccuracies (no, hemp seeds are not psychoactive... the power pose research did not replicate... not all painkillers have psychological effects etc.). Otherwise the book is basically about using spirituality to increase work efficiency when you are a businessperson - with a lot of namedropping of businesspeople mostly in the IT world, and also some Navy SEALs. I feel like Western spirituality had to produce this offshoot, it was inevitable, but I personally wouldn't recommend it. The first book recommendation I got via HN that I ended up disliking. It also misses so much that would've been slam-dunk hits related to the main topic. I can't believe that First Earth Battalion only got two brief paragraphs, and there was no (NO) discussion of lucid dreaming. Source of the book: Yes, the library

  20. 5 out of 5

    Wojtek Erbetowski

    As author brings Maslow's hammer: when the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. I think that the author felt under this trap as well, seeing key role of extasy in too many domains. On the other hand, I've got a variety of interesting stories to share, thanks to the book (especially on Burning Man). Overall - 2 stars, as I don't really know if it will influence my life in any way. As author brings Maslow's hammer: when the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. I think that the author felt under this trap as well, seeing key role of extasy in too many domains. On the other hand, I've got a variety of interesting stories to share, thanks to the book (especially on Burning Man). Overall - 2 stars, as I don't really know if it will influence my life in any way.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tiago

    Important The sociocultural importance of this book far outweighs the depth or technical accuracy of its commentary. You can find much more extensive and precise descriptions of each of the fields it covers, but what this book brings together is a holistic portrayal of a movement spanning many communities and activities. I feel this is an extremely important milestone on the path to gaining widespread acceptance of non-ordinary states of consciousness.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Raz Pirata

    “When free from the confines of our normal identity, we are able to look at life, and the often repetitive stories we tell about it, with fresh eyes.” A story as old as stories themselves is the one of a man seeking answers in altered consciousness. From Leary’s appeal to ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’ all the way back to Alcibiades theft of ‘kykeon’ humanity has chased and cherished the opportunity to ‘step out of oneself’ for pleasure, purpose or both. With Stealing Fire - How Silicon Valley, t “When free from the confines of our normal identity, we are able to look at life, and the often repetitive stories we tell about it, with fresh eyes.” A story as old as stories themselves is the one of a man seeking answers in altered consciousness. From Leary’s appeal to ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’ all the way back to Alcibiades theft of ‘kykeon’ humanity has chased and cherished the opportunity to ‘step out of oneself’ for pleasure, purpose or both. With Stealing Fire - How Silicon Valley, the Navy Seals, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal revisit our drive for altered conscious states, and reveal a new perspective about why we seek them and what we can gain from their pursuit. “The conscious mind is a potent tool but it is slow and can manage only a small amount of info at once.” Though Stealing Fire spends a lot of time championing the benefits of attending the ‘Burning Man’ festival and endorsing the benefits of psychoactive drugs, this is not just a book supporting alt-culture and rampant drug use. Stealing Fire is an exploration ‘ecstasis’, a state of selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness and richness that can provide creative insights, improved problem solving and greater empathy and compassion. It investigates the obstacles of access and the dangers within. The forces that are driving the research into ecstasis and access to its mysteries. “Navigating ecstasis isn’t in any field manual. It’s a blank spot on their maps, beyond the pen of most cartographers, beyond the ken of most rational folk.” Among the many interesting tales of how various ‘ecstatics’ enter, achieve, and benefit from this state of altered consciousness, where Stealing Fire really shines is in its investigation of the numerous ways one can go about seeking these cherished states. It shares tales of meditation techniques, shamanistic rituals, technologically induced ecstasis and pharmacological interventions. I remember looking around at a diverse collection of people I was about to share an ayahuasca ceremony with in the mountains of Peru, and I don’t think any of them were managing billion dollar hedge funds, engineering groundbreaking space technology or on leave from SEALs duty. I mean, it certainly felt more like ‘69 in Haight Ashbury than it did the Red Bull Creativity Lab, but who knows. Maybe next time I’ll ask the overlords because that ceremony provided a lot of answers, but it most certainly inspired a whole lot of questions too. Some of which were answered in Stealing Fire. Overall Score 3.8 / 5 In a Sentence: A book that will make you think your grandparents may have been on to something before they went square and bought a house in the ‘burbs.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lukasz Nalepa

    Wow... I can't remember previous book that made me think so much. Very, very intriguing lecture. Personally for me, the best part was beginning of the book, where most of the ideas and assumptions were introduced. I was moved to the level of really pittying the fact, that I'm not i.e. working for Google, living in California and Rave culture with a Burning Man festival is just something I can read about in such books :) But seriously, It got me really consider meditation, mindfulness and impact t Wow... I can't remember previous book that made me think so much. Very, very intriguing lecture. Personally for me, the best part was beginning of the book, where most of the ideas and assumptions were introduced. I was moved to the level of really pittying the fact, that I'm not i.e. working for Google, living in California and Rave culture with a Burning Man festival is just something I can read about in such books :) But seriously, It got me really consider meditation, mindfulness and impact the different states of consciousness have on ourdaily life. I would gladly consider five stars, but I feel like there is far too little attention paid to the dark side of altering conconsciousness and knowledge that lays behind it. There are some chapters regarding exploiting the topic by the government and "greedy corporations", but for me there is too little, especially regarding the harm that people can do to themselves - and I'm not talking only about the drugs of course. All in all - I really, really... recommend this book to anyone interested in flow, mindfullness, happiness... life :) Very intriguing lecture!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dima Yousef Jadaan

    This book is about ecstasis, "altered states of consciousness" and the various means through which these altered states can be achieved, such as music, religion, extreme sports, drugs, near death experiences, and technology.⁣ ⁣ The book consists of 3 parts. The first part makes the case for ecstasis; how ecstasis can improve performance, inspire creativity, and accelerate learning. The authors explain the concept of ecstasis, the four traits of ecstasis, and the relationship between flow and ecsta This book is about ecstasis, "altered states of consciousness" and the various means through which these altered states can be achieved, such as music, religion, extreme sports, drugs, near death experiences, and technology.⁣ ⁣ The book consists of 3 parts. The first part makes the case for ecstasis; how ecstasis can improve performance, inspire creativity, and accelerate learning. The authors explain the concept of ecstasis, the four traits of ecstasis, and the relationship between flow and ecstatic states.⁣ ⁣ The second part covers the Four Forces of Ecstasis; psychology, neurobiology, pharmacology, and technology. This part explores interesting topics, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), neurotheology, AI therapy, psychedelics, and tech-assisted self-awareness technology. These are indeed very exciting subjects, but unfortunately, I felt this section lacked depth and was short on scientific studies. There's a lot more that could've been covered in relation to these topics.⁣ ⁣ The third part discusses the road to ecstasis. For me, the first 2 chapters of this part (chapters 8 and 9) were somewhat boring and didn't make for an engaging read. However, the final chapter (chapter 10) surpasses the previous 2 and discusses some very important points regarding the dangers of altered states of consciousness and the importance of balancing the risks and rewards of ecstasis.⁣ ⁣ So, overall, a good book that has a lot of interesting anecdotes and insights across the chapters. My advice is to read it if you are looking for a "primer" on altered states of consciousness.⁣

  25. 4 out of 5

    Steven McDonald

    An absolutely fascinating insight into the world of ecstasis filled with explanations that anyone can understand. I've never dabbled with any form of drug, let alone anything that would elicit an "altered state" or so I thought. The authors did a great job explaining how things like drugs, sports, meditation and prayer effect our brain's chemistry. They're also careful to list the "rules" to abide by should you want to explore an altered state. Now that I'm done with this book I'll be spending t An absolutely fascinating insight into the world of ecstasis filled with explanations that anyone can understand. I've never dabbled with any form of drug, let alone anything that would elicit an "altered state" or so I thought. The authors did a great job explaining how things like drugs, sports, meditation and prayer effect our brain's chemistry. They're also careful to list the "rules" to abide by should you want to explore an altered state. Now that I'm done with this book I'll be spending time listing my activities that lead to altered states and planning accordingly.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mirek Jasinski

    It took me some time to read it (over a year) but it is a good book, forcing you to think and reflect. It seems that the main objective is to get more people to buy the courses but I liked most the warning at the end of the book and the conclusion. Everything in moderation. :)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Lu

    Fascinating book by the founders of the flow genome project on a topic that has consumed my mind for the last 2 years. This book presented greater background, context, and summaries of research (70+ pages of footnotes! this book is incredibly well researched) for me, a wannabe human performance junkie. I've dabbled heavily in meditation, lucid dreaming, and technological stimulation through tDCS, tACS, and gamma wavelength stimulation... I'm starting now to try a few nootropics, but have never h Fascinating book by the founders of the flow genome project on a topic that has consumed my mind for the last 2 years. This book presented greater background, context, and summaries of research (70+ pages of footnotes! this book is incredibly well researched) for me, a wannabe human performance junkie. I've dabbled heavily in meditation, lucid dreaming, and technological stimulation through tDCS, tACS, and gamma wavelength stimulation... I'm starting now to try a few nootropics, but have never had the guts to try any of the psychedelic pharmacological agents yet. I do have the number for a good shaman, and after reading this book, Terence McKenna's "Food of the Gods", and listening for a long time to Tim Ferriss, I'm almost ready to call him and ease my way into microdosing. A few points that I took away: - Kykeon was the original elixir stolen by Alicbiades for a 9day party in 415BCE Athens where the guests engaged in a cathartic experience of death, rebirth, and divine inspiration at Eleusis. - The state of flow which the Eleusians chemically achieved is that which high performing individuals and teams can reach, such as SEAL team six whose teams reach "dynamic subordination", where leadership is fluid and defined by conditions on the ground - multiple people moving as one connected mind. In this state they are able to eliminate the blockade of their conscious mind as Salim Ismail talks about at SU - "The conscious mind is a potent tool, but it's slow, and can manage only a small amount of information at once. The subconscious, meanwhile, is far more efficient. It can process more data in much shorter time frames. In ecstasis, the conscious mind takes a break, and the subconscious takes over. As this occurs, a number of performance-enhancing neurochemicals flood the system, including norepinephrine and dopamine." (p20) - Studies done that I have been told by my SEAL friends extending John Lilly's research on saline flotation sensory deprivation tanks combined with LSD and ketamine to amplify consciousness - now being used for accelerated learning. "By using the tanks to eliminate all distraction, entrain specific brainwaves, and regulate heart rate frequency, the SEALs are able to cut the time it takes to learn a foreign language from six months to six weeks." (p30) fMRI scans show that brain patterns of adults in this state are similar to children, who lack the sensory acclimatization bias to shut out stimuli that we have trained ourselves to as adults - i.e. why they are able to become literal sponges at an early age. This leads me to thoughts about the negatives of accelerated learning which neuroscientists and psychologists have described to me. Humans are meant to learn through trial and error - if we can learn so quickly, do we also pick up the bad habits quickly? - Kotler estimates that the "Altered States Economy" is $4T per year - including pornography, alcohol, music festivals - anywhere that people go to feel out of their own reality, or "To shut off the self. To give us a few moments of relief from the voice in our heads." (p40) - What does it take to reach flow state? STER - Selflessness, Timelessness, Effortlessness, and Richness - 2013 Red Bull Hacking Creativity Project at the MIT Media Lab concluded that creativity is essential for solving complex problems, but we have little success training creativity. "And there's a pretty simple explanation for this failure: we're trying to train a skill, but what we really need to be training is a state of mind." (p49) - Whether through Mindfulness training, technological stimulation, or pharmacological priming, the results of mental enhancement are 200% boost in creativity, 490% boost in learning, and 500% boost in productivity (from studies by DARPA, Advanced Brain Monitoring, and McKinsey) - Story of James Valentine who grew up in a strict mormon upbringing and is now lead guitarist for Maroon 5: discovered ecstasis through playing music which led him to realize that the church wasn't his only access to the Holy Ghost - as mormonism teaches, individuals are able to speak directly to god - thus eliminating the need for his dependence on organized religion. - Story of David Nutt, who I've heard about on Freakonomics - a British psychiatrist who has used MDMA to treat severe brain injuries. He found in his study that out of 60MM tablets consumed, there were 10,000 adverse events. 1/6000 as compared to 1/350 injured while horseback riding. Of course he was ridiculed for stating such facts, and they went ignored; the Parliament prohibited him from studying this further with asinine reasoning. - Interesting to understand the origin of the term hocus pocus - as stated by Archbishop of Canterbury John Tillotson, likely a bastardization of "hoc est corpus" - this is the body of christ. - Eastern religions progressed rapidly in the development of performance by training neuroreceptors to elevate minds. Comparison to the West, where "Judeo-Christian guilt - that our bodies were not to be trusted - and was cemented by an increasingly industrial economy, where our bodies were less and less needed." (p97) - Dr. Andrew Newberg at UPenn used fMRI and PET (positron emission tomography) to scan the brains of the devout religious, finding that extreme concentration can cause the right parietal lobe to shut down - something of an efficiency exchange. "During ecstatic prayer or meditation, energy normally used for drawing the boundary of self gets reallocated for attention. When this happens, we can no longer distinguish self from other. At that moment, as far as the brain can tell, you are one with everything." (p107) Fascinating as I've heard from EEG practitioners that this is the same for many who have suffered brain injuries - the disablement of the frontal lobe actually can be a benefit for our modern day where conscious barriers are no longer necessary for protection as in the past. - An entire chapter is dedicated to the pursuit of music to reach ecstasis; from sufi mystics such as the whirling dervishes, to trance music that is popular today in helping individuals reach an altered state. This reminds me of the biophysical impact of "omm" - the vibrative effect of this chant that can actually impact a human's physiology, causing stress hormones like norepinephrine and cortisol to drop while reward chemicals that promote forming social bonds such as dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin spike. - In the technology chapter, I also love that it features heavily Mikey Siegel, who I had the privilege to take a course in technology augmented meditation with at Stanford. I knew that he formed a company called Consciousness Hacking and organized meetups about technological stimulation, but did not know the esteem with which he leads this movement across the globe. "For the past three hundred years, there has been a split between science and religion. But now we have the ability to investigate this domain and innovate around spirituality." (p141) - Description about how achievement of altered self can and has been used by the marketing industry to sell products through campaigns that seek peak arousal through sensory stimuli then induce participants to imagine the transformation of their lives with said product. "Under those amped-up conditions, salience - that is, the attention paid to incoming stimuli - increases." (p186) - An entire chapter dedicated to Burning Man, and the culture of seeking enlightenment and removal of self in a group environment - Kotler posits that open-sourcing ecstasis is the best counterbalance to private and public coercion. - The impact of dopamine - apophenia, the tendency to be overwhelmed by meaningful coincidence and to detect patterns where other see none. Like the Baader Meinhoff phenomenon - there is a fine line between genius and psychopathy. In fact there is probably not much of a difference, just social judgement. - Describes the calculus for how to view meditation vs. physical activity vs. technological stimulation vs. pharmacological induction - a balance of time vs. risk/reward. As a basis, using research studies about the use of MDMA to treat PTSD: "A one-day session with MDMA produces a marked decrease or abatement in symptoms, but you have to be willing to ingest an amphetamine to experience it. Five weeks of surfing - potentially less risky than a drug intervention - achieves a similar result, but entails learning a new sport in an unfamiliar and sometimes dangerous environment. Meanwhile, mediation - both simpler and safer than surfing - requires twelve weeks and offers a slightly lessened benefit. These three approaches produce a similar reward (relief from trauma), but they come with varying degrees of risk and investment of time." (p201) - Great conclusion about the fine line between addiction and enlightenment. Addiction, and why many such pharmacological substances have been banned by governments, is the constant pursuit of enlightenment. The flow genome project posits that enlightenment requires still to be grounded since "it's in our brokenness, not in spite of our brokenness, that we discover what's possible". Such as the Japanese concept of wabi sabi - the ability to find beauty in imperfection (i.e. soldering a broken vase back together with gold to make the unique flaws of the piece more beautiful. I don't think I've heard a better analogy for humanity.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kai Fawn

    I REALLY wanted to give this book a more positive review. But, as others have noted, it has some very basic issues... and one very significant character flaw for me as a female reader (oooo, foreshadowing). First, there is little in terms of practical applicability. Yes, hedonic calendar in the last chapter, I hear you. There is also a final page directing us to the Stealing Fire book's website for additional tools. These tools are all offered as "bonuses" to a package purchase of the book, so l I REALLY wanted to give this book a more positive review. But, as others have noted, it has some very basic issues... and one very significant character flaw for me as a female reader (oooo, foreshadowing). First, there is little in terms of practical applicability. Yes, hedonic calendar in the last chapter, I hear you. There is also a final page directing us to the Stealing Fire book's website for additional tools. These tools are all offered as "bonuses" to a package purchase of the book, so little help to those of us who may have gotten the book from our local library. Also a hint that the giant neon sign screaming "MONETIZATION" is the real impetus here. Second, holy fact check issues. In addition to the very basic "Wait, what did that say?" that can be discounted by a Google search, there are issues in contextual quoting of even the sources cited. Third, and most problematic for me: I was about 60% complete with the book when it finally struck me. It's a book full of bros fist-bumpin' bros. We hit Joan of Arc pretty early in the book. Beyond that, the modern examples and interviewees are nearly entirely men. This is not something I typically seek out when I read, but it became clear relatively quickly that I was not seeing myself in this work. Foremost there is the massively missed opportunity of the altered state of natural childbirth. From midpoint on, I started to make note of the mentions women received besides being named as someone's wife or girlfriend: Page 171: MaiTai Global, kitesurfer Susi Mai. Good content about Mai. Funny thing, the authors name VC Bill Tai BEFORE Susi Mai in the text. Twice. The name of the company is MaiTai. The interview focuses on Mai. M comes before T in the alphabet. But Tai gets precedence in attribution... Pages 206-207: freediver Natalia Molchanova. First quoted in reference to freediver Nick Mevoli's death, which is indicated was due to cardiac arrest. Molchanova is then said to have suffered a freediving death. No further exploration of Molchanova's own passing, no reason -- or lack of reason -- offered. Page 209: skier Kristen Ulmer. Great story, great interview. She's then indicated to be on the board of the Flow Genome Project, a post she seems to have vacated. In a quick scan of their current advisory board, only three of 11 members (a figure that does not include Kotler and Wheal) are women. I was already starting to feel the thinness behind this work, and this disparity was so incredibly glaring that it soured my overall experience. Now, go look at all of the review quotes on stealingfirebook.com. All men. Kotler and Wheal include their own "inside baseball" acquiescence at the end of the book. Unfortunately for me as a female reader very interested in the phenomenon of ecstasis, their roster is very demographically limited and I apparently will never make the team, brah.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aurelija

    “Some revolutions begin with a gunshot, others with a party." “Some revolutions begin with a gunshot, others with a party."

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gary Parker

    Perhaps the most hyperbolic celebration of the trust fund class I've ever encountered, Stealing Fire is its own worst enemy. What could be a genuine effort to introduce the masses to the practical usefulness of ecstatic practices instead feels more like one long humble-brag about hobnobbing with the upper echelons of the en vogue nouveau riche - hot-tubbing with Richard Branson on his private island; hanging with disguised dignitaries at Burning Man; skiing the Utah powder with Tony Hsieh - all Perhaps the most hyperbolic celebration of the trust fund class I've ever encountered, Stealing Fire is its own worst enemy. What could be a genuine effort to introduce the masses to the practical usefulness of ecstatic practices instead feels more like one long humble-brag about hobnobbing with the upper echelons of the en vogue nouveau riche - hot-tubbing with Richard Branson on his private island; hanging with disguised dignitaries at Burning Man; skiing the Utah powder with Tony Hsieh - all without ever explaining how to functionally achieve "higher states" in any practical way in your own life. This is less a user's manual than a lengthy exercise in name dropping. All while extolling the salvational virtues of Palo Altos executives who, in their enlightened status, promise to save the world. From what we are never told. A careful read of their list of actual projects should leave the cautious reader unimpressed. This books popularity might be explained by the human draw to exaggerated story-telling. It's got that in spades. But, sadly, I'm still waiting for a genuinely worthy and useful book on this subject.

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