The Optimized Brain: A Workshop on Flow States with Steven Kotler


Introduction to the Optimized Brain, with Steven Kotler

Flow is technically defined as an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and we perform our best. Steven Kotler runs through the neuroanatomic shifts that make it possible. If your guess is that the brain somehow works harder or faster during flow states, you may be surprised to learn that everything actually slows down thanks to what's called transient hypofrontality.


This is the first video in a five-part series with Steven Kotler on the "optimized brain" available in playlist form here.

The Neurochemistry of Flow States, with Steven Kotler

Steven Kotler explains the neurochemical changes during flow states that strengthen motivation, creativity and learning. "The brain produces a giant cascade of neurochemistry. You get norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins. All five of these are performance enhancing neurochemicals." Kotler discusses how each amplifies intellectual and cognitive performance.


This is the second video in a five-part series with Steven Kotler on the "optimized brain" available in playlist form here.

What’s Actually Happening When Your Brain Goes “Wow”

Beyond neuroanatomy and neurochemistry, flow states rely on shifts in the brain's neuroelectricity. The brain's default state is one of waking consciouness. Flow alters your brain waves to sit on the border of daydreaming and dreaming.

Understanding Flow Triggers, with Steven Kotler

There are seventeen triggers for flow that can each draw your attention to the now. Mastering flow means building these triggers into your life. Two of these triggers are high consequences and deep embodiment. Kotler explains how these triggers enact flow for people ranging from snowboarders to surfers to Montessori students.

Hack Your Flow: Understanding Flow Cycles, with Steven Kotler

We now know that flow works not like an on-off switch but in a four-part cycle. Understanding these cycles can help you to more often access flow. The parts of the cycle are as follows: struggle, release, flow, and recovery. To hack flow, explains Kotler, you have to learn to struggle better and recover better.

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Reading, studies show, increases empathy and charitable thinking. Fiction has even been credited with helping readers improve their understanding of others and make changes in their own lives.


  • The UN has identified 17 interconnected goals for a sustainable future, from tackling poverty to climate action.
  • The aim is to achieve all of these goals by 2030.
  • Unesco's Cities of Literature have picked books to reflect each goal.

Knowing the power of reading, a network of cities around the globe has developed a recommended reading list inspired by the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the global benchmarks designed to help the world work toward a better future.

UNESCO's Cities of Literature – a group that includes Durban in South Africa, Manchester in the UK and Baghdad in Iraq – selected novels and true-life stories on key SDG themes, including poverty, hunger and sustainability.

Use their picks to widen your own perspectives and help fuel the world's progress toward achieving the UN's global goals. Here's a selection of their recommendations:


Lowry Going to Work - The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels

A painting by English artist LS Lowry (1887 - 1976) entitled 'Going To Work', and depicting factory workers in the snow outside the main entrance to the Park Works of the Mather and Platt engineering firm in Newton Heath, Manchester, 1943.

Laurence Stephen Lowry/ Imperial War Museums via Getty Images

1. The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels

Goal: No Poverty

Manchester recommends Friedrich Engels' classic book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, a call to arms sparked by the poverty Engels saw in the country in the 1840s. German-born Engels explores the human cost of the industrial revolution, depicting overcrowded housing, abject poverty, child labor and sexual exploitation. It is considered a pioneering work of social history.

2. Independent People by Halldór Laxness

Goal: Zero Hunger

Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness' book Independent People, recommended by Reykjavik, tells the story of a sheep farmer's heroic determination to eke out an independent living in the harsh landscape of rural Iceland. The brunt of his obsessive quest is felt most by his family as his own daughter becomes equally determined to become independent from her father. Laxness tells this battle of wills with humor in a book writer Annie Proulx calls "sardonic, clever and brilliant."

3. A Fist or a Heart by Kristín Eiríksdóttir

Goal: Good Health and Well-being

The novella A Fist or a Heart by Kristín Eiríksdóttir tells the story of Elín Jónsdóttir, an isolated woman in her seventies who makes props and prosthetics for theater and television programs. She meets a younger woman, also a loner, and they discover common ground in their difficult childhoods. The connection unearths painful memories as Elin's grasp on reality weakens. The book, selected by the city of Reykjavik, explores themes such as trauma and personal connection. It won the Icelandic Literary Prize and author Eiríksdóttir is considered one of the most original voices of her generation.

Trinity College Library, part of Cambridge University

Trinity College Library, part of Cambridge University.

RDImages/Epics/Getty Images

4. Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye & Ore Ogunbiyi

Goal: Quality Education

Written by two recent graduates from the University of Cambridge, Taking Up Space tackles the struggles faced by women of color in predominantly white institutions. This non-fiction book functions as a manifesto for change and helps students advocate for themselves at university, covering everything from academics to activism, mental health and relationships. Called "groundbreaking" by the Guardian, this book was recommended by the city of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

5. Admissions by Mira Harrison

Goal: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Admissions is a collection of short stories that shares the experiences of eight women – doctors, nurses, cooks and cleaners – who have dedicated their lives to caring. The fictional tales, selected by the New Zealand city of Dunedin, recount the highs and lows of working in clinical medicine. The book demonstrates the many ways different women from all walks of life keep a struggling institution up and running while navigating their lives at home.

6. Scavengers by Darren Simpson

Goal: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Darren Simpson's young adult book Scavengers tells the story of two characters, Landfill and Old Babagoo, who live in a walled kingdom. Old Babagoo looks after Landfill on the condition that he follows his rules: never come looking outside and never rise above the wall. The book, selected by the UK's city of Nottingham, explores themes such as sustainability, prejudice and control in a work packed with twists and turns.

7. The Trespassers by Meg Mundell

Goal: Life Below Water

Meg Mundell's The Trespassers tells the story of a shipload of migrant workers leaving the UK and looking for a fresh start in Australia. When a crew member is murdered and people start falling gravely ill, it becomes unclear where the real danger lies. The book is inspired by the true story of the Ticonderoga, a 'fever ship' full of migrant workers that reached Melbourne in 1852 and led to the creation of Australia's first quarantine station. This book, selected by Australia's Melbourne, was called "clever," "gripping" and "powerful" by reviewers.

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

  • Everyone suffers from sarcopenia: the loss of muscle mass and strength due to age.
  • While there are numerous benefits to exercise, an important one is remaining independent well into old age.
  • Weightlifting is essential for keeping muscle mass and strength as the decades go by.

The myriad benefits of exercise are well-documented. From physical strength and emotional control, to warding off cognitive disease, weight management, and overall life satisfaction, staying fit is demanded by our biology. There's another benefit of exercise that older populations need to consider: remaining independent well into old age.

That's the consensus of Amanda Loudin's recent Washington Post article. She begins by discussing an 82-year-old female powerlifter pummeling a home intruder with a table and bottle of baby shampoo. Thankfully, her incredible story was captured on video. Willie Murphy beat him so bad he begged her to call an ambulance. Fortunately (for him) the police arrived just in time to help him out.

Not everyone is Willie Murphy. But how many octogenarians would be able to fend for themselves when a younger and larger man breaks into their home? At that age, a mere slip can easily cause a hip fracture, which could quickly result in death. The fall causes the victim's immune system to be compromised, making them more susceptible to common illnesses like pneumonia. That process is exactly what killed my grandmother.

Only in the post-Industrial world did we even need to think of exercise as separate from everyday life. For most of time, every member of a tribe had to carry their own weight. Survival required physical activity; everyone had to chip in. Sure, there was hunting—the average nomadic tribe member walked an average of 19 miles per day—but there was also squatting and bending to pick vegetables, roots, and plants, carrying water from the river, and that essential component of social coherence: play.

Movement is a biological inheritance. We do harm when not honoring that fact.

Regardless of fitness level, sarcopenia plagues everyone. The loss of muscle tissue begins in our thirties. While any exercise aids in overall health, only by lifting heavy objects (or lighter objects repetitively—"time under tension" matters) do we fend off the ravages of muscular atrophy. As sports medicine physician Matt Sedgley tells Loudin,

"When we talk about bone health and falls, we talk about three factors: fall, fragility and force. Participating in weight-bearing and resistance-training exercises helps develop muscle mass. This may help treat fragility conditions like osteoporosis. So if you fall you have stronger bone density. It may also lead to more cushioning when you do fall."

Falling is one danger. There are other less serious (though equally frustrating) realities we face as we age. Walking up and down stairs without losing our breath. The ability to carry our groceries from the car. Speaking of cars, there's also driving. The more we lose motor control and strength, the less we'll be able to remain independent.

It doesn't have to be that way. Consider Tao Porchon-Lynch, a 101-year-old yoga instructor who continues to teach workshops and dance in ballroom competitions. Her secret? She never stopped being active. When I interviewed her in 2010, shortly after taking her master class, she had just broken her wrist. Within two months, at age 91, she was doing arm balances with ease. That injury would sideline people half her age far longer. As she told me that afternoon,

"I've had a hip replacement. I was getting dog food at A&P. I got twisted and ended up with a pin in my hip. Health-wise, I'm seldom sick. Mentally, I don't allow myself to think about tomorrow and what will happen. I don't like people to tell me what I can't do. I never thought about age."

At that time, Porchon-Lynch lived alone, shopped for herself, and drove herself around her upstate New York community to teach five yoga classes a week. When I've discussed her fierce independence and incredible fitness to people over the years, some claim genes and others luck. Sure, those factor in, but that sounds more like an excuse. It reduces a lifetime of hard work to a quip that makes someone feel better about their lack of desire for putting in the work to stay healthy.

Yoga with Tao Porchon-Lync

The author practicing with Tao Porchon-Lynch, Strala Yoga, New York City, 2010.

To paraphrase biomechanist and popular blogger, Katy Bowman, you are never out of shape; you are exactly in the shape you train for. If you don't train in any capacity, your shape is going to reduce the possibility that you'll remain independent later in life.

There are numerous arguments about exactly how to remain fit. What runs underneath all of them is that you have to move in some capacity. A 2012 review of sarcopenia in older adults details its causes and consequences, as well as offering ways of fending off inevitable decline. Aging is the obvious culprit, though the authors better define the issues:

"Its cause is widely regarded as multifactorial, with neurological decline, hormonal changes, inflammatory pathway activation, declines in activity, chronic illness, fatty infiltration, and poor nutrition, all shown to be contributing factors."

By the eighth decade of life as much as 50 percent of muscle mass has been lost. Obesity, an increasing problem in our time, negatively contributes to this process: increased fat mass accelerates the loss of muscle tone and lean body mass. While mass tends to be the focus when defining sarcopenia, strength is another factor. We get weaker as we age. But we can slow the decline through exercise and better nutrition.

Loading your body with heavy weights (or lower weights at higher repetitions) fits into the movement recipe, along with the basics: squatting, jumping, pushing, and pulling. Being able to pick up and put down weight, to pull weight to you and push it away from you, and to move through your entire range of motion on a regular basis are all basic movement patterns that help to fend off the demise of muscle mass and strength.

It is inevitable that you will become weaker and slower. Losing your independence does not have to be the end result. You can live well until the day they die. You can remain quite independent. But you have to put in the work to earn that result.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His next book is Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy.

  • "[T]he single healthiest thing most of us can do for our relationship with politics and for politics would be to deemphasize our connection to national politics and reemphasize our connection to state and local politics," says Ezra Klein.
  • The media has become overwhelmingly nationalized. To improve your relationship with politics, and to improve politics in general, be intentional about your informational ecosystem.
  • Klein recommends reconstructing your news diet so it doesn't overwhelmingly feature national politics, rather sign up for local newsletters, subscribe to your local paper, and get involved in community politics rather than yelling at cable TV or lashing out on Twitter.
  • Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek thinks we are not searching for aliens correctly.
  • Instead of sending out and listening for signals, he proposes two new methods of looking for extraterrestrials.
  • Spotting anomalies in planet temperature and atmosphere could yield clues of alien life, says the physicist.


For noted theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek, finding aliens is a matter of figuring out what exactly we are looking for. To detect other space civilizations, we need to search for the specific effects they might be having on their worlds, argues the Nobel laureate in a new proposal.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Wilczek says that it's a real challenge to figure out which among the over 4,000 exoplanets that we found so far outside of our solar system might host extraterrestrial life. The classic way of listening for space signals is insufficient and inefficient, says the scientist. What might really help are new developments in exoplanetary astronomy that can allow us to get much more precise information about faraway space objects.

In particular, there are two ways we should focus our attention to turn the odds of finding alien life in our favor, argues the physicist.

1. Atmosphere chemistry

Like we found out with our own effect on the Earth's atmosphere, making a hole in the ozone layer, the gases around a planet can be impacted by its inhabitants. "Atmospheres are especially significant in the search for alien life," writes Wilczek "because they might be affected by biological processes, the way that photosynthesis on Earth produces nearly all of our planet's atmospheric oxygen."

But while astrobiology can provide invaluable clues, so can looking for the signs of alien technology, which can also be manifested in the atmosphere. An advanced alien civilization might be colonizing other planets, turning their atmospheres to resemble the home planets. This makes sense considering our own plans to terraform other planets like Mars to allow us to breathe there. Elon Musk even wants to nuke the red planet.

The Most Beautiful Equation: How Wilczek Got His Nobel

2. Planet temperatures

Wilczek also floats another idea - what if an alien civilization created a greenhouse effect to raise the temperature of a planet? For example, if extraterrestrials were currently researching Earth, they would likely notice the increased levels of carbon dioxide that are heating up our atmosphere. Similarly, we can looks for such signs around the exoplanets.

An advanced civilization might also be heating up planets to raise their temperatures to uncover resources and make them more habitable. Unfreezing water might be one great reason to turn up the thermostat.

Unusually high temperatures can also be caused by alien manufacturing and the use of artificial energy sources like nuclear fission or fusion, suggests the scientist. Structures like the hypothetical Dyson spheres, which could be used to harvest energy from stars, can be particularly noticeable.

Similarly, there might be instances when our faraway space counterparts would want to cool planets down. Examining temperature anomalies of space bodies might allow us to pinpoint such clues.

Focusing on the temperatures and atmospheres of other planets might be not only a winning strategy but something specifically encouraged by other civilizations who want us to find them. "An alien species that wants to communicate could draw the gaze of exoplanetary astronomers to anomalies in its solar system, effectively using its parent star to focus attention," expounds the physicist.

Wilczek, who currently teaches at MIT, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004 for discovering asymptotic freedom.

You can check out Wilczek's full article here.

Wilczek: Why 'Change without Change' Is One of the Fundamental Principles of the ...

Residents of the small Alaskan town Kongiganak can no longer bury their dead. Their cemetery has become a marshy swamp, sucking graves into the once frozen ground.


On the island of Sarichef near the Bering Strait, the village of Shishmaref is shrinking so fast locals are considering relocating it entirely.

Global warming has shown that permafrost is not so permanent after all. And as it begins to melt, it is reshaping the Arctic.

The rapidly thawing ice layer is creating great sinkholes and hollows across the region as the ground begins to collapse in on itself. Erosion and landslides have become a problem without the ice that once held the soil together.

Permafrost – any area of land that remains frozen for at least two years – can vary from less than a metre thick to more than 1,500 metres. Some of it is tens of thousands of years old.

In some areas, it is simply frozen rock. But in other parts, soils and organic matter have acted like a sponge and taken in water which has subsequently frozen. As ice, water takes up a larger volume than its liquid form, but once melted, great pits are created in the land.

Arctic Permafrost Thawing of the arctic permafrost. Image: Nature

A problem multiplied

But the problem extends beyond an increasingly pock-marked landscape.

Scientists have known for years that melting permafrost will release greenhouse gases stored within and under it, creating a climate change feedback loop with the potential to warm our planet even faster. Rather than acting as a carbon sink, permafrost becomes a source of emissions.

Melting permafrost creates greenhouse gasses

Melting permafrost creates a vicious circle of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

Image: UNEP

But the abrupt melting of the permafrost layer in some places, caused by warmer polar temperatures, could mean far more carbon is released than previously estimated, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience.

Less than one-fifth of the permafrost zone is likely to see this abrupt thawing, but its impact on the surrounding landscape means up to half of permafrost carbon could be affected.

Existing climate change models are based on gradual thawing of the permafrost layer caused by seasonal temperature fluctuations and fail to take into account the impact of more rapid thawing. This means we need to put in place measures to counteract human-induced emissions more quickly than we thought.

But David Olefeldt, who coauthored the paper in Nature Geoscience, warns against over-dramatizing the problem.

"The permafrost carbon feedback is not the proverbial climate bomb – but is it an important climate change accelerator which we do need to take into account.

"Future greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost [will be] significantly smaller than current human greenhouse gas emissions, but emissions from permafrost thaw are large enough that they are important to take into consideration when projecting future climate change and when setting emissions targets for international negotiations."

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. Temperatures have risen by 1℃ in the last decade alone, causing ice sheets to melt and sea levels to rise while threatening wildlife.

Getting a handle on warming temperatures at our earth's poles is crucial if we are to keep global warming within agreed limits.

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.