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.

More playlists
  • 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.

  • Can you divorce the rule of law from the virtue of justice? Immanuel Kant said the perfect constitution would work even among a nation of devils, provided they were intelligent devils.
  • Professor James Stoner thinks the opposite is true. The right punishments don't lead people to behave well, we are also guided to make morally good decisions by our conscience—by our internal sense of justice.
  • The ability of all people to pursue their own good is itself a kind of common good of a liberal society.

When you can't quite put your finger on how you're feeling, don't worry — there may be a non-English word that can help you out.


There are hundreds of words across the world for emotional states and concepts, from the Spanish word for the desire to eat simply for the taste (gula) to the Sanskrit for revelling in someone else's joy (mudita).

But what about those words that exist across many languages — "anger", for example, or "happiness"? Do they mean the same thing in every language, or do we experience emotions differently based on the culture we are brought up in? Is the experience we call "love" in English emotionally analogous with its direct translation into Hungarian, "szerelem", for example?

In a new paper in Science, Joshua Conrad Jackson from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues looked at 2,439 distinct concepts (including 24 relating to emotion) from 2,474 languages. The team analysed the similarities and differences between languages based on patterns of "colexification": instances in which multiple concepts are expressed by the same word form.

In Persian, to use the team's example, the word ænduh can be used to express both grief and regret; in the Dargwa dialect, spoken in Dagestan in Russia, dard means grief and anxiety. It follows, therefore, that Persian speakers may understand grief as closer to regret, and Dargwa speakers closer to anxiety.

The analysis allowed the researchers to create networks of concepts that showed, for each language family, how closely different emotional concepts related to each other. These revealed wide variation between language families. For instance, in Tad-Kadai languages, which can be found in Southeast Asia, southern China, and Northeast India, "anxiety" was related to "fear"; in Austroasiatic languages, anxiety was closer to "grief" or "regret". In Nakh Daghestanian languages spoken mainly in parts of Russia, on the other hand, "anger" was related to "envy", but in Austronesian languages it was related to "hate", "bad", and "proud".

But there were some similarities. Words with the same emotional valence — i.e. that were positive or negative — tended to be associated only with other words of the same valence, in all language families across the world. Happiness, for example, was linked to other positive emotions, even if the specific associations were slightly different depending on the language family. (This wasn't always the case though: in some Austronesian languages, "pity" and "love" were associated, suggesting pity may be more positive or love more negative than in other languages). Similarly, low-arousal emotions like sadness were also unlikely to be compared to high-arousal emotions like anger.

And geography also seemed to matter: language families that were geographically closer tended to share more similar associations than those that were far away.

The study's findings suggest that emotional concepts do vary between languages up to a point, raising the question of just how similar supposedly universal experiences are. Of course, it's impossible to know exactly how somebody else is experiencing the world, and language can often be woefully inadequate when it comes to expressing our internal life. And while the research suggests that those emotional experiences may vary in subtle ways across the world, deep down it seems we're not so dissimilar at all.

Emotion semantics show both cultural variation and universal structure

Emily Reynolds (@rey_z) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest.

Reprinted with permission of The British Psychological Society. Read the original article.

In an ever-more connected world, it would be easy to assume that loneliness was on its way out — after all, we now have unlimited opportunity to communicate with almost anyone we want at any time we please.


But, in fact, it's still rife: according to the Campaign To End Loneliness, over nine million people in the UK describe themselves as "always or often lonely." Age has an impact here, too: an Age UK report suggested that the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness will reach two million by 2025 — a 49% increase from 2016.

And with researchers suggesting that loneliness can be seen as a disease that changes the brain's structure and function, this is a significant public health issue, too. You are more likely to have high blood pressure, depression and even face an early death if you're lonely, so finding strategies with which to combat the experience is vital.

New research in Aging & Mental Health by Alejandra Morlett Paredes from the University of California, San Diego and colleagues may have some tentative answers. The team interviewed 30 adults aged between 65 and 92, all of whom lived in a senior housing community in San Diego. The community is busy: there are nearly 300 residential units, as well as a tennis court, small golf course and allotment plots. Activities like quilting and sewing sessions, card games, and theatre performances are frequently held for residents.

First, residents were asked to complete a quantitative loneliness assessment. The word "lonely" is not used explicitly in the test; rather, participants were asked to rate how frequently they felt in tune with others around them or how often they felt left out, on a scale of one to four.

They were then interviewed by the team about their experiences of loneliness. Four primary areas were explored: whether participants felt lonely, and how they'd describe those feelings; why they think others feel lonely; how they feel ageing plays a role in loneliness; and what strategies they have for combatting feeling isolated.

Ageing, as you might expect, had a big impact on participants' feelings of loneliness. The deaths of partners and loved ones was particularly difficult, while participants also commented on how loss of mobility restricted their social activities. Social skills were also identified as a risk factor: one participant noted that those without strong social skills may be more likely to suffer.

Emotionally, loneliness was (unsurprisingly) connected to feelings of emptiness, sadness and lack of meaning. One participant described herself as feeling "lost… and not having control, and sometimes it can lead you to not be able to make decisions and then it just gets worse", whilst another described loneliness as "the feeling of nothing".

But many participants also commented on strategies they used to protect against loneliness. Though ageing was a risk factor, acceptance of ageing had more positive outcomes. As one participant put it: "I used to mountain climb… If I can't walk anymore, I'll crawl. You have to learn how to be realistic and not brood about it. I know I'm getting older, but I consider life a transition." Compassion was also useful: being proactive about helping others, for example, helped some participants prevent being lonely.

Spirituality also emerged as a potentially protective trait: for some older people, faith helped them get through the losses of loved ones, and attending religious ceremonies within the community also provided them with strong social connections.

Perhaps most useful on a practical level were participants' thoughts on environments that facilitate social interaction. Numerous residents mentioned the activities and opportunities for socialising offered by their community — perhaps a good insight into the kind of social structures that need to be developed and embedded within communities to help older people connect with others.

Participants were largely middle or upper-middle class, and the vast majority were white, which means these findings may not bear out across different socioeconomic groups. Those experiencing poverty or racism, or who don't live in similar assisted living communities, are unlikely to have the same experiences

But working on both structural changes and learning about protective psychological factors may be a crucial weapon in the fight against loneliness.

Qualitative study of loneliness in a senior housing community: the importance of wisdom and other coping strategies

Emily Reynolds (@rey_z) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest.

Reprinted with permission of The British Psychological Society. Read the original article.