Part two of the interview transcript.
Rob: So first, we've talked a bit about flow. Now I call my show bottom-up radio because I believe that we're transitioning from a top-down to a more bottom-up culture and I've come to believe that one of the core parts of bottom-up is a kind of connection consciousness; being aware of your connection to other things. Now -- and I feel that in some ways, your descriptions and other peoples' descriptions of flow feels like that, where -- and I'm using words that you've described in talks that you've given where you say action and awareness merged, self consciousness disappears, and those kinds of things sound a bit like a sense of connectedness to everything. And I just wonder if you could kind of think about flow in those kinds of terms.
MC: Yeah, the state of complete focus on what you're doing and the feeling of kind of effortless engagement with what you're doing obviously has neuropsychological reasons for occurring. And recently, there have been quite a few interesting studies pointing, for instance, to a process which has been called hypofrontality, which means that once you learn to do something well, there comes a point where you don't need the frontal lobe intervention in doing it. And the frontal lobe is the one that criticizes and evaluates what you're doing and tries to connect it to other things. And that's important to have the frontal lobe involved when you're learning something, but after you know how to do something well, it becomes like a backseat driver, telling you, interfering about things that you already know how to do. So, it actually diminishes your performance and, for instance, if you are a skier, at first you have to pay attention to everything you do to do it well and so forth. But after awhile, if you wonder about whether you should put more of your weight on the outside of the ski before a turn, you probably are going to fall or run into a tree or something, because you are dividing your attention from what you should be doing to monitor what you are doing, and unfortunately we have a limited ability to attend to what happens and that's one of the fundamental issues about psychology that I have been very interested in and working on
Rob: Okay, so hypofrontality means that you would stop using your frontal cortex as much as you might otherwise.
Rob: The frontal cortex is considered the top-down part of the brain. It is the part that analyzes and filters.
MC: Yeah, yeah".
Rob: If you stop using that, what are you using then?
MC: Well you are using all of the connections that you have established in doing this activity before, which are usually more in the midbrain and even in the hippocampus and so forth, where you do not need anymore to have this nagging thing about, well I do not know if I did good enough. I think maybe I should do this, maybe I should " If you have that, that is what the forebrain will be doing because that is its business, it is to evaluate and yet there are times when that is actually interfering with the execution of something that you have learned to do. That is why it is important to qualify that this happens -- flow happens when you have developed the skills to meet the challenges. If you tried to shut off your forebrain while you are learning something you would get into trouble and you would probably never learn. But once you do learn, the role of those parts of the brain seem to be interfering rather than helping.
Rob: So what parts of the brain are involved in flow then? Inhibition of the frontal cortex perhaps, and what else is going on?
MC: Well, there are different things, take for instance a group of neurophysiologists in Sweden have been studying people who report and show in their activities that they have more flow than most people and they studied them compared to people who are say "I do not know what you are talking about "when you talk about and, they do not seem to experience this at all. And they found that there is a very significant difference in the dopamine distribution from those who have a lot of flow; the dopamine is mostly released from the dorsal and caudal parts of the striatum; which are connected to parts of the brain that require effortful, concentrated activity. Whereas the comparison group showed that most of the dopamine was secreted from the ventral part of the striatum, which is connected to the kind of passive, hedonic pleasure centers. So, that has been published in a couple of places now and it suggests that for some reason some people either learn or are born in the way that they can get pleasure from doing things that require focused persistent activity rather than from the obvious kind of pleasure producing part of the brain. So that is one kind of thing that we know. We don't know a heck of a lot more because it is really hard to get somebody in a fMRI machine and study the brain while the person is also having flow experience. But it is hard to have flow in fMRI
Rob: Do you have any idea of the percentage of people who experience flow and the percentage who do not experience flow?
MC: Well, it is hard to know, but there are a couple of studies -- not studies but surveys that were done; for instance Gallup, before he passed away, the CEO of Gallup, Don Clifton, who owns the company also. He was a psychologist, Don Clifton, originally and bought up Gallup when Gallup was going down because it was overextended -- anyway, Don Clifton wanted to put something about flow in his big surveys and so we cooked up a couple of simple sentences like: "Do you ever feel so involved in something that you feel that even if something strange happened around you, you would not notice it." Or t"hat you are so involved in what you are doing that you forget what time it is and you do not realize it until much later, that time has passed." Something like that and we had about four or five of these. And, at the same time somebody in Germany who had a similar -- the Ernsback Institute, which was the biggest survey in Germany, also used the same things in Germany. And, it was interesting that both countries found that about twelve to fifteen percent of the people would say they never experienced anything like that. They could noto remember anything like that. And then to find an almost equal number-- ten, twelve percent who say oh yes, I feel that everyday and I feel like that several times a day. And then the big majority follow the kind of almost normal distribution saying you know, a few times a month or a few times a year, a few times a month, a few times a week, and -- so it is not evenly distributed. Some people never seem to lose themselves in that kind of feeling. And it was interesting, for instance, that when I described flow to a public audience, the only people who at the end who say "but isn't that wrong to lose yourself in what you are doing so that you do not notice other things?" They are always women who say that and they say they don't let themselves lose themselves because there is always something that may need that attention a child or it is something that usually they feel that it is not -- I mean not all women of course, but whenever that happens, it seems to be a woman who feels too responsible for what they are doing to lose themselves.
Rob: Okay, that might be an evolutional consideration for taking care of children.