Three cheers for a new book, Living in Flow, by physicist Sky Nelson-Isaacs

Flow is an experience that we all have at many times in our lives. When I was a trumpeter in my high school marching, concert and jazz bands (1974-78), we used to call it, “being in the groove” …  yeah baby… that’s what “groovy” meant. But it’s more than just a cool feeling; it is a real and powerful experience that illustrates how physics can be used to understand a very important aspect to the human experience.

That is exactly what Sky Nelson-Isaacs has done in his new book

Living in Flow: The Science of Synchronicity and How Your Choices Shape Your World

North Atlantic Books (2019). Kindle Edition. See https://skynelson.com/

Sky has an MS in physics and has discovered a brilliant way of addressing the underlying essence of the reality that matters. He starts and ends with human experience, bringing physics back to Earth, the realm of real life, rather than accepting the fantasy world of Big Bang Cosmology. (I’m just slamming the 3D version of creation-in-an-instant, not the 4D version that refers to creation as a continuous process.) Living in Flow is beautifully written, and easy to understand – a literary illustration of flow itself. And I love the fact that  his name is Sky, since his explanation is so down-to-Earth rather than being out of reach, up in outer space.

Not only does he provide what I consider to be the best answers to the hard questions, and show how they apply to our lives, but more importantly, he corrected some of the question fallacies that have been the source of a tremendous amount of wasted time and money. In my opinion, besides being the title of Lee Smolin’s book, the trouble with physics is that most physicists tend to use physics to understand reality rather than using reality and experience to understand physics. And they ask questions that already assume an answer: like, “How did the universe get started?” assumes that it actually started at a specific time. Yet, as Sky points out and explains, light is timeless; so the whole concept of a big bang is tragically flawed. (Anybody looking to buy a large but slightly used hadron collider?)

I had learned the name “flow” and the Csikszentmihalyi flow diagram (the colorful diagram below on the left) back around 2000 from a neurosurgeon, who was on my Ph.D. research committee at the University of Florida Brain Institute.

Flow Remodeled

The diagram on the right is the same concept, but I remodeled it to show how it looks if you reduce apathy to a quantum point, suggesting that anyone can get into the flow zone regardless of how little skill you have. It’s not only driven by arousal and control, but until you get to that level of skill, it requires courage and dedication to pass through Worry and Anxiety on the maturity continuum. I had already planned on using this form of the flow diagram in a book that I am writing to illustrate how the holomorphic process flows right out of the interactions of quantum particles (via motion) and into the world of experience (motion that has been tagged by “e” for experience i.e. “e-motion”). Sky actually discusses this level of the process (experience, emotion, feeling, and thought) as follows:

“In the phenomenological model I’m using, everything starts with having experiences in the world. Emotions are then an automatic physiological response that our bodies have to our experiences—what Damasio calls the proto-self. Stomach butterflies when we are afraid or goose pimples when we are in awe are bodily reactions to emotions that we don’t have any conscious control over. Feelings, on the other hand, are how we perceive the emotions. Having feelings gives rise to what Damasio calls core consciousness. Feelings are more complex than emotions because they depend on how we perceive our circumstances. A seasoned performer may respond with feelings of joy and excitement to the emotion of butterflies in the stomach, whereas someone with stage fright may try to run away as far as possible. By adding our own mental interpretation to our emotions, the five basic emotions of fear, anger, joy, sadness, and disgust become a broad field of possible feelings or interpretations. Finally, our thoughts are those connections we make “in our head” while trying to make sense out of our experiences and our emotions. Taken together, these considerations suggest that our life consists of experiences, to which we have emotional reactions, which we interpret as feelings and which lead to cognitive thoughts about life.”

Nelson-Isaacs, Sky. Living in Flow (p. 50). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

After reading Sky’s book I watched the YouTube video with Csikszentmihalyi explaining his flow diagram, and I wrote the following comments:

The concept of flow has a much more profound importance than just the physiological (opioid and dopamine) experience. I learned about the flow diagram from a neurosurgeon (one of my medical physics Ph. D. committee) back in 2001 and immediately recognized its validity and importance in my life as a musician, physicist, teacher and parent.

The profound implications of flow are in the way flow makes sense of quantum and relativistic physics and the idea of “parallel universes”, which author Jim Baggott called fantasy physics (in his book “Farewell to Reality”). This is explained beautifully by physicist Sky Nelson-Isaacs in his new book, “Living in Flow: The science of synchronicity and how your choices shape your world”. It is a must read for anyone who has experienced or just “gets it” – the idea of flow – and wants to understand how physics supports it. As a retired medical physicist, I’ve been working on a model for understanding mind/body medical physics, (because I think it’s better than the poison/cut/burn approach to curing cancer) and I find the concept of flow as well as Isaacs’ explanation to be the best and most useful to help the human condition. And you don’t have to know any complicated physics to understand it.

Isaacs explains it in terms of “meaningful history selection”, which to me is similar to the notion that life makes sense in reverse but you have to live it in forward. It takes time to realize that time is an allusion, i.e. alluded to by your perspective (my words) and that light is timeless (Isaac’s words). It is the first time I’ve seen the “parallel universe” idea used in a meaningful and sensible way and it relates directly to flow. Flow makes it seem like the universe responds to your path to fulfillment by sort of deselecting all of your “potential futures” that fail to line up with your authentic desires (symbolically portrayed as “apples” at the tip of branches).

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