This was an interesting book, for two reasons. First it discusses in great detail the general idea of flow, which is something of an anglo approximati...moreThis was an interesting book, for two reasons. First it discusses in great detail the general idea of flow, which is something of an anglo approximation of the concept of zen, but tighter and less guiding. Second, it serves as a fantastic example of an attempt to stake out academic and intellectual territory. Overall, I found the book to be three stars, but along the way these two aspects of what a (nonfiction) book does kept on jumping out at me.
Most of the studies reported in the book come from American and European psychologists who're actively looking for flow in their subjects. They typically determine whether or not it's "there" by reading a short passage of text that describes the flow experience qualitatively -- an intense focus on the task at hand, to the point of blocking out distractions, with clear feedback about progress toward a clear goal, as skills and challenges are evenly matched. People in these experiments typically respond that they've experienced this sort of "flow" feeling before, and then the psychologists start with their slicing and dicing : under which conditions, what time of day, what were you doing when you experienced this flow ?
Flow is tantalizingly similar to "being in the moment," but in the hands of these authors it loses any potential new-age religious baggage and instead focuses primarily on the relationship between environmental challenges and the skills of the individual. For instance, surgeons and mountain climbers are used in almost every chapter as prototypical examples of people in flow. Individuals in these disciplines tend to put themselves in situations that present a significant challenge, but one that they are capable of addressing with significant skills that they've developed. Once in such a situation, individuals report confidence, control, and happiness, even when the situations (e.g. clinging to a cliff) could easily get out of hand in practice. Somehow flow, the authors argue, is a positive state of consciousness.
There's a lot to recommend this idea, I think, if only from an intuitive point of view. Flow, from my perspective as a programmer, is indeed a desirable state of consciousness, and there's a lot left to study in this general region of science. Seen from that light, this book kept grabbing my attention as an example of academic thought waging its own battle for survival. Clearly, the small community of authors who contributed to the book all think flow -- the intellectual concept -- is a good way to address problems in psychology, sociology, etc. Hidden between the lines, then, is their battle against whatever other ideas were occupying the minds of colleagues at the time. Over and over, this book attempts to drive home the point that the flow concept is important, worthwhile, valuable, etc. in understanding why people make the choices they make, what makes them want to do certain things over others, and so forth. Csikszentmihalyi himself is a veritable freight train behind this concept, having published more than four separate books on the subject, and generally interpreting almost any phenomenon that comes his way using this flow model. I marvel at this intellectual battle, having seen for myself a little of the ebb and flow of ideas in a small subset of the computer science literature. The general lesson, from both vantage points, is that good ideas don't just take hold by themselves ; instead, there are people behind them, pushing at every opportunity to convince others of their veracity, whether for political profit, prestige, stubbornness, or goodwill.(less)
This is a fantastic introduction to the technical aspects of speech processing, combining perspectives from signal processing, phonology, linguistics,...moreThis is a fantastic introduction to the technical aspects of speech processing, combining perspectives from signal processing, phonology, linguistics, and neuroscience. The authors have been in their fields for decades and bring valuable perspective to bear on their highlights in the field. A few of the papers are brilliant (even as surveys !), and all of them are worth reading if you're looking for the state of the art in language and speech perception research.(less)
I've never thought much about the parallel lives of Buddhism and psychology, but Epstein does a great job of finding common ground in the two traditio...moreI've never thought much about the parallel lives of Buddhism and psychology, but Epstein does a great job of finding common ground in the two traditions, using the theme of "desire" to tie things together. Desire is a slippery concept in its own right, and under the harsh light of Buddhism everything can seem to recede rapidly into nihilism, but Epstein provides several interesting examples from his own experience to tie things down to real life. I am a bit annoyed at the application of "female" and "male" to the dichotomy of desire's manifestations in the world, but I nonetheless enjoyed reading Epstein's ideas about the emptiness of meditation and the gap between desire and its satisfaction. I also quite enjoyed his references to the Ramayana, a story that I've heard little about before now. More to read !(less)
Wallerstein and her colleagues run a family counseling practice in Marin County, and this book presents several case studies of children whose familie...moreWallerstein and her colleagues run a family counseling practice in Marin County, and this book presents several case studies of children whose families were divorced 25 years ago -- hence the 25 year landmark -- to try to chart out the long-term future that children from divorced families might be expected to face. Unfortunately, the case studies and conclusions presented in this book were either composites or otherwise drawn from the population that came through Wallerstein's practice, and, as such, the book presents a set of portraits of people drawn almost entirely from white, upper-middle class Californians. Nonetheless, as a white, middle class child of a divorced family at the 20 year landmark myself, I found many of the stories from the book to resonate significantly with my own experience. In that sense, the book was quite self-serving for me to read, but it was also comforting just to learn that so many other people have experienced similar trauma and have similar responses to it. Wallerstein's general emphasis in the book is on listening to the children during a divorce, because they have much more vested in the system than people think, and because family disruption lasts significantly longer than the parents, court system, and therapists generally anticipate. Although the authors generally emphasize their point of view to the point of suspicion, I think the book is quite valuable for people who have gone through or anticipate going through a divorce.(less)