This is an excerpt from pp. 169-170 of a book named Flow: the psychology of optimal experience, written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi . It has become very difficult to understand the meaning of this
* Un­less con­sumed in highly skilled rit­ual con­texts, as is prac­ticed in many tra­di­tional so­ci­eties, what drugs in fact do is re­duce our per­cep­tion of both what can be ac­com­plished and what we as in­di­vid­u­als are able to ac­com­plish, un­til the two are in bal­ance. This is a pleas­ant state of af­fairs, but it is only a mis­lead­ing sim­u­la­tion of that en­joy­ment that comes from in­creas­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for ac­tions and the abil­i­ties to act.* Please help me to understand the meaning of this paragraph. I asked the question on english language forums to understand its meaning but it does not seem to work as it is more of a psychology related question.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome. did you cross-post on other SE sites? $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Mar 25 '19 at 13:43

Do note that he says in the very next paragraph

Some people will disagree strongly with this description of how drugs affect the mind. After all, for the past quarter-century we have been told with increasing confidence that drugs are "consciousness- expanding," and that using them enhances creativity. But the evidence suggests that while chemicals do alter the content and the organization of consciousness, they do not expand or increase the self's control over its function. Yet to accomplish anything creative, one must achieve just such control. Therefore, while psychotropic drugs do provide a wider variety of mental experiences than one would encounter under normal sensory conditions, they do so without adding to our ability to order them effectively.

In other words, he is aware that what he is proposing is controversial. To summarize what I gather as his main point, in my own words: drugs don't work for improving flow or creativity.

As for evidence, he's not citing any in there. The book has a list of references at the end, and some inline citations, but not for this "fact". And if you ask me, he is completely glossing over ADHD or the use of the same class of drugs to improve "flow" in just about everyone. And to paraphrase a famous mathematician and well-known user of amphetamines... mathematics was set back for a month when he took a break from the drug. Of course there are good reasons not to take such drugs (side effects) but claiming they don't work is silly, if you ask me. (Note that this book of Csikszentmihalyi was first published in 1990, so while ADHD might not have been as widely known back then as it is today, it definitely was known in professional circles, ADD was introduced in the DSM-III in 1980.)

Of course it may come down to an argument what really is flow, creativity etc. As the flip side, psychiatrists hardly ever talk about flow in Csikszentmihalyi's terminology, preferring "attention" obviously.


Freely translated, the author says that...

"Doing drugs is fine when performed under the guidance of experts in traditional, ritual contexts. Drugs reduce our perception of what is possible, and they reduce the perception of what we ourselves can achieve. Drugs do this until the two are in balance. This is pleasant. But, it is misleading and far greater joy can be achieved when one would stimulate the chances to achieve goals, and to enhance our possibilities to do great stuff."

Honestly, I think this is a big mouthful of gibberish. But there you go.

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    $\begingroup$ @SudhirSharma I would say it's gibberish because that string of words is inviting you to plug in whatever meaning you want for it. It's meant to sound deep without actually saying anything. It certainly has no meaning in psych or neuroscience. $\endgroup$ Mar 25 '19 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ Even though this is gibberish, what is interesting is that according to Wikipedia, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is "the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University. He is the former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago and of the department of sociology and anthropology at Lake Forest College." $\endgroup$ Mar 25 '19 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe context is missing in transcription and translation? $\endgroup$ Mar 25 '19 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisRogers I think it's not that uncommon in psychology for legitimate professors to have both scientific and...extra-scientific writings. They're often related, but not on the same level of rigor. I don't think that's a bad thing necessarily, but just because they are a professor doesn't mean their words are only gibberish because of translation error. $\endgroup$ Mar 25 '19 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ Which are two incredibly different drugs. $\endgroup$ Mar 25 '19 at 17:07

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