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THE RISE OF SUPERMAN – More on Steen Kotler’s new book

Dust jacket of THE RISE OF SUPERMAN
Photograph taken by Paul Rest

Well, as I wrote in my first review of Steven Kotler’s new book, most of us won’t be X-Games participants or attempting daredevil leaps of buildings (there’s one mentioned in the book that was done in Chicago that gave me vertigo just imagining it!).

However, the book is a cornucopia of information about what happens when we reach states of flow where we are able to be in a difference state of consciousness. However, the book reveals that the way brain and our bodies work are counter to much of our thinking- especially if you grew up learning how to expand your mind through various meditation methods and through “other” means from the 60's and 70's.

Kotler writes, “Ever since Aldous Huxley told the world about his experiments with mescaline, the idea has been that the door doors of perception needed to be opened for cosmic unity to be revealed.” [Author’s Italics] Newberg [a Jefferson University neuroscientist] and D’Aquili [a University of Pennsylvania neuropsychologist] discovered the inverse. With hypofrontality [the way the brain handles the exchange of information], attention is narrowing. Parts of the brain are shutting down. Instead of taking place in the prefrontal lobes, this hypofrontality occurs farther back in the cortex, in the superior parietal lobe, a portion of the brain that Newberg and D'Aquili dubbed the orientation association (OAA) because it helps us orient to space.”

And here’s the kicker: “Oneness is the result of the narrowing of the doors of perception, not throwing them wide open. Huxley had it exactly backwards.”

If you’re thinking about how this can apply to everyday decision-making, well here it is. Every decision in my experience involves some risk. Some decisions involve a lesser degree of risk, such as decided do I shop first and then go to the gas station or the reverse. Other decisions involve a higher degree of risk. Do I give notice and leave the job I’m familiar with to take this new job that’s been offered to me; or, do I stay put.

What Kotler points out is that all involves what he calls, “enhanced decision making.” He writes, “Since flow [this was discussed in previous column here] is a fluid action state, making better decisions isn’t enough: we also have to act on those decisions. The problem is fear, which stands between us and all actions.”

The author continues, “Yet our fears are grounded in self, time and space. With our sense of self out of the way we are liberated from doubt and insecurity. [My Italics] With time gone, there is no yesterday to regret or tomorrow to worry about. And when our sense of space disappears, so do physical consequences. But when all three vanish at once, something incredible occurs: our fear of death.”

Those of you who have taken martial arts examinations, whether kyu or dan, know there isn’t a fear of death but these moments are pressure cookers of a unique type that historically in the martial arts tradition were life and death situations. And I think the DNA of our modern testing, even in well-light dojos with a safe environment, still has historical DNA in the room and flowing through the veins of those testing. So I believe that those of us who have tested or had similar events occur in their lives have indeed experienced this first hand.

More will be revealed in my next column about the actual chemistry that occurs in our brains. You science geeks will love this.

THE RISE OF SUPERMAN by Steven Kotler, New Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston-New York, 2014 - $26.00 US – ISBN 978-1-4778-0083-6