Each person creates the world he or she lives in by investing attention in certain things, and by doing so according to certain patterns. The world constructed on the blueprints provided by the genes is one in which all of a person’s attention is invested in furthering the agenda of “reproductive fitness.” This is a simple goal: How can I get enough out of the environment to make sure that I reproduce and that my children will also have children? In less complex organisms, like many species of insects, practically the entire life span is dedicated to the project of laying a clutch of eggs; promptly afterward, the parents expire. Like every other organism, the butterfly has evolved to see only those things that will either help or hinder the survival of its offspring. Its world is made up of flowery shapes that provide nectar, and shapes that resemble predators that are best avoided. Poets make much of the majestic eagle soaring freely among the snowy peaks. But the eyes of the eagle are generally focused on the ground, searching for rodents lurking in the shadows. The lives of much of humanity could be summed up in similar terms.
Flow was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m halfway through its sequel, The Evolving self, and I can already say the same for it. I’m already having trouble remembering meself before I started reading it — it’s one of those books that stretches and rewrites you as you read it. It’s also deeper than Flow, more speculative, darker — the whole first half has been about the (inevitable) obstacles to human freedom.
After reading Flow I felt confident happiness, joy, flow, would always be at hand, always within me. Yet I also realized that happiness, joy, and flow were not enough. The Evolving Self is about what’s missing.