Angry Robot


For a long time I’ve been trying to crystallize some vague ideas about a philosophy of flow, and finally it’s coming together.

Basically, we begin with the old-school problem of free will versus predetermination. If you believe in a god, a higher power/organizing principle, or time travel, you are often faced with the idea of a predetermined universe. Much of this has to do with the construct of linear time, and obviously it’s a whole can o’ worms. But the key point here is how predetermination butts heads with free will, which is (to put it lightly) central to western thought, and a difficult belief to shake off.

I’ve always found this opposition awkward. That’s the beauty of My New Belief, Flow™.

Flow is central to the I Ching, a text both simple and complex (and about the only ‘religious’ text I can get behind). Let’s put it like this: there is a predefined pattern to all situations in life. You can go with the flow, which means you have perceived the pattern and you act in concert with it, or you can go against it, in which case bad things tend to happen. Although this may sound like a more or less impotent form of free will, to me it places the onus of agency/personal choice on perception instead of action. Life becomes an act of interpretation, and since in this world view the overall pattern is multifaceted and difficult to perceive, since there is no master plan or authoritative guidebook, going with the flow is in fact incredibly difficult, contrary to the usual meaning.

One could argue that the I Ching is the guidebook. If you take a look at it you’ll find at the base a bunch of deceptively simple math. The rest of it is commentary (i.e. interpretation), and it is presented as such – the Duke of Chou said this or that about a particular hexagram, for example. It’s not: this is the meaning of the hexagram.

Seeing as it comes out of the world’s oldest book, flow is not a new concept. (Although, it’s interesting to think about it in a hiphop context, and in a traffic analysis context (but not in a menstrual context…).) It’s Taoist at heart. Interestingly, that page notes that similar ideas about binary oppositions were coming out of Greece at the time, from Heraclitus, aka the Obscure Presocratic who Baffled Plato, aka the Greek Dude with Clit in his Name. And beautifully, he said “everything flows.” Beautifully, again, hosted friend blogger extraordinaire King mentioned Clit-boy in his first post: “change alone is unchanging.” So with that in mind, I’d like to announce Heraclitus as the new patron philosopher of this site, because of his obscurity, because of his mad freaky flow, and yes, because he’s the thinker with ‘clit’ in the middle.

10 comments on "flow"

  1. king says:

    You mentioned this to me a while ago Sanko, and I thought it was a fascinating idea. More than once I’ve tried to explain it to someone else, (usually in an “I’m about to impress you” tone of voice) and then realised that I have no fucking idea what I’m talking about, and have to throw one of those ninja smoke-bombs that I’m running out of.

    I’m glad that I can now look it up when I need to.

    My question is this: How do you perceive the pattern that tells you you’re in flow? And can there be conflicting patterns? Or at the very least, more than one?

  2. D says:

    Well, first off I’d say there’s no escapin’ the flow. It’s an always-on feature. Secondly, yes, you’d have to figure out which pattern is in operation in your given situation. But that’s all hot I Ching action, right? I.e., which trigram or hexagram best corresponds?

    PS you know what sucks? When you use the ninja smoke bomb, and when the smoke clears everyone looks around and eventually finds you clinging to the ceiling. That moment, when you’re clinging there, and you’re looking down at them, and they’re looking up at you, and there’s a long, uncomfortable pause? That sucks.

  3. kaf says:

    Grasshopper, you have been reading the Tao Te Ching, haven’t you?

    Taoism and Zen are pretty much the only belief systems that make any sense to me.

  4. D says:

    Kaf: no, in fact I’ve been reading Dirt: the Motley Crue Story, and now I’m thinking that has something to do with this, or this with that, or something.

    & I agree about Zen & Taoism. Zen – they’ve got those wacky koans, and now Leonard Cohen. Shop around, you can’t beat that religion.

  5. king says:

    Okay, so you are always in flow. And perceiving the pattern is where the I Ching comes in — but what if you don’t want to use the I Ching? I mean you shouldn’t have to.

    The Chinese say that the I Ching is supposed to work because of the seven states of consciousness in Chinese philosophy. I’m not sure what they all are, but one of them is “will” which is replaced by the I Ching when you use it.

    Anyhow, will aside, how do you perceive a correct course of action? Or, how can you tell when you are moving with the flow?

  6. D says:

    Frankly, I think if you tried to develop a predictive/interpretive system from the ground up, you’d wind up with something remarkably similar to the I Ching – if you were at all good at developing such systems. More than that, I don’t know. For sure, it could use a good hard modern reinterpreting. It’s full of shit like the superior man will do this or that and whatnot. The Confucian bias in a lot of the commentary is a little hard to take.

    I’d like to hear more about the seven states of consciousness. Is there one related to having drunk a bunch of beers, and feeling a touch sour? Like the cowboy who no-one needs anymore?…

    Your final question is one too advanced for this little grasshopper. In fact, it’s the key to everything.

  7. kafkaesque says:

    I think once you are in balance you can perceive the correct course of action. Or rather when you are in balance, the correct course will be the only possible choice.


  8. D says:

    You said it, k-dog. Tathagata, dude!*

    *I wish I had something constructive to add, but hey, all these Mai Tais go to a guy’s head after a while.

  9. D says:

    Thanks, Dan, nice to have that online..

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