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Stealing Fire

Book Notes

I wish I recalled where this book was recommended to me. I don't recall. Likely Tim Ferris, seems like something he'd be into, a shortcut to realizing human potential. I don't mean that in a bad way.

The fundamental theme in this book is that we are all pretty much attempting some sort of mind-alternation. The objective of the mind-alternation can be achievement or escape, depending on the person and the circumstances. And the "we" is pretty much all living, mobile creatures ("mobile" only because we don't have any meaningful way to communicate with the non-mobile living creatures).

The mind-alternation is an alternate state of consciousness where we are connected. And in the connection are we whole.

I really liked the writing in the book. I loved the idea of the book, that we can achieve more with less, even as I cringed at the points where my mind screamed, "But they didn't EARN that, they didn't suffer!" Is that really any different than the students in my classes being frustrated at my blowing the grade curve, again in elementary school, before I was lumped with the people who enjoyed learning? I don't think so, but the difference is that I recognize that "that's not fair" attitude, and accept that while we might be (on paper) equal under the law, we are most definitely not equal.

I read this book quickly. I recommended it to several people before I had even finished it. While achievement is important to me, it might not be to other people, so I'm not sure it was actually received with the enthusiasm I had for it. I strongly recommend this book, though I do wish it had more of the how (besides taking LSD).

Plato described ecstasis as an altered state where our normal waking consciousness vanishes completely, replaced by an intense euphoria and a powerful connection to a greater intelligence.
Page 11

“Grit” is the term psychologists use to describe that mental toughness—a catch-all for passion, persistency, resiliency, and, to a certain extent, ability to suffer.
Page 13

But researchers now know that the center of that target actually correlates to changes in brain function—like brainwaves in the low-alpha, high-theta range—and this unlocks all kinds of new training options.
Page 24

Instead of following the breath (or chanting a mantra or puzzling out a koan), meditators can be hooked up to neurofeedback devices that steer the brain directly toward that alpha/ theta range. It’s a fairly straightforward adjustment to electrical activity, but it can accelerate learning, letting practitioners achieve in months what used to take years.
Page 25

By using the tanks to eliminate all distraction, entrain specific brainwaves, and regulate heart rate frequency, the SEALs are able to cut the
Page 27

time it takes to learn a foreign language from six months to six weeks. For a specialized unit
Page 27

Without all the badgering, we get a real sense of peace. “This peacefulness may result from the fact,” continues Leary, that “without self-talk to stir up negative emotions, the mystical experience is free of tension.” And with tension out of the way, we often discover a better version of ourselves, more confident and clear.
Page 38

The pale that Valentine ventured beyond, call it the Pale of the Church, is an age-old barrier for the spiritually curious. It’s a divide between those who believe that direct access to God should be moderated by a learned elite and those who believe direct access should be available to anyone at any time. Top-down versus bottom-up.
Page 54

They’re suffering from apophenia, “the tendency to be overwhelmed by meaningful coincidence,” and detecting patterns where others see none.
Page 203

“I care not a whit for a man’s religion,” Abraham Lincoln once quipped, “unless his dog is the better for it.”
Page 212

Namely, there’s no
Page 216

escaping the human condition. We’re born, we die, and figuring out the in between can be brutal. As Hemingway reminds us, 25 “the world breaks everyone.”
Page 216

“[Ecstasis] is absolutely ruthless and highly indifferent,” wrote John Lilly. “It teaches its lessons whether you like them or not.”
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It’s in our brokenness, not in spite of our brokenness, that we discover what’s possible.
Page 218

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