Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal preface Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work, their deep dive into the latest in human technology, with a vision and reminder of just how long we’ve been at this task. We start in Ancient Greece, with the Eleusinian Mysteries, a ritual that involved drinking kykeon, an elixir that bestowed visions and powers upon those who consumed it. We still do not know exactly what kykeon was (or is), but that has not stopped us from trying to raise ourselves by our bootstraps. Stealing Fire is a page-turning update on the human quest to change our minds and enhance our capabilities.
Kotler and Wheal are, in this book, detailing the blowback from their work in the flow genome project and from Kotler’s previous book, The Rise Of Superman. That response proved to be a potent combination of curiosity and investment, which is to say, that, as we quickly learn, the Navy Seals were more than interested; they were already on-board and had a few tricks up their sleeve that they thought would intrigue Kotler and Wheal. This makes for some fascinating reading about group flow, and our first step on a journey through the wild world of Our Minds in Action Today.
What’s really interesting here is the breadth of applications that Kotler and Wheal unearth in their investigation. From Burning Man to the Googleplex, from Red Bull to Richard Branson, Kotler and Wheal take us on an eye-opening tour while getting down to the nitty-gritty of what we know this moment. There’s a great look at the individual aspects of ecstasis, as well as an investigation into the uses of what they call “wicked problems.” They write, “The amplified information processing and perspective that non-ordinary states provide can help solve these types of complex problems, and they can often do so faster than more conventional approaches.” The idea is that all the disparate areas of research and investigation have real-world applications.
Through all this, the authors have a firm grasp on story and character, which means readers are in for some engaging close-ups of just who is doing what and for what purpose. The upshot is that, as with any new technology, there are questions as to just how and when it should be applied, even if the new technology is applied to the human mind and body. (Are smart drugs cheating when used by students? How is a pill different from cup of coffee?) There’s quite a bit of history to be found here as well, and the authors do a fine job bringing everything together to tell a coherent and ennobling story.
Ultimately, Stealing Fire is every bit as big an exploration as you might expect given the title, told in a lively narrative with engaging stories. What Stealing Fire is not, is a conclusion. For all their excitement and all the great information to be found here for those seeking to extend themselves, the most important part of Stealing Fire is that it is clear we are, not just looking at, but we, ourselves, are a work in progress. Here’s a book that offers some useful tips for operating and improving the human machine.
Here’s a link to the lightning-round interview with Steven Kotler, or enjoy it with your advanced human mind below!
For the big-thinks version, follow this link or let the words fill your mind directly for the bar below.