The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium

The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium

by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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Overview

The author of the bestselling Flow (more than 125,000 copies sold) offers an intelligent, inspiring guide to life in the future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061843143
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Series: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 726,065
File size: 871 KB

About the Author

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a professor at Claremont Graduate University and former chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. His previous books include The Evolving Self and the national bestseller Flow.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Mind and History


The Perspective of Evolution

Each year we learn more about the incredible complexity of our universe. The mind staggers at the intimation of billions of galaxies, each made up of billions of stars, slowly revolving in every direction for unimaginable distances. And inside each grain of matter super-colliders reveal ever-receding constellations of strange particles streaking along mysterious orbits. In the midst of this field of stupendous forces a human life unfolds in what is less than a split second on the cosmic time scale. Yet, as far as we are concerned, it is this, our own short life, filled with its few precious moments, that counts for more than all the galaxies, black holes, and exploding stars put together.

And there is good reason for feeling this way. As Pascal said, humans may be fragile as reeds, but they are thinking beings; in their consciousness they reflect the immensity of the universe. In the last few centuries, the human presence has become even more central in the natural world. We have only recently been able to have a glimpse of the millions of years that preceded us, eons during which thousands of organisms replaced one another, struggling to survive in an ever-changing landscape. And we now realize that our unique heritage-the reflective consciousness that lulled us into believing for a while that we were forever destined to be the crown of creation-brings with it an awesome responsibility. We realize that being at the cutting edge of evolution on this planet means we can either direct our life energy toward achieving growth and harmony or waste the potentials we haveinherited, adding to the sway of chaos and destruction.

In order to make choices that will lead to a better future, it helps to be aware of the forces at work in evolution; after all, it is through them that we will succeed or fail as a species. My intention in this book is to reflect on what we know about evolution, and to develop the implications of that knowledge for everyday. action. If we understand better what we are up against, we have a better chance to live our lives in a responsible fashion, and perhaps to help direct the future toward the most positive goals of humanity.

One result of reflecting on evolution is that one learns to take the past very seriously. Natura non fecit saltum, the Romans said: Nature does not progress by leaps and bounds. What we are today is the result of forces that acted on our ancestors many millennia ago, and what humankind will be in the future is going to depend on our present choices. But our choices are influenced by a number of constraints that are part of the evolutionary makeup of every human being. They are subject to the genes that regulate the functions of our body, and to instincts, which, for example, drive us to be angry or sexually aroused even when we don't want to be. They are also constrained by cultural heritage, by systems that teach men -to be manly and women to be ladylike, or one religion to be intolerant of the members of another.

While striving to change the course of history we cannot wish away the constraints that the past has burdened us with; to do so would lead only to frustration and disillusion. Knowledge of these forces that determine consciousness and action, however, can make it possible for us to become liberated from them: to become free to decide what to think, what to feel, and how to act. At this point in our history it should be possible for an individual to build a self that is not simply the outcome of biological drives and cultural habits, but a conscious, personal creation. That self will be aware of its freedom and not fear it. It will enjoy life in all its forms, and gradually become aware of its kinship with the rest of humanity, with fife as a whole, and with the pulsing forces that animate the world beyond our comprehension. When the self begins to transcend the narrow interests built into its structure by evolution, it is then ready to start taking control of the direction of evolution in its turn. But shaping the future course of evolution is not something that can be accomplished by solitary individuals working alone. Therefore, it is necessary to consider which social institutions are most likely to sponsor positive evolutionary actions, and how we can develop more of them.

This, in brief, is the project of this book. It will first explore the forces from the past that have shaped us and made us the kind of organisms we are; it will describe ways of being that help us free ourselves of the dead hand of the past; it will propose approaches to life that improve its quality and lead to joyful involvement; and it will reflect on ways to integrate the growth and liberation of the self with that of society as a whole. Clearly the task set out for the book is too ambitious to be achieved inside the compass of its covers. Knowledge increases each year; experience matures with time. Writing about such matters is in itself an evolutionary processslowly changing, never ending-but it is my hope that The Evolving Self will serve as a first step in the process.

It is partly for this reason that after each chapter I have listed some questions to stimulate further thinking, followed by blank spaces for you to enter your thoughts in. It is one modest way to show that the argument of the book is not completed, that it is open to be continued by each reader according to his or her wisdom and experience. Writing in books to complete the author's thoughts has been one of the oldest scholarly practices in every civilization. The readers' glosses added to the white margins of pages are as much a part of the culture as what was originally written on those pages. Books no longer have generous margins; hence it makes sense to provide an alternative way for the reader to get actively involved with what he or she reads. I hope it will happen here . . .

Table of Contents

Introduction xi
PART I THE LURE OF THE PAST
The Mind and History
3(25)
The Perspective of Evolution
3(2)
The Global Network
5(3)
At the Hinges of the New Millennium
8(5)
Chance, Necessity, and Something Else
13(2)
Are We Hopelessly Bad?
15(3)
The Good and the Bad
18(2)
The Emergence of the Self
20(4)
Further Thoughts on "The Mind and History"
24(4)
Who Controls the Mind?
28(27)
Eternal Dissatisfaction
29(3)
Chaos and Consciousness
32(2)
Why Is Happiness So Elusive?
34(3)
The Limits of Reason
37(5)
The Addiction to Pleasure
42(4)
Stress, Strain, and Hormones
46(6)
Further Thoughts on "Who Controls the Mind?
52(3)
The Veils of Maya
55(31)
Illusion and Reality
55(8)
The World of the Genes
63(6)
The World of Culture
69(7)
The World of the Self
76(7)
Further Thoughts on "The Veils of Maya"
83(3)
Predators and Parasites
86(33)
The Forces of Selection
86(3)
Power and Oppression
89(6)
The Exploitation of Women and Children
95(3)
Individual Differences in Power
98(3)
The Transmission of Inequality
101(4)
Parasitic Exploitation
105(2)
The Strategy of Irresponsibility
107(2)
Exploitation Through Mimicry
109(5)
Further Thoughts on "Predators and Parasites"
114(5)
Memes Versus Genes
119(30)
The Competition of Memes
120(6)
Memes and Addiction
126(5)
Memes and Media
131(5)
The Competition of Ideas
136(3)
Memes and Materialism
139(4)
Further Thoughts on "Memes versus Genes"
143(6)
PART II THE POWER OF THE FUTURE
Directing Evolution
149(26)
Some Principles of Evolution
150(7)
The Nature of Complexity
157(2)
Morality and Evolution
159(3)
The Control of Population
162(3)
Eumemics: Limiting the Reproduction of Memes
165(4)
Complexity of Consciousness
169(3)
Further Thoughts on "Directing Evolution"
172(3)
Evolution and Flow
175(32)
The Elements of Flow
179(8)
Why Is Flow Rewarding?
187(5)
The Consequences of Flow
192(5)
What Happens When Flow Is Absent?
197(2)
Flow in Everyday Life
199(5)
Further Thoughts on "Evolution and Flow"
204(3)
The Transcendent Self
207(45)
What Transcenders Are Like
208(8)
What Is the Self?
216(3)
Evolving Images of the Ideal Self
219(15)
The Development of the Self Through the Life Span
234(3)
Flow and the Growth of the Self
237(1)
The Skills of Spirituality and Wisdom
238(6)
The Challenges of the Future
244(5)
Further Thoughts on "The Transcendent Self"
249(3)
The Flow of History
252(27)
Flow and the Evolution of Technology
254(4)
Flow and Historical Change
258(8)
The Good Society
266(3)
Creating a Good Society
269(3)
Educating for the Good Society
272(5)
Further Thoughts on "The Flow of History"
277(2)
A Fellowship of the Future
279(18)
Forging a Fellowship
281(4)
Cells of the Future
285(4)
A Faith of the Future
289(5)
Further Thoughts on "A Fellowship of the Future"
294(3)
Acknowledgments 297(2)
Notes 299(36)
References 335(16)
Index 351

What People are Saying About This

Howard Gardner

"A book of singular importance and timeliness, one with momentous implications for the future."

Robert N. Bellah

"An enormously helpful resource for thinking about the world that lies ahead and how we can influence it for the better."

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