Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Flow more than separate events

I read Men of Mathematics by E. T. Bell (1937) in the early 1960's.  He emphasizes that math has been a tussle between those who approached it looking at things in a discrete way, one step at a time, and those who looked at things as a continuous flow.  I seem to be a natural born discrete thinker: first thing first, then the second thing and so on.  A checklist comes naturally to me.

But I see that most things are processes.  I started in Mom's womb, slipped out, ate and grew, lived, got rather old.  Reading Thich Nhat Hahn, I was advised to look at a flower and see a manure pile.  I was reluctant to dirty up my thoughts but then he advised seeing the manure pile as a flower.  One thing turns into another, often at a slow speed that makes changes difficult to see.  I am reminding myself to see the rise and fall of ideas, processes, people as continuous flows, at least to try that view frequently.

The U. of Chicago psychologist Csikszentmihalyi wrote the book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience."  He referred to times when things just flow along perfectly, as when a basketball player flows through his opponents and makes beautiful movements, scoring again and again.  Sometimes, people describe such times as being in the flow.  When I looked up the book, I also found a book on menstruation called "Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation".  I know that for centuries what that sort of flow was all about was misunderstood and mysterious.


You have probably heard the famous saying from Heraclitus "You can't step into the same river twice", meaning the river is a constant flow and is ever-changing.  The Buddhists often say that everything changes, something we don't want to think about when things are just peachy. I was impressed by the title of Buckminster Fuller's book "I Seem to Be a Verb".  I am an action, a series of them actually, moving right along.  As a youngster, I very much liked the poem "This, too, shall pass away" but I pictured a beginning, a middle and more or less, an end.  I wasn't used to thinking of cycles, circles and flows around them.  Now, I realize that one thing transforms into another.  

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