Jenny Mackness reflects on flow from the perspective of Iain McGilchrist. Unlike Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘me-high-cheek-sent-me-high’), McGilchrist argues that everything is in flow all of the time, the problem is that sometimes we lose track of this. To regain a sense of this ‘both/and’ thinking which celebrates change, we will need to rethink our focus on data and measurement
. This reminds me of Deleuze’s discussion of flow and desire
Csikszentmihalyi is known to have related his work to education, whereas McGilchrist relates his work more broadly to living in and attending to the world, which, although not specific to education, certainly has implications for education. In his book The Master and his Emissary, McGilchrist provides substantial evidence for two ways of attending to the world; the way of the left hemisphere of the brain and the way of the right hemisphere. I have written a number of posts about this in the past and am not going to repeat it here. A good introduction to those new to McGilchrist’s work is this video and this short book, which summarises his key ideas – Ways of Attending: How our Divided Brain Constructs the World.
For Iain McGilchrist, ‘flow’ isn’t something experienced only when certain conditions are met. Rather he considers that all things are in flow all the time, including ourselves. He often uses the mountain behind his house to illustrate this, saying that if we could slow things down sufficiently we would be able to see the mountain flowing.
For McGilchrist experiencing ‘flow’ means experiencing the whole and understanding:
- Empathy and intersubjectivity as the ground of consciousness
- The importance of an open, patient attention to the world, as opposed to a wilful, grasping attention
- The implicit or hidden nature of truth
- The emphasis on process rather than stasis,
- The journey being more important that the arrival
- The primacy of perception
- The importance of the body in constituting reality
- And emphasis on uniqueness
- The objectifying nature of vision
- The irreducibility of all value to utility
- Creativity as an unveiling (no-saying) process rather than a wilfully constructive process.
- The challenge for educators is how to reconcile the need to fix and test within a flow mindset.
McGilchrist has always stressed the importance of ‘both/and’ thinking, as opposed to the ‘either/or’ thinking, which seems to dominate much of our work in education. He tells us that for strength and stability, and to avoid fragmentation and disintegration, we need to be able to hold opposing ideas in dynamic equilibrium, an idea that seems particularly relevant to current times.