This thread combines two loves of mine - psychology and basketball - in response to a frequent claim made by psychologists about the "fallacy" of
flow, or the experience of "being in the flow" and hitting ten shots in a row.
As a basketball player myself, a non-professional who has spent the last 15 years 'honing' the mechanics of my jump shot, there is an irritating
ignorance in the statements made by psychologists regarding the nature of these 'flow' experiences. Tom Gilovich at Cornell performed statistical
analyses of jump shots which showed that they clustered in a non-random way, implying to Gilovich that there is nothing 'special' going on when a
basketball player - or fans - believe that there is something special about the state they're experiencing when their hitting their shots. Correlation
does not imply...
A Category Error
When I make a jump shot, there are many relevant parameters - how I hold my body, how low I go to dribble, how my feet are oriented to the basket
(i.e. whether they're "squared") - which I once learned but now fall into the periphery of my psyche - with only one parameter, the chief parameter,
sitting at the top of the hierarchy - the most important idea or relation which carries within it "everything else": where I am on the floor relative
to the rim.
In a psychological sense, this general gestalt awareness contains all the other elements; I'm low to the ground but this isn't focal to my awareness -
I've done it enough times as an action for it to become second nature to my embodied cognitive approach. My muscles "know" what to do, leaving my
'mind' to focus on other things. In my mind, the gestalt awareness holds within it an important possibility, right behind the gestalt orientation but
prepared to burst forth when the opportunity arises: to square my feet and shoulders towards the rim, and, with the elastic energy created by my
dribbling low to the ground, release it in a jump shot that begins and finishes in the same place.
Now, imagine the dynamics: swift movement, with finisse, explosivity, but done with a fine-lined biomechanical symmetry - a tensegrity - which allows
all this energetic movement to be transferred into energy to power the thighs which power a jump shot.
Symmetry in vigorous movement becomes symmetry in bodily balance: can you jump up and down without losing your shooting form? Can you jump up and down
without drifting - as instinctively happens, and which the adept learns to minimize the occurence of? How do you minimize the occurence of drifting,
if not by controlling the momentum of your body before you shoot? The key parameter here is your feet - they need to be directly aligned to the rim.
When aligned, now you must go up and down without feeling unbalanced or 'forced'; all that momentum from crouched movement should allow the shot to be
easy, and hence, it should feel like 'all the work' is being done by the thighs, and not the arms.
Every coach knows how important 'being low' is, but few emphasize the physics and its relationship to our own consciousness. Something like a
'tai-chi' would benefit any athelete involved in any sport where the body is the medium - as in basketball. To answer Carl Sagans assertion that flow
doesn't exist, I would counter: why do you think the only relevant parameter is a statistical analysis? Why do you assume the cognitive relationship
of the knower to the known doesn't matter?
Steph Curry is breaking shooting records like no other; why is that? It's not a statistical thing - although I can imagine a Steven Pinker type
psychologist making that argument. Rather, there appears to be two parameters which Curry seems to have locked down: a very efficient and very regular
shooting form which; and a temperament regulated from years of mindfulness practice, a psychological practice which emphasises "paying attention to
whatever arises in experience in a non-judgemental way".
It is strange that a psycholigist would argue that flow is a statistical artifact, rather than being a function of another sort of bodily dynamic:
Focus. Maintaining a high level of focus is hard when were being distracted by 'things out there', and we only get distracted because we are
insufficiently observant of how we become side-tracked within our minds. Too often, we focus on interpersonal things, which function as unconscious
constraints on the musculature of our body - preventing the sort of relaxed-yet-poised demeanor required to play well.
Curry is reportedly very good at relaxing himself - and perhaps you can see it when you watch his outbreaths, which appear longer than the norm, and
comes with the associated relaxed facial expression (just do it yourself).
All of the above parameters - emotional state (interpersonal object-relations), affects how you hold your body, and in turn, how you orient to the
rim, how you shoot, and how easily all this happens. It is subtle stuff - to get a good jump shot, defined by me as a regular, efficient, and 'ideal'
shooting form, requires being intensely attuned to your emotional states, your focus on the simple mechanical elements, and a motivation to hit the
shot. A smart person is a person who has delineated all these aspects within his mind, and is able to make sure that "what is wrong" is corrected in
order to generate the ideal state.
Now, flow is about identification-with. It comes as a consequence of a very profound coupling between the observing self and the object so that they
become, in 'intense' connection, practically one.
I am astonished sometimes by the beauty of my jump shot, especially compared to how it looked just five years ago. Today, I feel like an NBA player,
and hit more than half of the shots I shoot. I am not too constrained by distance - like Curry, I like to shoot far away, and I typically hit it. How
can I so regularly hit 35 foot shots simply by lining my body up to the rim, and experiencing the relationship between my body and the rim as being
united by the parabolic arc that moves from me to it? How come it feels like a spiritual act - the union of the ball with its "hole"?
Scientists like Sagan have trouble understanding how things like this can be explained in ways that are perfectly scientific, yet unsuspected, because
we're taking too static a perspective on things. I see my jump shot and the hoop as happening within the general ontological background of 'metaphors'
- which have a particular dynamic about them. All metaphors derive from real world movement, and so, with the basketball, the metaphor of the ball to
the rim correlates with the metaphor of "going home". Going home also arises when we think more spiritually - when we're contemplating our
relationship of our living self to our future self. In some ways, that can be imagined as a "going home". For me, being buried and returned to the
earth enacts what evolution began billions of years ago, in creating life 'from the dust' (molecules)…
So what controls moments of "flow"? I would say its when the self becomes deeply attached to the environment around it; the relationship is deeply
focused, and, the metaphorical elements which control cognition are deeply entangled with its object - the rim. Other people are 'life obstacles'
which are in our way, and our proficient avoidance around them allows for our preparation to "win" - to orient to the rim in the 'right' way, and hit
the shot - realize our goals.
edit on 14-9-2018 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)