Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Three Types Of Responses

In his book Praise of Escaping (“Éloge de la fuite”), physician Henri Laborit suggests the following. When a person faces an ordeal, they face three options. The first is to fight against the ordeal, the second is to do nothing and third is to flee from it.

Firstly, fighting against a challenge is a very natural behaviour. These people are not hurt by the ordeal because they turn the attack into a retaliation. But this attitude has a problem. Continuous attacks and retaliations result in a vicious cycle. An aggressive person ultimately will be stopped by someone who is stronger than them.

The second option involves not doing anything in the sense that you act as if you hadn’t been attacked by pushing down the resentment. This is the most widely accepted attitude in modern society. Scholars call this behavioural inhibition. People with this attitude have the want to punch their opponent in the face, but swallow their anger as they recognise the risk of being retaliated against and entering a vicious cycle. And so, the punch that did not land on the opponent hits themselves instead. This may even show as medical conditions such as stomach ulcers, aches, or other psychosomatic symptoms.

The third way of escaping can be done through different ways.
Chemical escape: Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, stimulants, relaxants, sleeping pills. All of these can soften or erase the pain from external attacks. By using these substances to forget everything and knocking oneself out, the ordeal will pass. However, because this kind of escape weakens your sense of reality, people who use this method lose their ability to live in the real world.
Geographical escape: Moving from one place to another endlessly. Some people shift their problems by changing jobs, friends, lovers and the places they live in. It doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, but they feel a little better and gain energy from changing the environment they are in.
Creative escape: Transforming your anger and pain into film, music, writing, painting, sculpting etc. Some people take the things they cannot dare say in the real world and have characters in an imaginary world say it instead. By doing this, they feel a sense of catharsis. People who like to watch characters in movies and books take revenge against those who have wronged them also fit into this category.


(from The Encyclopaedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge by Bernard Werber)

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


From a very young age, goals are set for us by others. As babies we are encouraged to walk and talk, as children we are encouraged to do well in school, as teenagers we are encouraged to get a good degree and as adults, we are encouraged to be a model member of society. Advertisements put forward money, fame and power as models of success. Motivational speakers give speeches telling us paths we should follow to succeed. Parents tell children that they should listen to their advice if they wish to lead a comfortable life in the future. Amongst all of this external pressure, sometimes it seems difficult to have a say in what direction your life should go in.

The word autotelic is derived from the Greek words auto, meaning “self”, and telos, meaning “goal”. An autotelic is one who does not need external reminders to tell them who they are. They have a purpose in and not apart from themselves. They are driven by their own goals, curiosities and motivation. An autotelic does not live life like a connect-the-dots puzzle drawn by society, but chooses to paint their own life on a blank canvas.

The defining feature of autotelic personalities is that they are not driven by the want to be successful, but by the desire to seek challenges and be in flow state. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who coined the term flow, defined the mark of the autotelic personality as “the ability to manage a rewarding balance between the “play” of challenge finding and the “work” of skill building“. They are far less interested in external rewards, such as a gold star from a teacher or a raise from a employer. Their reward is the flow state they enter while they work on their goal and the satisfaction that comes with knowing that they completed a challenge.

Some of the greatest achievers in history were autotelics. They did not achieve amazing feats because of the promise of money and fame, but because they were internally driven by the thirst for flow. When questioned why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, famous mountaineer George Mallory replied: ”Because it’s there“. An autotelic personality is not necessarily something you have to be born with. All you need is to constantly challenge yourself, discover whatever brings you to flow state and not let outside forces sway you from your own goals. For the only judge of your life that matters is you.

(If you don’t get the reference, go watch some How I Met Your Mother, coz it’s awesome 😛 Barney Stinson always sets new challenges for himself, always pushing himself to the limits of awesomeness. Examples:

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Have you ever had a moment of pure passion, where you are so immersed in what you are doing that everything around you does not matter and you are in a state of total bliss? In that moment, you feel fully alive, present and completely engaged with what you are doing. When the happiness and creativity expert Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi was studying how painters work, he noticed an odd thing. When their painting was going well, they did not care about getting tired, hungry or uncomfortable. They just carried on. But when the painting was finished, they rapidly lost interest in it.

Csíkszentmihályi described this state of mind as a flow state: the experience of being fully engaged with what you are currently doing. When in a flow state, an hour can pass in the blink of an eye, action and awareness merges and the experience is intrinsically rewarding. You feel that what you are doing is important, in full control and not self-conscious. Flow state does not just involve ultimate concentration. It is a complex state of mind where you are solely driven by focused motivation, operating at your peak level of mental and emotional engagement. Essentially, your mind uses 100% of its capacity for the task at hand, rather than wondering what is for dinner or peeking at the beautiful girl across the road. Because of this, a person in flow state not only works with great efficiency and creativity, but they also feel positive, energised and happy. In fact, the intense spontaneous joy brought on by flow state can almost be considered the mental equivalent of an orgasm.

So how can you achieve flow state? Flow state is not something that one chooses to go into. It is only attained when certain criteria are met.

  • Flow state can happen with any activity, but it is more likely to occur if you are internally motivated (i.e. you are doing the activity mainly for its own sake).
  • You should have clear short-term goals for what you are trying to achieve. This adds direction and structure to the task.
  • An important aspect of flow is that the activity must be challenging enough to stretch your skills almost to the limits, but not more. If it is not challenging enough, you will get bored. If it demands more skill than what you are capable of, you will become anxious. That being said, the balance only has to be between “perceived” challenge and skill. In other words, all you need is confidence that you can take on the challenge.
  • The activity should provide immediate feedback on how you are doing (e.g. seeing how a painting is turning out, hearing yourself sing). This allows you to adjust your performance in order to maintain flow state.

Flow is an incredibly useful thing. Through flow, you can forget about your worries and your strife, reach a state of pure happiness and inner peace and produce something truly great. The key to happiness is knowing what allows you to reach flow state and routinely entering flow state. For example, I know that the three things that give me flow are: music, humour and obsessions. Ergo, I play my guitar and sing, watch television shows that make me laugh and write an entry for the Encyclopaedia of Absolute and Relative Knowledge every day. All of these activities allow me to be truly happy, no matter what the situation may be.


Posted in History & Literature


Apples are strewn throughout history and mythology, acting as a key component of human societies. Its symbolism ranges from the sin of Adam and Eve to the love of Aphrodite. Let us look at some apples that have made a significant impact in the world – real or mythical.

Apple of Temptation: According to the bible, Eve is tempted by the snake to take the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. By taking from the tree and eating this fruit (then sharing it with Adam), the two are banished from the Garden of Eden and humanity is cursed to live in the harsh world and for women to suffer the pain of childbirth. Although the bible never defines the forbidden fruit as an apple, artistic depictions during the Renaissance has solidified the idea. The eponymous Adam’s apple (the lump on men’s necks) is said to be a piece of the apple being stuck in Adam’s throat.

Apple of Discord: According to Greek mythology, Eris (goddess of discord) threw a golden apple into a wedding after not being invited to it. The apple was inscribed with the message: “For the fairest one” and Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all claimed the apple was for them. Eventually, the judgement was delegated to Paris, prince of Troy. Each goddess bribed him with power, strength and love respectively but Paris eventually chose Aphrodite and in return, received the most beautiful woman in the world – Helen of Sparta. This sparked the great Trojan War, resulting in the destruction of Troy by the Greek alliance.

Apple of Love: Atalanta (Greek mythology) was a beautiful woman who had sworn virginity to the goddess Artemis. To avoid marriage, she challenged suitors to a footrace and only the winner would take her hand in marriage (the rest were killed). A man named Hippomenes went to Aphrodite’s temple to seek advice and was given three golden apples. He used the apples to distract Atalanta during the race by tossing it near her. This allowed him to win the race and ultimately took Atalanta’s hand in marriage. This story also shows how the ancient Greeks saw apples as a symbol of love, as evidenced by the gesture of one throwing an apple to the person they are in love with. Catching the apple was accepted as a sign of reciprocity.

Apple of Challenge: One of Hercules’ twelve challenges was to take the Golden Apples of Hesperides, protected by Ladon, a dragon with a hundred heads. Hercules bargained with Atlas to hold the Earth while he retrieved it. Atlas tried to walk away free from his damned task, but Hercules tricked him by asking to hold the Earth while he shifted his cloak.

Apple of Death: In the fairy tale, Snow White, the evil queen uses a poisonous apple to murder Snow White. The symbolism of the apple is similar to the biblical story mentioned above. Despite the dwarves warning her about stranger danger, Snow White takes the gift of a stranger without enough caution and suffers the consequences. However, she is resurrected by the kiss of the prince. Perhaps Aphrodite’s apple of love counters the evil apple of death and sin.

Apple of Revolution: A famous Swiss folklore describes how William Tell had to shoot an apple from his son’s head with his crossbow as punishment for not submitting to the occupying Austrians’ leader, Gessler. Being an expert marksman, he successfully hit his target instead of killing his son. When he was questioned why he drew two bolts from his quiver, Tell replied that he was aiming to shoot Gessler if he accidentally killed his son. This infuriated Gessler, who arrested William Tell. However, Tell escaped and went on to lead the revolution against the oppressors, aiding in the liberation of Switzerland (according to the legend).

Apple of Philosophy: There is a record of a young Martin Luther (who founded the protestant church) writing in his diary: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree”. The philosophy behind this saying is not that gardening is important. Here, Luther is saying that we should live every day as if it is the last day. Live without regrets. Besides, would we not look silly if the world did not end and we had wasted a day panicking and doing absolutely nothing productive?

Apple of Knowledge: The story of how Isaac Newton devised the theory of gravity after being hit on the head with an apple is a famous story. Although the “hitting on the head” part is dubious, evidence suggests that he used apples falling from a tree as an example of how gravity works. Although the concept of gravity was already established, Newton focussed on how apples always fell perpendicular to the ground and deduced that objects have a gravitational pull on other objects (as the Earth pulls the apple and vice versa). He extrapolated from the apple to discover how Earth’s gravitational field controls the orbit of the Moon. Thus, it can be said that apples played a “crucial” role in the advancement of modern physics (although Newton probably did not need the apples for his theory).

Apple of Innovation: In 1976, Steve Jobs co-founded Apple Inc. to develop the first personal computer. The company would go on to revolutionise mainstream digital technology by coming up with innovative products such as the iPod. Steve Jobs was the face of this new wave of innovation; with his bold outlook on the future and powerful leadership he made Apple Inc. one of the most successful companies in the 21st century. Jobs successfully popularised many pieces of technology, such as personal computers, portable music players and tablet PCs. Interestingly, he came up with the logo and name of the company after seeing a cartoon of Newton and his apple. Perhaps Jobs was seeking to create a company that would be one of the many “apples” that were turning points in history.