What is the book Stealing Fire about?
In the book, Steven Kotler every so often mentions the name of Prometheus – a titan, who stole the divine fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. We still have this fire with us, and we know it under a different name. Its primary purpose is to trigger a sense of ecstasy, which means «going out of oneself» in Greek. The ritual drink called «soma», known for its magical and healing properties serves the same purpose of causing the ecstatic state of consciousness.
At the beginning of the book, Kotler cites the legend of Alcibiades, a prominent Athenian politician and general, who invited his disciples to a feast in 415 B.C. and gave them an excellent drink. At first, everybody who drank it felt terrible, almost agonizing. However, before long the pain was followed by a complete delight, sights of picturesque meadows and beautiful sounds of music. It felt like a vision of heaven. The drink turned out to be a divine elixir that was used in the Eleusinian mysteries. Alcibiades barely managed to escape from the temple he stole the elixir from.
These mysteries were a complex ritual that profoundly changed the consciousness of all participants. The ceremony lasted nine days in a row, and it involved singing, dancing, wearing unique garments, complete abstinence from any food and drinking the elixir that was stolen by Alcibiades. Scientists are still arguing over the composition of this drink: some say that it contained an ergot extract, which is known for its hallucinatory effect. Whatever it was, it caused a unique state of consciousness that allowed people to see the world from an entirely new angle.
It all started with the legend of Prometheus, who stole the divine fire and shared it with mankind. This fire represents the basis of our civilization, namely language, medicine, art, and science. However, Prometheus had to pay the price for what he had done. Zeus chained him to the rock and every day sent an eagle to peck on his liver, which grew back the next morning.
According to Kotler, the history has repeated itself ever since. This happens in the form of holiday rituals, new religions or new scientific inventions. New Prometheus share their discoveries with people, whereas priests try their best to punish them and hide the secrets they’ve unveiled. However, Kotler believes that nowadays this never-ending story can come to a different end. The more and more people are practicing the state of mindflow and ecstasy while pushing the boundaries of physical and mental capabilities. Moreover, before now only artists and athletes have managed to achieve the state of mindflow. But currently many enthusiastic scientists are studying this phenomenon, and Kotler and his colleagues support this initiative, trying to implement it in real life.
But why is Kotler so interested in this state of mind? While being in a state of ecstasy, the critical and negative thinking part of the human mind is turned off, which allows a person to lead a more fruitful and happier life.
The first part of the book describes the state of ecstasy and tells how difficult it is to achieve and use it. American elite tactical units have been practicing this state for a long time. It allows them to quickly tackle even the most demanding tasks while ensuring clarity and peace of mind. Also, you will find there a true story about a famous TV personality Jason Silva, who reached a state of ecstasy through philosophy.
The second part is dedicated to four paths that can lead us to an ecstatic state of mind, namely psychology, neurobiology, pharmacology, and technology. He goes into detail about opportunities that each of these paths can open up for us.
In the conclusion Kotler reflects on ways of reaching a state of mindflow while avoiding problems usually associated with this practice. He stresses out, that carelessness and abuse of altered states of consciousness can lead to death in some extreme cases. To no surprise, since according to Kotler, ecstasy is equal to reaching the heaven, or the highest point of human experience. The author believes that a new era of opportunities is coming, and his book preempts it.
Summary and 11 Ideas of Stealing Fire
Idea №1: An altered state of mind brings inspiration and enlightenment. It can help to solve the most difficult tasks in any sphere of activity.
Idea №2: We all are subconsciously seeking for altered states of mind.
Idea №3: The one side of ecstasy is self-forgetfulness. It helps to mute our internal self-criticism.
Idea №4: The other side of ecstasy is timelessness, which helps to take a break from daily routine.
Idea №5: Ecstasy has one more side, which is weightlessness. It allows us to go beyond our usual motivation.
Idea №6: The final quality of ecstasy is a more vibrant and more detailed perception of reality.
Idea №7: Since ancient times, society has been building a barrier between mundane and unknown things. The altered states of consciousness are one of the unknown things, that were left behind the barrier.
Idea №8: Despite many new opportunities, a state of ecstasy has its pitfalls.
Idea №9: Sex is one of the triggers that can cause a state of ecstasy.
Idea №10: The body can control the mind by altering consciousness.
Idea №11: While practicing an altered state of mind, keep in mind the rules of entering and exiting.
Review Stealing Fire
Stealing fire is a logical continuation and development of ideas that were laid out in the previous Kotler’s best-seller named The Rise of Superman. The new book contains a lot of references to myths and legends, philosophical digressions, and links to websites dedicated to altered states of mind.
In spite of many given examples, Kotler does not encourage readers to engage in extreme sports and other dangerous activities. Nevertheless, he seems to believe that it’s better to experience ecstasy during skydiving rather than live a dull and forgettable life.
Kotler claims that more freedom leads to more significant responsibility. Nowadays everyone is Prometheus with a divine fire in his hands. We can burn this fire without waiting for someone to do it for us. However, having such kind of power means that we should bear responsibility for ourselves and the whole world, which will inevitably change with us.
Pros and Cons
- Interesting concepts, stories and examples, clear narrative.
- Repetitive ideas. The author pays much more attention to the description altered states of consciousness and stories associated with them, rather than to the practical side of the subject.
About Author Steven Kotler
Stephen Kotler is a man who devoted his life to science and charity. The first higher education was young Stephen received in Cleveland, Ohio. There he dedicated time to learning English and literary skills, as well as at the Johns Hopkins University, where he entered years later.
Stephen Kotler’s publications are a massive success in well-known world publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Psychology Today, The New York Times and others. Among the themes of his works are science, psychology, culture, globalization, the world economy, and politics.
The writer’s books are famous all over the world and have already been translated into more than 40 languages. “Abundance” even stayed on top of the best-selling New York Times for ten weeks and fell into the Book of the Year nomination.