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Steven Kotler


How to Hack Into Flow

"Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, when you feel and perform your best," he says. "It’s the moment of total absorption. Time speeds up or slows down like a freeze-frame effect. Mental and physical ability go through roof, and the brain takes in more information per second, processing it more deeply."

Nick Dinardo SA 069: Discovering, Dissecting and Hacking Flow State with Steven Kotler

March 1, 2017 To hear, click here: Steven Kotler: His writings have been translated into over 40 languages and appeared in over 80 publications, including The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Forbes, Wired and TIME. He also writes “Far Frontiers,”…

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Nick Dinardo SA 069: Discovering, Dissecting and Hacking Flow State with Steven Kotler

March 1, 2017

To hear, click here:

Steven Kotler

Steven Kotler: His writings have been translated into over 40 languages and appeared in over 80 publications, including The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Forbes, Wired and TIME. He also writes “Far Frontiers,” a blog about science and culture for Forbes.com, appears frequently on television and radio, and lectures widely on technological, scientific and cultural issues, both to corporate and education institutions.

Alongside his wife, the author Joy Nicholson, Steven is the cofounder of Rancho de Chihuahua, a dog sanctuary in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. He has a BA from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an MA from Johns Hopkins University and, whenever possible, can be found hurling himself down mountains at high speeds.

Guest Bio:

(source: stevenkotler.com)

Some Questions We Ask:

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

  • What does Steven consider success? How do people achieve the impossible? Steven talks about the idea of success being a process.
  • What led Steven down this path? The punk rock counterculture shaped his formative years. His journey hasn’t been a straight forward, clear path.
  • Steven talks about his parents and childhood, which included lots of books.
  • Steven wasn’t a natural born athlete and played what he calls “outsider activities.”
  • His proudest moment includes breaking 82 bones
  • How Steve’s experience with Lyme Disease and suicidal thoughts led him to the Flow Genome Project
  • Mystical instances in Flow states
  • The healing power of non-ordinary states, such as near death experiences
  • How to use fear, pain, and barriers to your advantage and get to a flow state
  • The different kinds of grit and how they relate to Flow
  • The neurobiological and scientific details of Flow and why it feels like a mystical experience
  • “Transient Hypofrontality”
  • Bringing Flow to schools
  • Skills vs. States of Mind
  • Explaining pro-social chemicals in Flow and how it causes a strong bond.
  • Exercise induced transient hypofrontality
  • The roles nutrition, sleep, and technology play in achieving Flow states.
  • Steven gives the fundamentals of Flow and walks us through how he starts his day, including the importance of meditation.
  • How to find flow in your life right now

Notable Quotes:

“Success isn’t a living thing.”

“Almost every successful person I’ve ever met is running from something just as fast as they’re running towards something.”

“I’ve seen all successful people lean on Flow very heavily.”

“I think mastery is the ability to have creative high performance in almost any direction.”

“Work really hard. Don’t lie. Try not to complain.” – ethos from childhood

“I popped up into a dimension I didn’t even know existed.” – surfing after almost committing suicide

“I’m a science guy. I don’t have mystical experiences… and I was having consistent mystical experiences.”

“Learn to use fear like a compass.”

“You have to get good at struggle.”

“To maximize flow, you have to be able to maximize adversity.”

“Evolution shaped our brains to solve certain problems certain ways.”

“21st century normal is tired, wired, and stressed.”

“Passion is a phenomenal flow trigger.”

“Viciously protect the first 90 minutes of your work day.”

“Hang a sign on the door that says ‘Fuck off, I’m Flowing.”

“If you’re not doing [Flow] in your organization, I don’t believe you’ll be able to keep up long term.”

“Flow follows focus.”


Website: stevenkotler.com
Book: Stealing Fire

Resource: flowgenomeproject.com

Flow Follows Focus

Hacking Your Flow State

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Hacking Your Flow State

Create A Work Enviornment That Fosters Flow

Everywhere we look in business, timetables once measured by calendars can now be clocked by egg timers. So how can we keep up? In a word—and according to an ever-increasing pile of evidence—“flow.“ Technically defined as an “optimal state of…

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Create A Work Enviornment That Fosters Flow

Everywhere we look in business, timetables once measured by calendars can now be clocked by egg timers. So how can we keep up? In a word—and according to an ever-increasing pile of evidence—“flow.“

Technically defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best,” the term takes its name from the sensation it confers. In flow, every action, every decision, arises seamlessly from the last. In this state, we are so focused on the task at hand that all else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Our sense of self vanishes. Our sense of time distorts. And performance goes through the roof.

In my book, The Rise of Superman, I examine how extreme athletes—surfers, snowboarders, skydivers, and others—have used flow to lift athletic performance to levels unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, but the much more important point is that anyone can tap this state. It’s ubiquitous. It shows up anywhere, provided certain initial conditions are met—and that includes the world of business.

In a 10-year study conducted by McKinsey, top executives reported being five times more productive in flow. Think about that for a moment. This means, if you can spend Monday in flow, you’ll get as much done as your steady-state peers do in a week. In fact, according to these same McKinsey researchers, if we could increase the time we spend in flow by 15-20 percent, overall workplace productivity would almost double. 

At the heart of this doubling sits a complicated cascade of five neurochemicals which, when combined, accomplish intrinsically what most organizations fail to achieve by fiat. In flow, the brain releases norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin. All five affect performance. Norepinephrine and dopamine tighten focus, helping us shut out the persistent distractions of our multi-tasked lives. Endorphins block pain, letting us burn the candle at both ends without burning out altogether. Anandamide prompts lateral connections and generates gestalt insights far more than most brainstorming sessions.  And serotonin, that feel-good chemical at the heart of the Prozac revolution, bonds teams together more powerfully than the best-intentioned offsite.

But really understanding what makes these chemicals so powerful requires diving deeper into their impact on motivation, learning, and creativity. Let’s take them one at a time.

Motivationally, these five chemicals are the biggest rewards the brain can produce, and flow is one of the only times the brain produces all five simultaneously. This makes the state one of the most pleasurable, meaningful and—literally—addictive experiences available. 

And we’ve all seen this in action. When coders stay up three says straight to launch a new app, flow, even more than caffeine and cold pizza, is what gets them to the finish line. “Researchers describe flow as the source code of intrinsic motivation,” says Jamie Wheal, Executive Director of the Flow Genome Project (where I am Director of Research). “Once an experience produces the state, we will go to extraordinary lengths to get more of it.“ 

Equally critical in an environment of rapid change is our ability to learn faster. Here too, flow can help. The more neurochemicals that show up during an experience, the greater the chance that experience moves from short-term holding into long-term storage. As flow produces one of the most potent neurochemical cocktails around, the state has a massive impact on our ability to acquire new skills and knowledge. DARPA, for example, found that military snipers trained in a state of flow learned 230 percent faster than normal. Scientists at Advanced Brain Monitoring in Carlsbad, California, ran a parallel civilian study and found that flow cut in half the amount of time it took to train novice marksmen up to the expert level. 

“In all our studies of extreme performance improvement,” says John Hagel, co-founder of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, “the people and organizations who covered the most distance in the shortest time were always the ones who were tapping into passion and finding flow.” 

Flow’s impact on creativity may be its most important role in today’s accelerated climate. “The major complaint you hear from people today is they’re overwhelmed by the amount of information coming at them,” continues Hagel. “Flow allows you to absorb that information, synthesize it, and integrate it. This drives the creative process. So while everyone else is driven to distraction, people in flow are adapting—they’re using the state to take performance to the next level.”

This happens because creativity is recombinatory—the product of novel ideas bumping into old thoughts and birthing something utterly new. In flow, norepinephrine and dopamine help us shut out distraction and gather more information (i.e. novel ideas). But these same chemicals also enhance pattern recognition, allowing us to make faster connections between ideas. Anandamide, meanwhile, augments lateral thinking, producing connections between much farther-flung ideas. 

By turbo-boosting learning, motivation and creativity, flow is amplifying the three core competencies required to keep pace with radical change. Yet these dividends don’t come without serious investment. Restructuring businesses around flow means radically altering their DNA, shifting emphasis from mechanistic efficiencies to deep human engagement. Not many companies are up for this challenge. But in an era of relentless progress, making a present tense commitment to flow may be the only way to stay ahead of a breakneck future.

So how can we produce more flow in our lives and organizations? Flow states have triggerspre-conditions that lead to more flow. Some are psychological, while others are environmental, social or creative. But since flow is a state of total absorption, all are ways of heightening and tightening attention, driving focus into the present moment.

Take high consequences, one of the environmental triggers. The idea here is straightforward: flow follows focus, and consequences always catch our attention. 

For the extreme athletes I studied, these were often physical risks, but the science shows that other risks—emotional, intellectual, creative, social—work just as well. Moreover, all risk is relative. Sure, a professional surfer may need to paddle into a 50 foot wave to pull this trigger, but if you’re shy and quiet, then simply speaking up during an important meeting is enough to do the same. 

These facts also tell us that those Silicon Valley companies with “fail forward” as their de-facto motto have an incredible advantage. If employees don’t have the space to fail, then they don’t have the ability to take risks. And if you’re not incentivizing risk, you’re denying access to flow.

One of the psychological triggers is the challenge/skills ratio. Our attention is most engaged when there’s a very specific relationship between the difficulty of a task and our ability to perform that task. If the challenge is too great, fear swamps the system. If the challenge is too easy, we stop paying attention. Flow appears near the emotional midpoint between boredom and anxiety, in what scientists call the “flow channel” — the spot where the task is hard enough to make us stretch; not hard enough to make us snap. 

This sweet spot keeps attention locked in the present. When the challenge is firmly within the boundaries of known skills—meaning I’ve done it before and am fairly certain I can so again — the outcome is predetermined. We’re interested, not riveted. But when we don’t know what’s going to happen next, we pay more attention to the next. In other words, just like with the high consequences trigger, uncertainty is our rocket ride into the present moment. 

So how hard do we have to push exactly? While the answer varies between individuals, 4 percent appears to be a loose rule of thumb. The challenge must be 4 percent greater than the skills one brings to it. And here’s where many get it wrong. A high performer will blow by 4 percent without noticing. They’ll go for challenges far harder and miss the sweet spot and, without the motivational reward of flow (to say nothing of its performance boost), they’ll burn out. Underachievers miss because 4 percent is the point where one gets seriously uncomfortable. So while high performers must learn slow and steady wins this race, underachievers must learn the opposite: that being uncomfortable is a sign of progress, not a reason to run away.

These two triggers are only the beginning, but two other points are worth remembering. First, when people tend to think about action and adventure sports, the danger involved tends to blind many to the obvious. Certainly, the abundance of physical risk in these environments drives flow, but these athletes also rely upon 15 other triggers—none of which require any physical risk. They range from uninterrupted concentration (sorry, open office plans), to clear goals, to immediate feedback.

Second, flow science is already being applied in business. Some companies (Facebook, Google) are focused on individual triggers, while others (Toyota, Patagonia) have already made flow a fundamental part of their core philosophy. Thus, it’s not just that tapping into flow can help an organization keep pace with an exponential world, it’s that there’s a good chance that your competition is already applying these principles and soon—because of the state’s significant amplification of performance and productivity—there may be no other way to keep up. 

The Science Of Peak Performance

The Science of Peak Performance The science of ultimate human performance has a bad name–literally. “Flow” is the term used by researchers for optimal states of consciousness, those peak moments of total absorption where self vanishes, time flies, and all…

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The Science Of Peak Performance

The Science of Peak Performance

The science of ultimate human performance has a bad name–literally. “Flow” is the term used by researchers for optimal states of consciousness, those peak moments of total absorption where self vanishes, time flies, and all aspects of performance go through the roof.

Yet, it was University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who selected this term, and he did so for a reason. In the 1970s, Csikszentmihalyi embarked upon what would soon become one of the largest psychological surveys ever, running around the world asking people about the times in their life when they felt their best and performed their best.

He started out with experts—chess players, surgeons, dancers, etc.—and moved on to the everyone else: Italian farmers, Navaho sheep herders, Chicago assembly line workers, elderly Korean women, Japanese teenage motorcycle gang members…this list goes on.

And everyone he spoke to, regardless of culture, class, gender, age or level of modernization, felt and performed their best when they were experiencing the state he named “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi chose this term because, when interviewing research subjects, “flow” was the word that kept popping up. In the state, every action, every decision, led seamlessly, fluidly to the next. In other words, flow actually feels flowy.

The bigger issue was why—but that’s not a new question. Flow science dates back to the early 1900s, when researchers like Harvard’s William James began documenting the ways the brain can alter consciousness to improve performance, and legendary physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon, James’ student, discovered a link between mind and body—the fight-or-flight response—that helped explain this amplified performance.

The great psychologist Abraham Maslow prodded the topic again in the 1940s, finding flow states (which he called “peak experiences”) a shared commonality among all successful people. The theories got a little fuzzier with the human potential movement of the 1960s, but seemed to land on much firmer ground with Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s. Unfortunately, this solid foundation didn’t last.

Flow was a black box, an astoundingly intriguing phenomena accessible only through subjective recall. Certainly, psychologists made a good show of it. Csikszentmihalyi identified three causes for flow and seven characteristic features of the state. A blizzard of other researchers came in and validated and extended these ideas, but no one really figured out how to replace the anecdotal with the empirical. The neurobiology of the state remained a mystery. And, in many cases, these early attempts at unpacking this mystery only exacerbated the problem.

Perhaps the best example is the endorphin question. In the 1980s, as “runner’s high” replaced “flow” as the hip descriptor of peak performance, researchers were certain that endorphins were the secret sauce behind the high. But endorphins are damn tricky to measure in the brain and no one could prove the point. This frustration reached a crescendo in 2002, when then president of the Society for Neuroscience, Huda Akil, told The New York Times that endorphins in runners “is a total fantasy of the pop culture.”

In the wake of Akil’s statement, researchers began to shy away from the field. The New Age/self-help movement rushed in to fill the vacuum. Flow, an already turbulent topic, became nearly taboo. And, as far as most are concerned, that’s where things still stand today. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Over the past decade, scientists have made enormous progress on flow. Advancements in brain imaging technologies have allowed us to apply serious metrics where once was only subjective experience. We have learned plenty, including the fact that Csikszentmihalyi was dead-on in his word choice: “flow” is the exact right term for the experience.

The state emerges from a radical alteration in normal brain function. In flow, as attention heightens, the slower and energy-expensive extrinsic system (conscious processing) is swapped out for the far faster and more efficient processing of the subconscious, intrinsic system. “It’s an efficiency exchange,” says American University in Beirut neuroscientist Arne Dietrich, who helped discover this phenomena. “We’re trading energy usually used for higher cognitive functions for heightened attention and awareness.”

The technical term for this exchange is “transient hypofrontality,” with “hypo” (meaning slow) being the opposite of “hyper” (i.e., fast) and “frontal” referring to the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that houses our higher cognitive functions. This is one of the main reasons flow feels flowy—because any brain structure that would hamper rapid-fire decision-making is literally shut off.

In 2008, for example, Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Charles Limb used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brains of improv jazz musicians in flow. He found the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain best known for self-monitoring, deactivated. Self-monitoring is the voice of doubt, that defeatist nag, our inner critic. Since flow is a fluid state—where problem solving is nearly automatic—second guessing can only slow that process. When the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex goes quiet, those guesses are cut off at the source. The result is liberation. We act without hesitation. Creativity becomes more free-flowing, risk taking becomes less frightening, and the combination lets us flow at a far faster clip.

Changes in brainwave function further this process. In flow, we shift from the fast-moving beta wave of waking consciousness down to the far slower borderline between alpha and theta. Alpha is day-dreaming mode—when we slip from idea to idea without much internal resistance. Theta, meanwhile, only shows up during REM or just before we fall asleep, in that hypnogogic gap where ideas combine in truly radical ways. And, of course, both effects grease the decision-making skids that much more.

Finally, there’s the neurochemistry of flow. A team of neuroscientists at Bonn University in Germany discovered that endorphins are definitely part of flow’s cocktail (so was Akil wrong) and, as other researchers have determined, so are norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, and serotonin. All five are pleasure-inducing, performance-enhancing neurochemicals, upping everything from muscle reaction times to attention, pattern recognition and lateral thinking—the three horsemen of rapid-fire problem-solving.

In other words, Csikszentmihaly was more right than he could have known. Not only does flow feel flowy; neurobiologically, it actually is flowy.

And beyond settling the terminology question, what all this neurobiology tells us is that—for the very first time in history—we have begun to crack the code of optimal performance. This is a big deal. Researchers credit flow with most athletic gold medals and world championships, major scientific breakthroughs and significant progress in the arts, but this might only be the very beginning of the revolution. As flow science finally has a mechanistic toe-hold, the same level of incredible performance now possible for the few may soon be in the offing for the many.

Matrix Learning

In a well-known scene from The Matrix, Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) lies down in a high-tech dentist’s chair, straps on a wild array of electrodes, and begins downloading a series of martial arts training programs into his brain. Apparently—if the…

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Matrix Learning

In a well-known scene from The Matrix, Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) lies down in a high-tech dentist’s chair, straps on a wild array of electrodes, and begins downloading a series of martial arts training programs into his brain. Apparently—if the mechanics can be parsed—the information is transferred via the visual cortex. Afterward, he blinks his eyes open and speaks the words geeks have been quoting ever since: “I know kung fu.”

Automatic learning, the technical term for this idea, has been a longtime dream of the cyberpunk set. Most people thought it would remain in this aspirational realm for a while longer, but thanks to recent research by Brown University neuroscientist Takeo Watanabe, what has long been science fiction may soon become science fact.

To understand Watanabe’s breakthrough, it helps to know a little bit about the visual system’s plasticity—its ability to change. Twenty years ago, neuroscientists held that after a certain critical period, usually no more than the first 12 months of life, the entire visual system has become far too rigid for any real learning to take place. In other words, it has lost its plasticity.


This view of the brain started to change about 15 years ago, when Israeli neurobiologist Dov Sagi discovered that with intensive training in specific visual tasks, such as target orientation (the ability to look at a dot on the wall, look away, then look back at the dot’s exact spot), people much older than 12 months could improve their performance in those tasks. Sagi’s study of this “perceptual learning” in 1994 upended the concept of the rigid vision system.


Subjects in Sagi’s research still had to consciously train with visual cues before they saw any improvement. The learning did not manifest suddenly, as it did for Neo. But in 2011, Watanabe designed an experiment to see if something like automatic learning might be possible. He wondered if he could train the vision system without a subject’s knowledge, and without the use of a stimulus like a dot.

Watanabe’s experiment had two parts. First, subjects had their brains scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine as they stared at a computer screen. On the screen was a simple image: a series of diagonal lines. Merely studying those lines produced a very specific activation pattern in the visual cortex, which the fMRI decoded and stored.

The second part of the study took place the following day. Again, subjects looked at a computer screen while being scanned by an fMRI machine, but this time instead of the lines, a small disk appeared on the screen. Whereas the previous day’s work just required the subject to stare at the image, the goal today was to mentally make the disk bigger. But there was a catch: No one told the subjects how to enlarge the disk.

The solution was far from obvious. The only way to increase the disk size was for subjects to get their brain to reproduce the pattern that it produced when they stared at the previous day’s diagonal lines. The equipment had been set up to recognize that initial pattern and make the disk on the screen bigger as soon as the pattern was replayed. “The more similar the brain activation pattern was,” Watanabe says, “the bigger the disk became.”

In fact, the task might seem impossible to the uninitiated, but it was not. In attempting to solve an apparently unsolvable problem (how does one mentally make a circle grow?), the brain automatically replays recently learned perception patterns, which in the subjects’ case included the pattern produced by those diagonal lines. When they hit upon the pattern, the disk started to expand—automatically, no training required. 

From Dots to Data

But here is where things get really interesting: That first activation pattern—the baseline sequence produced by staring at those diagonal lines—was just meaningless information. Hypothetically, that doesn’t have to be the case. In theory, if the target acquisition sequence produced by staring at those first lines had actually contained meaningful information (like a series of kung fu training programs, for example), then the subject would automatically repeat that pattern, essentially practicing it every time the brain tried to enlarge the disk. Genuine skill acquisition would take place.


It is still a long way from that kind of advance to automatic learning. Matrix-style knowledge downloads will require much more than just recording and replaying visual cortex activation patterns. Nobody knows if this kind of phenomenon also arises in places like the motor cortex or auditory cortex, which would be useful in mastery of physical or linguistic skills.

But Watanabe thinks this method can be used to cure depression. “I think we could easily train people to be happy,” he says. “Just show subjects pictures of babies and kittens and other images known to elevate mood, and record and use this pattern as the trigger for disk enlargement. Then, when subjects perform this task, they’ll be making themselves happy as well.”


Equally fantastic, though much less Matrix than Manchurian Candidate, is another possibility: “I think we could use the technique to erase memories, like removing 12 months from a person’s life,” Watanabe says. “If a memory is associated with some cue, we could make a subject induce a pattern that has nothing to do with the memory while the cue is being presented. In that way, when the cue is given, the subject would remember the implanted memory rather then the real memory.” It might come in handy for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, though it is easy to see how the power to erase a person’s memory could also be abused.

As Reeves’s Neo might say, “Whoa.”


Last Thursday, after 21 months in preparation, Senator George Mitchell issued his report on the abuse of performance-enhancing substances in major-league baseball. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said the report was “a call to action” and did his best to assure…

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Last Thursday, after 21 months in preparation, Senator George Mitchell issued his report on the abuse of performance-enhancing substances in major-league baseball. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said the report was “a call to action” and did his best to assure everyone, treating the unveiling of the Mitchell Report as if it were a matter of national security, that he will “continue to deal with the issue of performance-enhancing substance abuse.” He might continue to try, but as everyone who knows anything about the matter will tell you, the truth is, there’s really no dealing with it.

It comes down to math. All steroids are hormones, and all hormones begin life as cholesterol. The body turns cholesterol into progesterone, estrogen, DHEA, testosterone and cortisol, but these aren’t the only possibilities. In fact, chemists can turn cholesterol into a near-infinite number of possibilities. Unfortunately, the only steroid tests we have are one-for-one matches, and we have only about 40 of those. So the race between the chemists who create new performance-enhancing substances and chemists who create new tests for new performance-enhancing substances is long over. There’s just no way to stay ahead of the numbers.

And while many people know there’s currently no test for human growth hormone, what is less known is that some of the other tests are often inaccurate. “The test for Nandrolone [another widely used steroid] frequently produces false positives,” says Dr. Mark Gordon, a Los Angeles physician and steroid expert. “We can’t identify the drug directly, so we look for elevated levels of progesterone, one of the main substances present after the body breaks down Nandrolone. But progesterone occurs naturally, and some people are born with levels higher than legally allowed by these tests. Even more alarming, many of these tests are administered right after exercise, and exercise concentrates progesterone in the bloodstream. The tests read this concentration as elevation, and innocent athletes lose medals.”

The fact that there’s no real reckoning with performance-enhancing substances has been known for a while now. In 2001, Charles Francis, Ben Johnson’s track coach, wrote in Testosterone Magazine: “Another unmodified drug that had been widely used up to and during the 2000 Sydney Olympics was Genabol. By the time the test was developed, the word was out and athletes moved on to other products.”

In 2005, Don Catlin, the head of UCLA’s Olympic Analytical Laboratory and the man who put “the clear” and “the cream” into the popular lexicon during the Barry Bonds/BALCO scandal, told reporters: “People are following the old model — run ’em down, chase ’em, find ’em, assume they are guilty, drag them into testing. And athletes still get away with stuff, and I maintain you can get away with stuff with everyone looking at you.”

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

THE CASE AGAINST STEROIDS IN BASEBALL is built on two premises. The first is that they’re unhealthy for the athletes and those whom athletes inspire. There’s a long version of why that’s not true, but the short version is that while steroids can have devastating effects in children, in adults negatives are increasingly hard to find. As one of the world’s leading steroid experts and the man who designed the drug-testing program for NASCAR, the WWE and the World Power Lifting Federation, Dr. Mauro di Pasquale, says, “As used by most people, including athletes, the adverse effects of anabolic steroids appear to be minimal. They do not cause cancer, they do not cause kidney failure, they do not cause much of anything except an increase in lean muscle mass.” Which is why, in 1988, when Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, making trafficking in steroids illegal, he did so only after ignoring protests from the American Health Association, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Food and Drug Administration — the four regulatory agencies that are supposed to have control over the drug-scheduling process.

The second idea is about fairness. Baseball wants us to believe that by tilting the playing field, performance-enhancing substances threaten the integrity of the game. But claiming the integrity of the game is based on players’ being drug-free is naive at best and disingenuous at worst. It’s been well-documented that the sport’s been neck-deep in amphetamines since the 1940s. The U.S. Army gives soldiers in Iraq Adderall for the same reason outfielders have long taken “greenies” — amphetamines are fantastic performance enhancers. And isn’t this an arbitrary line anyway? No one really questions the cortisone shots catchers take for pain or the pitchers who come back from Tommy John surgery with more speed on their fastball, yet both tilt the playing field.

The truth may be that bionics makes for better baseball and we like it that way. Baseball was moribund following the strike of 1994 and was resuscitated on the (allegedly) performance-enhanced backs of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa during the great home-run-record chase of 1998. Since then, baseball attendance has risen overall every year. Prior to the report’s appearance, the big news was Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees. A-Rod is 32 years old. And despite his denials to Katie Couric this past Sunday on 60 Minutes that he’s ever taken or even been tempted to take performance-enhancing drugs, Rodriguez’s hormones began declining in his mid-20s. The only way the Yanks are going to get their money’s worth is via a little chemical augmentation. So ask yourself: What’s more important to Yankee fans — cleaning up baseball or beating the Red Sox in the World Series?

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Steven Kotler has covered many topics over the past twenty years. Choose a playlist and dive as deep as you can.

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