How to Hack Your Brain (for $5,000)

To fulfill his flow-finding mission, Mr. Wheal wants to bring what he calls his Dojo Domes to locations around the world. Next year, he and his partners hope to build a one-million-square-foot complex in Vancouver, British Columbia, with a medical emphasis, combining brain-imaging technology with simpler equipment.

Mr. Wheal began to envision gatherings of this sort in 2007, while he was teaching at Esalen, the spiritual retreat in California. With Steven Kotler, a journalist, he founded the Flow Genome Project, based in Austin, Tex., and dedicated to gathering the latest science behind flow states. Its board of advisers includes neuroscientists, filmmakers and a kiteboarder.

It was his book, “Stealing Fire,” written with Mr. Kotler and published earlier this year, that attracted many of the flow campers to Utah. In it, Mr. Wheal and Mr. Kotler consider the question of peak human performance, describing how so many powerful companies and individuals are now trying to optimize their own brains, in ways both legal and illegal.

They offer case studies from the Navy SEALs and Google, arguing that what the world today faces “wicked problems,” unprecedented and complex, that require creative solutions, the kinds that are most likely to come not from staid meetings in conference rooms but rather from “non-ordinary states.”

“Flow,” they write, is associated with six neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, norepinephrine, anandamide and endorphins. Knowing the neurochemical profile of flow means, in theory, people can devise ways of achieving it more often, more reliably and more quickly.

The new generation of flowsters are excited, perhaps, that using the advances of neuroscience, they might not have to meditate every day for 10 years to gain access to these layers of their brains.


Attendees were housed in white, tepee-like tents, with portable toilets set up down a dirt path.

Michael Friberg for The New York Times

“This was a significant investment of time and money for me — this tells you how compelled I was to come here,” said Alexandre Lang-Willar. At 28, Mr. Lang-Willar is in some ways the embodiment of Mr. Wheal’s target demographic: the high achiever who grasps the brass ring, only to discover he craves something more. Mr. Lang-Willar quit his job as a Goldman Sachs…

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