7 Awe-Inspiring Exhibits of Superfluidity in Action
The frictionless flow of superfluidity can be seen in physics, sports, dance...
Posted Dec 17, 2018
Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge towards a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance. The keynote of it is invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do they, as contrasted species, belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the nobler better one, is itself the genus, and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself. —William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience, from the Gifford Lectures XVI and XVII on “MYSTICISM” p. 388)
When I published The Athlete's Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss in 2007, the only request I made of St. Martin’s Press was that an entire page in the hardcover be dedicated to the layout for Chapter 12 as seen here. My goal with this simple yet bold design was to have three things jump off the page: (1) the title of the chapter, “SUPERFLUIDITY: Chase Your Bliss,” (2) an image of a “Klein Bottle,” which is basically a Möbius strip that exists in four dimensions and (to me) looks like what superfluidity feels like, and (3) a quote from the “Mysticism” chapter in William James’ classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience. Thankfully, my book designer, Gretchen Achilles, was a dream and made this printed page look exactly as I’d envisioned in my mind’s eye while working on the manuscript.
This morning, I stumbled on a video of “Pendulum Waves” in action from a 2010 Harvard Natural Sciences Lecture Demonstrations exhibit that has been viewed by over ten million people (Exhibit B) on YouTube. The moment I saw this video, I was reminded of a Psychology Today blog post I wrote a few days ago, "Transcendent States Assist Peak Performance in Mystical Ways," and decided to write this follow-up post.
That 'mystical ways' post was inspired by Lynda Flower’s research on transcendent states, peak performance, ballet dancers, and being “in the zone,” which echoes many aspects of what I describe as “superfluidity." Flower is an honorary research fellow in studies on religion and secular transcendent states at the University of Queensland in Australia.
I borrowed the term superfluidity from the world of 20th-century physics. I use this terminology to describe the ecstatic waves of pure bliss and connectedness that occur inside the flow zone. Based on personal experience, I would say that superfluidity is a “frictionless flow state” when your thoughts, emotions, and actions coalesce with absolutely zero friction, viscosity, or entropy. This wondrous state of consciousness feels ecstatic and allows you to "stand outside yourself" while your body, mind, and spirit harmonize and perform effortlessly in unison.
Superfluidity is the highest tier of flow and occurs in “orgasmic” waves when you’re in the zone. Flow is the “launching pad” for episodic bursts of “super” flow. As a simple real-world analogy: coitus is to orgasm as flow is to superfluidity. (See "What Driving Force Helps Us Go from 'Flow' to Superfluidity?”)
Exhibit A: Superfluidity of liquid helium demonstrated in a 1930s physics lab, from the BBC documentary “Absolute Zero.” (World of Physics)
Over the years, I’ve written lots of posts about my concept of Superfluidity. (See here, here, here, and, here.) In this post, I decided to offer seven audio-visual “exhibits” of frictionless flow in action.
As a reader, each of these seven exhibits is an opportunity for you to witness how the process of being “melted into unity” occurs sporadically and with spontaneity in sports, ballet dancing, ice skating, rock concerts, typing class, a physics laboratory, and countless other arenas and endeavors. The one common characteristic of Exhibits A-G is superfluidity.
Finding language to describe heightened states of consciousness is tricky. The main goal of this post is to show you specific examples of superfluidity in action beyond the realm of grammar, so you can keep your antennae up for awe-inspiring moments in your day-to-day life. Anytime you observe a momentary flash of superfluidity as a performer or professional athlete transitions from a state of regular flow to the “frictionless flow” of superfluidity, you can tag it and say, "That's it!" And when superfluidity happens to you, you can say to yourself, "YES. This is it!"
When I was younger, I regularly experienced superfluidity as an athlete; now that I’m older and retired from competitive sports, I strive to have moments of superfluidity as a writer. Because writing doesn’t come naturally to me, these moments are less common than in sports. That said, once in a blue moon, all the tumblers in my brain align in a way that creates superfluidity via a keyboard. When this phenomenon occurs, my ten fingers click into hyperdrive and can type 100+ words a minute—as my thoughts, emotions, and, actions, simultaneously transition to having absolutely zero friction or viscosity for a brief, but ecstatic, amount of time.
One important note: As you watch each of the videos below, pay close attention to any particular moments in each performance that make you say “wow!” or send a shiver down your spine. If you have time, pause the video and replay that instance so you can deconstruct precisely what happened in that moment of transition from regular "flow" to "frictionless superflow."
By observing others achieve transcendent states of peak performance using your mirror neurons, you can learn how to get deep into the zone, too. Superfluidity is all around us. The secret is to tag it and pay close attention to all the elements that go into facilitating these “mystical’ moments.
Exhibit B: In the video below, 15 pendulums are started together but quickly fall out of sync, as their oscillations continuously change, they perform a mesmerizing superfluid dance. (World of Indescribable Awe)
According to the creators of the "Wavemachine of Mach" above what you see in the video is: ”Fifteen uncoupled simple pendulums of monotonically increasing lengths dance together to produce visual traveling waves, standing waves, beating, and random motion. One might call this kinetic art and the choreography of the dance of the pendulums 'stunning.' Aliasing and quantum revival can also be shown.”
Learning How to Get “In the Zone” As an Athlete or Dancer Makes It Easier to Create Flow in Other Areas of Life
One of the main takeaways from the work of Lynda Flower (please see gray references box below) is that once someone fine-tunes personalized ways to achieve transcendent states and spends time “in the zone” as a professional ballet dancer, he or she can translate this skill set to other pursuits later in life, such as teaching or academic writing.
As I describe in my post from last week about Flower's research, when I retired from professional sports and decided to become a writer, the touch-typing skills that I learned in high school typing class were one reason I decided to try to get a book deal. Although writing itself doesn’t come naturally to me, I knew that I was a relatively fast typist and, with lots of hard work, I could master this skill in a superfluid way, someday.
Exhibit C: World’s fastest typist, Ron Mingo, teaching students how to get in the zone to the beat of R&B music at their desks. (World of Touch-Typing)
The most ecstatic moment I had this morning while searching YouTube for these “seven awe-inspiring exhibits of superfluidity” was discovering this 1980s video clip of retired professional athlete, Ron “Typewriter” Mingo. My jaw dropped, and my ears perked up, after hearing the intro of this retro video. Listen closely to every word of this relatively low-quality video clip, if you can. Mingo's advice offers many valuable clues for getting in the zone.
In the lede to Mingo's story, the news anchor in the studio eloquently describes the psychological turmoil that professional athletes often face in their 30s when they realize they're “over-the-hill.” As a world-record athlete who retired in my 30s, I can relate. After breaking a Guinness World Record as an ultra-marathon runner, I fell into an intense clinical depression before I managed to get a book deal and began the process of re-reinventing myself as a writer. This is a perfect example of why mastering the art of getting in the zone is a skill that will help you achieve peak performance in other areas of life once you’ve retired from youth-centric endeavors.
I’ve been there myself.
Hearing Mingo articulate how he transferred his athletic mindset and ability to get "in the zone” during sports competitions into becoming a three-time Guinness World Record holding typist sums up the message I’m hoping to convey in this post. That said, until earlier today when I saw this video for the first time, I’d never heard of Mingo. As I watched this 5-minute clip I was nodding my head and saying “Yes!” the entire time.
Exhibit C of a touch-typing class captures the essence of what “The Athlete’s Way” is all about; transferring “the way” an athlete masters getting in the zone via sports and then using this mindset and skill set to master non-athletic pursuits later in life.
Even though it's an odd quirk, I love typing blog posts while listening to dance music. I almost fell off my chair when I saw Ron Mingo playing classic R&B in the classroom as the students were bobbing their heads and typing in synchrony to the beat. The interviewer asks, “Why do you play music in the typing classroom?” Mingo responds, “It’s a motivator. They like music. They love to dance. And I relate to the same things. It’s the rhythm. You dance to rhythm. You pop your fingers to the rhythm. So, you type to the rhythm; you type to the beat. And you keep the typing carriage moving without hesitation.” This is frictionless flow in action!
Exhibit D: World-champion skating pair Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov performing flawlessly to "Jesus Christ Superstar" by Andrew Lloyd Webber (World of Ice Skating)
What specific moments do you tag as capturing superfluidity during this ice skating performance? For me, there is a phase transition from regular “flow” to otherworldly "super flow" at the 01:23 mark of this mind-boggling performance.
Exhibit E: An amazing multi-media ballet performance of two people dancing in front of a 'superfluid' video projection. (World of Dance)
This entire ballet performance blows my mind from beginning to end; it is pure superfluidity through and through. Did a particular section stand out to you as being extraordinary during the 04:24 long performance?
Exhibit F: An epic 26-point rally between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the 2017 Australia Open finals. (World of Sports)
As an athlete, I’ve idolized Roger Federer more than any other professional in sports for decades. He is the embodiment of superfluidity. In this rally, the real magic begins around 00:21 when Federer stretches out-of-bounds for a backhand and seems to defy gravity as he springs back to the centerline for a forehand in fractions of a second. This extraordinary 26-point tennis rally gives me goosebumps.
Exhibit G: Madonna performing "Like a Prayer" during the 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour (World of Pop Music)
During the “Like a Prayer” performance above, Madonna and her troupe of dancers ratchet up from a state of flow to superflow around the 04:58 mark (I’ve cued the video to begin here.) During this section, as the music builds, there's a shift to a rapid-tempo percussion section that seems to explode; there is dramatic drum lift, but there are no vocals as the dancers collectively go through an amazing phase transition that begins around the 05:41 mark.
In this moment, all of the dancers become completely synchronized and their super flow reminds me of the pendulum balls in Exhibit B (second video) in a way that is hard to explain. I am especially blown away when they all perform the bi-directional “windmill” rotations with both arms from 05:42-05:58. And then, they become whirling dervishes, spinning around with complete abandon in a way that echoes ancient mysticism described by Flower in her paper, “Spiritual Experiences: Understanding Their Subjective Nature in Peak Performance" (2017). The nine dancers seem to be in an extraordinary state of pure rapture and ecstatic transcendence.
If you have time, please take a few minutes to explore Lynda Flower's work by clicking on the three DOI links provided in the reference box below.
Lynda Flower. "Spiritual Experiences of Post-Performance Career Ballet Dancers: A Qualitative Study of How Peak Performance Spiritual Lived Experiences Continued into and Influenced Later Teaching Lives." Research in Dance Education (First published online: November 19, 2018) DOI: 10.1080/14647893.2018.1543260
Lynda Flower. "'My Day-To-Day Person Wasn’t There; It Was like Another Me': A Qualitative Study of Spiritual Experiences During Peak Performance in Ballet Dance." Performance Enhancement & Health (First published online: November 25, 2015) DOI: 10.1016/j.peh.2015.10.003
Lynda Flower. "Spiritual Experiences: Understanding Their Subjective Nature in Peak Performance." The Sport Journal (First published: May 4, 2017)
William James (1902). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature; Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902. New York; London. Longmans, Green.