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Stealing Fire Book Summary, Review, Notes

Stealing Fire is a book for those who always wonder what’s more to life out there. By introducing us to an altered state of mind, writers share their findings on this topic and ways to use it in the right way.


Book Title: Stealing Fire, How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work
Author: Steven Kotler, Jamie Wheal
Date of Reading: June 2023
Rating: 10/10

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail

This book starts with a story of Prometheus and his life story, pointing out situations of nowadays that are following the exact patch. 

After this, we slowly dig into the title of the book. You will hear some interesting facts about American Navy SEALs and how Google found their CEO.

We are introduced to four forces of ecstasis: psychology, neurobiology, pharmacology and technology. Carefully examining these one by one, writers create a full cycle on how these four are pieces that should go together if you want to experience a full altered state of mind condition.


The book starts with a story of a Greek general and politician who stole a forbidden liquid called “kykeon”, and it’s used as an introduction to the main topic.

The story connects to other rebellious moments, such as Prometheus’s fire stealing, only to come around the definition of flow and how it differentiates from peak performance. Writers, who are researchers, try to connect their findings with Prometheus calling it a modern revolution.

CHAPTER ONE – What Is This Fire?

This chapter connects the process of becoming an American Navy SEAL with the story of how Google found its company’s CEO. Putting these two sides by side, the writers decode to us the meaning behind ecstasis. 

It ends with an explanation of the Altered State Economy on how much we are willing to put on a table just to get away from ourselves and to feel a bit of relief.

CHAPTER TWO – Why It Matters

Chapter 2 teaches us four signature characteristics underneath, which are: selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness, and richness. 

We get to know the character of Jason Silva, a man who became famous online while talking about this topic. Another interesting thing that entwines here is facts on how an altered state of mind affects one’s creativity and attention.

CHAPTER THREE – Why We Missed It

Chapter 3 introduces us to a variety of characters to show us why the understanding of the Pale is important for those who wish to explore more of ecstasis. We get to a debatable point: is the altered state safe along with being good and which effects it brings once it’s put in a group?

CHAPTER FOUR – Psychology

In Chapter 4, writers dive into the four forces of ecstasis, starting with psychology. From inner experience to getting to know orgasmic meditation, we find out how sex has become nowadays ecstasy. A fascinating outcome is that ecstasis can help with depression and anxiety.

CHAPTER FIVE – Neurobiology

Chapter 5 touches on different points. Here, it discussed how botox and body posture make people feel, what is the purpose of AI Shrink Ellie and how neurotheology, a reverse concept to neurophysiology, was born.

CHAPTER SIX – Pharmacology

Besides people, animals tend to seek intoxication as well. Numerous researches show why, even though it can have terrible damage. 

Another thing presented in this chapter is the life story of Alexander Shulgin, the greatest psychopharmacologist, as some would say, who contributed a lot to the psychedelics culture.

CHAPTER SEVEN – Technology

While reading Chapter 7, we can see how dangerous sports can bring up an ecstatic phase in us while wondering if it is worth dying for. 

Technology always takes a step further as time passes by, sometimes even scaring us with its power. Now, it has gotten to a point where it can tackle unconscious minds. 

CHAPTER EIGHT – Catch a Fire

There are quite a few gatherings we don’t know about which are dedicated to helping people reach their altered state. Chapter 8 discovers famous names, like Elon Musk, that attended such meet-ups. 

The Mindfulness industry and its expansion to more than just the lucky few shows that this discovery is nothing new since similar things were out there among people a long time ago.

CHAPTER NINE – Burning Down the House

The truth that there is a thin line between good and bad is proven in this chapter. While an ecstatic state can have many advantages on one hand, it can become addictive and haunting area, on the other hand.

With its expansion, many fields, like marketing, give a lot of money and effort to enter buyers’ brains and sell better. That is why this chapter gives a perspective of today’s militarization and commercialization and dangers these bring to the table.

CHAPTER TEN – Hedonic Engineering 

The last chapter of this book contains guidelines on how to train your non ordinary states. We learn a magical ecstasis equation which includes three parameters: value, time and reward/risk. 

Another guideline is hedonic calendaring, something that helps you hack the path of altered state of mind with concrete and actionable steps. 


The conclusion reminds us once again that everything has its advantages and its disadvantages. As long as we revise our actions while using the most out of the altered state of mind, we are further away from its possible consequences

Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes


„Some revolutions begin with a gunshot, others with a party.”

“Famously handsome, eloquent, and ambitious, Alcibiades’s faults were as plentiful as his gifts.”

“Whatever the case, the rebel sneaks the flame out of the temple and shares it with the world. It works. Things get exciting. Insights pile up. Then, inevitably, the party gets out of hand. 

The keepers of law and order—call them the priests—spot the hedonistic blaze, track down the thief, and shut down the show. And so it goes, until the next cycle begins.”

“And the strangest part? It’s a revolution that’s been hiding in plain sight.”

Steven Kotler Quote

“The people really good at finding flow, mostly artists and athletes, were rarely interested in studying it. And the people interested in studying flow, primarily academics, were rarely good at finding it.”

CHAPTER ONE – What Is This Fire?

“Though he was once a midlevel player, Al-Wazu’s notoriety had skyrocketed after he’d pulled off a feat no other Al-Qaeda operative had accomplished: an escape from an American detention center. “

“The Greeks had a word for this merger that Davis quite liked—ecstasis —the act of “stepping beyond oneself.”

“As isolated individuals, with fingers on the trigger, someone was bound to twitch. But as a team, thinking and moving together? Intelligence got multiplied, fear divided. The whole wasn’t just greater than the sum of its parts; it was smarter and braver too.”

“We want to move as fast as possible. To do this, there are only two rules. The first is do the exact opposite of what the guy in front of you is doing— so if he looks left, then you look right. The second is trickier: the person who knows what to do next is the leader.

We’re entirely nonhierarchical in that way. But in a combat environment, when split seconds make all the difference, there’s no time for second-guessing. When someone steps up to become the new leader, everyone, immediately, automatically, moves with him. It’s the only way we win.”

“Before deployment, he’d take his team out to a local Virginia Beach bar for one final bender. If there were any simmering tensions between members, they’d invariably come out after a few drinks.”

“He adapted his management style to fit their culture without bleeding out their genius and turned Google into a monster success.”

“Put bluntly, we watch porn to get high, not to get laid.”

“In a world where 67 percent of us admit to checking our status updates in the middle of the night, during sex, and before attending to basic biological needs like going to the bathroom, sleeping, or eating breakfast, we think it’s safe to assume that a good part of what we’re habitually doing online is more to forget ourselves for a moment than inform ourselves for the long haul.”

CHAPTER TWO – Why It Matters

“When I started making videos, the goal wasn’t celebrity. It was sanity.”

“Some people drank wine, some people smoked pot, but everyone talked philosophy. And those conversations would swallow me whole. I’d go off on a monologue and disappear. Totally out of my head. And it was exactly what I was searching for, a way to shut off my neurotic brain.”

“The ecstatic is a language without words that we all speak.”

“That’s the paradox of selflessness—by periodically losing our minds we stand a better chance of finding ourselves.”

“With our prefrontal cortex offline, we can’t run those scenarios. We lose access to the most complex and neurotic part of our brains, and the most primitive and reactive part of our brains, the amygdala, the seat of that fight-or-flight response, calms down, too.”

“The past is less an archived library of what really happened, and more a fluid director’s commentary we’re constantly updating.”

“But the reason I can find them is simple: without time in the picture, I have all the time I need.”

“But just as the selflessness of an altered state can quiet our inner critic, and the timelessness lets us pause our hectic lives, a sense of effortlessness can propel us past the limits of our normal motivation.” 

“Second, we have very little success training people to be more creative. And there’s a pretty simple explanation for this failure: we’re trying to train a skill, but what we really need to be training is a state of mind.”

CHAPTER THREE – Why We Missed It

“If you have a pacemaker, cochlear implant or even a pair of eyeglasses, you’re using technology to upgrade biology.”

“Students use these drugs because they improve focus and help them work longer and harder. It’s the same thing a cup of coffee and a study group provides. But gatherings of caffeinated coeds aren’t considered cheating, so what makes smart drugs any different?”

“Nutt ventured beyond the Pale of the State and ended up, professionally, burned at the stake.”

“We look for others who have gone this way before us; we look for guidance and for leadership. But, as the Pied Piper’s story illustrates, not everyone who leads us beyond that fence has our best intentions at heart.”

“Bring a large group of people together, deploy a suite of mind-melding technologies, and suddenly everyone’s consciousness is doing the wave.”

“But it’s a doubleedged sword. When we lose ourselves and merge with the group, we are in danger of losing too much of ourselves. Our cherished rational individualism risks being overrun by the power of irrational collectivism.”

CHAPTER FOUR – Psychology

“You could make a case that, in the same way that electronic dance music thrives largely because of its ability to generate a shift in state, Fifty Shades represents a sexual equivalent. It’s a de facto user manual for erotic ecstasis that many of its readers never dared imagine.“

“ Pleasure produces endorphins, but pain can prompt even more. The uncertainty of teasing, as Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky established, spikes dopamine 400 percent. “

“This grassroots movement, combined with growing research, make it clear that sexuality is becoming one of the more popular techniques of ecstasy available today.”

“Yet, in each of these instances, the only people given permission to explore altered states were those, quite literally in some cases, left for dead. It’s almost as if dispensing these techniques to normal people would be unseemly or, at the very least, unscientific.”

“By bridging the gap between peak states and personal growth, these discoveries validate ecstasis as a tool not only for self-discovery, but also for self-development.”

CHAPTER FIVE – Neurobiology

“Taken together, these examples will show how neurobiology has given us the tools to map and measure what’s happening in our bodies and brains when we’re experiencing both the ordinary and the extraordinary. And the results are changing how we think about how we think.”

“With her cameras, sensors, and algorithms, she extends our five senses and gets upstream of our umwelts—or reality as we perceive it. She bypasses our relentless storytelling and reflects back to us a little more of what we’re actually thinking and feeling.” 

“Transformational leaders not only regulated their own nervous systems better than most; they also regulated other people’s.“

“By treating the mind like a dashboard, by treating different states of consciousness like apps to be judiciously deployed, we can bypass a lot of psychological storytelling and get results faster and, often, with less frustration.”

“And this is what moving from OS to UI delivers: a better view from the balcony. When we consistently see more of “what is really happening,” we can liberate ourselves from the limitations of our psychology. 

We can put our egos to better use, using them to modulate our neurobiology and with it, our experience. We can train our brains to find our minds.”

CHAPTER SIX – Pharmacology

“Psychopharmacologists have spent the past few decades cataloguing the consciousness-altering techniques of animals in the wild and they have found plenty to document.

Dogs lick toads for the buzz, horses go crazy for locoweed, goats gobble magic mushrooms, birds chew marijuana seeds, cats enjoy catnip, wallabies ravage poppy fields, reindeer indulge fly agaric mushrooms, baboons prefer iboga, sheep delight in hallucinogenic lichen, and elephants get drunk on fermented fruit (though they’ve also been known to raid breweries).”

“This has led Siegel to a controversial conclusion: “The pursuit of intoxication with drugs is a primary motivational force in organisms.”

“But if mind-altering substances are so dangerous, why would any species take the risk? If the goal of evolution is survival and propagation, behaviors that threaten this mandate tend to get edited out over time. 

But the fact that drug use is as common in the jungles of the Amazon as it is on the streets of Los Angeles suggests that it serves a useful evolutionary purpose.”

“With our self forever standing guard over our ideas, crazy schemes and hare-brained notions tend to get filtered out long before they can become useful. But intoxication lessens those constraints.”

“He was amazed that a tiny bit of white powder could produce such a big reaction. “I learned there were worlds inside of me,”he said. And understanding those worlds became the central quest of his life.” 

“His decision to share his research came from a real fear that he would die with this enormous body of knowledge trapped inside him. Even before PiHKAL, Sasha had that open-source impulse. 

He gave away information to anyone who asked—it didn’t matter if they were DEA agents or underground psychedelic chemists.”

CHAPTER SEVEN – Technology

“Ecstasis only arises when attention is fully focused in the present moment. In meditation, for example, the reason you follow your breath is to ride its rhythm right into the now. 

Psychedelics overwhelm the senses with data, throwing so much information at us per second that paying attention to anything else becomes impossible.”

“The lethal flaw is that, for many, using high-risk sport to explore ecstasis is so compelling and rewarding that it becomes an experience worth dying for.”

“Technology is bringing ecstasis to the masses, allowing us to taste it all, without having to risk it all.”

We dive into dangerous sports which bring up ecstatic phase in us and debate are those worth dying for. We learn about power of music to get us to the altered state – descry

“You think you know where the boundaries are, but you see this stuff and think, if this thing I’m looking at is possible, what else might be possible?”

CHAPTER EIGHT – Catch a Fire

“Wandering out into the middle of that intentional chaos at 2 A.M., surrounded by fire-spewing dinosaurs, giant neon-lit pirate ships, and the throbbing beats of galactic hip-hop, you’re ripped away from all familiar reference points, totally unstuck in time, and well beyond normal awareness. “

“As much as the fingerprints of Burning Man were everywhere at this event—the remote setting, the glamour camping, the art, performance and whimsy—there were two crucial differences: not only did it take place at nine thousand feet above sea level, but it wasn’t going to disappear at the end of a week.”

“An activity that changes our state of mind by changing the shape of our bodies has become more popular, in terms of participation, than football.”

“And cannabis is merely the most obvious sign of this change. Whether we’re examining psychedelics like LSD or empathogens like MDMA, mind-altering drugs are more popular than at any other time in history.”

CHAPTER NINE – Burning Down the House

“The CIA sowed the specter of brainwashing so successfully in the minds of the American public and within its own operational culture that it came to be considered one of the primary threats of the Cold War. 

So even though they’d dreamed up this bogeyman themselves, perfecting mind-control devices and drugs to combat it became a top-secret, top priority.”

“Once information technology become perceptual—as in the case of nonordinary states—the Cycle becomes even more powerful. Our mind becomes the platform. The tug-of-war between access and control becomes a battle for cognitive liberty.

And while nation states have consistently sought to regulate external chemicals that shape consciousness, what happens when they attempt to regulate internal neurochemistry?”

“Control of the Master Switch had been wrestled away from the spooks, and neither Silicon Valley nor the wider world would ever be the same.”

“In heavily redacted documents recently released through the Freedom of Information Act,30 it turns out that the FBI has conducted a multiyear intelligence program at Burning Man. The official reason was to scout for domestic terrorists and track potential threats from Islamic extremists.”

“It seems safe to say that the intelligence community knows something big is happening out in the desert, they just can’t quite figure out what. 

That’s because, other than the obvious external cues—the fiery explosions, wild costumes, and all-night dance parties—what’s really going on is happening in people’s minds.”

“Timelessness, devoid of reference points, can feel a lot like paranoid schizophrenia and has been a linchpin of solitary confinement for centuries.”

Steven Kotler Quote 2

“The video game industry may have gone further down this path than anyone. “Games are a multi-billion dollar industry that employ the best neuroscientists and behavior psychologists to make them as addicting as possible,” Nicholas Kardaras, one of the country’s top addiction specialists, recently explained to Vice.”

“In exchange for the thrill of getting higher, we’ll willingly give up intimate details about ourselves. It’ll be the new cost of getting our minds blown.”

CHAPTER TEN – Hedonic Engineering

“Often, the experience of selflessness is so new and compelling that it feels like no one else has ever felt this way before—that it’s evidence of some kind of sacred anointment.”

“ Our ability to accurately estimate how close things are to happening,8 both in our life and in the world at large, can get seriously skewed.

Under normal conditions, with an active prefrontal cortex constantly scanning scenarios in the past and the future, we spend very little time living completely in the present. 

So when a nonordinary state plunges us into the immediacy of the deep now, it brings an added sense of gravitas to the moment.”

“An entrepreneur who glimpses a brilliant business model while dancing at a festival may need years to build the company that actually delivers on it.”

“Once people taste the fleeting effortlessness of ecstasis, some decide that’s how life is always supposed to be: a state of perpetual ease.”

“Think of yourself as a colander—a bowl filled with holes. When you experience a peak state, it’s like turning on the kitchen faucet and flooding that colander with water. If there’s enough volume, the colander fills up despite the leaks.

As long as water keeps flooding in, you will, for a moment, experience what it’s like to be a cup. You’ll feel whole; if you’re really inspired, holy. Then the faucet turns off, the peak experience ends, and all that water leaks back out. In a matter of moments, you’ll settle back to where you started.

“Because it really doesn’t matter what we find down there, out there, or up there, if we’re unable to bring it back to solid ground. So take it all in, but hold it loosely.”

“Ironically, the attempt to avoid suffering often creates more of it, leaving us susceptible to the most predictable trap of all: spiritual bypassing.”


“Just as old sailing wisdom favored “high and slow”—meaning that you pointed your boat as close to the eventual upwind destination as possible— we are steeped in a “high and slow” culture of relentless goal setting and linear forward progress.”

“Only now, our hope isn’t as blind as it used to be. We don’t have to keep making sacrifices to powers beyond our understanding or keep waiting for rescue from our plight. “

Book Review (Personal Opinion):

I must admit this is one of my favorite books that I have read in a long time. Even though it deals with scientific research, the content is brought out simply so everyone can understand what the writers wanted to say.

I was amazed when some situations that were brought up were familiar to me but I didn’t know what’s behind those. Everything about an altered state of mind seems a bit frightening to me, especially not being familiar with the scientific side of it and the benefits it can bring. 

My conclusion is that we have not been informed well about psychedelics, their positive impact on our creativity and we definitely can start wondering what the altered state of life looks like while reading chapter by chapter of the book. 

Rating: 10/10

This Book Is For:

  • Entrepreneurs
  • Innovators
  • Scientists

If You Want To Learn More

Hear more about the peak performsnce state known as ‘flow’ from Jamie Wheal’s TED talk:
Hacking the GENOME of Flow

How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book

As someone who does not know much about science of consciousness, I got intrigued with what’s presented in the book.

There are a lot of interesting terms being mentioned just briefly throughout the book. Fully understanding those takes time and doing a little bit of research on your own which is exactly what I did.

Another thing I am about to start practicing in my routine is meditation for at least half an hour per day. I may not be able to channel a different state of mind, but I have a feeling it will bring harmony into my hectic days.

One Small Actionable Step You Can Do

If you want to seek further into the topic, I would suggest focusing on the four forces of ecstasis presented in chapters 4-7 for a starter. Getting to know these can help visualize how you could feel if you decide to channel your altered state.

Knowing the consequences of ecstasis phase is important if you want to do it right and avoid long-term harm.

As a safe bet, I would opt for meditation and yoga, the traditional ways of getting into the zone. It may take longer to achieve it, but they seem as the least vulnerable ways.

Stealing Fire - Summary-Infographic