Monday, September 19, 2011

Attending to Attention

George G Clark, 18 September 2011
Cerebral stuff includes conscious, semi-conscious and unconscious thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is logistically impossible to capture it all and this begs some tough questions - (a) which bits are, or are not, featured in your attention centre?; (b) what are the decision rules that govern the choice?; (c) what is the action agency?; and (d) is the system open to change and, if so, by whom and how?

We are not wired for 24/7 busyness. We need time out for sleep and for waking stillness. We can then process our inputs by reacting and responding to them in a considered and appropriate way. Your vital brain is forever churning the cerebral stuff, linking new bits to old, and creating story fragments with feeling tones ranging through pleasant and neutral to unpleasant.

BUT those who were neutral to signals from nearby lions were soon dead. The same fate awaits those who challenge the hierarchy and the groupthink. It is better to overreact by being hyper vigilant. Nervousness and paranoia are useful for survival in nature and will therefore have been cemented in place by evolution.

BUT there is often division of labour amongst ‘social’ animals. Hamadryas baboons appoint particular individuals as vigilant watchmen and the rest of the troupe can therefore drop their guard. Some individuals can thus be at ease and focus attention on other, important things (eg screenwriting for popular soap operas).

BUT then consider the ‘gated’ compounds for the human haves (them) when they live close to the dangerous have-nots (us). Then consider ‘who guards against the compound guards’? – evolved paranoia wins again! They are out to get us. The price of authenticity and freedom is to pay attention to, and thus have some control over, the cerebral stuff that passes through your attention centre.

Socrates reckoned that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’ But he was a boring old fart who lived in ancient times. Is it not better to be a conscientious, capitalist consumer and a fanatical follower of frivolous fads and ephemeral fashions? What sort of cerebral stuff tends to occupy your attention centre? Do you feel a need for change? Are you paranoid enough to survive in modern civilisation?

Hegemony doesn’t seem to rule - OK

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