Finite Attention

Loqman, being asked from whom he had learnt civility, replied: ‘From those who had no civility because what appeared to me unbecoming in them I refrained from doing.’

The Morals Of Dervishes Story 21, Saadi Shirazi

Learning from mistakes not the right moves of others as a strategy for decision making is counterintuitive to our ever lasting desire to find the easiest, most enjoyable and quickest way possible to get to what we want. I wonder how much of this strategy is predicated by the technologies we use and the mindset that exist in the minds of our society.

Ideas are copied from each other and with a bit of tweaks and gimmicks are presented back to us. We even do that most of the time because that is the quickest answer but we seem to think everything is of the same nature. A new service or product emerges in almost identical manners to the competition & since we live in a world that is surrounded by this cheap & easily mutable products, we become the same.

Is our attention finite or infinite? Let’s imagine we have a unit for things we can pay attention to during every day. I pick 1000 subjects just for the sake of argument. How many things can we pay attention to with our jobs, personal & public lives, the social norms & regulations and so on. Could it be that we can continue to process information forever without ever overloading the information processing unit? Do you believe otherwise in an age where there’s no shortage of content and all you need to do is swipe in a direction for more?

Conspiracy theories about world dominance & control always sounded childish to me and very dissatisfying way to interpret complex systems. The incentives do not look right. Attention though is a great incentive but after you decide to think of it as a finite or infinite resource.

Let me put it this way, is every part of our life connected to the other and does doing terrible in one part affect the other? Can you do meaningful work on time and to the best of your abilities when your desk & room are messy? Do we choose what to pay attention to?

These are the questions I ask myself and others because it fascinates me how black & white people are in regards to their answers. Some say different parts of one’s life are not connected to each other and they give examples of dysfunctional geniuses while others clearly can see the relation between our environment to our psyche. The former group focus on the success of others and sometimes are even encouraged to copy their lifestyle without knowing anything more than trivial bits of info about these geniuses’ life. My favorite quote from a conversation I had a long time ago was “all artists’ rooms are messy”.

Do we see what we pay attention to or do we pay attention to what we see?