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This nOde last updated December 17th, 2004 and is permanently morphing...
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attention (e-tèn´shen) noun
Abbr. att., attn.
1.Concentration of the mental powers upon an object; a close or careful observing or listening.
2.The ability or power to concentrate mentally.
3.Observant consideration; notice: Your suggestion has come to our attention.
4.Consideration or courtesy: attention to others' feelings.
5. attentions. Acts of courtesy, consideration, or gallantry, especially by a suitor.
6.A military posture, with the body erect, eyes to the front, arms at the sides, and heels together.
Used as a command to assume an erect military posture.
[Middle English attencioun,
from Latin attentio, attention-, from attentus, past participle of
attendere, to heed. See attend.]
- atten´tional adjective
The true art of memory
is the art of attention.
Samuel Johnson (1709-84), English author, lexicographer. The Idler, no. 74, in Universal Chronicle (London, 15 Sept. 1759; repr. in Works of Samuel Johnson, vol. 2, ed. by W. J. Bate, John M. Bullitt and L. F. Powell, 1963).
Experience is not a matter of having actually swum
the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes,
or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition,
of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention
at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is
not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), British author. Texts and Pretexts, Introduction (1932).
|owl, pay attention to meeee|
In Hawaii they have a saying. They say "be akamai". It means, just "be smart." And what it means to me is, it means "pay attention". Pay attention to what is going on around you. - Terence McKenna
...We may ask whether the rich and complex informal structure of the commonly used language does not contain, even if perhaps only in a rudimentary or germinal form, some feature that can satisfy the need to call attention to the real function of thought and language. If one looks into this question, one can see that there are such features. Indeed, in modern times, the most striking example is the use (and over-use) of the word 'relevant' (which may perhaps be understood as a kind of 'groping' for the attention-calling function that people almost unconsciously feel to be important).
The word 'relevant' derives from a verb 'to relevate', which has dropped out of common usage, whose meaning is 'to lift' (as in 'elevate'). In essence, 'to relevate' means 'to lift into attention', so that the content thus lifted stands out 'in relief'. When a content lifted into attention is coherent or fitting with the context of interest, i.e., when it has some bearing on the context of the relationship to it, then one says that this content is 'relevant'; and of course, when it does not fit in this way, it is said to be 'irrelevant'.
As an example, we can take the writings of Lewis Carroll, which are full of humour arising from the use of the irrelevant. Thus, in _Through the Looking Glass_, there is a conversation between the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, containing the sentence: 'This watch doesn't run, even though I used the best butter.'
Such a sentence lifts into attention the irrelevant notion that the grade of butter has a bearing on the running of watches - a notion that evidently does not fit the context of the actual structure of watches.
In making a statement about relevance, one is treating thought and language as realities, on the same level as the context in which the statement is made, looking or giving attention both to this context and to the overall function of thought and language, to see whether they fit each other. Thus, to see the relevance or irrelevance of a statement is primarily an act of perception of a very high order similar to that involved in seeing its truth or falsity. In one sense the question of relevance comes before that of truth, because to ask whether a statement is true or false presupposes that it is relevant (so that to try and assert the truth or falsity of an irrelevant statement is a form of confusion), but in a deeper sense the seeing of relevance or irrelevance is evidently an aspect of the perception of truth in its overall meaning.
Clearly, the act of apprehending relevance or irrelevance cannot be reduced to a technique or a method, determined by some set of rules. Rather, this is an 'art', both in the sense of requiring creative perception and in the sense that this perception has to develop further in a kind of skill (as in the work of the artisan).
Thus it is not right, for example, to regard the division between relevance and irrelevance as a form of accumulated knowledge of properties belonging to statements (e.g., by saying that certain statements 'possess' relevance while others do not). Rather, in each case, the statement of relevance or irrelevance is communicating a perception taking place at the moment of expression, and is the individual context indicated in that moment. As the context in question changes, a statement that was initially relevant may thus cease to be so, or vice versa. Moreover, one cannot even say that a given statement is relevant or irrelevant, and that this covers all the possibilites. Thus, in many cases, the total context may be such that one cannot clearly perceive whether the statement has bearing or not. This means that one has to learn more, and that the issue is, as it were, in a state of flux.
So when relevance or irrelevance is communicated, one has to understand that this is not a hard and fast division between opposing categories but, rather, an expression of an ever-changing perception, in which it is possible, for the moment, to see a fit or non-fit between the content lifted into attention and the context to which it refers.
At present, the question of fitting or non-fitting is discussed through a language structure in which nouns are taken as basic (e.g., by saying 'this notion is relevant'). Such a structure does indeed formally imply a hard and fast division between relevance and irrelevance. So the form of the language is continually introducing a tendency toward fragmentation, even in those very features whose function is to call attention to the wholeness of language and the context in which it is being used. As already stated we are, of course, often able to overcome this tendency toward fragmentation by using language in a freer, more informal, and 'poetic' way, that properly communicates the truly fluid nature of the difference between relevance and irrelevance.
- David Bohm - _Wholeness And The Implicate Order_
"Walter Benjamin's concept of
'Rezeption in der Zerstreuung,' originally conceived for film, is as
valid for radio and records. According to Benjamin the mass reception
of art is accompanied by a steady decline in the attention given to
the individual work of art: music has become environmental sound, the
radio produces ambience, the quality of which can be measured by the
ease with which it goes in one ear and out the other. Continuous and
omnipresent, radio generates habituation and demands no more than an
absent minded attention. With radio it's often less a matter of what
there is to hear than that there is something to hear. The radio is
on. The question is whether artists are satisfied with this and,
imitating Brian Eno, will make 'ambient
music' ridiculing the dispersal of attention." Max Bruinsma, Talking
Back to the Media, Amsterdam, 1985. Also, see Freud's paper On
Narcissism and Ovid's The Story of Narcisus & Echo.
"I'm talking about something more subtle. Faced with
the tabula rasa of a UNIX prompt or Netscape screen, where do you go?
What does the net become before your eyes? What moves your mind? It's like the bardo state of Tibetan Buddhism, the in-between world of mental forms that your stream of consciousness enters when your physical body dies. Everything is unfolded there, all the perceptions and experiences of your consciousness. But unless you rest in the raw, radiant awareness of emptiness, the nightmarish and intoxicating forms around you will capture your attention, attracting or repulsing you, and these reactions set your rebirth in motion. That process doesn't just happen when you die—it's happening at every moment you carry your 'you' into the future. Attention is all—on the Net, in the bardo, in our hypermediated culture. Attention cuts the furrows and sows the seeds of your own becoming. In cyberspace, attention is your money and your soul—everyone wants to catch your eye.
That's why I practice mindfulness meditation—it's the yoga of attention."
- selections from the
notebooks of Lance Daybreak, curated by Erik Davis in _Shards Of The
The "economy of attention"
Mindfulness is a techne, neither a philosophy nor a passive trance but an active practice of probing and witnessing experience. The practice begins when we sharpen our awareness of the moment-to-moment flux of thought and sensation as it weaves itself through the warp and woof of body and mind. Slowly, we may begin to see how much of our reality can be traced to delusional projections, cultural programming, or the repetition of mechanical habits of categorization, emotional fixation, and greed. We begin, ever so slightly, to decondition ourselves, and another world begins to emerge, a world that is nonetheless basic and familiar: a world always on the fly, a self-organizing network of flows and events drawn through the shuttle of the passing present. By helping us become intimate with this endless brocade, mindfulness cultivates a kind of mobile center that can pliably and creatively interact with the morphing demands of a perpetually decentered world.
As many have pointed out, the currency of th Net is attention, an insight that holds true as well for the expanding empire of signs, data, and virtualities of which the Net is both part and paragon. Mindfulness cultivates and shapens attention, clarifying the often largely automatic process wherein we "choose" to notice, to react, to link, to pass on by. The more intelligent and crisp attention becomes, the less susceptible one grows to mechanical habits and programmed phantasms, not to mention the dangerous attractors that lurk, as they always have, in virtual space, waiting to draw our bodyminds into downward spirals. The contemporary rise of attention deficit disorder, a condition seemingly linked to the ubiquity of media nets, only underscores how much we need to treat attention as a craft, at once a skill to be learned and a vessel in flight. But the name of this chronic syndrome also contains a clue. For it is precisely disorder that we need to learn to pay attention to, because in that turbulence lies our own future manifold. The mind is an instrument, and we practice scales so that we may begin to improvise with spontaneous grace.
- _Techgnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism In The Age Of Information_ by Erik Davis
Money and value are not identical. What's information really about? It seems to me there's something direly wrong with the "Information Economy." It's not about data, it's about attention. In a few years you may be able to carry the Library of Congress around in your hip pocket. So? You're never gonna read the Library of Congress. You'll die long before you access one tenth of one percent of it. What's important --- increasingly important --- is the process by which you figure out what to look at. This is the beginning of the real and true economics of information. Not who owns the books, who prints the books, who has the holdings. The crux here is access, not holdings. And not even access itself, but the signposts that tell you what to access --- what to pay attention to. In the Information Economy everything is plentiful --- except attention.
- Bruce Sterling - speech at the 1992 Library Information Technology Association
Attention to attention, or paying attention to the nuances of cognition is a psychedelic way of being... If any of you are familiar with Marcel Proust's _Recherche du Temps Perdu_, he didn't take drugs except for [?? ], valerian and alcohol and absinthe and tobacco, and things like that... so he was drug free [audience laughter]... and he managed to refine this art of the awareness of tensions and nuances in the moment... for really what I come to believe about the psychedelic experience that it is a compressed instance of what we call understanding... so that living psychedelically is trying to live in an atmosphere of continous unfolding of understanding so that every day you know more and see into things with greater depth than you did before...
This is a process of education. What the psychedelic experience is it's the process of education so compressed that it has become a cascade of actual visual images which, rather than a kind of slow unfoldment of linked perception, but really, attention to attention and appreciation of the immediate. I always think when this comes up, of William Blake's advice - Blake was as you know, a great mystical visionary english poet who spoke with angels and had these wonderful visions of the angelic world... and he was asked what was the secret of his angelic poetry, and he said, "attend the minute particulars". That's all. "attend the minute particulars". And what he meant was to focus attention in the moment, not to betray attention into expectation born of abstraction or regret, born of misplaced assumption, or rememberance born of boredom and alienation in the moment. But just to attend the minute particulars. It's a way of training, it's like yoga. People think that psychedelics are somehow the easy way out. This is what people think who wouldn't dare dream of taking one. And it's not because it's the easy way out... it's because they sense that the reality of the fact of it, and the challenge of assimiliating it. I mean, it's very real. It's not a metaphor. It's not an analogy. It's not a semantic reconstruction, it is not a simulacrum, it is not a model. It is the pithessence of the thing itself. It's real. And I don't know how many things can make that claim. Everyone has a different set of experiences. My own experiences of the other, of the transcendent naked beauty of truth, have almost all entirely come out of the psychedelic realm or out of invovlment of the viscerality of the emotions... the death of my mother, the birth of my children, the act of marrying someone... Not else. But those. So i think it's about attending the minute particulars as a kind of practice. It may not get you anywhere for several years, but if you attend the minute particulars, cultivate an ongoing stream of self description - telling yourself what is happening... get used to the idea that mind can penetrate the immediate surface of being and reveal the tactile density of it as a manifold whose measure cannot be immediately taken by the eyes. It's deep, it's connected, it's complex. Everything holds within itself the anticipation and memory of everything else.
- Terence McKenna - _Nature Is The Center Of The Mandala Part 2_ MP3 (32k)(44:12)
My conviction is that the first step is just paying attention. What's amazing is that, as humans, if we dwell on anything, after a while we become fascinated by it. It doesn't matter what it is. The ability to dwell on things is uniquely human because we don't have such fixed action programs as other species do. We can forget about everything else and just dwell on something. I call it the power of gawking. We can pay attention to whales or to the hummingbirds and just become fascinated by them. It's noticing in a deep way, or contemplating, and my intuition is that as humans allow themselves to be fascinated by the other creatures, these species will awaken the psychic depths in the human that respond to their beauty. And then we become convinced that in some amazing way, they are essential to us. We can become amazed by how essential they are for our zest, our sense of well-being or happiness. Chief Seattle said that if the animals were not here, we would die of loneliness. I think that a deeper feeling of care begins with allowing ourselves to move into awe—with all of the different creatures, no matter which ones we've picked. If we would attend to them, we would see their colossal grandeur. Abraham Heschel said that awe is the first step into wisdom. You can just sit and watch fish and think of how they've developed over hundreds of millions of years and imagine what they're experiencing, and after awhile you're sunk into contemplation of ultimacy. This is what I think is the first step toward compassion.
- Brian Swimme
The only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention. As Nobel-winning economist Herbert Simon puts it: "What information consumes is rather obvious: It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention." Each human has an absolute limit of 24 hours per day to provide attention to the millions of innovations and opportunities thrown up by the economy. Giving stuff away captures human attention, or mind share, which then leads to market share.
- Kevin Kelly - _New Rules For The New Economy_
FUTURE SHOCK: "A sense of shock felt by those who were not paying attention." [Michael Flynn, ANALOG, Jan 1990. Coined by Alvin Toffler, 1970]
Written for a catalogue for an exhibit of sculpture by Elizabeth Turk
The myth of Galileo identifies science with the stance of the rebel, who ignores the teaching of authority and sees for himself what the truth is. This myth was popularized in the twentieth century by Bertold Brecht, for whom Galileo may have served as a vehicle for making sense of his own tangle of rebellions and commitments. But in our period in which, as Brian Eno says, the most valuable currency is attention, the stance of the rebel is easy. The currency of attention does not distinguish between art and advertising or argument and propaganda. As a result we live in a world in which the stance of the rebel is adopted as easily by those who seek to deny rights to others as it is by those who are protecting their own freedoms. The natural result is that criticism is often reduced to irony and irony is itself degraded to the point it can be invoked merely by the reproduction of familiar images. But the trajectory of postmodernism tells us that irony and even protest are not enough: Damien Hirst may claim he is a brand, but indeed is the White Cube Gallery anything but a boutique for expensive collectibles? No, at this time when we have no lack of well educated and well off rebels, when Marxism is so deservedly repudiated it is hard to even imagine the conviction of our grandparents, and no one seems to mind very much that in some parts of the United States a fair proportion of the vote hasn't been counted for years, some new thinking is needed. In this situation the interesting question is not what we should be against, but what should we be for?
- Lee Smolin
It's a two-way medium. It's not a gift; it's a challenge! You have to do some work to get the benefits. The information may be on the Net, but the knowledge won't get into your head unless you pay attention and assimilate it. - Esther Dyson
In musicmaking time and again mention is made of: listening, perceiving, taking one's time, being attentive, observing the inner aspects of what's happening, allowing things to unfold without interfering, and being conscious--in other words, factors that are also important in meditation.
- Joachim-Ernst Berendt
Randolph Bourne's observation "war is the health of the state" is familiar to most critics of militarism, but few have delved into why this is so. Statism is dependent upon mass thinking which, in turn, is essential to the creation of a collective, herd-oriented society. Such pack-like behavior is reflected in the intellectual and spiritual passivity of people whose mindsets are wrapped up more in images and appearances than in concrete reality.
Such a collapse of the mind produces a society dominated by entertainment which places little burden on thinking rather than critical inquiry, which helps to explain why there has long been a symbiotic relationship between the entertainment industry and political systems. Entertainment fosters a passive consciousness, a willingness to "suspend our disbelief." Its purpose is to generate amusement, a word that is synonymous with "diversion," meaning "to distract the attention of." The common reference to movies as a form of "escape" from reality, reflects this function. Government officials know what every magician knows, namely, that to carry out their illusions, they must divert the audience's attention from their hidden purposes.
_Politics and War As
Entertainment_ by Butler Shaffer