The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Friday, May 15, 2009

Rapt Attention


A while back, I posted an article on the difficulty of paying attention. In the intervening time, it hasn't become any easier. Below is an excerpt from a recent article about paying attention. If you click here, you'll be able to read the whole article.

Ear Plugs to Lasers: The Science of Concentration

Imagine that you have ditched your laptop and turned off your smartphone. You are beyond the reach of YouTube, Facebook, e-mail, text messages. You are in a Twitter-free zone, sitting in a taxicab with a copy of “Rapt,” a guide by Winifred Gallagher to the science of paying attention.

The book’s theme, which Ms. Gallagher chose after she learned she had an especially nasty form of cancer, is borrowed from the psychologist William James: “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” You can lead a miserable life by obsessing on problems. You can drive yourself crazy trying to multitask and answer every e-mail message instantly.

Or you can recognize your brain’s finite capacity for processing information, accentuate the positive and achieve the satisfactions of what Ms. Gallagher calls the focused life. It can sound wonderfully appealing, except that as you sit in the cab reading about the science of paying attention, you realize that ... you’re not paying attention to a word on the page.

The taxi’s television, which can’t be turned off, is showing a commercial of a guy in a taxi working on a laptop — and as long as he’s jabbering about how his new wireless card has made him so productive during his cab ride, you can’t do anything productive during yours.

Why can’t you concentrate on anything except your desire to shut him up? And even if you flee the cab, is there any realistic refuge anymore from the Age of Distraction?

I put these questions to Ms. Gallagher and to one of the experts in her book, Robert Desimone, a neuroscientist at M.I.T. who has been doing experiments somewhat similar to my taxicab TV experience. He has been tracking the brain waves of macaque monkeys and humans as they stare at video screens looking for certain flashing patterns.

4 comments:

walt said...

Over the years, I have come to consider the quality of "attention" -- which differs from "concentration" -- to be a Big Key to much else besides. I've located and dutifully saved as many articles and books about the subject as I could find. And I work every day to cultivate it.

Results? Some, but not too much, really. A very slippery subject. I do pretty well with "focus," and can stick with things long term by returning to them again and again, but moment to moment "attending" has never arrived very dramatically.

One practice I do daily is stand on one foot for 10-15 minutes each side. It takes a certain amount of being "present" to do that. To try it on a high wire, however, like in your picture, is not in the cards.

Rick said...

I agree. It's easier to focus than to really pay attentnion.

S.Smith said...

Hmmm. Computers off...good idea. I ditched the cell phone a couple years ago: relief is mine. No tv (only Hulu.com).

I like the word rapt. Saying it causes me to pay attention.

Rick said...

It's so easy to get sucked into our gadgets.