On the notion of Attention

May 26, 2022 – 1:00 pm

Attention is a word that we seem to find necessary. It arises in so many contexts. I want here, briefly, to distinguish two broad senses of the term that it is good to keep seperate.

On the one hand, an economic metaphor is used. Pay attention! Attention is seen as something one has a finite amount of, to be allocated, spent and intentionally directed. This usage, unfortunately, is so widespread that to trouble it is probably to speak in riddles. But this view is beholden to the construction of the solipsistic autonomous psychological subject, the narcissistic golem build by a technologically informed cognitive psychology. It’s constructions may sometimes be useful, but here, acceptance of this way of thinking of attention seems pernicious.

An entirely different sense of attention is used in contemplative and mystical traditions. Attention here is a state of receptiveness, an openness to the liveliness of the world, allowing it to speak back. This is not the same thing as the economic model of attention, and is a tremendously useful term whose skilled employment can be life-enhancing beyond measure.

Distinguishing between these senses is easy. The surrounding words (pay! fix! direct!) give away the economic metaphor readily.

I hope this distinction may prove useful for someone.

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