One Important Point About Concentration


concentration1I am linking here to an article on concentration, mostly as an excuse to go off on my own thoughts. The article itself speaks to the neuroscience of concentration (which is interesting) and William James’ thoughts on the role of concentration in one’s experience (which is interesting but a little muddled).

The key line that sticks with me is this one: “Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher said. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.”

I write this post in a cafe while listening to music. I’ve never put it into these terms, but I think that the main reason I so frequently listen to music while I’m working is to block out those other distractors. This is particularly important for me, since I like to work in cafes, outdoors, and any other public place I can find. The music comes from my standard iTunes collection, and I know it pretty well. At this point, the music can bring me on an emotional journey (typically either a pumped-up The Killers one or an epic, meaningful, John Williams one) without taking away from my concentration on the work.

That brings me to my main point. My current understanding, based on my studies and introspection, is that your conscious awareness of the world at any moment is made of two things.

The first is what is whatever you are concentrating on. For me, at this moment, that is this post, but I can easily shift it to the music I’m listening to (which I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, is “Holding Out for a Hero”) or to other objects around me or to the pressure of the chair against my body, etc.

The second is everything else that I am vaguely aware of. That includes, when I am not attending to it, the music, the environment, the pressure of the chair, my vague inclination of the time. The closest term in psychology that I currently have for that is “working memory.” But that doesn’t seem to name it. Working memory refers to the processes and structures in the mind that allow for short-term recall of telephone numbers, names, and the like. I think it might be the same thing, but I’m referring to something more like “working awareness.” Maybe someone’s researched this. Hm. To be continued.


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