Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Attention

Attention is important in note-taking and has played a role in this blog already. Some time ago, I bought and read Winifred Galagher, (2009) Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. New York: Penguin Books, 2009. I liked it very much and am re-reading it at the moment. The motto of the book might be William James' claim that "my experience is what I agree to attend to." Essential to her claims is the view that there are two kinds of attention, namely bottom-up attention and top-down attention. Bottom-up attention is more or less automatic, involuntary and stimulus-driven. Top-down attention is voluntary and driven by ourselves. She claims, correctly it seems to me, that "At any one moment your world contains too much information ... for your brain to 'represent,' or depict clearly for you. The attentional system selects a certain chunk of what's there, which gets valuable cerebral real estate and, therefore, the chance to affect your behavior."

The trick is which part of the attentional system you allow to take over. Most of the time, we seem to be in automatic mode, but we can pay attention and thus control our experience. Our "neuron population can represent pretty much everything, but not everything at once. You have to choose — or they do." The same is, of course, true of the applications which we may use as extensions of our brain. Note-taking can at times be very stimulus-driven. But we should also always be capable to change to the top-down mode. It should allow for both modes.

Ernst Jünger, not one of my favorite authors, wrote that "to the same degree that a topic becomes important to us, its relations to other topics (das Bezügliche increase. It is as if we had knocked at a door that leads to a panorama of ideas"(Ernst Jünger, Die Schere (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1990), p. 10). It seems to me that this is a combination or interaction of the bottom-up and top-down attentional system constituted by the note-taker and the note-taking system she uses. This is where free links comes in — at least for me!

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