My Kingdom for Some Attention!

This is a quick follow up to yesterday’s post on finding what is “better” in life

One of the more absorbing ideas that I picked up over the last several years relates to a cognitive limit that we all share. As humans, we are limited in how much information we can take in per second. We don’t feel this limit because our belief structure fills in the gaps. Indeed, it seems that experience is mostly a matter of belief, with the occasional new input thrown in. Quite the opposite of what we think it is.

This has rather profound implications. Most important, we can exhaust our capacity to take in anything if our attention is absorbed in sustaining beliefs.  Put another way, the more we invest in our beliefs — as they are — the less we are able to see anything else. The mental glass, we might say, is already filled up.  And so, we are capable of making ourselves … rather stupid. More precisely, we limit our ability to master or even appreciate new domains of knowledge.

So, we might consider re-assessing the amount of energy we place in nurturing our beliefs. BTW, this is roughly what happened during the 18th century enlightenment in Europe. As folks walked away from religious dogma as the ultimate explaining tool for the universe, they freed up considerable mental energy to see things in a new light. Apparently, this is hard to sustain. The enlightenment was followed by the romantic rebellion — an assertion of a new sort of belief structure that continues to obsess western man today. Ooops.

We do this — at least in part — because of our cognitive bias. We wish to see ourselves as brilliant, or at least “advanced”, and so we nurture our beliefs that we are so … instead of advancing. It is the pleasure of being rather than the pleasure of finding things out. I don’t think we want to give up either. But I wonder if gamifying the great “why” questions of life is about drawing a better balance between the two.


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