Attention is Everything

Being human has one distinctive drawback.  Namely we are finite. Finite means we are limited.  We are limited in the number of things we can think about, the number of things we can experience, the number of things we can do and the number of things we can invest our energy into.  As such you should realize something.  Where you direct your attention isn’t just important it is everything.

Therefore you should closely guard what you pay attention to.

Don’t fill your head with garbage.  Fill it with the things of your choosing.  Things that are important to you.

This wasn’t supposed to be about life advice and back to probabilistic reasoning and the rational mind.

Because your attention and energy are limited the brain has to choose what it should pay attention to.  This is the primary reason people dislike dealing with uncertainty. Dealing with uncertainty distracts their attention away from what is important to them. And uncertainty requires more brain energy than dealing with certainty.  So as much as possible are mind will attempt at least in the conscience portion to make things certain.

A quick Google search on “stupid people politics” lead to the following question on quora.coma: “Why do Americans elect stupid politicians?”  To which the number one answer is “Because people are stupid?”  I disagree I don’t think people are stupid.  They might be under informed, but that doesn’t make them stupid.  For many people giving attention to politics decreases their quality of life, so they rationally choose to pay little attention to it.  Additionally many issues in politics are complicated.  Predictions in complicated systems are very difficult. Furthermore many decisions in politics are zero sum decisions.  That is they hurt as much as they help, or at least they help some people while hurting others.  For instance free trade hurts unskilled laborers, especially manufacturers.  But it helps people whose jobs are location dependent such as plumbers electricians real estate agents are helped by it (lower prices).

There are many issues other than politics where people rationally choose to be under informed How many of us don’t think deeply about the way engines are designed.  And why should we?  Knowing the details of engines is unlikely to make much of a difference in your life unless you happen to be an engineer or a mechanics.   And although to me, it seems ridiculous that people wouldn’t want to know how engines work, it is also true that there are many things that I don’t know or care to investigate such as pop culture (e.g. movies, entertainment and fashion) and professional sports.

The point here is that where we give our attention directs what we know about what we can speak intelligently about but also what it is that we are under informed about.  What we are good at and what we “need” more practice in.

Because attention and energy are limited, we should expect that the mind 1.) has good priors about things which are important for survival and reproduction and 2.) Uses very efficient “algorithms”  when making decisions and lots of short cuts.  That is we expect the mind to have intuition about “life” decisions.  And we expect that we will utilize processes that settle on a suboptimal solution in exchange for faster learning.

Attention is Everything

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