Chapter 5. Attention, Control, and Learning

Never memorize something that you can look up.


A Spectrum of Conscious Attention

CONTEXT IS A FUNCTION OF UNDERSTANDING THE ENVIRONMENT, which involves our consciousness. To what degree, however, are we really conscious of our environment, or even our consciousness? We like to think we’re logical, rational beings that take action mainly out of higher-order thought. Yet, as is explored in Chapter 4, our bodies do a lot of the thinking for us. It turns out that the environment is also responsible for much of our decision-making, attention, and learning. Embodied cognition is part of a general trend in the past few decades in which new schools of thought are questioning long-held assumptions that go back at least as far as Rene Descartes’ supposition that “I think, therefore I am.”

Research has shown that much of our daily activity is driven by deep, preconscious impulses and primitive-brain emotions rather than logical, conscious analysis and decision-making. In Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), neurologist Antonio Damasio shows how mind, body, reason, and emotion all work as a single system rather than separate entities. In fact, reason is an outgrowth of emotion; it is crippled without an emotional foundation to drive our decisions.[69]

In another major work on the subject, Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman ...

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