Attention, Vivacity, and Continuity

While defining experienced space I made a sleight of hand. Different perspectives of the same thing attach themselves to some object because its vivacity stays unchanged. But what is vivacity exactly? How does it work and where is it coming from? Again a blind spot that needs some exploration.

I start this journey again using my visual impressions and see where this path leads me. Going through my flat’s hallway I see a large box full of Lego and on top of stands a red, electric train looking like one of those ancient steam engines. It is this thing that I put in the center of my vision where it is most precise and understood. Fixing my eyes on it I can widen my gaze and recognize other toys but they are less detailed, a bit dimmer. They are effortful. Going out to the fringes, I am barely aware of the white cupboard on the far side of the hallway. Its existence in consciousness is unstable; it is going in and out again. Clarity, detail, and longevity it seems correlate with the distance from my center of vision.

Just being in focus isn’t a guarantee that this toy will catch my inner eye tho. Thoughts can distract me and take over and so do other unexpected impressions like pain or a noise. Vision might effectively capture whatever bestows energy and life to objects of the mind but it doesn’t control it. No, this control seems to reside within this inner eye, this thing that decides what I am allowed to experience. When I direct my gaze at the toy train I am focusing this eye, my attention, on it. Moving away from the center means effortfully moving and widening attention while pulling vivacity along.

It also means that the train miraculously vanishes while I am still looking at it. It withdraws into the unconscious, a realm of understanding and impressions that is beyond me, beyond my conscious world. Attention is the dividing line and it infuses life only into a small fraction of the objects that are recognized.

In a sense, attention is my narrow, ever-changing window into all of my experience. It can even go so far as to keep “me” out. When I am completely immersed the feeling of my body and even of “me” disappears and slips into the unconscious.

But who is controlling attention? When I get angry this feeling will take over and all this chaos and violence starts to rage within. Am I in control here? It doesn’t feel like it. When I am angered I am possed by something else, some daemon that emerged from the depths of my mind. Other times there is this spark of will, tightly connected to “me”, that forces attention into a certain direction. Writing these words is a testament to that. My attention wants to wander to some simpler place, a place objects form and come to life with ease. But I force it back, again and again, until I find a coherent thought, and I get into a state of flow; a place in my mind where attention lingers without effort and where I start to disappear again.

What does it mean to will something? I fear the answer to this question is beyond my reach right now. I didn’t manage to articulate thought or feeling properly yet and I have the distinct feeling that those three concepts are tightly connected. I also don’t know why keeping my attention sometimes feels hard and other times is effortless. Why are there levels of ease? All questions, I have to postpone.

What I know is, that attention is a narrowing down of all the streams of impressions to some small residue that is allowed to enter my consciousness. They are those objects that are alive and infused with energy. Attention marks therefore the border between the conscious and unconscious. If it is the source from whence vivacity emerges or if it is only captured by it I don’t know. Both concepts have a strong bond. Where there is attention there is life and where is life there is attention and for now, I can’t tell them apart.

Coming back to the initial idea I think I now found the answer to the question of how different perspectives of the same thing get combined into a single collage. When I look at my kids’ toy it is at the center of my vision and attention. Its visual patterns filled with vivacity start to form an object of the mind. Now let me adjust, move a few centimeters forward but still keep my eyes locked onto that toy. It looks almost the same but isn’t and still vivacity gravitates to the object that I call a train. Attention and liveliness continue to keep their bond. They create the experience of continuity. Understanding doesn’t just appear and vanish again. It stays even when the patterns change. But why is there continuity and a seemingly stable world? Why can shapes and colors change but my understanding doesn’t? Maybe it is because the patterns have a sameness to them. I move slightly and the change is only so minimal. Maybe it is because all those impressions emerge from the same place in my visual field, they have proximity in space. Ultimately I don’t know. There is just this fundamental property of experience that creates stability in my understanding and therefore in my inner world (A1).

Of course, there are many more changes to my impressions besides what is at the center of my vision. I feel the ground changing under my feet, acceleration through my body, and a general change of shapes and colors in all regions of my field of vision. And they all get merged into this one object. When I recall the scene I can reconstruct the walls, floor, and ceiling with all their colors. I know where this box is located and I can imagine the train sitting on top of it. I can even recall the change of perspective. It seems a myriad of relations got established when I took in this scene and all those connections end, or start, here: at the train. But what also becomes apparent is the missing detail. I know there is this box of Lego but I can’t make out its’ different pieces. I just know “box full of Lego”, a rough shape with color, and on top is placed a more detailed image of the train. What I experienced as a lack of detail before is now also reflected in my memory. Contrary to that, I can recreate the hallway with high fidelity even though it was more remote in my vision back then. Maybe because the object of the mind that is this room has a wealth of impressions from other moments, details that become alive when the train requires a recreation of that scene.

What have I learned so far? There are two parts to my mind, the conscious and the unconscious, and attention is controlling the dividing line. Wherever it goes life ensues. It creates objects and binds them. Attention is the place where ontology emerges. It is also a mystery for now. Who or what is controlling this inner eye? Sometimes it seems to be under the spell of will, other times, I am left out or just follow along. And why does attention create continuity?


A1 - Continuity in vision

I assume continuity is learned based on reports of people learning to see in older age (To see and not to see - An Anthropologist on Mars). They seem unable to make sense of the visual mess presented to them after decades of blindness. There is no continuity or understanding, just color, shapes, and movement. Only over time are objects formed and perspective established, if at all.

Small children play with whatever they get in their hands. I assume that this is the very process of establishing perspective and dimension for most if not all the basic physical forms. They rotate them, taste and hear them, and apply as many distortions as they can and through that establish relations of causality: one impression always following the other.

There seems to be a continuity in the outside world that we are able to capture, at least that is what our impressions suggest and that is the fundamental property I hinted at in the text above.

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