Attention, Vivacity, and Continuity

While defining experienced space I made a sleight of hand when I said that different perspectives of the same thing attach themselves to some object because its vivacity stays unchanged. But how is it that the liveliness of an object does anything? When phrasing it like that it almost sounds as if there is a thing called vivacity that is binding all those visual impressions together. But what is vivacity exactly? How does it work and where is it coming from? Again a blind spot that needs some exploration.

As often is the case I start this journey using my visual impressions and see where this path leads me. Going through my flat’s hallway I perceive this large box full of Lego Duplo blocks and on top of it is 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. Still fixing my eyes on it I can widen my gaze and can recognize other toys surrounding the train but they are less detailed, maybe a bit dimmer, and it needs more effort to get hold of them. At the fringes of my vision, I am barely aware of the white cupboard on the far side of the hallway. It has almost no details and its existence in consciousness is unstable; it is going in and out again. From my vision, it seems that what is at the center is what is most alive, which means, it is the object that is most clear, detailed, and consciously long-lived.

But being in focus isn’t a guarantee that this toy will be caught by my inner eye. Thoughts can distract me and take over. So do other impressions like pain or an unexpected loud noise. Vision might effectively capture whatever bestows energy and life to objects of the mind but it doesn’t seem to ultimately 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 was focusing this eye, my attention, on it. Moving away from the center of vision meant effortfully moving and widening it while pulling vivacity along. But it also meant that the train miraculously vanished while I was still looking at it. It was there and not there at the same time. It left consciousness and withdrew 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 experience and it is all the conscious experience there is. It can even go so far as to keep “me” outside. When I am completely immersed in an activity like reading a book or writing these very words the feeling of my body and even of “me” disappears and slips into the unconscious.

But doesn’t that immediately beg the question: who is controlling attention then? When I get angry the feeling and associated thoughts will take over my attention and all this chaos and violence starts to rage within me. Am I in control here? It doesn’t feel like it. When I am enraged with anger 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 because it is such a strenuous process to think about and articulate the subject at hand. It wants to go to some simpler place, a place objects form and come to life with ease. But I force it back, again and again, until the ease establishes itself, 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. But 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 a 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.

But what I know is, that attention is a narrowing down of all the streams of impressions and hence understanding 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. But 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 original topic of my article 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 train 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 I make a slight adjustment, 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 and that seems to be a general pattern. 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 in shapes and colors is minimal. Or 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).

And 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 their colors and surface texture. 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 when moving about in this space. It seems a myriad of relations got established when I took in this scene and all those connections end, or start, here: at the toy 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. I assume that is 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.

Coming to an end, what have I learned so far? There are two parts to my mind, the conscious and the unconscious, and whatever is “me” is only inhabiting consciousness. It is the place that is my inner world where I experience, everything outside is beyond me. Sometimes even “me” is beyond that dividing line that is defined by attention. Wherever attention goes life ensues, creating objects, and binding them. It is this place where ontology emerges but it is a mystery for now who or what is controlling this inner eye. Sometimes it seems to be under the spell of my will, other times, I am left out or just follow along. And there is another mystery: the world attention creates is continuous but why?


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 and I assume again 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.

You found a typo or some other mistake I made in this text? All articles can be changed here. If you want to exchange ideas then simply drop me a message at