Maria Popova (the writer/editorial force behind brainpickings.org) will often discuss a children’s book between enlightening essays examining the works of Susan Sontag and Alan Watts. One of these books that caught my attention was Lizi Boyd’s ‘Flashlight.’
The illustrated book is without words and follows a boy as he explores the dark woods with a flashlight. The flashlights illuminates portions of the woodlands, with a depiction of forest life illustrated outside the conical reveal.
This book speaks to the idea of attention. Specifically, that which we choose to pay attention. And conversely, what lays beyond.
In Eric Kandel’s Search for Memory, the neuroscientist discusses attention in these terms: “Selective attention is widely recognized as a powerful factor in perception, action, and memory-in the unity of conscious experience. . . The brains capacity for processing sensory information is more limited than its receptors’ capacity for measuring the environment. Attention therefore acts as a filter, selecting some objects for further processing.” (p.311) Kandel utilizes a quote of the pioneer of modern psychology, William James, from his 1890 book, The Principles of Psychology to further clarify this point - “My experience is what I agree to attend to.”
With the exception of a sudden disruption, the oscillating nature of attention is a seamless part of our existence. It’s only upon self reflection (or the observation of another) that the direction of our ‘flashlight beam’ becomes evident.