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The Limits of Attention
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In "The Principles of Psychology", William James speculates: "The number of things we may attend to is altogether indefinite, depending on the power of the individual intellect, on the form of the apprehension, and on what the things are. When apprehended conceptually as a connected system, their number may be very large. But however numerous the things, they can only be known in a single pulse of consciousness for which they form one complex 'object', so that properly speaking there is before the mind at no time a plurality of ideas, properly so called."

In this class we will attempt to get an introspective glimpse of some of the mechanisms of attention by shuttling back and forth along this threshold.  Attendees are asked to bring a laptop furnished with a film or video of their choice.  The screens will be placed together in a rectangular array and shown simultaneously in varying quantities, in a tribute to the classic scene from "The Man Who Fell to Earth": https://vimeo.com/46680266.

Between these trials we will have the opportunity to discuss the subjective effects.  Is our ability to percieve multiple threads strictly the function of an emergent unity?  Is our attention led unwittingly by the most striking stimuli or can arbitrary streams be easily isolated?  Can we remember the moment a certain thread falls out of consciousness?  Does each viewer filter the multitude into a similar form or is the distillate entirely idiosyncratic?  Can auditory streams be fused or isolated more or less easily than visual streams, and at what point to they render each other mutually unintelligible?  Is there a useful distinction between a foreground and a background of attention?  Can we absorb more information by switching between screens, or by cultivating a disinterested 'soft focus'?  What affects are triggered?  What kinds of errors or misperceptions are prevalent?

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jackson's picture

Don't forget to bring a laptop, a film, and a sense of humor!  See you tonight at 8pm, 155 freeman.

jackson's picture

well, the website was down over the weekend, but this will be interesting with the 4 people who signed up so far. please indicate if you're coming (8pm this Wednesday) and if anyone needs to peel off, we'll just save it for another time.

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