Thursday, January 5, 2012

attention and time

Our attention works linearly. That is, we can perceive one thing at a time. To create the world around us, our attention whirls around and creates a simulation in our brain. This simulation seems flawless because it is all we know, but in fact it is full of holes and can be spoofed and tricked in various ways. We have a limited amount of input bandwidth, and there are gatekeeper functions that determine what makes it into our perception. Easy example: if you're sitting at a desk right now, your body makes contact with a lot of things. The chair, desk, keyboard, etc. But you're not actively feeling those things. If you think about it, though, you can focus on a specific body part and feel that contact. However, you can't feel everything at the same time. Also, pain will usually be selected, despite wishing otherwise. The gatekeeper can be influenced, but not totally controlled.

Alright, so your attention can only be on one thing at a time, but it's constantly cycling through everything, and the cycles are fast enough that they seem almost simultaneous, and the simulation makes everything seem smooth and continuous. But... they aren't, and the way those cycles get spent make a difference. Cycles aren't just spent on your senses- your thoughts and memories and feelings also cost cycles. And remember, you're not fully in control, so cycles automatically get spent on basic body awareness and sensory input.

The more cycles per second you spend on something, the slower it seems to go. Generally speaking, you can split it up into external and internal attention. The more attention you pay externally, the slower the world seems to go.

Example: driving trance. If you have a familiar route you drive on, you pay less attention externally, and more on your internal thoughts. And so, bam, you're home before you know it.

The number of cycles you get is basically fixed. You can't pay attention to multiple things simultaneously, so when you split your attention, the world gets faster. This is why talking on a cell phone while driving causes problems. It's especially tricky because the simulation seems smooth and flawless- you never feel like you miss things. People driving through parking lots while talking on cell phones are particularly good examples of this. They go really slow but move continuously- from their perspective, they're driving normally and luckily finding spaces to move into, whereas focused drivers will be moving faster and have to stop to let other people go.

Being drunk decreases the number of cycles. This is the correlation between cell phone talking and drunk driving- both remove attention cycles from the driving.

My explanation for the combat/adrenaline effect of the world slowing down is that the gatekeeper function for attention suddenly allows for different uses of cycles, NOT more cycles. Those cycles normally automatically spent on things like body awareness get dropped, and you suddenly have a lot more cycles at your disposal. The world slows down, but if you're not used to it, you can spend them erratically, suddenly picking up a bunch of little details, and your coordination goes to hell because you've lost things like body awareness you usually have without paying attention to.

okay. I think that's enough basics to tie it into fighting theory next.

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