Attention Follows Meaning

Attention Follows Meaning


How to solve problems 🦢Why I’m solving Aging

Fiction 📓The Hike

Other Projects Arcadia DEEPWAVE

You can comment on everything. Or give me (harsh) personal feedback.

Made with 💙 by me (how to).

Dedicated to my family.

Attention Follows Meaning,

or why work on Næ

Status: Draft This post describes the ideas behind Næ and why I plan to work on it for the next year.


Let’s start with some facts:

  1. You exist right now.
  2. You are reading these words.

Now, the first one is a miracle. And the second a strange coincidence. Why are you reading this right now? What brought both of us here?

It is in this rare place that we meet then, where I will try to explain myself. Attempting an explanation, at least of the second truth. Why are we humans doing what we are?

In short, I claim that we spend our attention on things we are guessing to be important. We have to fight hard, because lots of ideas (like this one) are trying to capture our minds and make us focus - on them instead of what we care about. Still, somehow, most of us manage and try to respond. To focus again on what matters. But we could do much more, and that is why I am building A tool to help you find what should come next.

Here are some more facts:

  1. You are not doing something else while reading exactly t h i s. Because you can’t. (Multitasking is just switching fast between things).
  2. Actions take time. Reading takes time, thinking takes time, being takes time.
  3. No, they take your attention. Subjective time emerges out of the fact that you can only slot in one experience (3.) into each slot of existing (1.).

This leads us to:

You have only one resource to spend

Attention. Your life is only a stream of experiences. And you can respond to them however you like. Money, time, energy, influence, fame, even love are a result of how you or your ancestors have spend their attention. Of what they experienced and how they responded to it.

But what is attention? Attention is deciding, throwing out nearly everything of what could be experienced. The room you are in, the feeling of your feet, the noise of the world. And only reading.

But attention is also whishing. Striving. Throwing out experiences because you care. Because you want to be able to experience something else in the future. Maybe you are only reading this because I shared it with you. And the next time we meet you want to experience me being happy, about you having read it. To pay attention to my smile.

So what are we left with? We have:

  • Experiences: things you could spend your attention on
  • Attention: the process of eliminating all experiences until one is left
  • Goals: the reason for deciding the way you do

Now, even in a world without the internet, the number of experiences is vast. In this instance you literally have access to all your memories. And all sensations of your body. And all possible combinations of your memories, into new and fantastic lands, dreams of beauty and horror. It’s not quite infinite, but it could as well be so. And then there is this weird fact:

  1. Others exist

A lot of them. And they all experience, and create and communicate. So:

Spend it wisely

This is it, the secret to success. Maybe a little dramatic, but I belief there is a truth to it, a first principle. For any given goal, success is paying attention to the things that matter. To those things that will make you experience achieving the goal.

We humans spend a lot of time talking about agency, free will, determination, luck vs. talent, nature vs. nurture. I claim that behind all this is a simple concept: those who have a systematic way of picking the right goals and then committing hard to them, will achieve them.

Remember that a goal is just the reason for choosing one experience over another in the first place. Picking a goal, and sticking to it would always lead to it’s achievement, at least if you where stranded on an empty planet. The trick is then to find goals that work in a dynamic complex world, and - significantly more important - not getting distracted.

Attention management as a superpower

Now, if you gave me a million dollars or a really good way of paying attention, guess which I would choose?

Probably the million dollars. Got you there. But I could probably build a good attention manager for way less, and donate the rest.

The actual point I want to make is: Systems are powerful. And attention systems, ways of making the right calls over a long period of time are exceptionally so.

I indeed believe that your system for paying attention will be one of the largest predictors of your success. This is a strong claim that is hard to prove. And while there is some limited evidence that attention is indeed a core factor for elite performance, I have not been able to find good studies on broad, day to day attention, predicting income, life satisfaction or some other goal. I am not even sure how the method for that would look like, as “Attention System” is a pretty broad thing. Though some people have tried to explain the poverty trap by this: it seems like not knowing how to pay the bills makes you pay attention ... to paying the bills, which is indeed a bad attention system (duh).

Nevertheless, how do you decide? How are you attending to the world? How do you respond?

Why a powerful digital tool could help

Granted, you don’t need a computer to decide what matters. But let me convince you, that you want a digital tool, to do so better.

I have looked, played around and used many of the “Tools for Thought” out there. And they are great. I never want to go back to pen and paper, there truly is an innovation here. But all they are good at right now is one way: thoughts to bits. Ideas, projects, names and faces, all stored digitally. This unlocks many benefits, infinite storage in space and time, search, graphs and multi-media creation. In short, the computer has expanded the richness of our environment, the size of all experiences. This includes our thoughts from the past, an evolution on writing, a true step towards single person dialogue and critique.

To be continued …

Why does none already exist?

Memory is just Attention over Time