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July 29th, 2020
At what point in the pursuit of a solution do you give up? This is a tricky question for many sticky reasons. Exploring possible answers can easily lead you down a rabbit hole regarding IQ, genetics, group differences, and a lot of touchy science, the lot of which isn’t interpreted with a blanket of stellar wisdom. The musings here seek to deal with none of these things, because they all disappear when we consider just a single individual. The answer to that question: when do you give up? Requires a purely personal response from individual to individual no matter what ties of biology, culture and circumstance bind or separate us.
The question is specifically, when do YOU give up?
Such a question boils down to an examination of individual attention: how much attention are you willing to pour into the issue, in order to understand it, solve it, grow from it?
This could imaginably be classified with a number. We can ask further: How much time did you spend on the most difficult problem you’ve ever solved?
This perhaps simplifies things too much. There are things that we could solve given more time, indeed that’s the entire point we’re circling, but many things just don’t warrant the attention required for a solution.
Then of course there are other things that are in line with our desires, reflective of our wants, things that we are willing to go extra miles and marathons in order to make the issue concede to our effort, to bend reality in a particular way. What determines the difference in our personal taste for problems to solve?
Unfortunately, there’s an issue of even greater pestilence: the vast majority of people don’t have free rein on the time allotted to their attention. Much of our lives, and therefore out attention is dedicated to the solution of uninteresting problems that we are under duress to solve due to a paycheque or a grade in school. Far more influential is the fact that we often don’t have the opportunity to ply our attention to conundrums of real interest.
This is perhaps the primary problem that we should whet our attention against, but alas, obligations of family and work, and mortgages, and bills rope us into ways of being that confine our attention to a specific rhythm of tasks - boring problems that need to be solved for it’s placement in a larger organization.
This routine becomes so entrenched in people that when given a long reprieve, the attentional powers of the individual are warped to the needs of dictation, and the attention has lost its ability to dictate itself. Just think: have you ever known a child, or can you even think of a child being at a total loss about how to play? Of course not: when it comes to curiosity, children are masters of attention, pulled in every direction, restless for discovery and discontent only with standing still.
Then of course children enter the school system, designed after the industrial factory, especially in terms of attention. Being on time is really a training of attention more than anything else, and being able to call out ‘present’ in response to your name at the beginning of class is mostly an act of fitting attention into a systematic set of boxes.
It begs to wonder: would people, children, teenagers be more apt to tackling interesting and meaningful problems if we weren’t rigorously training their attention with this systematic set of timed boxes, each equipped with a lacklustre subject that extends not just through school, but through most professions?
What would your attention be like if it were freed from constraints? Perhaps uncomfortable and destabilizing. But what if you’d never had your attention crushed into the iterative confines of modern life? What would have happened if you attention had enjoyed free rein uninterrupted from the beginning?
Would your ability to turn that attention upon a difficult problem be less, or would it be greater?