Wednesday, August 18, 2010

the function of attention and will

Video - J.G. Bennett on education.

From The Dramatic Universe, Vol II, page 74-77 By J.G. Bennett

To find our way through the bewildering maze of theories of the Will, we must turn again to the basic connection between Will and Relatedness. If Will is the source of all relationships within and beyond Existence, we should be able to discover elements of our experience that have wholly the character of relatedness. Such elements should be neither the terms of a relationship nor the events in which relationships are manifested; but the very relationship itself. We do not have to seek far, for we find the first such element in the power of attention. It is easy to see that attention is not the doer of our actions. We can act without attention and, when we have the sense of making a voluntary action, we can readily observe that our attention is detached both from the source of the initiative and from the action itself. Moreover, attention is never an action. There is no function of attention. Attention cannot be accounted for in terms of nerve-impulses, although it is undoubtedly a determining factor in deciding how the impulses shall be transmitted. Going further, we can readily establish that attention is not the same as Being. Being cannot fluctuate from moment to moment. It is what it is-the measure of the potentialities latent in a given whole. Even if we ascribe changes in total state to Being and regard their character and range of variation as a test of the quality of Being, we still find that they are not the same as attention. Of all the elements of our experience, attention is pre-eminently that which is evidence in favour of the distinction between voluntary and involuntary action. Indeed, there are no means of deciding whether a given action is voluntary or involuntary except by observing the attention that precedes and accompanies it. Whatever significance we may attach to the word `will', we can scarcely help associating it with the notion of voluntary as `distinct from involuntary actions; and so, here at last, we have found a strong argument for concluding that through the study of attention we could learn about the nature of Will.

There arises, however, an obvious question as to the connection between attention and consciousness. We connect consciousness with Being, and we might very well argue that attention is no more than the focussing of consciousness. But focussing a lens is a different act from the passing of light through it. We can, moreover, readily verify from observation that the laws that govern attention are quite different from those that apply to the states of consciousness. For example, attention relates, but consciousness is what it is, in and for itself. Attention can be directed, but consciousness has neither direction nor place. Consciousness is never experienced as voluntary or intentional. Consciousness is a quality of existence. Attention does not exist; it is neither an extensive nor an intensive magnitude. Moreover, it is not rel!lted to sensitivity. In other words, it IS not one of the three states of hyle nor any combination of them. There is no such thing as `energy of attention'. Attention can direct energies, but it is not itself an energy. Consciousness, in all its manifestations, is a form of energy. There are as many levels of consciousness as there are levels of energy. The liberation of energy of a given quality is accompanied by a corresponding state of consciousness, even without the intervention of attention-which often follows rather than precedes the change of consciousness.

Consciousness fluctuates-sometimes under the direction of attention, sometimes quite independently of it. On the other hand, attention does not necessarily depend upon consciousness. We can readily find examples of unconscious attention-when we perform a series of connected actions that depend upon attention, but where neither the actions themselves nor the attention directing them are in the sphere of our consciousness. – In short, we may say that attention appears to be a power that is neither an activity nor an energy. The word `power' is here to be understood as that which directs energy and activity, but is different from either. We have to distinguish between powers that establish relationship-i.e., triads-and forces that produce action, i.e., dyads. Also a power must be distinguished from a state of being-tetrad-that carries its own form of order and organization. A power is more abstract than a state of being, but more concrete than a force. These powers are properties of the Will.

The power of choice and the power of decision are two further properties of the Will that, although closely connected With attentlon, are nevertheless distinct from it. These powers are connected with the property we have called ableness-to-be, and we might be tempted to refer all such powers to the hyparchic regulator and, hence, to regard choice as a functional activity. This would strike at the root of any doctrine of Value, for evidently choice and decision would be no more than reflex mechanisms unless they derived from a discrimination of values. We choose that which at the given moment appears to us to be the most `worth while', the most `interesting', the most `desirable'; in a word, the most `valuable' course of action. It is precisely because choice and decision are properties of the Will that they can relate us to a system of values. If they were functional only, they could do no more than bind us to facts. This is the argument of Plato's Gorgias, and it has not been bettered.

Here it is necessary to observe that the powers of attention, choice and decision are exercised by men far more rarely than might be supposed from the frequency with which they appear in discussion about human behaviour. We do attend, choose and decide: but It IS very seldom that our choice and our decision are voluntary. On the contrary, we have the paradox-contrary to Kant's supposition-that the Will in man is scarcely ever free, and that the evil state of man results not from choice but from failure to choose. Nearly all that man does is the result of the operation of laws over which he has no control. This is so mainly because he does not understand them. Only seldom, and then nearly always in trivial situations, do a man's actions stem from the exercise of his will-power.

The connection between Will as Power and Will as the Principle of Relatedness is not hard to establish. Attention is a relationship, and so are decision and choice. Attention cannot be described as a dyad of `observer and observed', for it is an element that is independent of both and yet relevant to both. The considerations put forward in the Introduction regarding the nature of relatedness are exemplIfied in every manifestation of Will.

It remains to consider the connection, traced in Chapter 4, between Will and Understanding. First, we may note that understanding is a relationship, and not an activity nor a state of consiousness. Secondly, understanding is effectual only through the exercise of the powers of attention, choice and decision. Unless related by the power of attention, a man's understanding is useless to him. Unconscious choice is nothing but a change in the direction of functional activity. A decision that is not based upon understanding cannot be ascribed to the Will. These assertions are not self-evident, but they can be verified if we observe that all activity is the operation of laws. It very seldom happens that all the forces at work are contained within a given whole or system. In the case of human activity, a man is acted upon and reacts. Will is then only the operation of laws external to the man's own consciousness and being. When he understands what is happening in these regions of his being, he acquires the possibility of voluntary action; that is, of bringing the operation of the laws, at least in part, within the sphere of his own will. Thus the powers are present, but the exercise of the powers is possible only if there is understanding. Hence we may conclude-and very naturally-that the subjective aspect of Will consists in the exercise of powers, and that their exercise derives from Understanding.