AGREEING TO MY EXPERIENCE. I posted here on Jonah Lehrer’s insights into Virginia Woolf. Lehrer concluded that: “Woolf realized that the self emerges via the act of attention.” Sam Anderson tells how Winifred Gallagher, the author of RAPT, a book about the control of attention, is able to ignore the sound of jackhammers outside her apartment window. “Gallagher stresses that because attention is a limited resource….our moment-by-moment choice of attentional targets determines, in a very real sense, the shape of our lives.” The epigraph to Gallagher’s book is from William James: “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” I think this is an empowering idea.

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  1. Elmer says:

    Lack of attention to something unpleasant could simply be due to familiarity. We lived in a house where a bedroom window was quite close to elevated railroad tracks. When I slept in that room, I didn’t notice the trains. Visitors did, but only on the first night.
    In the early seventies, a steel mill was charged with air pollution, under a new state statute. The defense lawyers worried about the three times daily that the coke ovens were opened and truly terrible emissions occurred. There was no way at the time to reduce these emissions without closing the mill. The steel company had been almost able to eliminate the second most important source of pollution by installing 5 years before an “electrostatic precipitator” that was almost 100% effective in getting rid of the red dust that steel-making had previously produced. About one day a year the precipitator went haywire and for that day the town was again covered with red dust. Under the new statute, community testimony about harm was permmitted.
    All the witnesses complained bitterly about the days when the red dust covered their windshields. None of the witnesses mentioned the dangerous clouds of black smoke that were emitted three times every day. (Was there some sense that the red dust obviously was controllable, but the black particles could not be prevented?) Elmer

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