I can gather empirical data for the idea of "To love is to value" by just bringing to consciousness the fact that the people on this site share my value that idea matters and that they pursue ideas by refusing to avoid difficult questions. In doing so, I feel warm fuzzies toward the various people that I've interacted with.
How do I do the same with the concept of focus? What axiomatic concepts is it built on? How do I keep it from being a floating abstraction?
The question, "How does one gather empirical data for the concept of 'focus'," can be restated more succinctly as: "How does man form the concept of 'focus'?"
The answer is discussed by Ayn Rand in ITOE, Chapter 4, titled "Concepts of Consciousness." 'Focus' is a conept of consciousness, as is 'perception', 'evaluation', 'emotion', 'thought' (or 'think'), 'reminiscence', and 'imagination'. ITOE explains (Chap. 4):
Directly or indirectly, every phenomenon of consciousness is derived from one's awareness of the external world. Some object, i.e., some content, is involved in every state of awareness.... It is only in relation to the external world that the various actions of a consciousness can be experienced, grasped, defined or communicated. Awareness is awareness of something.
In The Ayn Rand Lexicon, under the topic of "Focus," Ayn Rand describes 'focus' as follows:
The act of focusing one's consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality -- or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.
To grasp the meaning of 'focus,' therefore, one needs to observe his mind in action in regard to some content, ask himself what he is doing with that content, and ask whether or not he is acting (mentally) in a state of "full, active, purposefully directed awarness of reality," or merely letting "himself drift in a semiconscious daze" (etc.).
Note that the opposite of focus is "drift" (or cognitive passivity). To grasp the meanings of 'focus' and 'drift', one needs to collect introspective evidence, from a variety of different types of mental content, as to whether his state of mind in response to that content was closer to 'focus' or to 'drift', as those terms are described in the Lexicon excerpt and similar passages in the literature of Objectivism. A particularly detailed discussion of focus appears in OPAR, Chapter 2, "Sense Perception and Volition," subsection titled, "The Primary Choice as the Choice to Focus or Not." These descriptions by Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff only indicate what to look for; one still needs to look for it oneself, in one's own personal "laboratory" -- his own mind and its various types of content.
One also needs to be completely open and honest in one's self-examination. Complete honesty with oneself is an essential expression of mental focus, and is essential to understanding 'focus' and anything else.
There is another possible response of a mind to its content: selective disfocusing, effort directed at "blanking out" some particularly unpleasant cognitive connection that one seeks to avoid rather than understand. 'Focus' means remaining open and honest about whatever one is beginning to grasp, wherever it may lead, instead of unfocusing his mind, either in the form of pervasive cognitive passivity or in the form of selective "turning away" from something that is "bothering" one's mind and needs to be understood more clearly. For additional explanation, refer to the Lexicon topic of "Introspection."
Yet another way to put it is to follow the oft-heard advice to "just relax" when one is in a state of conflicted, paralyzing tension. That may sound like drifting, but there is a crucial difference between the kind of mental openness involved in focusing and the totally passive mental relaxation that characterizes drift: in a state of focus, one is actively integrating whatever one observes. In drift, one is totally and thoroughly passive, like a blank stare, integrating nothing, probably daydreaming and almost sleeping. OPAR mentions: "An example [of drift] would be a drunk who has not yet passed out." (p. 57)
I hasten to add that "daydreaming" isn't necessarily always indicative of drift; it can often be a very effective means of relaxing and being mentally open long enough to find out "what's really on one's mind" (i.e., listening to one's subconscious), and to begin to do some serious integrating of one's random glimpses and snatches of vague thoughts and experiences. The key is how long it lasts, whether it distracts one from the need to act in a timely manner in response to other pressing issues, and whether or not it serves some cognitive purpose (if only to rest for awhile after a period of intense effort) that one may have set in advance or may identify along the way. Sooner or later one needs to "commit" to some definite, productive purpose and pursue it. But if one has been working toward one's goal for some time and is ready to rest and relax for awhile, activities like daydreaming (within limits), listening to music (to enjoy, not necessarily to analyze), and so on can be very helpful. Simply going for a walk can be relaxing, as well, and can be done in a state of full focus without great mental tension. (See OPAR, p. 58.)
A further illustration of unfocusing one's mind is the process of falling asleep. One simply closes one's eyes, totally relaxes oneself physically as well as mentally, and probably daydreams. Before long, if one's body is physically ready for sleep, one's daydreams become real dreams. (Young infants often have to learn how to do that. They may try to fight their bodily tiredness until they are simply too exhausted to fight any longer.)
One can also try to remember whatever one can from the moments when one was just beginning to wake up from a state of sleep. One may find that one was perceptually aware of light and sounds even while still asleep with eyes closed, but then at some point one is suddenly aware of where one is, perhaps what time it is, and what, if anything, one needs to do. In cases of mental or physical stress, one may also realize that one is now awake, but cannot quite recall where one is (if one has been traveling, for instance, and sleeping in hotel rooms night after night after crossing many time zones). One may find that it takes considerable effort and concentration at first, as one continues to wake up more fully, to realize what day it is and what one's intial agenda for the day needs to be.
answered Jun 26 '12 at 03:20
Ideas for Life ♦