Focusing and how it relates to our human learning system.

Please first read the summary The Human Survival Strategy. If you already sympathise with these ideas, then the critical essay to read in this section is Displacement Activity.

This present essay is a detailed examination of focusing and how it relates to our human learning system.

Part One : The Individual Development

Human babies don't have sufficient instinctive talents to survive. First we have to learn – and to learn, first we have to focus. To learn and remember, we are often told that we need to concentrate : to consciously and actively focus.

These days we encourage focusing from the earliest age to give children a good start in life. We learn to focus with our eyes and ears to read, write, draw and listen; with our bodies to coordinate riding bicylces and kicking footballs; and with our minds to think and remember. Without focusing we can do nothing and learn nothing.

To learn we often have to repeat the things we do and know, sometimes parrot fashion. Repetition confirms, and makes knowledge and actions automatic and secure. To repeat we have to focus on memories. Focusing and learnt habitual repetitive ruts are essential for our survival.

It is an efficient self supporting system. And with every new step the focusing-learning system confirmed itself as successful.

Hands with opposable thumbs, and a larynx with vocal cords would have been useless without focusing. Even our larger brain would be useless without focusing.

Humans were successful, because we developed memory systems with our ability to focus on abstract words and symbols. We learnt to process, collect, and communicate ideas. And we soon learnt to repeat an amazing amount of tricks.

Development of Language

We understand what's happening in terms of the relationship between subjects and objects, things which do and are done to. And the words, grammatical constructions and memory systems we developed, to describe and understand the practical world, were very successful in mastering that material world.

Focused thinking was the way we learnt how to make fire and wheels. More recently focusing and focused thought gave us houses of brick, peanut butter and deep freezers. And all the marvellous inventions and developments and creativity of civilisation, developed from our ability to focus with our senses and our minds. This system of doing and thinking is deeply confirmed in all of us, both individually and culturally, because it gets things done.

Modern civilisation has successfully confirmed several billion times that focusing – learning, memory, abstract thought, and repeating the habitual ruts of the past – works successfully for our survival.

Emotional Development

This practical learning system we have is the same one we use for feelings and emotions. And feelings and emotions also develop habitual ruts.

Focusing doesn't automatically lead to emotionally learnt, habitual ruts. It's only when we feel, see, hear, smell, taste, touch or think something which causes pleasure or displeasure that it sometimes – depending on the degree of pleasure or displeasure – leads to wanting. But then, once we want something, we will repeatedly focus on it in our memory, and it becomes an habitual rut.

We repeat what is pleasurable. We avoid repeating what is unpleasurable. This seems sensible. And such habitual ruts are also basically, a successful way to live with purpose, find more pleasure, security, or whatever we want. Even if an habitual rut, a 'memory repetition', a focus point, is unpleasurable it gives us a sense of direction and a basis to compare, evaluate and guide other experiences. It gives us a direction in life.

How we Balance our Modern Life
Our culture has some valuable balances for our mundane daily focused work. Art, music and dance, where we focus with our imagination. Sport, where we focus on the ball. Even entertainment, where we focus on someone else who is focused on entertaining us.

All we ever do, is to do with focusing.

There are exceptions, the occasional moments when we are amazed at the stars or looking at the ocean, but when they happen we hardly recognise why or how.

Self-perpetuating Feedback Loops
So, when focusing causes pleasure, it leads to wanting – and wanting automatically leads to focusing on what we want.

This is a self supporting, self-perpetuating feedback loop.

When we want something, we will periodically remember it, focusing on it in an abstract form, until we do it, or get it. Then the focusing may stop for a while – except as a 'self-confirming memory' – till the next time we want it. But that's efficient. And even after we invented writing, and could write down lists of 'next things to do', it might have lost it's fun, but it was still efficient and the system worked well ... so it still all seems a very sensible way of doing things.

The Apparently Irrelevant Disadvantages of Selective Focusing

There are a few irrelevant side effects in the system, but these don't seem vital to our survival.

When we focus on something specific, we directly inhibit our general awareness of the many other things which are happening now. Selective attention, is always a dissociation from the wholeness of our sense of reality. Focusing on a girl i drive into a tree. But this is not felt as a draw-back to 'focusing', we interpret the problem as a lack of concentration on priorities.

We focus on where we're going or what we want. So, focusing is essentially, inevitably, not entirely now and in the present moment, it's a relationship, a direction, a purpose.

Not being now, but being on the way, is what focusing does, it was built that way, it's going somewhere which is not here. And if we want a life with a sense of purpose, if we plan wisely focusing can lead to greatly increased opportunities for pleasure. The main problem it involves is on the level of selecting priorities, because doing everything which we want to do is impossible.

So, focusing worked best for practical things in the material world; but this same focusing learning system seems to work successfully for emotions, wants and pleasure.

And there seems to be nothing basically wrong or critically inefficient for survival, connected with having an emotional content to memories, and thus behavioural habitual ruts, aims, ambitions, and wants.

And focusing and focused abstract thinking, has been so very successful in our human development. It is so confirmed in all our thinking and learning, that we can't imagine another way of looking at anything, understanding anything, or doing anything.

The Problem Is – We Can't Stop Thinking

The basic inefficiency with the focusing-learning-wanting system, is that the feedback loop – "focusing → wanting → focusing" – repeats under its own momentum. This causes the persistent repetition of ideas and feelings for years – long after the actual stimulus is gone. This is especially problematic when the automatically repeating memories are unpleasant ones.

It's the nature of repetitions to keep repeating, so we can't stop thinking. And as we grow older and repetitions and memories accumulate, we get dull, either contented, maybe happy, maybe stressed, bored, or scared, but stuck in our self-perpetuating habitual ruts with our fixed behaviour.

The eternal abstract chatter in our minds, the continual rethinking and reconfirmation of our ideas and beliefs, and ideas about what we want from life, becomes in itself an habitual rut, and this leads directly to a lack of actual life, and inevitably closed mindedness.

This is similar to something Buddha already explained, and i discuss this in Part 3

Part Two : Beliefs, Ideas, and Opinions

But even these self-perpetuating feeling and thinking habitual ruts wouldn't be a critical problem, ... if only everyone else confirmed our opinions, ideas and beliefs.

Collectively in human culture, any trace of the original animal sense of belonging is long gone; and now, we have even lost the unquestioned beliefs of our tribe. We have lost the mutual confirmation of a social group, a group of at least 30 people who all believe, unquestioningly, in the same things.

Our beliefs are insecure in a way no humans in any previous culture, have ever experienced, or even imagined, and so regardless of our modern material security, we are all still very insecure. ... and this is causing pain and suffering in a way that no animal or early human could ever imagine.

And we are overcompensating with the only thing we know, our species' tried and tested survival strategy, our culture's habitual rut – focusing.

And nowadays, anyone with a heart must focus on the greed and egoism which is causing so much suffering on our planet. So, there seems no way out of this vicious circle, in modern times our survival seems inextricably connected with, and dependent on focusing.

But for all other species, survival is dependent on the balanced use of all of their sensory abilities.

The point isn't to stop focusing on climate change, or a great spirit, or any other noble focus point we have. The point is to balance it by actively using our panoramic senses.

Modern man has inadvertently suppressed part of how we always sensed the world around us. Our modern training of focused selective attention, with its brilliant ability to handle abstract thinking, has completely overwhelmed our panoramic way of sensing.

We are all suffering from Displacement Activity. Displacement Activity is the illness animals suffer when they feel insecure, they compensate with habitual but inappropriate activities.


In the present cultural meltdown, our culture's continual and exclusive over emphasis and training for focused sensing and focused thinking, – with its inevitable development and dependance on beliefs, ideas, and opinions – leads slowly, but inevitably, to insecurity, dullness, and division.

And i see a clear way out of the chaos from a completely different perspective. And the fact that i can describe our human development without even mentioning it, shows how irrelevant it has been … up till now.

The Panorama Sense

All the time we are only looking at life, from only one perspective: focusing. We have forgotten how all other animals and early humans needed to use all their senses, to perceive all of the world (or as much as possible), in order to survive.

Please continue with Beliefs and Their Confirmation

Back to Part 2 : Habitual Focusing