Focusing and how it relates to our human learning system.

Please first read the summary of this in The Habitual Ruts of Secrurity and Pleasure.

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. We even have to concentrate : to consciously and actively focus. To coordinate our bodies, senses, and minds.

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 bicycles and kicking footballs; and with our minds to think and remember. Without focusing we can do nothing, learn nothing, and remember 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.

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.

Development of Language

Humans were successful, because we developed memory systems with our ability to focus on abstract words and symbols. We learnt to understand what's happening in terms of the interrelationship between independent focus points, 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. We learnt to process, collect, and communicate ideas. And we soon learnt to repeat an amazing amount of tricks.

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 marvelous 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 is sensible. And such habitual ruts are a successful way to live with purpose, and to get what we want. Even if an habitual rut, a 'memory repetition', 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. Having a sense of purpose is all to do with having focus points in life.

How we Balance our Modern Life
In our leisure time, we balance our mundane daily focused work with art, music and dance, where we focus with our imagination. Sport, where we focus on the ball. Even entertainment, where we focus on the screen, or on an actor who is focused on entertaining us. And there's nothing wrong with all these, the problem is that we never just sit back and be.

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. But, in itself, this is also a positive influence.

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, doing something which hasn't happened yet. The main difficulty 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.

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. But it's the nature of repetitions to keep repeating, so even with pleasant memories, 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 Chapter Three

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.

As human culture developed beliefs in Gods, they became the central priority for our sense of reality, identity, purpose, and even hope. They became our central focus point. But as modern man explored his abilities with abstract thought, we started questioning our beliefs.

Nowadays, 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.

Please continue with Beliefs and Their Confirmation

Extended Chapter Two Index: Civilisation's Habitual Ruts