Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Your Attention: Is it turned on?

There is a photograph. It is of a vulture waiting for a sundanese girl, crouched on the ground, as if in prayer, to die. It has been passed around the world millions of times, you cannot see it without being affected; it's creator killed himself, although there is debate as to whether the picture was the cause or not.

There is a theory. In quantum theory, the act of observing a particle determines whether it is decayed or not. The act of placing attention on something changes the item being attended.

Our attention, a biological process documentable in the cortex, changes the world simply by being directed. I did a paper on "The Effects of Neural Plasticity on Deaf Persons over time", in which I noticed that congenitally deaf people had two points of attention, which they could control seperately. Typically people only have one, which is defined primarily by memory. We remember what we payed attention to but what we recall later. Even subconsciously, we pay attention to something. If you daydream, you will still show a preferential treatment in recall towards what the main focus of your attention was.

It is, unfortunatly, not only what your eyes are pointing at; this is demonstrated by a simple experiment. Fix your eyes on the period at the end of this sentance. Now, read the words around it, without moving your eyes. It should be possible, since even blind people, or people without eyes, are capable of fixing their attention.

This is, unfortunatly, also the extent of our knowledge about this elusive process. The actual mechanics of attention are unknown. People, even without seeing, can tell when someone is watching them, with a disturbingly high accuracy rate. Is it pheromones? It is unlikely to be eye contact. Perhaps electromagnetic disruptions. There are computors now that respond to thoughts; you focus your attention on a sliding bar with two lights on it and imagine pulling the lights apart, and they move. What is the nature of the process at work here?

I think it is likely to be electromagnetic disruptions. This, however, makes me wonder, can a computor pay attention to something? If it can, how will this affect our views of "humanity"? Will a computor be human? My personal beliefs regarding sentience and the nature of humanity is that if you apply a personal moral code, with guidelines, then you are human. This shows a higher understanding of one's actions, the motivations, consequences, and ethical ramifications therein. If a computor becomes able to pay attention, and thus become self-aware, for it is only a matter of time before a source of attention turns to itself, will it be classified as human? Perhaps an animal first?

This is not a fully-developed idea, as I have been busily training people, but this was too interesting not to write on.

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