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Have you ever found yourself speaking to someone at length only to realize they haven’t heard a single thing you’ve said? As remarkable as our ability to see or hear is our capacity to _______________________. This capacity, along with the inherent need to pay attention to something, has dictated the development of the attention industries.
Every instant of every day we are overloaded with information. In fact, all complex organisms, especially those with brains, suffer from information overload. Our eyes and ears receive lights and sounds across the spectrums of visible and audible wavelengths. All told, every second, our senses transmit an estimated 11 million bits of information to our poor brains, as if a giant fiber-optic cable were plugged directly into them, firing information at full speed. In light of this, it is rather incredible that we are even capable of boredom.
Fortunately, we have a valve by which to turn the flow on or off at will. To use another term, we can both “tune in” and “tune out.” When we shut the valve, we ignore almost everything, while focusing on just one discrete stream of information out of the millions of bits coming in. In fact, we can even shut out everything external to us, and concentrate on an internal dialogue, as when we are “lost in thought.” This ability—to block out most everything, and focus—is what neuroscientists and psychologists refer to as paying attention.