An interesting description of what consciousness is

I’m reading The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, by Daniel J. Levitin, at the moment. I’m early on in the book, but it’s already been very good. If you enjoyed Getting Things Done and other things of that nature, you’ll enjoy this one. It looks at how the mind works and why approaches like GTD work. I wanted to share a couple of excerpts I’ve found interesting so far.

Consciousness itself is not a thing, and it is not localizable in the brain. Rather, it’s simply the name we put to ideas and perceptions that enter the awareness of our central executive, a system of very limited capacity that can generally attend to a maximum of four or five things at a time

This one was good, because it talks through some more recent findings about how the brain works. The book mentions that we often have this idea in our heads that certain thoughts happen in different areas of the brain. It turns out a lot of thoughts actually happen amongst different networks within the brain. I’ll need to keep reading to really understand this, but this paragraph about consciousness struck me as being helpful.

To recap, there are four components in the human attentional system: the mind-wandering mode, the central executive mode, the attentional filter, and the attentional switch, which directs neural and metabolic resources among the mind-wandering, stay-on-task, or vigilance modes.

This one appealed to my more logical side. There seems to be four main components to how your brain manages what you’re paying attention to. Included in these four things, is actually the mind-wandering mode, which is that state that occurs when you’re not working directly on a task. Whilst we’re often derisive about this mode, it’s actually crucially important. We can’t possibly focus all the time and so the mind-wandering state is very important for recovering energy and maintaining a broad awareness.

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