For many of us the concept of attention may have rather negative connotations. At school we were told to pay attention, making us all too aware that it was not possible to listen to the teacher while at the same time being lost in more interesting thoughts. Neither does it seem possible to listen effectively to two different things at the same time. How many parents with young children would love to be able to do that! One could be excused for feeling that evolution has let us down by failing to enable us to process more than one thing at a time. If that is how you feel, then this course might add insult to injury, because it will cite evidence that we do in fact process a good deal of the material to which we are not attending. Why, you might ask, do we go to the trouble of analysing incoming information, only to remain ignorant of the results? To attempt an answer it is necessary to consider a range of issues, stretching from registration of information by the sense organs, through the processes of perception, to the nature of awareness and consciousness. Attention is a broad and intriguing topic. That breadth makes it very difficult to offer a simple definition of the term, so I will not attempt to do so until the end of the course.
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