What is pure attention?

Practical thought is obviously necessary, and will always be necessary - practical thought being thought in its right place. So it is psychological thought that is the main issue for us here.

However, in looking at the question of pure attention I still feel it is worth posing it such a way as to include all thought and memory, of any kind - that is, to ask if there can be a state of attention in which there is no thought, no thinking, no recollection, no memory, no imagination, no speculation, no recognition. This is because it is the state of attention which is significant in this inquiry, and thought is not attention.

There will always be a need for practical thought, for recognition in the ordinary sense. But if we go off into the question of practical thought we may be missing the central factor of attention itself. That is, the quality of a mind that is awake, aware, attentive, perceptive, sensitive, alert, etc. A state of mind in which memory, thought, self-interest, etc, is not the dominant factor.

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I’m happy you are interested in considering all of thought and not dividing it into practical and psychological, which, like any division, can muddy the waters and 'tis clear waters we want!

But when you include all of thought you run into the snag that attending to phenomena always requires some minimal degree of thought. Which means attention sans all thought (practical too) may not be in the cards. Attention with minimal thought otoh definitely is!

Attention with purpose vs attention without purpose. Right?

Maybe you could explain this more fully Rick?

Yes. Although, as you probably know, attention with a purpose is what K calls concentration. So the word attention is being used here to communicate a state of attention without conscious effort, motive, intentionality or directionality.

In a more loose sense, of course, the word attention can be used to talk about paying attention to something. This meaning is included in the broader meaning of attention, but ought not be limited to this.

Not so much explain, but maybe we can try and give some indication of where we think thought starts and pure attention ends :

Say I am facing a table with an apple on it. When there is absence of thought (because there happens to be only pure attention at this particular moment) do I know that there is a table in front of me with an apple on it?

I kinda get the feeling we are saying : Yes (because practical knowledge/conceptualisation/thought is ok)

Sense-perception is not thought. I trust we are not going down that rabbit-hole! :slight_smile:

But to recognise the percept-object as the word “apple”, and to associate it with one’s memory of previous experiences of apples, is clearly the activity of thought. This has its place (in practical life), but it is not what we are calling pure attention.

In a state of pure attention one can assume that it is as though one were looking at an apple for the first time.

The ‘assumption’ comes from something you’ve heard or read about how it will be if you get there etc etc. We don’t know what attention is, and may never…what we can ‘understand’ is how thought keeps the brain occupied, keeps it from being still and quiet.
Also how ‘pure attention’ becomes a goal to attain, something to ‘become’…in short, thought?

No. It is in the definition of what we have been referring to as ‘pure attention’. If the movement of psychological memory is involved in the perception, then it is not pure perception, pure attention.

Definitially this implies that the perception will be new, fresh, not bound by past experiences or recollections.

The question about whether pure attention becomes a goal or not is a different matter.

I just saw you said to Douglas: “Sense-perception is not thought.” (And I vaguely remember that we had an energetic conversation about this a year or so ago!)

Before I go into a bit more detail on perceptual cognition, I need to know what you mean by thought. Remember, we’re talking now about thought, period, not just psychological.

Maybe so but since we don’t know what it is to perceive without thought, we can’t have an acid test for it i.e. seeing an apple as if for the ‘first time’? Speaking of LSD , chances are if you ‘drop’ some you will see that :apple: as if for the first time!:crazy_face:

Yes. As you know in his book, The Doors of Perception, Huxley talked about

“seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation - the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.”

I think we can each have a sense of this though without taking LSD, just through our more modest experiences of clear seeing and perception.

  1. Thought is not its object. Our idea or image of an apple is not the actual apple.
  2. Thought is limited. Our idea or image of the apple can never be more than a limited abstraction of the whole percept “apple”.
  3. Thought is always late. Our idea or image of the apple arises from the past, meaning that our idea or image of the apple is always playing a game of catch-up with the present percept “apple”, and never arriving.

Yes and self knowledge is understanding how thought / feeling occupies the brain each moment. It’s a form of ‘sleep’, a kind of ‘darkness’? Staying with what is, our conditioning, may be the only way it can dissolve (explode)?

But all of these apply to perception too: 1) perception of an apple is not the actual apple, 2) perception of the apple is a limited sensory impression of the actual apple, 3) perception of the apple is always behind the actual apple (it takes time for the brain to process sensory input).

What distinguishes your ‘working definitions’ of thought and perception?

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I know this is the rabbit-hole that you and Douglas are fond of!, but we have in fact discussed this a dozen times before.

There is a distinction between sense-perception and thought/memory. If you like it is the distinction between the evolutionarily ancient hardware of our brain-bodies, and the evolutionarily more recent software of our thoughts and memories.

As we discussed previously this can be compared to the distinction between an actual fire and the fire we recollect through an image:

  • An actual fire burns and cooks. With an actual fire my vision will be presented with an intense perception of colour and movement. If I touch the actual fire with my hand, my hand will get burned.

  • But if I close my eyes and walk away from the fire, the fire that I have in my mind (i.e. in my memory) does not burn or cook.

So the image that I have of it in my memory is a secondary echo, a mental simulacrum of the actual fire, and thus lacks vividness, particularity, and presentness (all qualities of actual perception).

If this is a disruptive tangent, diffuses the intended direction of energy in the thread, let’s drop it or continue privately. Rabbit holes are great fun, but don’t necessarily help a discussion’s focus!

As long as we can keep with simple examples such as apples and fires! :sweat_smile:, I am completely happy to continue this line of discussion here.

But if it is truly a complicated tangent and you want to say something more about it privately, then that would be helpful too.

I understand the distinction that you describe. But there are other ways to describe the relationship between sensory perception and thought. Some neuroscientists consider all sensory perception, even the purest, to be driven and accompanied by low-level cognitive events, which may be called: thinking (depending on your definition of thinking).

So can we leave the question of whether thought is present during attention open without it hindering the exploration? Leaving questions open is good for this kind of dialogue, ja?

Just saw your latest message, yes let’s bracket this thought/attention question out of the thread and continue it (maybe, if we want) privately. :slight_smile:

When you eat an apple say, can you give full attention to what you are doing: the weight of it in your hand, the color of the skin, the smell, how you chew it and swallow, how fast or slow you are biting it etc…can you be there totally with the apple eating? Or are you thinking about stuff that has nothing to do with the apple? This is how I understand ‘attention’ /‘inattention’: In the present, aware of what you are doing, thinking, feeling…not a mystical state but definitely partaking of the mystery of an apple! :apple: :green_apple: or maybe not.