I’m concentrating on too many things

My wife thinks I have an attention deficit. But that can’t be true because I can concentrate for long periods of time on playing the guitar. I think the problem is that humans have a concentration gradient, so we are often simply concentrating on different things.

Concentration is the abundance of something divided by the total volume of a mixture. If she is concentrating on me getting the cabinets finished, and I am concentrating on playing my guitar, then it doesn’t mean that I have a concentration deficit.

The cabinets may well be in the back of my mind. I’m just not concentrating on them at the moment, but the thought is somewhere in the mixture.

My wife thinks that concentration is focusing one’s attention or effort on a specific thing. But if we treat attention scientifically, then we can study it as if it were a material substance, giving it a particulate nature.

Comparing our attention in this way is far more accurate, as attention must be understood in comparison to the total volume of things to pay attention to. The cabinets are only a small portion of all the things I should concentrate on. This dilutes my ability to concentrate on any of them.

The reason all of this is so important is because it means that I can’t have an attention deficit. Obviously, I simply have too many things to pay attention to. If I had fewer things to concentrate on, I could concentrate on the guitar better. Why doesn’t she understand this?

This way of thinking has ramifications beyond my personal problems. See, in science there is a law that says that things tend to go from where they are to where they aren’t. It’s not actually said that way, but the wording is close. It’s some law in thermodynamics. Thermodynamics is the study of how things change when temperatures change.

When you heat up particles of anything, the particles move around faster. This means that they move farther from where they were before colliding with something else; and when they collide, they collide harder.

If you concentrate a bunch of things together in one place and warm them up, they tend to start moving around. Over time, they will move away from where they were concentrated. The same thing happens if you just agitate them.

This explains why many things happen in nature.

For example, oxygen moves from the air in our lungs, where there is a lot of it when we breathe in. It moves across cell membranes into blood cells where there isn’t very much oxygen left.

At the same instant, the carbon dioxide that the blood has accumulated is in higher concentration than in the fresh air in our lungs. So, carbon dioxide moves out of the blood and into the air in the lung.

The physical world is replete with similar examples of moving atoms, molecules, heat, gasses and liquids around. Wherever there is a difference between concentrations, a concentration gradient develops. In a concentration gradient, things move from where they are to where they aren’t.

Just imagine what a powerful tool this concept could be in human relations. There would be no attention deficits, just concentration gradients. The little particles of attention would all be shifting around. Given enough time, the concentration would change with things going from where they are to where they presently aren’t. The concentration on my guitar will eventually dissipate, and concentration on the cabinets will increase.

Of course, you can hurry the process along by increasing the heat and/or adding agitation. Heat and agitation cause one’s concentration to move from where it is to somewhere else. Then concentration on something else moves in to take its place.

So obviously, I do not have an attention deficit. My wife has a patience deficit. However, she does understand that a little heat and agitation might get the cabinets done sooner.

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.


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