what is attention?
the typical view of attention is of a flashlight, where the light shines in front of us, and it is the center that is illuminated and this illuminated spot is "attention". This is a nice view as far as it goes, but it presupposes a "looker" and it also presupposes a world external to the "looker" which is illuminated by the "looker's" attention.
Can we describe attention in a way that is more compatible with the simpler view that there are only contents of awareness?
When we talk about attention, what do we say?
What do you see? Do you notice the little princess first? What about her crazy dress? Or perhaps you notice the fellow standing on the stairs in the rear? As you look at this picture, does your attention move around?
Your eyes will naturally saccade around the picture, and this picture does a good job of that. Do you see how the small child's foot is on the dog? Did I bring that to your attention? How long did it take you to "see" it? If you didn't see it, why not? I didn't notice it at first.
Tthe whole picture and it's elements are in your field of vision. You see the whole picture. When you look at the picture there is nothing hidden from you. So why did I (and perhaps you) not notice the child putting his foot on the dog? Because my attention was elsewhere in the picture.
When I noticed the foot on the dog, when I "become aware of it", that is when I attended to it. Does that mean, at that moment, is when I "saw" the foot on the dog? No, although I would normally say that the moment I "noticed" the foot on the dog is when I saw it. That IS when it came to my attention. That is when I paid attention to it. That is when it entered my "conscious" or attentional awareness.
This is the normal way we talk about these kinds of things. But to be very clear: It's not that the foot on dog was outside my experience at all. The foot on the dog was right there staring me in the face. I just didn't notice it.
And what does that mean? It means that I had not associated the "foot on the dog" with my experience of self, and with my experience of seeing Las Meninas.
The way we speak about attention is always structured to associate one experience to the experience of self. To say: "I see the child's foot on the dog. I did not notice it before." Is to make an association between that particular image, and to the self. This "noticing" also creates an association between the attentional relationship itself as having a before and after. As in, Now I notice that the foot is on the dog. Attention orders in time the experience of sight.
If I ask you to describe how the child in Las Meninas has his foot on the dog, how would you do it? Would you say, he is kicking the dog? Petting the dog with his foot? Resting his foot on the dog? Or would the most effective way be to show me with your own foot? What sorts of actions come to mind when you think about describing to a person how the child's foot is on the dog? Those actions are "attentional" because you are probably thinking about how you would do what the child does.
Attention is awareness (or an experience) of some object associated to the awareness (or experience) of self.
In the obverse, experiences which do not make associations to self, expand awareness. Meditation is focusing awareness, or attention on one object or experience, such as breath, or the saying of a word. In the early practice of meditation attention shifts to all sorts of other experiences and their relationship to self. Pains, discomforts, memories, thoughts that all orient to self, to the representation of self. But as efforts in meditation progress, there is either an expansion of or a disappearance of, the self associated representation. In these experiences, attention to one object (e.g. the breath) expands awareness. Attentional awareness dissolves or expands in a revealing or an expansion of the objects of awareness. The association of objects to the self (which is an act of representation making) ceases, and the subject of focus, the breath, the word, the sensation of things becomes... unmediated.
Language which describes attention or attentional contents is language that necessarily includes self. Attentional language also tends to form self-narrative or self-episodic structures.
In some language and experiences (such as flow, or ecstasy, or euphoria) the content of attention becomes the self. This quality of association to self is fluid. Attention changes what we think of ourselves. ** see how essays affect theories of self. These kinds of experience show how attention is the awareness of experience contents as related to the representation we call the self. And attention can modify our representation of self just as our representation of self modifies the content of our attentional awareness.
Objects of attention are no different than the objects of a narrative or the objects of an episode. The representational objects we attend in narratives and episodes direct our attention. Attenuated representations (objects) in narratives and episodes lose their association to self, and to the episode or narrative.
When a person attends to something other than itself, it identifies the other object with or as the self, ie the concept of self has expanded beyond the self focused. We do this kind of identification in stories. We identify with the hero for instance. The hero is not the self.
For an AI to have attention, it must have a representation of self. The act of concurrent representation making associated to self is the act of attention. More simply, attention is representation making of an object to the self. In direct terms, it is simply asserting: (that is) "mine".