Welcome to Part 3 of a 6 part series called “What is a Wandering Mind?”

A Wandering Mind on Time-Attention

A major difficulty for those with wandering minds is having to explain it. Exploring the myriad descriptions from either professional or layperson, the multiple seemingly conflicting characteristics, and more can leave us feeling even more bewildered than where we started.

In this series, I present a model to help distill the features to a single major source. By recognizing a simplicity behind the complexity, we often find better means of understanding and even engaging.

In the last newsletter, I suggested that the problems of some wandering minds could stem from a type of myopia—a myopia of “time-attention”:

A wandering mind can stem from a myopia of time-attention.

While we looked at myopia then, we will now consider “time-attention”. What is meant by the phrase “time-attention”? Certainly, you have an idea of what time and attention are about, but what’s with that hyphen?

It relates to a story from high school. Years ago, my physics teacher said something that had a deep impact on me. He believed that momentum was a more fundamental universal entity than either mass or velocity.

At first glance, that seems like a silly sentence with little meaning. But let’s look at it…

The equation is:

mass x velocity = momentum

The reflexive idea I had was that we take some mass, take some velocity, stick them together and we get momentum, right?

He was saying, no, that’s not the case. Instead, we have momentum, and we artificially take it apart into mass and velocity to understand it better.

momentum = mass x velocity

Even though the equation is the same, our understanding can be quite different. Taking things apart does not necessarily mean that we are getting closer to an understanding. We may actually be distancing ourselves.

What if we have the same happening with time and attention? In other words:

Time does not exist without attention.

Attention does not exist without time.

They are a single entity that we have taken apart to try to understand them better, and have inadvertently concluded that they are separate.

For this reason, I hyphenate “time-attention”.

We sense time-attention much like we have senses of vision, smell, etc. Instead of using our eyes or our nose, we sense this medium through our working memory, that mental worktable that lets us understand and craft the moment.

In other words, those of us with wandering minds experience both time and attention differently, having a myopia of conscious awareness. We experience the present moment traveling through time in-depth but with a limited range. Past, present, and future are constricted together but are richly experienced, whether enjoyably or painfully.

In Part 4, we’ll look at how this particular view can actually create many of the symptoms wandering minds run into, whether they’ve arrived through insatiable curiosity, ADHD, anxiety, sleep deprivation, or otherwise.