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The Selective Attention Test is a famous experiment in perceptual psychology that demonstrates how strongly attention shapes our perceptions. In light of this experiment, I think it is interesting to consider the question of how much valuable information we have thrown away because we simply didn't notice it or weren't in a position where we could appreciate the importance. My intuition is that we have missed more information than we've actually absorbed.

I would like to consider the question of what is there to notice, in particular what things will provide us with value once we gain the prerequisite knowledge and habits to allow us to effectively perceive it. One example is that after I started a course on Art History, I gained the ability to notice more about possible meanings and interesting aspects of art. This is fantastic, because art is everywhere. Now that I have a basic ability to appreciate art I gain some level of growth almost for free, just from seeing art in places where I'd have gone anyway. I'm hoping to do a film studies course next year, since, like almost everyone, I watch movies anyway and want to get as much out of them as I can.

Marketing is likely another example. Someone who has studied marketing may unconsciously evaluate every ad that they see, and after seeing enough examples, gain a strong understanding of what counts as a good ad and what counts as a bad ad. Perhaps this won't be totally free, perhaps they will sometimes see something and not know why it is good until they think about it for a bit. However, this knowledge is mostly free, in that after you understand the basic principles, you gain some level of growth for a minimal investment.

I think that another more general situation like this is those activities that are a form of creation. If you try writing a few stories, then when you read a story you'll have a greater appreciation of what the author is trying to do. If you've played guitar, then when you listen to music you'll learn about the different techniques that guitarists use. If you've played sport, then you'll probably have a greater appreciation for strategy when watching a game.

Professional comedy writers are always looking for jokes. Whenever unusual or bad or unexpected happens, they note it so that they can try to find a manner of forming it into a joke later. I've heard that actors become attuned to different people's quirks, body language and manner of speaking.

The idea here is to figure out what you are doing anyway and find a method of quickly gaining a critical mass of knowledge. I believe that if you were to manage this for a number of areas, then there could be rather large long term advantages. Any thoughts on areas I've missed or methods of getting up to speed for these areas quickly?

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My attempts at writing essays and articles had an unintended side-effect: Most writing has become insufferable because of length, fluff or a host of other issues. Good writing however has become even more enjoyable than it was before.

I've started to visit lectures on European Art of XVII century, and because of tutor's brilliant experience and broad knowledge I reconsidered what is it to actually look at painting, however I am not good at visual arts by myself and I'm focusing my attention not on styles and brushstrokes but on possible meanings and explanations of creation.

I'm shocked how little people (even who consider themselves open-minded) are actually not seeing anything around them. For example at my hometown at summer there were inconceivable sunsets, I've never seen that sky can be like that, words can't covey it, so you've got to take this for granted, but nobody didn't seem to notice, nobody looked up at the skies, people just continued to hurry for their miserable consumer needs with a lot of roadrage and other mindless behavior

The mind is known to be a pattern-seeking machinery, so you always missing something for which you simply don't look

Both my birth city and my current city have amazing cloud colors and patterns. It always surprises me when I have to point it out to the locals. It's happening everyday above their heads!

I hadn't realized, until I moved back to Texas, that I missed how big the sky is here. 180 degrees of sky, with no trees, hills, mountains, and buildings in the way.

Someone who has studied marketing may unconsciously evaluate every ad that they see, and after seeing enough examples, gain a strong understanding of what counts as a good ad and what counts as a bad ad.

If anything, this may be a counterexample. Consider Comic Sans: as far as I can tell, most people actually like Comic Sans. But graphic designers hate it, and the technical reasons seem overall less significant than the tribal signal. Or consider OkTrends; they launched a data-driven project to figure out what profile pictures are better, and discovered that many of the profile pictures they thought were terrible were associated with higher success.

I think the most additional information I got was via somatics. It gives me a lot of information about how I use my body and I also observe how other people move around.

I like the idea of studying marketing for this reason.

  • Body language
  • Psychology in general
  • Folk music (everything is a remix, after all)
  • Architecture
  • Design aesthetics
  • Developmental Biology?
  • Physics?
  • Fashion?
  • Urban planing?
  • Root languages (i.e. Greek and Latin)? I can speak from experience that learning these languages is very difficult. They're complex. However, you might be able to learn a few thousand roots, but not any grammar, with a little effort.
  • Cooking and culinary arts

How did you study art history?

I'm studying at university

I don't think that "thrown away" is a good metaphor to use. It's not like your brain perceives X pieces of information but then only forwards X/Y information to some other process.

Pattern matching is a better frame. Depending on how you view at things you see different pattern.


Study botany, as in local flora. You will get a great appreciation for mosaicisity of environment. It's a wonderful feeling, when you suddenly see a white flower is actually pale violet when you come near enough, and all because it was illuminated by a shaft of light. An artistic experience.


Good point. Thank you for writing it up.

One nitpick: You probably mean that actors become attuned to quirks and body language, rather than attenuated.