Attention and Affection

When I recently stumbled accross an article on Skinner-marketing by Bill Davidow, one thought stuck with me : We direct our attention to that which gives us feedback. We develop habits of activity with regard of receiving constant feedback. We may generalize this by saying : We attend to things that give us feedback, and it is not important whether this feedback is positive or negative. In case of doubt we rather stick to routines and interactions that give us negative feedback than being out of the loop of feedback at all.

This reminded me of something Sherry Turkle had said 2012 in an interview about the interrelation between humans and robots : “We nurture what we love but we also love what we nurture.” With this she explained the strange affection people develop when they come to nurture artifical beings like Tamagotchis or more advanced machines, e.g., those desigend to help old people to cope with their loneliness.

So two things should be seen in conjunction :

  1. We stick to things that give us feedback, regardless of whether this feedback is positive or negative
  2. We nurture what we love, and we love what we nurture

It may explain, e.g., why people stay in “unhealthy” or “abusive” relationships. It’s not because of some childhood trauma, some deficiency on our part that comes into play to form a “co-dependency”. Rather, it’s the combined effects that we even prefer negative feedback over none at all, and that we develop affection towards what we care for. It means that we are drawn to what gives us feedback (or attention), and we react with affection to what gives us attention. (Affection can thus be a simple consequence of attention. It can be aroused. Which is pretty obvious to seducers.)

In a sense, the nurturing-aspect (#2 above) is a special case or a specific feature of the attention-aspect (#1 above). But in the case of harmful relationships they are rather supplemental and mutual reinforcing, in that via #2 something like “meaning” is created and bestowed upon the relationship and the decision to stay in it.

We can give feedback to ourselves. And given the interplay between attention and affection, it may result in some self-aggrandizement. Not because of our wickedness but because we love what we nurture (and vice versa). It may be this phenonmonon that is at work when we see how prolonged therapy leads to a client’s sentiment of “freedom” when in fact he is just without any further human interchange. I guess it is not too overstated to claim that therapy, even if it sets them “free”, makes people rather lonely. (At least of those I’ve seen having undergone yearlong therapy, most of them are without a relationship, very self-centered, and lonely.)

I guess the same is true with most disciplines from the area of spirituality and esoteric. The results are mostly a hardening or strengthening of ego, no a losening of it. This phenomenon is often called “spiritual materialism”.

The difference worth mentioning is that we can attach to ourselves or attach to something other than ourselves. The first produces ego, the latter community. We should thus be careful what and whom we pay attention to, and what or whom we care about.

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