Cognitive Cash

images-23Fascinating story in the NY Times today on the science of concentration by the reliably interesting John Tierney. His subject is Rapt, a new book by Winifred Gallagher. The upshot: focus is like money. We each get only so much, and we can only spend it one place at a time.

“Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher said. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.” She points to calculations that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime.

“People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,” she said. “Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”

I couldn’t help but think of the Clint Eastwood-like expressions of focused concentration I saw at the talent hotbeds. If concentration is like money, then they certainly know how to spend it in the right place.