The Effects Of Attention


centers upon stands out sharp and clear in consciousness. Whether it be

a bit of memory, an air-castle, a sensation from an aching tooth, the

reasoning on an algebraic formula, a choice which we are making, the

setting of an emotion--whatever be the object to which we are attending,

that object is illumined and made to stand out from its fellows as the

ne prominent thing in the mind's eye while the attention rests on it.

It is like the one building which the searchlight picks out among a city

full of buildings and lights up, while the remainder are left in the

semilight or in darkness.

ATTENTION MEASURES MENTAL EFFICIENCY.--In a state of attention the mind

may be likened to the rays of the sun which have been passed through a

burning glass. You may let all the rays which can pass through your

window pane fall hour after hour upon the paper lying on your desk, and

no marked effects follow. But let the same amount of sunlight be passed

through a lens and converged to a point the size of your pencil point,

and the paper will at once burst into flame. What the diffused rays

could not do in hours or in ages is now accomplished in seconds.

Likewise the mind, allowed to scatter over many objects, can accomplish

but little. We may sit and dream away an hour or a day over a page or a

problem without securing results. But let us call in our wits from their

wool-gathering and buckle down to it with all our might, withdrawing

our thoughts from everything else but this one thing, and

concentrating our mind on it. More can now be accomplished in minutes

than before in hours. Nay, things which could not be accomplished at

all before now become possible.

Again, the mind may be compared to a steam engine which is constructed

to run at a certain pressure of steam, say one hundred and fifty pounds

to the square inch of boiler surface. Once I ran such an engine; and

well I remember a morning during my early apprenticeship when the

foreman called for power to run some of the lighter machinery, while my

steam gauge registered but seventy-five pounds. Surely, I thought, if

one hundred and fifty pounds will run all this machinery, seventy-five

pounds should run half of it, so I opened the valve. But the powerful

engine could do but little more than turn its own wheels, and refused

to do the required work. Not until the pressure had risen above one

hundred pounds could the engine perform half the work which it could at

one hundred and fifty pounds. And so with our mind. If it is meant to do

its best work under a certain degree of concentration, it cannot in a

given time do half the work with half the attention. Further, there will

be much which it cannot do at all unless working under full pressure.

We shall not be overstating the case if we say that as attention

increases in arithmetical ratio, mental efficiency increases in

geometrical ratio. It is in large measure a difference in the power of

attention which makes one man a master in thought and achievement and

another his humble follower. One often hears it said that genius is but

the power of sustained attention, and this statement possesses a large

element of truth.