The Wandering Mind Series

The Myopia of a Wandering Mind

“What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just get started?”

A wandering mind already faces enough difficulties. Having to explain it is just one more on the pile.

How do we tell someone why we struggle focusing when, for example there is no deadline? Often, we are left stuttering, unable to come up with a way to describe it to them or even ourselves.

Could there be a simple view to help explain just what makes for a wandering mind? In the last post, I hinted at that possibility. With such a complex presentation of struggling focus, easy distractibility, acute curiosity, and a powerful flow in the right conditions, it would be wonderful to find a simple model behind it all.

In this 6 part series, I’ll be describing a metaphor that, while not explaining everyone’s troubles, it does help to ground thoughts in a model. In fact, I’ve found it a useful guide to build the Waves of Focus course which has helped students to be less dependent on deadlines, more on top of their work and play, and overall feel less stressed.

It will take a few steps but I promise it will all come together into a neat package by the end.

The gist is this…

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

Over the next few posts, I’ll break down this sentence, starting here with “myopia”.

A wandering mind, and so many of its troubles, start with a type of myopia, in other words, a near-sightedness.

Myopia is often simply described: the lens of the eye is curved in such a way that one can only see a certain distance. Science texts describe a cone of light going through the lens, focusing somewhere in front of the retina:

With glasses, one “corrects” the vision so that the rays of light land directly on the retina so that it looks like this:

That’s, unfortunately, where most descriptions stop. It lacks the experience of myopia, and that’s where we’ll find what we need.

I’m particularly sensitive to these characteristics as I have an odd affliction: my eyes are quite different from each other. One is only slightly myopic. The other is much more so. As a result, I’m constantly reminded of what a myopic view does.

In the eye that is strongly myopic, there is only a small volume of space, right in front of my face, in which I can see well. Meanwhile, what I do see there, is magnified. I can see things as if powered through a gentle microscope. In fact, I can take advantage of this from time to time, taking off my glasses to see something up close.

But like a microscope, anything that leaves the direct area of focus is quickly blurred or out of view.

In other words, what is crucially missing in most descriptions of myopia are:

  1. Gained magnification
  2. Lost periphery

Our eyes are sense organs. They sense certain wavelengths of light, and in so doing create sight.

So exactly what is myopic for a wandering mind? Our working memory.

Working memory is our sense organ of time-attention, creating much of our experiences of the moment.

Working memory is that part of ourselves that can hold things in mind. It’s the worktable of mind. Miller’s law says, in general, one can hold 7 plus or minus 2 items at once. More recent research, however, suggests that the number is closer to 4. Others argue that it is mostly one, with a number of ideas rhythmically floating back and forth in the periphery. I prefer the latter.

Putting it together, someone with a wandering mind can have a myopia of time-attention. Therefore, what can be held in attention tends to be smaller in scope, but is felt in greater depth and detail than otherwise.

But, what do I mean by time-attention? We’ll take a look in the next post.

  • Kourosh

​PS This formulation, this metaphor, is very much a creative construction. I’d love to hear your own ideas of what makes for a wandering mind. Feel free to comment below…