The meaning of “attention”

The meaning of abstraction was explained very abstractly, that is… no mechanism was given of how would one ignore some of the things, in order to “be left” with a specific thing.

But seems, that we can actually point to a word that points to specific mechanism through which we can do abstraction – Attention.
Here is the sense of attention, as brought/explained to us through different dictionaries, which refer to such faculty.


  • The process whereby a person concentrates on some features of the environment to the (relative) exclusion of others.


  • Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one thing while
    ignoring other things. Examples include listening carefully to what someone is saying while ignoring other conversations in the
    room (e.g. the cocktail party problem, Cherry, 1953).

Think of it… If there is big red ball in front of you… You may put your attention on its size, and in such way abstract from everything BUT the size. Or the interesting patch on the ball may draw your attention, and in such way it will abstract from everything BUT the patch. You can also focus on the upcoming meeting, or can concentrate your thoughts on the issue of the existence of Santa Claus, and in such way abstract from the ball.

Three points to make there…

The first two is really a note to myself, and question to you.

  1. Is there a difference of meaning of those different words, “focus on”, “put attention on”, “concentrate on”, and if there is… what does it mean ?
  2. We use “focus on”, “put your attention on”, etc… for a more complex types of acts. (e.g. “focus on this project now”). Is that the same sense, metaphorical usage, or what?

And the third point is that there is a distinction one can make about attention. It can be:

  1. Done on purpose. E.g. when someone says to us “look at that clown” we can focus on the clown on purpose.
  2. Or something can draw our attention. E.g. A clown jumping into our face will probably draw our attention.

And for the end, here is very interesting explanation of the meaning of “attention” (take it as a hint of what is to come, or not):

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms

  • the act or state of attending : the application
    of the mind to any object of sense or thought

Review of “Husserl’s Phenomenology” by Dan Zahavi

husserls phenomenology

It is probably very hard to write books like “Husserl’s Phenomenology“… Books about the deepest philosophical issues as seen by famous philosopher, working through the different stages of his philosophy, making sense of the changes that it went through, giving us references on every step if we want to explore further, giving references to alternative interpretations of Husserl’s philosophy (and why they are wrong), keeping us in suspense as for what is to come next, and all that in 150 pages!
Well, the author seems to have material to talk forever on this topics, so I guess he tried to put as much he could in this short book. It covers Husserl’s work from his early works on the issues of Logic, Epistemology and Intentionality, critics of psychologism (which seem to be common practice among lots of philosophers, no matter what -ism they come from), hist turn to the transcendental idealism, concepts of Reduction, Epoché and Constitution.
The concept of constitution is especially interesting, as it connects the subjective idealistic thought, to the things which constitute it.
And thatis where “Husser’s Phenomenology” was most interesting to me – when it starts to deal with the things which constitute the subject, and goes into the topics of Time, Body, Intersubjectivity, Lifeworld, Normality and Tradition.

Zahavi also in lot of places compares the transcendental idealism of Husserl, to that of Kant, and makes points of how are those two different (what is interesting is that Kant didn’t seem to see himself as idealist at all), and also to the successors of Husserl like Merlau Ponty and Heidegger trying to show how the ideas for which those philosophers usually are given credit, have their root, and that he even explicitly wrote about those.

All in all, this book is deep and easy to read, for epistemology/metaphysics lovers, I recommend this book.

The meaning of “abstraction”

Even if I don’t believe in the possibility to clarify philosophy as if it is a science or a formal discipline like mathematics, where one can start with the simple things, and then build up to the those which are very complex, still… it seems that I need to explain how I use certain words for better understanding on this blog…

I will try to explain the sense of this word (“abstraction“) which I want to put to attention by referring to few different dictionaries.

Houghton Mifflin Medical Dictionary:

  • Distillation or separation of the volatile constituents of a substance.

In this sense, then, abstraction means that you start with something complex, and then you have way to separate the constituents of that complex.

But this is not precisely the sense of “abstraction” I think of. In this more precise sense, one can say that abstraction means we remove some of the constituents, in order to “be left with” the constituents we are interested in.
Imagine that you have lost a white small button in a pile of rice. One way to find the button is to gradually remove rice until you find it. Maybe this example doesn’t sound much as “abstraction”, but let’s see the next examples from dictionaries:


  • the act of withdrawing or removing something
  • preoccupation with something to the exclusion of all else

We can further say that abstraction, if we think of it in this sense, even if it is simple opperation, does in fact two things… By ignoring/removing/withdrawing/exclusion of other parts of the complex, it concentrates/preoccupates with one specific part.

There is one more thing to keep in mind, when talking about this concept, “abstraction” can mean as explaines both

  • The act of abstracting or the state of having been abstracted.

So, what is left from the process of abstraction can also be called abstraction. This is certainly a problem, as in talking about abstraction, one must always have in mind the possibility of this ambiguity.

Also, one must distinct “abstract from” which would point to what is ignored/removed; and “abstraction of” which points to the resulting abstraction.