Attention by Yu Cao

Why pay attention to what I am doing? What is attention?


Is attention awareness? Being aware of what is going on, in me and surrounding, in physical reality and in the mind. But why it matters?

If attention misses the present, where am I? I will be in the thought of elsewhere other than the present. While the present is saturated with fresh information much more interesting to absorb than being taken away by a piece of thought. Can thought be in the present? Yes, as long as self consciousness knows it is a thought, then I am in the present. So, being attentive means being in the present?

If being attentive is being in the present, why it matters? When I am dreaming in a sleep, I am captured in the scenes in the dream without knowing that I am sleeping. If sleeping is the present, then dream is not? But dream is also a present within the first layer of present--sleeping. But I don't even know that it is a dream, I was just totally behave as if I was in reality. Then that reality is a third layer of present. Now we have three layers of present: reality in a dream, dream, sleep. When I wake up, I will realize it is not real, it is just a dream and I was asleep. But in the reality in dream, if I pay attention there, do I need to care about the other at least two layers? Doesn't the waking up the same way as a dream scene functions? If I keeps paying attention to what's happening, then waking up itself is just a happening, and then I respond to it from which arises the realization that it was a dream. Is it possible to being in the present of a dream and knowing it is just a dream? I don't know. I guess no, because attention can only attend one layer of present. If it pay attention to two layers of present, then it is distraction.

What I get so far is paying attention is being in one layer of present. The realization of layers comes from thinking--the recollection of attention in different layers of present. Then whether it is in a dream, or in reality doesn't matter. The only nature of attention is to be in the present in the immediate layer, thinking will take care of other layers. Can we really tell which layer of reality we are? How could I tell it is not in a another dream that I just woke up and realized that I had a dream? The transition of layers of reality is not self-consciousness's business. Self-consciousness just need to be there, absorbing and responding, whatever is happening. So self consciousness is unable to tell between dream and reality, it is arranged so and realizes afterwards. Paying attention to other than the immediate present is not attention's necessity. It's unnecessary.

Now it is clarified that the essence of attention is to be in the immediate present, absorbing and responding to whatever is happening. Happening means whatever reaches into the consciousness, a thought, a feeling, a touch, sound, color, warmth, etc including both objects per se and per se for consciousness. Happening taken by attention is real. They are the only and all materials for generating "true knowledge." This helps attention to grasp its real essence and discard all the unnecessary. 

Attention need and only need to be in the immediate present--the happening. 

Testify by examples.

Fran O'hara on attention. "I am bored but it's my duty to be attentive, I am needed by things as the sky must be above th earth." "Don't be bored, don't be lazy, don't be trivial, and don't be proud. The slightest loss of attention leads to death." He exemplifies the awareness of the duty of attention. No wonder to notice "his day-by-day awareness of the lightest tremors in the atmosphere--and how much he thought about so much of it!" The efficiency comes from attention's taking on all and only its own duty.


Attention Economy by Yu Cao

Attention is the way in which commodities are consumed. It is “how we think of stuff,” which means “fluff.” A shift of consumption pattern is from stuff to fluff. We consume how we consume--how we see, perceive and think. Attention is when objects are presented to consciousness, that is “per se for consciousness.” Connecting Richard A. Lanham’s “economics of attention” with Hegel’s phenomenology of spirit, what is attention? How is it different from knowledge?

Economics is defined as “the study of how human beings allocate scarce resource to produce various commodities and how those commodities are distributed for consumption among the people in society.” In the contemporary situation where we consume not only objects per se, but also how we think of objects--”per se for consciousness,” the notion of “resource,” “commodity,” and “consumption” need to be redefined.

Commodity is attention structure--the organization/composition of “per se for consciousness.” Scarce resource is filtering of information. Consumption is succession of the modes of consciousness in its own necessity of originating new object--“per se for consciousness.” Attention is when we see the arising of the content of the new object. This succession is “recollection” of “spiritual forms”, the “intellectually comprehended organization” of which is “knowledge”.

    Attention economy is the inevitable awareness arising from the externalization of self consciousness in the collective sense. It is born out of Spirit’s own necessity and healthy for Spirit to live to its real essence.


"True knowledge"&"Absolute Knowledge" by Yu Cao

After being aware of the “not yet imagined,” how to identify the quality of knowledge originating/transformation? What’s the most efficient process of embracing what we don’t know to transformation? What is revolutionary invention/creativity in terms of knowledge and how does it happen? What is the highest form of knowledge? How to be in a mode of Absolute Knowledge?



Hegel has articulated clearly the what makes “true knowledge” and Absolute Knowledge and how they differ from knowledge in default mode.

Externalization(negation/relinquishment) is what elevates the mode of consciousness as well as knowledge. It makes self consciousness relinquish itself and being both in itself and for itself. In David’s words, it’s both “is” and “of,” it’s both “being a body” and “having a body.” Such an externalization means becoming an observer of self-consciousness where awareness arises. Such an awareness leads to freedom and agency. As Hegel put “the process of releasing itself from the form of itself is the highest freedom and security of its knowledge of itself” (Spirit). My question: Will the externalization be the key for identifying and embracing the not yet imagined?


True knowledge lies in the seeming inactivity which merely watches how what is distinguished self-moved by its very nature and returns again into its own unity. This describes externalization. Externalization enables a view of Spirit’s own existence, which creates “content.” “Content is a notion”. When Spirit has attained “the pure element of its existence, the notion”, “moments of its process are no longer determinate modes/ shapes of consciousness, but a distinction within the self-determinate notions, the organic self-explaining and self-constituted process of these notions”. This is a leap from being relative to being self-evident--being “real”. This marks a distinction from default evolving knowledge to “true knowledge.” This kind of knowledge meets the criteria of truth--”the aspect of being per se/ in itself” and of “reality”--”what determines itself-- rather than depending on its relations to other things for its essential character--is more fully ‘real’ than what does not.” To become “real” means go beyond the finitude. Thus the knowledge with finitude is not true knowledge. It is externalization that makes Spirit become notion. Not until then, knowledge reaches its freedom and security.

In Absolute Knowledge, each moment has the form of notion. Absolute Knowledge contains within itself the necessity of relinquishing itself from the form of pure notion. The process of releasing itself from the form of itself is the highest freedom and security of its knowledge of itself (Spirit).

Externalization is not enough to complete the path to Absolute Knowledge. It needs “recollection” meaning “concentrating itself on itself.” “Spirit is engulfed in the night of its own self-consciousness and its vanished existence is conserved therein.” This “superseded” and “conserved” existence is a “new stage of existence”, a “new embodiment/ mode of Spirit” and a “higher form of the substance”. “Absolute Knowledge is Spirit knowing itself as Spirit,” and “finds its pathway in the recollection of spiritual forms as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their spiritual kingdom.”

Thus Absolute Knowledge comes from the externalization of Spirit and recollection/conservation of spiritual forms. The key to externalization is Spirit fully relinquishing itself, the key to recollection is Spirit knowing what it is and fully comprehending its substance. This could be seen as a way to evaluate the quality of knowledge? Hegel calls the conservation/recollection of spiritual forms from the side of their “intellectually comprehended organization” Science, from the side of their “free existence” History.

Absolute Knowledge differs from the phenomenology of the mind as it does not contain the distinction between knowledge and truth and the supersession of such a distinction. Absolute Knowledge unites the objective form of truth and knowing self in immediate unity.




Hegel has also precisely explained the mechanism of knowing (without knowing that we know). (This also relates to “knowledge determines experience.”)

Experience is the dialectic process which consciousness executes on itself -- on its knowledge as well as on its object,” out of which the “new and true object” arises. The consciousness has two kinds of objects: object per se, and knowledge which is per se for consciousness. What the per se is for consciousness is truth--the essential reality, or the object which consciousness has. Like the “horseness” pointed out by William Kentridge. “This new object contains the nothingness of the first; the new object is the experience concerning that first object.” When this new object, the per se for consciousness arises, there also appears a “new mode/ embodiment of consciousness.” This updated essence of consciousness mode creates the circumstance that carries forward the whole succession of the modes/ attitudes in their own necessity. “It is only this necessity, this origination of the new object--which offers itself to consciousness without consciousness knowing how it comes by it.” It is this self-directed succession of originating new and true objects which update the modes of consciousness from which arises new and true objects that makes knowing possible. The consciousness can access part of this process. “Thereby there enters into its process a moment of being per se or of being for us, which is not expressly presented to that consciousness which is in the grip of experience itself.” Thus the content, what we comprehend, is its “bare origination”, its “formal character.” This is how we know without knowing that we know. The experience which consciousness has concerning itself can, by its essential principle, embrace “the entire system of consciousness, the whole realm of truth of mind,” and in this way “the moments of truth are set forth in the specific and peculiar character they here possess”--as “modes/embodiments of consciousness.” Exhausting the whole realm of truth of mind is pressing forward to its true form of existence, meaning consciousness will come to a point at which it becomes only itself and grasps its own essence--where ”appearance becomes identified with essence.” It “lays aside its semblance of being hampered with what is foreign to it, with what is only for it and exists as an other.” Then it will “connote the nature of Absolute Knowledge itself.”

I am curious to figure out a most efficient mode for this succession of knowing till Absolute Knowledge. Let the knowing be, I tell myself.

Wed 10/5/16


Making Paper by Yu Cao



Making Paper




A moment of notion in water.

Clouds in winter night.

A breath of creature.

Drying in the sun.






Unusually great creativity is the mastery of knowing nothing by Yu Cao

Marco, we figured something out today after playing frisbee. 

You said usually people are confined in their houses so that their minds are constrained within a certain pattern. Those who go out of the house can create something new with new experiences introduced. More importantly, you recognized that unlike either of them, masters can stay in the house and create something fundamentally revolutionary because they imagine. 

Carefully examine what leads to masters’ unusually great creativity, we observed that it is the mental practice of imagination and reflection. Whether or not they leave the house doesn't make any difference to their creativity. In this way, we clarify the degree of creativity lies in the depth of these mental practices. When people start to go out, new understanding is introduced through new experience. The mechanism is the breakdown of assumptions--the known give way to the building of new connections--new known. The “new known” is called creation. This “metabolism” traces how the creative process starts.

What about the unusually high quality of creativity recognized in masters, such as Matisse, Picasso, Einstein, Buddha, etc.? Following the same argument above, their efficiency and degree of breaking down the “old known” and making new “known” is usually high. Through experience, such a metabolism is working but not efficient enough. But through the mastery of mental practice, such a metabolism reaches its full speed. This is what makes master master. 

Now we need to figure out what is the mental practice that makes master master. Two basic functions: it has to make the breaking down of the known as quick as possible and building new known as quick as possible. If there is no unknown exist, no effort is even needed to break down, thus the “breaking down” time is zero and its speed is maximum.Then what will happen to the building of the new known? With no assumption, understanding should be efficient. Warhol is an example. Nothing is too small for him to pay attention to. His wisdom lies in observing. It'll be much easier to understand how things work without any distraction of how they should be working. So without assumption which is being aware of knowing nothing, one can most efficiently observe and understand how things connect. This awareness and understanding is intelligence also creativity. 

Put it more clearly. The awareness of knowing nothing is intelligence/wisdom and the understanding of connections is creativity. The degree of awareness determines the quality of understanding. The understanding is the function of the awareness. Creativity is the function of wisdom/intelligence. Masters’ unusually great creativity comes from their unusual degree of the awareness, namely the mastery of knowing nothing. 

After deciphering masters’ creativity, it won't be fun not to practice to be one.