Our faculty of attention affects us in countless ways. Our very perception of reality is tied closely to where we focus our attention. Only what we pay attention to seems real to us, whereas whatever we ignore—no matter how important it may be—seems to fade into insignificance. The American philosopher and pioneer of modern psychology William James summed up this point more than a century ago: “For the moment, what we attend to is reality.”1 Obviously, he wasn’t suggesting that things become nonexistent when we ignore them; many things of which we are unaware exert powerful influences on our lives and the world as a whole. But by ignoring them, we are not including them in our reality. We do not really register them as existing at all.
Each of us chooses, by our ways of attending to things, the universe we inhabit and the people we encounter. But for most of us, this “choice” is unconscious, so it's not really a choice at all. When we think about who we are, we can't possibly remember all the things we’ve experienced, all the behaviors and qualities we have exhibited. What comes to mind when we ask “Who am I?” consists of those things we have been paying attention to over the years. The same goes for our impressions of other people. The reality that appears to us is not so much what’s out there as it is those aspects of the world we have focused on.
B Alan Wallace
in The Attention Revolution