The Most Valuable Resource in the Universe

Your attention is the most valuable resource in the universe. Let’s see why.

Where is evolution located? The conventional view is that evolution operates in the form of each organism, fixed for this lifetime, doomed to contribute only statistically through dismal numbers related to survival and reproduction. Each life is an experiment in evolution, to succeed or fail.

Let’s disagree for the sake of a more useful and valuable definition.

Evolution is the history of attention — if you allow yourself to consider “attention” as something radically different from the definitions our scientists propose.

Consider attention to be “the adaptive resource of the organism”.

“Attention” represents all the resources available to respond to circumstances — energy, intelligence, past experience, teeth and claws. Attention is the sharp tip of life itself, organizing and executing adaptive responses.

Some of those responses have become so smoothly practiced, so ingrained and habitual, that they are fully unconscious. We can be said to pay “unconscious attention” to breathing, heartbeat and temperature regulation.

Evolution has practiced these functions to near-perfection. They are deeper than habit, deeper than instinct.

Imagine, long ago, when the first heart started beating. A heart was the pinnacle of evolution at the time — and the organism had to pay attention to its new heart to keep it beating. The heart used up adaptive resource.

But, over time, that heart became a habit, then an instinct. Billions of hearts over millions of years made the action of heartbeat completely automatic.

That freed up adaptive resource for other stuff. A brain evolved to better organize and direct the whole organism, supported by past evolutionary habits. The brain became the seat of evolution — it was no longer the body, but the instincts and behaviors encoded in the neural nets that dictated the evolutionary direction of the body over generations.

More complex organisms became evolutionarily capable, within one lifetime, of changing. Learning came about. What is learning? It is the compression of attention into the domain of unconscious competency, where behaviors can take place automatically, with minimal demand on this most precious resource: attention.

Along with attention, evolved a mechanism for optimizing attention, for preserving this most precious resource of “capacity for flexible adaptation” or dealing with novelty. This mechanism ensures that repeated behaviors require less and less real-time attention. They become encoded in automatically executable patterns called “habits”.

Do you remember when you learned to drive, and then at some point you stopped paying attention? I do. I remember when I drove home from school without remembering the drive. I was freaked out! I was supposed to be paying attention the whole time! But the inexorable force of habit had removed the necessity of my attention on the behavior called “driving”.

Most complex creatures evolved just enough good habits, with a thin skin of creative adaptive capacity maintained on top, to thrive in their respective environments.

But humans evolved adaptive capacity as a sexual display! Think of our exaggerated brains, capable of very complex adaptations, like the antlers on a moose — used for sexual selection. Music, poetry, dancing, conversation, athleticism — all indicators of sexual fitness because of their fiendish demand on adaptive capacity: attention.

The wild side effect of this is an excess of adaptation. Roads, sewage systems, haute cuisine, rock concerts. All the cool human stuff we call “civilization”, is a side effect of our excess adaptive capacity. Our huge, sexy attention.

One subset of sexual display is called neuroscience. And one of the things sexy-smart neuroscientists have told us lately is that our brains are way, way, way more flexible and re-programmable than we thought. Neuroplasticity.

And the key resource to implement neuroplasticity? Focused attention. That’s right, focusing our adaptive resource on our brains, changes our brains.

Think of it as adapting our adaptation to adapt faster. Evolve faster.

Attention is the now-resource, writing the evolution of the future.

And attention, individual human, right now, your attention, is the bright spot of the laser writing evolution into the future. Attention is the forge of neural patterns, your automatic effortless behaviors.

Some of our individual and group behaviors can be made to work better — be more positively adaptive — if we reach back and re-forge them in the neuroplastic space of attention.

Some behaviors we will continue to invent, brand-new.

But mostly, I wanted you to know why your attention is not only your most valuable resource, but is the most valuable resource in the universe: because your attention writes the future of not only your life, but evolution itself.

So use it wisely.