Epistemic Hunger

Probably because I asked too many questions, a professor once told me I had epistemic hunger. If you don’t know what that means, look it up. That’s what people with epistemic hunger do. We, the hungry, look everything up. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge. More, More, More…like a psychoactive drug.

People say that knowledge is power. I’m saying knowledge is fun, my kind of fun anyway. So I’m always looking into something, mostly about ‘why we are the way we are and how it matters in everyday life’. And I always want to get it out there in case it matters to you too.

Learning harnesses my attention. So, for example, when I’m reading about “Attention” in “The Discourses of Epictetus,” I’m not thinking about the past, not thinking about the future. No, my mind is completely captivated by what I’m learning…in this case about attention.

So What is Attention?

Attention is the brain’s ability to pick what it wants to concentrate on. This ability can not only keep us from falling off a cliff, and greatly improve our productivity, but bring us incredible pleasure as well. Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihály called it a flow state, which is a state of full absorption and full enjoyment to go with it.

Same thing said differently, philosophers tell us to focus on the working surface because that’s where the bliss is. The idea here is to put the attention exactly where the dishrag hits the dish, the paint brush hits the woodwork, the speaker’s voice hits your ear… Why?

Why We Should Pay Attention

Here’s what we know. The mind wanders about 70% of the time. But when we take control of the mind and the placement of our attention, it makes sense that everything that plagues or distracts us takes a back seat. Then we can do a good job at whatever it is and enjoy it a whole lot more too.

As Epictetus points out, would the carpenter’s work be any better with inattention? Would the helmsman steer the ship any better? Would anything really be made any better doing it with our minds somewhere else?

Probably not, but you can try this for yourself. Pick something: food, sex, reading, whatever you like. Then see for yourself if it’s more fun when you are into it than when you are not, and let us know in the comments below.