Attention – HU Seminar

University Seminar Listing

Course Description and Syllabus                                     

ATTENTION! – Interdisciplinary* takes

on an Endangered Resource

*(Art, Science, Technology, Business, Religion and Politics)

Dr. Alan Prohm – aprohm@gmail.com


Programm: Vielfalt der Wissensformen
Vst.-Nr. 840056ü
Schlüssel: +840056ü
Institut: Heinrich von Helmholz Zentrum für Kulturtechnik / bologna.lab – Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
Zeit: Freitags 10-12
Ort: Dorotheenstr. 24 im 4. OG (Raum 2.402)
Sprache: Vorträge und Texte vorwiegend Englisch; Diskussion und eigene Arbeiten auch gern Deutsch
Zielgruppe: MA und fortgeschrittene BA



Before there is any object of science there is this one. To take anything in, to notice and consider anything, to start any process of knowing there is first a process of attending. Attention is at the tip of all science, but what is the science of attention? Is it hard or soft? Pseudo- or serious? Theoretical or applied? With what instruments can we observe it? What is it made of, and how does it work, that it can be paid, caught, drawn, stolen, tracked, sold, captured, shortened, trained, strengthened, and maybe saved? The central question we will be asking is What is in store and at stake for human attention in the 21st Century? We will approach this by questioning our object of study, attention itself, each time from a different perspective as an object of study in a different discipline, science, industry or cultural practice. Our readings and discussions will touch on philosophy, cognitive science, psychotherapy, spiritual practice, sociology, media theory, art theory and experimental art practice, marketing strategy and communications design theory, governance strategy, economic theory, pedagogy, self-help and social activism. At each step we will gain a richer grasp on this vital energy and organ at the core of our being conscious and acting human.


Seminar sessions will be based around weekly readings, student-prepared discussions and contextualizing lectures by the seminar leader. One or more guest lecturers and one or more off-campus visits will complete our exploration of our topic, and open new perspectives of research on it.


Expected student involvement includes attendance, participation in discussions, one in-class presentation, individual research (theoretical or practical) on a question of one’s own choosing, and a final research report or paper.


Starting from a foundational text in the constitution of attention as an object for modern philosophy and psychology, William James’ chapter on attention in the Principles of Pyschology, we will trace a number of arcs around this psychologically and epistemologically central yet elusive topic. One arc links James’ text with contemporary fronts in cognitive neuroscience. Another links Paul Klee’s contemporaneous art-science of “the wandering viewpoint” with concepts in the reception aesthetics of Wolfang Iser’s in The Act of Reading. Another arc looks at attention and the central role it is given in the Abhidamma philosophical tradition and in Vipassana and Zen meditation traditions. Next we see how concepts and questions of attention have been framed in contemporary discourses on mediality, post-human consciousness and mental health, from Marshall McLuhan’s “extensions” of the senses to Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and its resonances in the late age of the smartphone. From here we come easily to look at ventures in the testing and enhancement of attention, like the various Attention Training methods and services, as well as to the whole field of efforts at quantifying and exploiting knowledge of attention through methods of cognitive marketing, productized and productizing in software and analysis services like those of Eyetracking.com. The last of these arcs brings us full-circle into a symptomology of our late stage of capitalist society, with attention at the heart of its contested cognitive economy. Through an assembly of perspectives around this endangered resource, we hope to find vectors and leverage for thinking attention’s remedy and evolutions.


Weekly meetings (Friday a.m. 10-12), with occasional longer sessions (10-13) and two possible outings. Work includes weekly readings, participation in seminar sessions, independent research, a small presentation and a final paper or project. The language of the course will be English, though readings and portions of the discussion can also be in German.

Each session will begin with a thematic introduction from a different perspective of inquiry into attention, delivered by the seminar leader, alternately with presentations by the students. The rest of the time will be given to discussion on the weekly main reading and optional side readings and to preparation and discussion of two brief studies students will carry out themselves, of attention in media, design and the environment (see assignments).


Sample Readings:

William James, “Attention” Ch. XI in The Principles of Psychology Vol 1, 1899

Bernard Baars, from In the Theater of Consciousness, 1997

Michael Posner, from The Cognitive Neuroscience of Attention, 1998/2004

Parasuraman & Davies eds, “Preface” pp. xi-xvi in Varieties of Attention, Orlando: Academic Press, 1984

Parasuraman ed., The Attentive Brain, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000 (orig. 1998)

Paul Klee, from Das bildnerische Denken, (1956)

Wolgang Iser, from Akt des Lesens: Theorie ästhetischer Wirkung, 1976

Madeline Gins and Arakawa, from The Architectural Body, 2002

Herbert Bayer, The Fundamentals of Exhibition Design, 1937

Bakker and Niemantsverdriet, “The Interaction-Attention Continuum: Considering Various Levels of Attention in Interaction Design”, 2016

Bikkhu Bodhi, from A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, 2003

S.N. Goenka, Vipassana Talks, 2002

Suzuki Roshi, from Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, 1970

Marshall Macluhan, from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964

Jackson, Maggie, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, 2009

Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, 2010

Luciana Parisi, “Automated Cognition and Capital,” in Warren Neidich, The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism, 2016


Additional Bibliography:

Derber, Charles, The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Individualism in Everyday Life, 1979McGuire, Andrew, Pathology of Attention, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969

Searle, John R., Intentionality: an Essay in the Philosophy of Mind, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983

Rötzer, Florian ed., Ressource Aufmerksamkeit: Ästhetik in der Informationsgesellschaft, Kunstforum Bd. 148 Dezember 1999-Januar 2000

Thomas Davenport, from The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business, 2002

Lanham, Richard A., The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006

Fehmi, Les and Robbins, Jim, The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Body and Mind, Boston: Trumpeter Press, 2007

Wu, Tim, The Attention Merchants : The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, New York: Random House, 2017



This is the actual course as it was conducted in moodle:


ATTENTION: Interdisciplinary Takes on an Endangered Resource

Abschnitte dieses Kurses