The World Beyond Your Head: Part 4, Not a Jump of the Will

Again, much of the argument in Matthew B. Crawford's book The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction concerns the role of attention in turning us toward the external world. This is also a primary theme in Hunting Magic Eels.

Consequently, I was struck by a quote Crawford shares from Iris Murdoch. Murdoch's point in the quote is that when we are dealing with strong emotions or desires it is difficult to "choose" to stop feeling such powerful impulses. Help comes, rather, by adjusting our attention to acquire a new object of interest, focus, and investment. Here's Murdoch:

Where strong emotions of sexual love, or of hatred, resentment, or jealousy are concerned, "pure will" can usually achieve little. It is small use telling oneself "Stop being in love, stop feeling resentment, be just" What is needed is a reorientation which will provide an energy of a different kind, from a different source. Notice the metaphors of orientation and of looking....[Changing ourselves] is not a jump of the will, it is the acquiring of new objects of attention and thus of new energies as a result of refocusing. 

In many ways, this is the thesis of Hunting Magic Eels, with a slight change. Where Murdoch is talking about managing powerful but unwanted emotions, Hunting Magic Eels is concerned with rekindling affections that have waned and grown cold, blowing into flame dying embers that had once burned brightly. 

Reigniting our faith, as Murdoch points out, isn't about "a jump of the will." The entire point of Hunting Magic Eels is that faith isn't an act of willpower, forcing yourself to believe in things you find hard to believe. Rather, faith is nurtured back to health via attention, not a jump of the will but "acquiring new objects of attention and thus of new energies as a result of refocusing." 

Faith is cultivated by acquiring new habits of attention and perception.   

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