Thought is not continuous. Using metaphors, it is more a train like a stream. It’s like thought is organized in “packets” (think Digital communication), which we can call as “bogies” (and hence, a train of thought). For you to think coherently, the bogies should be inter-connected.
So one bogie should connect to the next, and that will help make a coherent thought. Occasionally, though, there can be “slippage”, or derailment. When that happens, you jump a thought, you digress, the normal bogie connection gets broken, and thus your attention breaks.
So, we can model the system thus: your thought is a train of thought packets, each of which contain Q units of thought, and R thoughts per second are produced. Now, with a probability p, the thought i “is connected to” thought i+1 (the rest is the “slippage” we talked about).
Now, for a normal human being, p is
low, extremely low high, extremely high (I don’t know about Q and R, but I guess that depends on (or rather defines) the person’s IQ, sharpness, resourcefulness, etc. It would be an interesting project to research that). Hence, he is able to focus well on work, drive without accidents, speak continuously and properly, etc.
However, when you are doped (by smoking up or whatever other methods), what happens is that p
increases decreases significantly. R also increases significantly. So you are now thinking faster (producing more thought units per second) but also there is a higher chance of your thought slipping. You are unable to focus, there are too many things going on in your head, you switch between parallel trains of thought, etc. Because you can’t focus, you are unable to function, and even if you try to function “normally” (by avoiding mistakes, driving well, speaking without a stammer) you do so at a significantly higher mental cost (because you get distracted so easily, you need to put in extra effort to keep trains of thought “alive” as you switch from one to another; so you need to run another process to just keep track of these thoughts, and make sure you can function). You end up not getting as much done as you would normally when you were sober.
There can be several other implications of this. Sometimes, because you are maintaining track of two strains of thought, if you are normally a visual person (if you remember things based on images rather than on sounds or text or any other stimulus), images from two separate trains of thought can occasionally overlap, creating a bizarre and spurious image. And sometimes that might make you think that the spurious image is actually a real image (this can happen if similar overlaps of your different trains of thought occur repeatedly, and thus the superpositions themselves seem to you as another train) and that can lead you to hallucinate!
Sometimes, one train of thought is planning a certain activity, while another train is simultaneously trying to imagine what it would be like when that activity is completed. Now, the superposition of these two trains of thought can occasionally create a picture that the task is actually complete. And then when reality strikes and you realize that the activity is actually not complete, it leads to significant disappointment, and you are prone to feeling disgusted with the task, and giving up.
Higher Lower p and higher R means that activities that involve significant “stimulation” of the brain are likely to completely feed your need for thought, and thus you are likely to get engrossed in such activities and you begin to love them. As a corollary, activities that aren’t as stimulating are likely to bore you (since it doesn’t fully feel your need for thought). So you have trouble successfully completing routine tasks!
high low p can also (at this moment, my wife walked in and this chain of thought broke, maybe lost forever… so whatever i write to complete this para may not be what i originally intended) mean that your train of thoughts might break when you are performing an activity that demands precision and complete focus. That might result in your becoming clumsy, dropping things, not being able to be delicate, and being highly prone to making tiny mistakes.
So when you are doped, thanks to the higher bit-rate of thoughts, and higher chance of distractions, you function significantly slower and with much higher mental effort, you get distracted extremely easily, you are simply unable to focus, and are prone to occasionally hallucinate. You are easily irritable, impatient, and get pissed if there is inadequate food in order to feed your expanded bitrate of thought (so if there isn’t enough to think about, you feel fidgety, and do random stuff). You are prone to accidents, look for things to stimulate you, want to keep doing something and can give up easily!
Now imagine a state where
p and R are higher p is lower and R is higher than what it normally is for a normal human being, but not as much as it would be when you are drunk. And imagine that this “higher” rate of p and R *lower* rate of p and *higher* rate of R are “permanent” and you are forever in this state. That is ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). It affects 5% of the population, including the author of this piece. It leads to fidgetiness, and can lead to lower productivity and possible learning difficulty. It results in inability to execute, inability to focus, and finish things (think about it in terms of the model that I’ve described above. It will help you understand what it’s likely to lead to.).
The thing with ADHD is that in most cases, the change in p (from “normal”) is so mild (especially compared to the change in p when one is doped) that it is easy to ignore it, and you think your p value is normal. And trying to function at the same efficiency as others, you end up spending significantly higher mental energy, and find yourself falling behind, and not being able to execute. You know the story further.
So ADHD is like being in a perennial state of being mildly doped. And that is the “normal” for people like me.
I’m now on a medicine that lowers my ADHD, i.e.
lowers my normal p and R increases my normal p and decreases my normal R. I guess I can call it “antidope”. It is one of those drugs that is distributed in a controlled manner, strictly issued on the handing over of a doctor’s prescription (the copy of the prescription you get is sealed saying “drugs delivered”). If it is an “anti-dope”, I wonder why the control. Perhaps too much of a medicine is also not a good thing.
This post was edited on 29Sep2012 to correct the inconsistency in the model that I used. Thanks to the commenters for point this out. As you might know by now, the post was written when my p was at an extremely low value, and hence I got my notation muddled up.
6 thoughts on “Devoid of attention”
Love the approach! spot on!
Interesting analysis! A small clarification – if p is the probability of thought i being connected to thought (i+1), people with ADHD should have a low p right? And “normal” people should have a high p? Or am I missing something?
Good model. Yes, as Anand pointed out, you missed a ‘not’ in the definition of p. Probably a result of high p 🙂