Forum Artistic Research

Oral Presentation

Mind Wandering During Lectures

Magda Stanová

on  Fri, 10:30in  Neuer Saalfor  30min

A short drawing-based lecture about how the attention of the members of an audience diverges and converges with that of the lecturer. Academic lectures, panel discussions, and conferences are all formats for collective listening, but somehow they took on conventions that make listening itself difficult: reading aloud texts that are too complicated for listening, speaking quickly in order to squeeze as much material as possible, showing slides with long texts, sitting for a long time without moving, and having too little time to think about what has been said. Silence is considered awkward—there’s a kind of horror vacui of silence. In his book The Pleasure of the Text, Roland Barthes writes that the best pleasure he gets from reading a text is when it makes him frequently look up and think about something. When the same thing happens during a lecture (the lecturer says something that sparks/inspires our thinking), we cannot just stop and then start where we left—we will inevitably miss some part of the lecture. In panel discussions, participants prepare their questions, answers, or comments while the other person is still speaking, risking that what they will ask has been just answered. Most of research on attention is focused on how to pay it for a longer time. We feel guilty when we stop paying attention and start mind wandering. But mind wandering is necessary for creative thinking. We need it for unusual connections, leaps, insights. In this lecture show, I distinguish two kinds of mind wandering—one that is inspired by a lecture and one that is caused by a lecture being too simple or too complex for a person to pay attention to. I also share some observations about verbalizing non-verbal ideas in project proposals, in particular about how a text description at a beginning of a project can tie its loose ends too tightly.

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