Why the new and novel never lasts

Maybe it was while reading that book you couldn't put down or hiking in serene contentment through a woodland or turning over that intoxicating new business idea. You think to yourself, "I wish this moment would never end."

And then just like that, it's gone. But why? The Quest for Permanent Novelty:

The neuroscientist David Eagleman describes strong evidence for a process that will be intuitively obvious to all readers. The first time we encounter an image, our perceptual experience tends to be richly vivid. Time seems to move more slowly.

But it doesn't last. 'With repeated presentations of a stimulus,' writes Eagleman, 'a sharpened representation or a more efficient encoding is achieved in the neural network coding for the object.' Once the brain has learned to recognize the image, it no longer requires the high 'metabolic costs' of intense sensory engagement. This efficiency has obvious evolutionary advantages, in conserving human attention for new threats and opportunities. But it means we are subject to an incessant erasure of perceptual life.

The "novel" can also be something unpleasant, in which case the timeless can become torture. But "the high metabolic costs" of being in the moment can also be used to escape, for example, the unwanted noise of a child crying in the confined space of a restaurant or airline cabin. "Finding Peace During Noisy Trips" offers a travel tip that my not have occurred to you.

'Denial of what’s going on just doesn’t work,' said Mr. Puddicombe, who discusses the benefits of meditation in his book 'Get Some Headspace' and on his Web site, Headspace.com.

Mr. Puddicombe said your discomfort is not the shouting, it’s the gap between reality (the noisy child) and what you want the situation to be (quiet). What Mr. Puddicombe calls 'mindfulness meditation' (essentially being in the present moment) can help bridge the space between reality and desire. 'It’s letting go of what we want it to be,' he said, 'and moving closer to acceptance of what is happening right now.' (Hint: this can also be applied to matters of work, health, love.)

How wonderfully sane. But how to do it?

First, simply acknowledge that you’re frustrated (in your head, not by lobbing a shoe). 'When you look at resistance it starts to lose its intensity,' Mr. Puddicombe said. Then, listen to the sound. Don’t blame the noisemakers. Just listen to the sound.

'If you give that your full attention,' Mr. Puddicombe said, 'eventually the mind will get bored of it.'


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