HMI Lunch: Beyond Importance: Exploration as an Attention Norm
We regularly evaluate how people direct their attention. We praise students who focus on the right material, for example, and lament how our attention is stuck in epistemic “echo chambers”. Yet it is unclear what attention norms underlie those evaluations. We might start with an Importance Norm: one should attend to what is practically, epistemically, or morally important. Yet the Importance Norm cannot explain what has gone wrong during attentional impasses, where one is unaware of important information in one’s practical, epistemic, or moral situation. Depending on how we make the Importance Norm precise, we either a) cannot explain why attentional impasses are bad or b) provide a norm that humans cannot follow. I argue that we should overcome attentional impasses by following the Explore–Exploit Norm: over time, one should balance between exploration and exploitation when allocating one’s attention. I argue that this norm provides a naturalistically and computationally plausible solution to the problem of attentional impasse. I then show how the Explore–Exploit norm fits into a unified picture of attention norms.