Being in possession of relevant facts and knowledge about the world around you.

Mindfulness is immediate and concrete; knowledge or wisdom or philosophy can be abstract. Awareness bridges the gap and helps you with the relevant abstract understanding to apply to your present concrete situation, without taking your eye off that situation. It also helps you attend to things that are not in the immediate view of your senses.

a.k.a. noticing, being observant

Complementary virtues

Contrasting vices

  • obliviousness

Virtues possibly in tension


How to acquire or strengthen it

  • be well-rested, get enough good sleep
  • be in good general health (blood circulation, oxygen, nutrition)
  • free your environment of unnecessary distractions so you can keep important things on your mind (orderliness)
    • Some things we are unaware of because they are hidden (sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally). Strategies to increase the salience or visibility of relevant things may be useful in improving our ability to focus meaningfully.
  • consider that your subconscious mind may be able to put itself to work if it has the space to do so (and you have the patience) — maybe sleep on it?
  • apply discipline from mindfulness meditation to the situation in which you want increased awareness
  • looking at your situation with imagination can help you discern different facets of it and how your existing understanding might apply in unexpected ways
  • things that seem novel or threatening are more likely to thrust themselves into our awareness, FWIW
    • chronic stress though makes it difficult to maintain awareness of anything else
  • focus can be at cross-purposes to awareness when it causes us to be blind to what we’re not focusing on
  • it is easier to maintain awareness if you care; apathy => unawareness
  • William James suggests that one form of attention is “the reproduction of the sensation from within”; in other words, we notice something and then we more explicitly notice that we’ve noticed it, and that is how we attend to it. So he recommends for instance, that “the habit of reading not merely with the eye, and of listening not merely with the ear, but of articulating to one’s self the words seen or heard, ought to deepen one’s attention to the latter.”
    • He says: “I can keep my wandering mind a great deal more closely upon a conversation or a lecture if I actively re-echo to myself the words than if I simply hear them; and I find a number of my students who report benefit from voluntarily adopting a similar course.”
  • "Attention Restoration Theory" suggests that periodic exposure to nature / out-of-doors in an unstressful, undemanding way can restore attention capability.
  • “social awareness” (sensitivity?) — the ability to pick up cues, understand the tone of the situation, etc. — is a specialized case of awareness. It suggests that knowing-what-to-look-for is important in maintaining focus. Similarly with language. A foreign language is just gobbledygook and can’t hold the attention until you learn enough to be able to parse syllables and words from the stream of sounds: then you can concentrate even if you don’t yet understand.

Notes and links

  • Notes on Attention (David, LessWrong)
  • are there things we can learn from specific disciplines e.g. air-traffic control, stage magic, that can help us understand and augment awareness?

Mentioned elsewhere


Inspirational quotes