I'm glad you bumped this. I really enjoyed this old article.
"Our attention is guided by goals, whether voluntarily or not. In the case of attention being captured involuntarily, no conscious decision is made, and there is some subconscious mechanism that determines what is important enough to command our conscious awareness."
There is something in this, as well as your links, that to me, resonates with the observation, 'gradients drive everything.' That observation is sometimes made as a half-joke, but I think it is 'funny' because it rings true. Gradients do drive everything, literally.
What we might call unconscious actors -- planets, comets, chemical reactions, and simple actors -- virus, bacteria, are all observed to be 'driven' by the concept of gradient, many times over.
Complex thinking mankind with volition is more than that, but can also be that as well; seekers of advantage based on gradient. We are difference engines, not sameness engines. Our intellectual attention and curiosity is drawn by 'difference,' not 'sameness.' The 'some subconscious mechanism' referenced above may very well be some atavistic fundamental wiring of life that is driven by the concept of gradient, difference. In a universe with a massively singular beginning, evolving towards a possibly dim 3 deg K uniform future, with mankind existing in the interim transitional sweetspot, it seems almost like a natural law that life would volitionally choose to seek gradient and flee sameness, even if its precursors did the same not via choice but via wiring, that is, the wiring that resulted in successful continual existence in this universe, with its rules. (Seek gradient, survive: seek sameness, perish. For all we know, different universe with different set of rules, different set of outcomes. Moot, our universe is what it is, with us in it.)
Try to think of an exception to this seemingly silly observation in our universe. Not even complex topics like human 'love' are an exception. 'Love' is in fact an example of an extreme gradient driven process. (We typically don't love all equally, we love one more than all others; an extreme example of gradient even in a complex psychological area.)
"Economies' are another prime example. Clearly driven by gradient.
Underneath our volition is our atavistic wiring, driven by gradient. In our case, we'd like to believe that we can at least choose what gradients to value. In the case of simple actors, they have no opinion on the topic. But while we act as volitional beings, we also share the attribute 'gradient seekers' far below the surface, from our shared ancestry simple actors in this Universe.
(Edited by Fred Bartlett on 2/12, 9:17am)