Prey animals are alive by default. As in, they can forage from an unresisting and generally abundant food supply. Aside from disease, they are killed by changes in the environment and by predation. Because of this, they need to constantly monitor their surroundings for such threats.

Predators are dead by default. If they do not bring down prey, they starve to death. But they’re much less likely to be killed by other animals. Consequently, they don’t need to pay attention to anything other than their mark. If they succeed there’s a brief period of indulgence, but they soon need to get back on the prowl.


I think we can view human behavior through this lens. A stable job that covers your expenses, perhaps even married = prey. You’re fine unless something upsets the status quo: a layoff, a depression, war… So it makes sense to follow the news and stay abreast of what’s going on in the world. What are people doing, who’s going to be president? But if you just started a company or signed on as a professional athlete, you’ve entered do-or-die territory. You have one very clear goal, and do not need to worry about anything else for the time being.

It’s hard to use this imagery without overtones of admonishment. I mean, who wants to be called prey? But the intention was merely to demonstrate two modes of attention that are appropriate for different situations. Two states of existence, between which we are free to choose. Truth be told I think most of us strive to achieve the ‘prey’ state, at least from our mid-20s on. And it doesn’t seem unreasonable that we have been evolutionarily selected to pay attention to everything. But biological evolution could not anticipate the 21st century, and so it might be worth scrutinizing our need for prey-mode from time to time.

NB: I am not a naturalist and the above could be bogus as a description of nature. If so, I hope that it may still be useful as a description of life.

One thought on “Attention

  1. So, are you suggesting that we should assume the more unpredictable life of a predator from time to time? What about the 21st century do you believe has changed this (maybe overly simplified) predator vs prey status struggle, is it the comforts and relative stability of living in a developed country that allow us to deviate from a survive-over-thrive mindset? I see where you are going with the analogy, but for me the different components don’t seem to fit quite right, as you suspected, I find difficulty in the jump that we are prey and therefore more alive and therefore married with a stable job. The mild, immediate rejection of the juxtaposition of prey and stability is possibly just a leftover from learning about ecosystems. Curious things.

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