Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The virtues of a wandering mind.

John Tierney's article on possible uses of mind wandering is worth reading. During our waking hours our minds seem to wander about 30% of the time.  One suggestion is that:

...There’s an evolutionary advantage to the brain’s system of mind wandering...While a person is occupied with one task, this system keeps the individual’s larger agenda fresher in mind...It thus serves as a kind of reminder mechanism, thereby increasing the likelihood that the other goal pursuits will remain intact and not get lost in the shuffle of pursuing many goals.
...Where exactly does the mind go during those moments? By observing people at rest during brain scans, a “default network” that is active when people’s minds are especially free to wander has been identified. When people do take up a task, the brain’s executive network lights up to issue commands, and the default network is often suppressed....But during some episodes of mind wandering, both networks are firing simultaneously...Why both networks are active is up for debate. One school theorizes that the executive network is working to control the stray thoughts and put the mind back on task...Another school of psychologists..theorizes that both networks are working on agendas beyond the immediate task. That theory could help explain why studies have found that people prone to mind wandering also score higher on tests of creativity.
Smilek et al., by the way, note that mind wandering can be assayed by observing blinking: during an extended period of reading, episodes of mind wandering, compared with on-task periods, contain more eye closures (blinks) and fewer fixations on the text ― even as subjects continue to scan the text.

1 comment:

jim said...

That makes sense - there often seems to be a guerrilla war going on in my head with the forces of Chaos regularly getting the upper hand.

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