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Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind (NY Times 6/28/10)

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  • medit8ionsociety
    June 28, 2010 Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind By JOHN TIERNEY At long last, the doodling daydreamer is getting some respect. In the past,
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 28, 2010
    • 0 Attachment
      June 28, 2010
      Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind
      By JOHN TIERNEY

      At long last, the doodling daydreamer is getting
      some respect.

      In the past, daydreaming was often considered a
      failure of mental discipline, or worse. Freud
      labeled it infantile and neurotic. Psychology
      textbooks warned it could lead to psychosis.
      Neuroscientists complained that the rogue bursts
      of activity on brain scans kept interfering with
      their studies of more important mental functions.

      But now that researchers have been analyzing those
      stray thoughts, they've found daydreaming to
      be remarkably common — and often quite useful.
      A wandering mind can protect you from immediate
      perils and keep you on course toward long-term
      goals. Sometimes daydreaming is counterproductive,
      but sometimes it fosters creativity and helps
      you solve problems.

      Consider, for instance, these three words: eye,
      gown, basket. Can you think of another word that
      relates to all three? If not, don't worry for
      now. By the time we get back to discussing
      the scientific significance of this puzzle,
      the answer might occur to you through the
      "incubation effect" as your mind wanders from
      the text of this article — and, yes, your mind
      is probably going to wander, no matter how
      brilliant the rest of this column is.

      Mind wandering, as psychologists define it, is
      a subcategory of daydreaming, which is the broad
      term for all stray thoughts and fantasies,
      including those moments you deliberately set
      aside to imagine yourself winning the lottery
      or accepting the Nobel. But when you're trying
      to accomplish one thing and lapse into
      "task-unrelated thoughts," that's mind wandering.

      During waking hours, people's minds seem to
      wander about 30 percent of the time, according
      to estimates by psychologists who have interrupted
      people throughout the day to ask what they're
      thinking. If you're driving down a straight,
      empty highway, your mind might be wandering
      three-quarters of the time, according to two
      of the leading researchers, Jonathan Schooler
      and Jonathan Smallwood of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

      "People assume mind wandering is a bad thing,
      but if we couldn't do it during a boring task,
      life would be horrible," Dr. Smallwood says.
      "Imagine if you couldn't escape mentally from a traffic jam."

      You'd be stuck contemplating the mass of
      idling cars, a mental exercise that is much
      less pleasant than dreaming about a beach and
      much less useful than mulling what to do once
      you get off the road. There's an evolutionary
      advantage to the brain's system of mind wandering,
      says Eric Klinger, a psychologist at the
      University of Minnesota and one of the pioneers of the field.

      "While a person is occupied with one task,
      this system keeps the individual's larger agenda
      fresher in mind," Dr. Klinger writes in the
      "Handbook of Imagination and Mental Stimulation.".
      "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."

      Of course, it's often hard to know which
      agenda is most evolutionarily adaptive at
      any moment. If, during a professor's lecture,
      students start checking out peers of the opposite
      sex sitting nearby, are their brains missing
      out on vital knowledge or working on the more
      important agenda of finding a mate? Depends on the lecture.

      But mind wandering clearly seems to be a dubious strategy, if, for example, you're tailgating a driver who suddenly brakes. Or, to cite activities that have actually been studied in the laboratory, when you're sitting by yourself reading "War and Peace" or "Sense and Sensibility."

      If your mind is elsewhere while your eyes
      are scanning Tolstoy's or Austen's words,
      you're wasting your own time. You'd be better
      off putting down the book and doing something
      more enjoyable or productive than "mindless
      reading," as researchers call it.

      Yet when people sit down in a laboratory with
      nothing on the agenda except to read a novel
      and report whenever their mind wanders, in the
      course of a half hour they typically report
      one to three episodes. And those are just the
      lapses they themselves notice, thanks to their
      wandering brains being in a state of
      "meta-awareness," as it's called by Dr. Schooler,

      He, and other researchers have also studied
      the many other occasions when readers aren't
      aware of their own wandering minds, a condition
      known in the psychological literature as
      "zoning out." (For once, a good bit of technical
      jargon.) When experimenters sporadically
      interrupted people reading to ask if their minds
      were on the text at that moment, about 10 percent
      of the time people replied that their thoughts
      were elsewhere — but they hadn't been aware
      of the wandering until being asked about it.

      "It's daunting to think that we're slipping
      in and out so frequently and we never notice
      that we were gone," Dr. Schooler says. "We
      have this intuition that the one thing we
      should know is what's going on in our minds:
      I think, therefore I am. It's the last bastion
      of what we know, and yet we don't even know that so well."

      The frequency of zoning out more than doubled
      in reading experiments involving smokers who
      craved a cigarette and in people who were
      given a vodka cocktail before taking on "War
      and Peace." Besides increasing the amount of
      mind wandering, the people made alcohol less
      likely to notice when their minds wandered
      from Tolstoy's text. In another reading
      experiment, researchers mangled a series of
      consecutive sentences by switching the position
      of two of nouns in each one — the way that
      "alcohol" and "people" were switched in the
      last sentence of the previous paragraph. In
      the laboratory experiment, even though the
      readers were told to look for sections of
      gibberish somewhere in the story, only half
      of them spotted it right away. The rest typically
      read right through the first mangled sentence
      and kept going through several more before noticing anything amiss.

      To measure mind wandering more directly,
      Dr. Schooler and two psychologists at the
      University of Pittsburgh, Erik D. Reichle
      and Andrew Reineberg, used a machine that
      tracked the movements of people's eyes while
      reading "Sense and Sensibility" on a computer
      screen. It's probably just as well that Jane
      Austen is not around to see the experiment's
      results, which are to appear in a forthcoming
      issue of Psychological Science.

      By comparing the eye movements with the prose
      on the screen, the experimenters could tell
      if someone was slowing to understand complex
      phrases or simply scanning without comprehension.
      They found that when people's mind wandered,
      the episode could last as long as two minutes.

      Where exactly does the mind go during those
      moments? By observing people at rest during
      brain scans, neuroscientists have identified
      a "default network" that is active when
      people's minds are especially free to wander.
      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,
      according to a study led by Kalina Christoff
      of the University of British Columbia. 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, which includes
      the Santa Barbara researchers, 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, like the word-association
      puzzle mentioned earlier. Perhaps, by putting
      both of the brain networks to work simultaneously,
      these people are more likely to realize that
      the word that relates to eye, gown and basket
      is ball, as in eyeball, ball gown and basketball.

      To encourage this creative process, Dr. Schooler
      says, it may help if you go jogging, take a
      walk, do some knitting or just sit around
      doodling, because relatively undemanding tasks
      seem to free your mind to wander productively.
      But you also want to be able to catch yourself
      at the Eureka moment.

      "For creativity you need your mind to wander,"
      Dr. Schooler says, "but you also need to be
      able to notice that you're mind wandering and
      catch the idea when you have it. If Archimedes
      had come up with a solution in the bathtub but
      didn't notice he'd had the idea, what good would
      it have done him?"
      -------------------------------------------------------------
      FAIR USE NOTICE
      This site contains copyrighted material the
      use of which has not always been specifically
      authorized by the copyright owner. We are
      making such material available in our efforts
      to advance understanding of environmental,
      political, human rights, economic, democracy,
      scientific, spiritual, and social justice issues,
      etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use'
      of any such copyrighted material as provided
      for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.
      In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107,
      the material on this site is distributed
      without profit to those who have expressed a
      prior interest in receiving the included information
      for research and educational purposes. For more
      information go to:
      http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.
      If you wish to use copyrighted material from this
      site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use',
      you must obtain permission from the copyright owner
    • sean tremblay
      My youngest boy was called into the principles office I was called shortly after.  When I met with the teacher, the complaint was that he danced to the beat
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 28, 2010
      • 0 Attachment
        My youngest boy was called into the principles office I was called shortly after.  When I met with the teacher, the complaint was that he "danced to the beat of his own drummer"  They cited examples of when the class was playing bingo he would yell "BONGO!" and they continued to refer to him as "The student"  excuse me? I said he is not "the student" he's a seven year old little boy named Malcolm and I want him dancing to the beat of his own drummer!  It was then and there that Beth and I decided to pull the boy's out of public school and start home schooling, they've been a lot happier since!  and they have plenty of time to day dream!

        --- On Mon, 6/28/10, medit8ionsociety <no_reply@yahoogroups.com> wrote:

        From: medit8ionsociety <no_reply@yahoogroups.com>
        Subject: [Meditation Society of America] Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind (NY Times 6/28/10)
        To: meditationsocietyofamerica@yahoogroups.com
        Date: Monday, June 28, 2010, 5:54 PM

         

        June 28, 2010
        Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind
        By JOHN TIERNEY

        At long last, the doodling daydreamer is getting
        some respect.

        In the past, daydreaming was often considered a
        failure of mental discipline, or worse. Freud
        labeled it infantile and neurotic. Psychology
        textbooks warned it could lead to psychosis.
        Neuroscientists complained that the rogue bursts
        of activity on brain scans kept interfering with
        their studies of more important mental functions.

        But now that researchers have been analyzing those
        stray thoughts, they've found daydreaming to
        be remarkably common — and often quite useful.
        A wandering mind can protect you from immediate
        perils and keep you on course toward long-term
        goals. Sometimes daydreaming is counterproductive,
        but sometimes it fosters creativity and helps
        you solve problems.

        Consider, for instance, these three words: eye,
        gown, basket. Can you think of another word that
        relates to all three? If not, don't worry for
        now. By the time we get back to discussing
        the scientific significance of this puzzle,
        the answer might occur to you through the
        "incubation effect" as your mind wanders from
        the text of this article — and, yes, your mind
        is probably going to wander, no matter how
        brilliant the rest of this column is.

        Mind wandering, as psychologists define it, is
        a subcategory of daydreaming, which is the broad
        term for all stray thoughts and fantasies,
        including those moments you deliberately set
        aside to imagine yourself winning the lottery
        or accepting the Nobel. But when you're trying
        to accomplish one thing and lapse into
        "task-unrelated thoughts," that's mind wandering.

        During waking hours, people's minds seem to
        wander about 30 percent of the time, according
        to estimates by psychologists who have interrupted
        people throughout the day to ask what they're
        thinking. If you're driving down a straight,
        empty highway, your mind might be wandering
        three-quarters of the time, according to two
        of the leading researchers, Jonathan Schooler
        and Jonathan Smallwood of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

        "People assume mind wandering is a bad thing,
        but if we couldn't do it during a boring task,
        life would be horrible," Dr. Smallwood says.
        "Imagine if you couldn't escape mentally from a traffic jam."

        You'd be stuck contemplating the mass of
        idling cars, a mental exercise that is much
        less pleasant than dreaming about a beach and
        much less useful than mulling what to do once
        you get off the road. There's an evolutionary
        advantage to the brain's system of mind wandering,
        says Eric Klinger, a psychologist at the
        University of Minnesota and one of the pioneers of the field.

        "While a person is occupied with one task,
        this system keeps the individual's larger agenda
        fresher in mind," Dr. Klinger writes in the
        "Handbook of Imagination and Mental Stimulation.".
        "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."

        Of course, it's often hard to know which
        agenda is most evolutionarily adaptive at
        any moment. If, during a professor's lecture,
        students start checking out peers of the opposite
        sex sitting nearby, are their brains missing
        out on vital knowledge or working on the more
        important agenda of finding a mate? Depends on the lecture.

        But mind wandering clearly seems to be a dubious strategy, if, for example, you're tailgating a driver who suddenly brakes. Or, to cite activities that have actually been studied in the laboratory, when you're sitting by yourself reading "War and Peace" or "Sense and Sensibility."

        If your mind is elsewhere while your eyes
        are scanning Tolstoy's or Austen's words,
        you're wasting your own time. You'd be better
        off putting down the book and doing something
        more enjoyable or productive than "mindless
        reading," as researchers call it.

        Yet when people sit down in a laboratory with
        nothing on the agenda except to read a novel
        and report whenever their mind wanders, in the
        course of a half hour they typically report
        one to three episodes. And those are just the
        lapses they themselves notice, thanks to their
        wandering brains being in a state of
        "meta-awareness," as it's called by Dr. Schooler,

        He, and other researchers have also studied
        the many other occasions when readers aren't
        aware of their own wandering minds, a condition
        known in the psychological literature as
        "zoning out." (For once, a good bit of technical
        jargon.) When experimenters sporadically
        interrupted people reading to ask if their minds
        were on the text at that moment, about 10 percent
        of the time people replied that their thoughts
        were elsewhere — but they hadn't been aware
        of the wandering until being asked about it.

        "It's daunting to think that we're slipping
        in and out so frequently and we never notice
        that we were gone," Dr. Schooler says. "We
        have this intuition that the one thing we
        should know is what's going on in our minds:
        I think, therefore I am. It's the last bastion
        of what we know, and yet we don't even know that so well."

        The frequency of zoning out more than doubled
        in reading experiments involving smokers who
        craved a cigarette and in people who were
        given a vodka cocktail before taking on "War
        and Peace." Besides increasing the amount of
        mind wandering, the people made alcohol less
        likely to notice when their minds wandered
        from Tolstoy's text. In another reading
        experiment, researchers mangled a series of
        consecutive sentences by switching the position
        of two of nouns in each one — the way that
        "alcohol" and "people" were switched in the
        last sentence of the previous paragraph. In
        the laboratory experiment, even though the
        readers were told to look for sections of
        gibberish somewhere in the story, only half
        of them spotted it right away. The rest typically
        read right through the first mangled sentence
        and kept going through several more before noticing anything amiss.

        To measure mind wandering more directly,
        Dr. Schooler and two psychologists at the
        University of Pittsburgh, Erik D. Reichle
        and Andrew Reineberg, used a machine that
        tracked the movements of people's eyes while
        reading "Sense and Sensibility" on a computer
        screen. It's probably just as well that Jane
        Austen is not around to see the experiment's
        results, which are to appear in a forthcoming
        issue of Psychological Science.

        By comparing the eye movements with the prose
        on the screen, the experimenters could tell
        if someone was slowing to understand complex
        phrases or simply scanning without comprehension.
        They found that when people's mind wandered,
        the episode could last as long as two minutes.

        Where exactly does the mind go during those
        moments? By observing people at rest during
        brain scans, neuroscientists have identified
        a "default network" that is active when
        people's minds are especially free to wander.
        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,
        according to a study led by Kalina Christoff
        of the University of British Columbia. 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, which includes
        the Santa Barbara researchers, 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, like the word-association
        puzzle mentioned earlier. Perhaps, by putting
        both of the brain networks to work simultaneously,
        these people are more likely to realize that
        the word that relates to eye, gown and basket
        is ball, as in eyeball, ball gown and basketball.

        To encourage this creative process, Dr. Schooler
        says, it may help if you go jogging, take a
        walk, do some knitting or just sit around
        doodling, because relatively undemanding tasks
        seem to free your mind to wander productively.
        But you also want to be able to catch yourself
        at the Eureka moment.

        "For creativity you need your mind to wander,"
        Dr. Schooler says, "but you also need to be
        able to notice that you're mind wandering and
        catch the idea when you have it. If Archimedes
        had come up with a solution in the bathtub but
        didn't notice he'd had the idea, what good would
        it have done him?"
        ----------------------------------------------------------
        FAIR USE NOTICE
        This site contains copyrighted material the
        use of which has not always been specifically
        authorized by the copyright owner. We are
        making such material available in our efforts
        to advance understanding of environmental,
        political, human rights, economic, democracy,
        scientific, spiritual, and social justice issues,
        etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use'
        of any such copyrighted material as provided
        for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.
        In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107,
        the material on this site is distributed
        without profit to those who have expressed a
        prior interest in receiving the included information
        for research and educational purposes. For more
        information go to:
        http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.
        If you wish to use copyrighted material from this
        site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use',
        you must obtain permission from the copyright owner


      • Aideen Mckenna
        If the Meditation Society had a like button the way Facebook does, I d be clicking on like . Aideen _____ From: meditationsocietyofamerica@yahoogroups.com
        Message 3 of 3 , Jun 28, 2010
        • 0 Attachment

          If the Meditation Society had a “like” button the way Facebook does, I’d be clicking on “like”.   Aideen

           


          From: meditationsocietyofamerica@yahoogroups.com [mailto: meditationsocietyofamerica@yahoogroups.com ] On Behalf Of sean tremblay
          Sent: June-28-10 4:57 PM
          To: meditationsocietyofamerica@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: Re: [Meditation Society of America ] Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind (NY Times 6/28/10)

           

           

          My youngest boy was called into the principles office I was called shortly after.  When I met with the teacher, the complaint was that he "danced to the beat of his own drummer"  They cited examples of when the class was playing bingo he would yell "BONGO!" and they continued to refer to him as "The student"  excuse me? I said he is not "the student" he's a seven year old little boy named Malcolm and I want him dancing to the beat of his own drummer!  It was then and there that Beth and I decided to pull the boy's out of public school and start home schooling, they've been a lot happier since!  and they have plenty of time to day dream!

          --- On Mon, 6/28/10, medit8ionsociety <no_reply@yahoogroup s.com> wrote:


          From: medit8ionsociety <no_reply@yahoogroup s.com>
          Subject: [Meditation Society of America ] Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind (NY Times 6/28/10)
          To: meditationsocietyof america@yahoogro ups.com
          Date: Monday, June 28, 2010, 5:54 PM

           

          June 28, 2010
          Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind
          By JOHN TIERNEY

          At long last, the doodling daydreamer is getting
          some respect.

          In the past, daydreaming was often considered a
          failure of mental discipline, or worse. Freud
          labeled it infantile and neurotic. Psychology
          textbooks warned it could lead to psychosis.
          Neuroscientists complained that the rogue bursts
          of activity on brain scans kept interfering with
          their studies of more important mental functions.

          But now that researchers have been analyzing those
          stray thoughts, they've found daydreaming to
          be remarkably common — and often quite useful.
          A wandering mind can protect you from immediate
          perils and keep you on course toward long-term
          goals. Sometimes daydreaming is counterproductive,
          but sometimes it fosters creativity and helps
          you solve problems.

          Consider, for instance, these three words: eye,
          gown, basket. Can you think of another word that
          relates to all three? If not, don't worry for
          now. By the time we get back to discussing
          the scientific significance of this puzzle,
          the answer might occur to you through the
          "incubation effect" as your mind wanders from
          the text of this article — and, yes, your mind
          is probably going to wander, no matter how
          brilliant the rest of this column is.

          Mind wandering, as psychologists define it, is
          a subcategory of daydreaming, which is the broad
          term for all stray thoughts and fantasies,
          including those moments you deliberately set
          aside to imagine yourself winning the lottery
          or accepting the Nobel. But when you're trying
          to accomplish one thing and lapse into
          "task-unrelated thoughts," that's mind wandering.

          During waking hours, people's minds seem to
          wander about 30 percent of the time, according
          to estimates by psychologists who have interrupted
          people throughout the day to ask what they're
          thinking. If you're driving down a straight,
          empty highway, your mind might be wandering
          three-quarters of the time, according to two
          of the leading researchers, Jonathan Schooler
          and Jonathan Smallwood of the University of California , Santa Barbara .

          "People assume mind wandering is a bad thing,
          but if we couldn't do it during a boring task,
          life would be horrible," Dr. Smallwood says.
          "Imagine if you couldn't escape mentally from a traffic jam."

          You'd be stuck contemplating the mass of
          idling cars, a mental exercise that is much
          less pleasant than dreaming about a beach and
          much less useful than mulling what to do once
          you get off the road. There's an evolutionary
          advantage to the brain's system of mind wandering,
          says Eric Klinger, a psychologist at the
          University of Minnesota and one of the pioneers of the field.

          "While a person is occupied with one task,
          this system keeps the individual's larger agenda
          fresher in mind," Dr. Klinger writes in the
          "Handbook of Imagination and Mental Stimulation. ".
          "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."

          Of course, it's often hard to know which
          agenda is most evolutionarily adaptive at
          any moment. If, during a professor's lecture,
          students start checking out peers of the opposite
          sex sitting nearby, are their brains missing
          out on vital knowledge or working on the more
          important agenda of finding a mate? Depends on the lecture.

          But mind wandering clearly seems to be a dubious strategy, if, for example, you're tailgating a driver who suddenly brakes. Or, to cite activities that have actually been studied in the laboratory, when you're sitting by yourself reading "War and Peace" or "Sense and Sensibility. "

          If your mind is elsewhere while your eyes
          are scanning Tolstoy's or Austen's words,
          you're wasting your own time. You'd be better
          off putting down the book and doing something
          more enjoyable or productive than "mindless
          reading," as researchers call it.

          Yet when people sit down in a laboratory with
          nothing on the agenda except to read a novel
          and report whenever their mind wanders, in the
          course of a half hour they typically report
          one to three episodes. And those are just the
          lapses they themselves notice, thanks to their
          wandering brains being in a state of
          "meta-awareness, " as it's called by Dr. Schooler,

          He, and other researchers have also studied
          the many other occasions when readers aren't
          aware of their own wandering minds, a condition
          known in the psychological literature as
          "zoning out." (For once, a good bit of technical
          jargon.) When experimenters sporadically
          interrupted people reading to ask if their minds
          were on the text at that moment, about 10 percent
          of the time people replied that their thoughts
          were elsewhere — but they hadn't been aware
          of the wandering until being asked about it.

          "It's daunting to think that we're slipping
          in and out so frequently and we never notice
          that we were gone," Dr. Schooler says. "We
          have this intuition that the one thing we
          should know is what's going on in our minds:
          I think, therefore I am. It's the last bastion
          of what we know, and yet we don't even know that so well."

          The frequency of zoning out more than doubled
          in reading experiments involving smokers who
          craved a cigarette and in people who were
          given a vodka cocktail before taking on "War
          and Peace." Besides increasing the amount of
          mind wandering, the people made alcohol less
          likely to notice when their minds wandered
          from Tolstoy's text. In another reading
          experiment, researchers mangled a series of
          consecutive sentences by switching the position
          of two of nouns in each one — the way that
          "alcohol" and "people" were switched in the
          last sentence of the previous paragraph. In
          the laboratory experiment, even though the
          readers were told to look for sections of
          gibberish somewhere in the story, only half
          of them spotted it right away. The rest typically
          read right through the first mangled sentence
          and kept going through several more before noticing anything amiss.

          To measure mind wandering more directly,
          Dr. Schooler and two psychologists at the
          University of Pittsburgh, Erik D. Reichle
          and Andrew Reineberg, used a machine that
          tracked the movements of people's eyes while
          reading "Sense and Sensibility" on a computer
          screen. It's probably just as well that Jane
          Austen is not around to see the experiment's
          results, which are to appear in a forthcoming
          issue of Psychological Science.

          By comparing the eye movements with the prose
          on the screen, the experimenters could tell
          if someone was slowing to understand complex
          phrases or simply scanning without comprehension.
          They found that when people's mind wandered,
          the episode could last as long as two minutes.

          Where exactly does the mind go during those
          moments? By observing people at rest during
          brain scans, neuroscientists have identified
          a "default network" that is active when
          people's minds are especially free to wander.
          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,
          according to a study led by Kalina Christoff
          of the University of British Columbia . 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, which includes
          the Santa Barbara researchers, 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, like the word-association
          puzzle mentioned earlier. Perhaps, by putting
          both of the brain networks to work simultaneously,
          these people are more likely to realize that
          the word that relates to eye, gown and basket
          is ball, as in eyeball, ball gown and basketball.

          To encourage this creative process, Dr. Schooler
          says, it may help if you go jogging, take a
          walk, do some knitting or just sit around
          doodling, because relatively undemanding tasks
          seem to free your mind to wander productively.
          But you also want to be able to catch yourself
          at the Eureka moment.

          "For creativity you need your mind to wander,"
          Dr. Schooler says, "but you also need to be
          able to notice that you're mind wandering and
          catch the idea when you have it. If Archimedes
          had come up with a solution in the bathtub but
          didn't notice he'd had the idea, what good would
          it have done him?"
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