RE: [Meditation Society of America] Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind (NY Times 6/28/10)
If the Meditation Society had a “like” button the way Facebook does, I’d be clicking on “like”. Aideen
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto: email@example.com ] On Behalf Of sean tremblay
Sent: June-28-10 4:57 PM
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
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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