In Praise of Daydareaming

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  • 7/29/2019 In Praise of Daydareaming


    Y MOST vivid memorY ofschool is sitting at the backof the class looking out thewindow at the rice fieldsseveral floors below, heat-ing the occasional bark of a dog, the dis-tant slam of a car door, and being lulledinto a semi-hypnotic state by the slowwhirring of the electric fan' My mindwould wander, between reaiitY anddream, concentration and distraction'For such indulgences I was often re-warded by detention after school. In uni-versity I continued to be a back-of-the-class student, not irritating the iecturerby talking to friends, but generally day-dreaming, Nothing consequentiai, justidly letting my mind roam. Nowadays Ido this whenever I fly; I iook at the cloudsand observe their shapes,Without the threat of detention fromschool teachers, I indulge in letting ran-dom thoughts form like soap bubbies,bumping into one another, bursting orsimply floating away.I had never reaily thought about day-dreaming. But neuroscientists are discov-ering that daydreaming actually involvescomplex mental processes. Far from be-ing empty, our minds are actually moreactive when we daydream than duringother "thinking" hours.Our minds usually wander when weare engaged in routine tasks that, due totheir famitiarity, do not require focusedattention. The "default netlvork" of thebrain is usually engaged at this time,when we are not entireiy focused on the-externai world or the task at hand. It deac-tivates when we switch to goal-orientedbehaviour, and decreases in activity whenother parts of the brain used to process ex-ternal visual stimuli start up. It is essen-tially a network of brain regions usedr.^,'hen we are in a self-referential, intro-spective mode of thinking, when we form

    works are engaged in daydreaming.This is what neuroscientist KalinaChristoff has to say: "People assumed

  • 7/29/2019 In Praise of Daydareaming


    show that problem-solving by- when you suddenly feel the piec-- requires both a higher degreedifferent pattern of neurai resourc-niethodical, iogical thinking, Day-seems to br a fundamental ba-for insight. More than just a pleasantto pass the time, it allows "transitin betrveen the more straightfor-of our day for new associa-to form.that creative insight is primarilyrealisation of unusual connections be-disparate concepts, day-offers the mind space to ex-these possibilities. Ironically, these

    insights often materialise without warn-ing, through an unconscious shift in men-tal perspective, a sudden comprehension.The lack of conscious awateness andaccompanying mental freedom is key: ArtFry was bored by a church sermon andmulling over the repetitive problem of pa-per scraps, used as bookmarks, faliing outof hymnal pages when he first conceivedof Post-it notes. George de Mestral waswalking his dog in the Swiss Alps whenhe noticed the way burrs stuck to hispet's coat and linked this to the idea ofVelcro.It is when my youngest son walks al-most absent-mindedly yet obsessively

    round and around our house, tracing thesame route, that he finds inspiration forhis poems and stories.But our culture today still discouragesseemingly pointless, open-ended time.Class schedules are packed back-to-backwith activities; office agendas are filledwith meetings and deadlines. Goal-orient-ed thinking is considered primary. Butwhat this new research suggests is thatreaching loftier goals and even surpassingthem requires not focusing on the stepsalong the way.The recently formulated concept ofneuroplasticity - the brain's ability tochange both its structure and function -suggests that the brain can change bystrengthening or expeinding oft-used cir-cuitry and minimising those less used.The implications are startling: What wethink can change how we think - andvice versa.Experiments that map the brainwavepatterns of meditating monks find thatthe most accomplished practitioners withthe most hours of meditation - 10,000 to50,000 hours was the range - have moreunusually powerful and fast-moving gam-ma waves than novice practitioners. Thegamma waves of the more advanced

    monks were also better organised and co.ordinated. This intense brain pattern is as-sociated with the ability to knit togetherdisparate brain circuits, and therefore pro-ductive of the kind of perceptive insightsthat cannot be accessed through ploddinglogic.Essentially, meditation is simply amore intensive and disciplined way ofdaydreaming. It frees the mind of con-scious thoughts in order to allow the sub-conscious to surface and resolve issues inways that the conscious, rational mind isnot capable of.What - and how - we know will nodoubt continually evolve, We are learningthat mental activities considered idle andwasteful in the past actually have pro-found funciions. At the same time, weare discovering that these functions donot normally occur within out consciousgrasp.Yet, the possibilities to change andtrain the powers of our minds remainopen. Whatever the case, daydreaming isnot an activity anyone will, or can, giveup. For now, we would do well to cherishthat transit space, when we are in the sus-pended period between problem and solu-tion, origin and destination.Th* writsr !s ch*irmna: of thc h*ard o{ tr$*tees a*t}l*l $i*gapcr* Mamagar*emt tJellv*rsity. Think"Talllqis a w**kiy c*ia:mm r*tatcd ame*g elg9tt l*adi*gfigures {n*m S[ngaX**r'*'s ertiary cltd res*ar**tinstitut$*ms.